Where have all the divas gone ...

27. Aug. 2014
Hans Kellett © Thorsten Knowles

– Everyone knows what cabaret means to Berlin. Even in suburban Auckland, at the other end of the world from Isherwood’s Kiez my father sang „Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome" around the house. What not everybody knows: Here in Berlin it isn’t called cabaret, but Kleinkunst. These „little arts" encompass Kabarett and a raft of other disciplines, including improvised theatre, comedy, puppetry, pantomime and (my home turf) chanson. 

Kleinkunst saved my arse when I was stranded in Berlin in 2001. With 200 Mark, no insurance and no onward travel options, I was offered a guest spot with the Kleinkunst troupe O-Ton Ute. I later became a core member. Early in my artistic career the mathematics of experimentation was clear: less money equals more risks, and vice versa. Kleinkunst has, almost by definition, never had mainstream appeal. That our performances had a budget of zero (adjusted for euro) meant we had free reign to experiment. This is also where we found our voices: Princessin Hans was born out of O-Ton Ute in 2003. Without the freedom Kleinkunst provided, I may never have sung on stage. 

Fast forward a decade to another O-Ton: the Theater O-Ton Art. One of Berlin’s few Kleinkunst venues committed to telling queer stories, the self-funded stage is in financial trouble. Like all good Kleinkünstler they’ve taken a risk, offering a home to some of Berlin’s veteran queer acts as well as a much-needed professional space for new work. For a mid-career project like Princessin Hans, it’s one of the few opportunities for professional development in town. 

Compound the basic venue costs with increasing GEMA fees and the newly announced KSK contributions, and running O-Ton Art becomes a juggling act: to offer niche-interest work, pay the mounting bills and draw a dedicated audience. Their critics bemoan high ticket costs and a lack of appeal to the younger generation. The question: if Berlin’s queer community wants experienced Kleinkunst artists – how do we want to pay for them?

Hans Kellett