Youth Theatre Office Berlin
“Education Is a Dialogue”

The youth theater group with guest star Athi-Patra Ruga (2nd from left); Photo: ©
The youth theater group with guest star Athi-Patra Ruga (2nd from left) | Photo (detail): ©

The Youth Theatre Office in Berlin-Moabit has its own stage since March 2014. Here young people with and without immigrant backgrounds work on their own self-conceived productions and enjoy success with them. And that although this district of Berlin is not necessarily known for its high culture. An interview with theatre educationalist and Deputy Chairman of the Berlin State Association for Cultural Youth Education, e.V., Çigir Özyurt, on participation, cultural education and successful youth theatre.

The way towards a successful stage

Mr Özyurt, the Berlin Youth Theatre Office is a success story and will soon have its own stage. What was the goal from the beginning?

From the European Social Fund we received money for a three-year project. With this we could look for our own premises and moved into a former community house of a church that had previously stood empty for five years. Our stage will there, on the ground floor. We’re the first project in Moabit that has built up a theatre together with young people. Before we were a real theatre, we realized the project on various stages. At first we were like nomads, had no space of our own and were guests at various youth facilities. But there were plenty of young people who wanted to do their own political theatre. Young people now have the opportunity with us of giving expression to their opinions both on the stage and in discussions. This has made the project very successful here in the quarter.

The church next door to your Office is now in use again. How does such proximity work?

In cooperation with the REFO Moabit – Church in the Hood, e.V., we developed a play entitled Salãm Günther!. It concerns Günther Dehn, who was pastor of the church next door one hundred years ago. Because he was active in the resistance, he was persecuted by the Nazis. In the play we drew the relation to the present and asked about the connection between religion and resistance.

Cultural education as an exchange on both sides

Many theatres are working on concepts for reaching a new audience. In this connection, they speak of participation and cultural education.

I find the term “cultural education” and the concept that is often bound up with it problematic. Cultural education, in fact every form of education, is a dialogue and therefore doesn’t work in only one direction, but only among all concerned. But often the term is so understood that there are people on one side who have the resources and people on the other side who are “uncultured” and to whom the first group have to teach and explain high culture. For us it’s important to work together on an equal footing. We’ve therefore founded together with young people a kind of cooperative. They must take responsibility for the project and actively co-design it. It’s not only about grooming a young audience.

Once your stage has opened, what then?

We already produce every year about five plays. The young people assume important positions in this at all levels – for instance, they do the directing themselves. We only provide help. This continuous transfer of responsibility from the initiators to the young people will be intensified. We’re a kind of neighbourhood academy where young people develop lighting and sound concepts, together learn how to act and direct and also how to work in an office. Eventually the young people will be able to manage the project themselves because they’ll know the structures and processes well enough. This takes time. But it works.