Benny Claessens ist der Gewinner des Alfred-Kerr-Darstellerpreises 2018, ausgewählt vom diesjährigen Juror Fabian Hinrichs! Der Preis wird alljährlich am letzten Tag des Theatertreffens vergeben. Bei der Verleihung am 21. Mai 2018 hat Benny Claessens eine Rede gehalten, die nun hier nachzulesen ist!

Benny Claessens © Piero Chiussi

Two days ago I was talking to a good friend from Belgium. She is also a performer and is currently touring with Milo Rau’s latest piece. We talked about two older actors who attended the piece last week and who will work with Milo Rau next year. One of these actors is considered a pearl of Flemish theatre, or as I’d like to call her – a hasbeen pearl, someone from this old archaic world of the THEATRE. And I explicitly say it like this although the point I want to make is not about generations, it’s about mentality and the set of conditions one gets to relate to or not. It is about how I deal with tendencies that are coming from imperialist structures of thought and are maintaining themselves in this world of European theatre. And it is about the passive aggressive disrespect that goes hand in hand with this holding on to good old Europe.

But to get back to my story: After the performance, my friend had a drink with the hasbeen and soon the conversation shifted to Milo Rau, whom she referred to as “my new director”, and commented that he is a nice man. After having Luc Percival as “her director”, now she has a new one. Like a sling monkey hopping from tree to tree, or Liza Minelli at a premiere party, she consumed HER new director. But unlike Liza Minnelli or a sling monkey, the hasbeen also had her doubts; she’s worried about all this internationalisation of the theatre, and about the nudity and peeing on stage – clearly referring to my work in NTGent, which she didn’t see – and her biggest concern was “how our audience is going to cope with all that”.

So this is where the gossip about the hasbeen stops and where I come in, trying to formulate something about the theatre and about old Europe. In my opinion, performing or making an art piece is giving something you don’t have to people who don’t want it. It is an unwanted gift. From this perspective it is humiliating to talk about audiences in that basic way. The hasbeen thinks she’s more intelligent than the person she will be facing night after night during the tour of the piece she will conceive with Milo Rau. The hasbeen believes she understood something and now she knows better – the biggest mistake of the enlightenment. A bunch of white people knowing something and using this knowledge as fuel in their righteous and often cynical quest to educate the world (“the world” being working class, women, and basically everything that’s not white, male and heterosexual) can’t give us anything. This quest makes it easy for them to objectify anything which is not them, justifying aggression and feeding the fantasy of superiority, not to say supremacy. The hasbeen does not make art. The hasbeen teaches us the old in a world that clearly needs a new vocabulary and new hopes. She’s holding on to the old and sells it as the teachings of the new. Like Elfriede Jelinek writes in “Am Königsweg”: “it is the old dressed as the new”. In theatre bars, the hasbeen will complain about how audiences are getting old, and at the same time she will actively invest in the inward movement of keeping it old. Because she thinks they will not understand. The hasbeen will potty-train them. Try seeing this image. She has to train them because deep inside the hasbeen knows that the other audience won’t have it anymore. And even though I’m calling her a hasbeen, it’s not about age and not about a temporality of what’s “right” right now – that’s fashion. I’m talking about art and the fact that the logics and politics of authorship, of viewership, of image-making and meaning-making are shifting, and as artists we should welcome this change. Part of this change is to go out of the modernist logic of “old” vs. “new”, so to be more accurate, I’m talking about the other audience. The hasbeen knows that the other audience won’t have it anymore, because the other audience doesn’t care for the Eurocentric story anymore. The hasbeen uses her political reality for personal gain. The hasbeen will be a star in shows about the Palestinian conflict or refugee camps or gay bashing or blackness; like a wolf disguised in a colonial lady outfit, she will serve all her new directors while in her head, the sound of a flatline of a hospital machine will go on and on and on, until it becomes true.

In her defense though, the hasbeen had to learn to do the right thing in the white structure. She had to keep her high in a hostile environment. She did what a woman is expected to do – play her cards right and not think too loud or not too think at all. The hasbeen was left with the world of feminine feelings and the language of structured intensity only a self help book can provide. And there is no way back for the hasbeen. Now it is the task of the other to say “Stop!” “Or go!” “Do it louder.” “Faster.” “Come from the right.” The hasbeen arrives and says “Direct me because I am tired of myself”.

And I am here now to say no to that. I am here now to talk for my friends who are tired of working in institutions that put them on hold, where they meet a “no” before they even had the opportunity to think. I will formulate my resistance to this “no” on stage where it belongs; not in a debate nor in a “Theater heute” article. And it will be loud, because art becomes mediocre if it doesn’t exist between us but as something inside one of us.

Language exists between us, it is never something you have and it is not yours to give, and it is never something one is obliged to understand. I am not a plant that needs a gardener so it can bloom; I buy my water at REWE myself and if I need light I take a walk.

Benny Claessens ist 1981 in Antwerpen geboren. Dort studierte er ab 1999 am Herman Teirlinck Instituut für Darstellende Kunst und spielte ab 2003 in mehreren Inszenierungen am Het Toneelhuis in u. a. „Turista“ von Marius von Mayenburg. Von 2006 bis 2010 wirkte er als freischaffender Künstler für das Kunstzentrum Campo in Gent und das Theaterkollektiv Dood Paard in Amsterdam. Für seine Rolle in Thomas Bernhards „Ritter, Dene, Voss“ erhielt er 2009 den VSCD Arlecchino Award in Amsterdam. Währenddessen entwickelte er eigene Arbeiten. Von 2010 bis 2015 wirkte er bei den Münchner Kammerspielen, u. a. in Johan Simons Uraufführung von Elfriede Jelineks „Die Straße. Die Stadt. Der Überfall“ und René Polleschs „Eure ganz großen Themen sind weg“, beide 2012, mit. Außerdem konzipierte er während dieser Zeit die Produktion „Spectacular Lightshows“, in der er selbst als Darsteller mitwirkte, und realisierte mit Jan Decorte „Much Dance“. Im selben Jahr entstand seine Performance „Hello useless“ für Campo und 2016 „Learning how to walk“ am NTGent. 2017 begann seine Zusammenarbeit mit Ersan Mondtag in „Ödipus und Antigone“ nach Sophokles am Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin. Am Deutschen Schauspielhaus in Hamburg spielt Benny Claessens in der Uraufführung von Elfriede Jelineks „Am Königsweg“ (Regie: Falk Richter). Am HAU Berlin zeigt er im Juni 2018 eine neue, eigene Arbeit.