Her home is self-contradictory: Sivan Ben Yishai fluctuates between drastic and precise. Her plays can be seen at the Mülheimer Theatertage.
Provocative, poetic, drastic – there are currently many adjectives about Sivan Ben Yishai in the international press. Adjectives she does not like. It would still be more appropriate: precisely. Her language impresses with dissecting precision. Mannheim – where she was a house writer – calls her “Frauheim”. To them, Israel is “Israel-Palestine”.
As a playwright, Ben Yishai asks questions that have never been answered, only put to rest. “It’s not always easy severe bitch always having something to say, always correcting the language and always pointing out that some expressions do not work for me. Still, it’s a choice, ”she says.
“But if your skin is darker and you live in Germany – then it is not a choice. When you act as a woman among men, as a trans woman living in a heterosexual, patriarchal, cis-male society, you have no choice. ”
Sivan Ben Yishai is at home in a world of such contradictions. She was born in Jerusalem in 1978, studied theater directing at Tel Aviv University and has lived in Neukölln since 2012.
In her play “Wounds are Forever – Self-Portrait as a National Poet”, which has now been nominated for the Mülheim Drama Prize, she addresses her life as an Israeli in Germany. Accompanied by a shepherd dog, a superwoman – “we do not need more heroes” – travels through time from the Holocaust to modern-day Israel.
Sivan Ben Yishai’s play Live Lovers do: Memoirs of Medusa will be shown on 18/5/22 at the Berlin Theatertreffen, which runs from 6 to 22 May 2022.
The 47th Mülheimer Theatertage “Teile 2022” runs from 7 to 28 May 2022. “Wounds are forever (Self-portrait as a national poet)” is nominated for the Mülheim Drama Prize.
In the wake of the war in Ukraine, her trip over the decades has become hotly debated, especially for her who grew up with bombings “only 60 kilometers as the crow flies from the center of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem”: “Scars, pain and trauma survive for several generations of bodies – and passed on from one generation to the next. “
According to her, no language has yet been found for the “new world order in which we now live”. Not even to the shock of the people living in Germany’s supposedly safe center: “You understand that a place only 1,500 kilometers away is changing irrevocably.”
Alternative house project in Berlin
Berlin meets Sivan Ben Yishai in her twenties while visiting friends in an alternative housing project. In the basement they had built a theater with galleries and an auditorium. “Everything was designed so lovingly. But when I returned, the house had been sold and became a normal, distinguished mansion. Mainzer Strasse from that time no longer exists.”
The creative place of longing was gone. When she moved to Germany, the then 33-year-old changed not only residence but also the medium: “I started writing in English to free myself from the strong bond to my mother tongue – and that was when a whole new journey began.”
Upheaval and longing, these words that cannot be translated into English, her working language, drive Sivan Ben Yishai’s work. When she brings a discussion to the stage, she believes she can initiate change. “All my previous pieces are love letters without exception. Sometimes they are love letters and farewell letters at the same time.”
By condemning society, she draws audiences very close to her, for “criticism is love,” she says. Then longing and radicalism merge into one message on stage. “My biggest fear is that I lose hope that people will actually listen to what you say to them. That a discussion can trigger the next revolution.”
Drasticism – for example, when she describes a twelve-year-old’s masturbation fantasies or the inner conflicts between overwhelmed cis-men who break out in violence – is her tool for an unconditional but critical turn to the present.
Work in the connected triangle
“My work always moves in a triangle: the first corner forms the white, suprematist, capitalist patriarchy, the second Israel-Palestine-Germany and the way the war discourse takes place in Germany, and the third institutions, abuse of power and institutional criticism”, says Ben Yishai. She sees the corners as connected.
The titles of their tracks read like punk band albums. In 2015, she brought “I know I’m ugly but I glitter in the dark” to the Radialsystem scene. At the Berlin Author Theater Days 2017, she performed the first part of the tetralogy “Let the blood come out to show them” with “Your very own crisis club”.
Two more parts have been created as commissioned works at the Maxim Gorki Theater, the latest “Or: You Deserve Your War (Eight Soldiers Moonlight)” at the end of 2018. That same year she also wrote the play “Die i nat, lev for evigt” oder Das Prinzip Nosferatu “for the theater in Lübeck.
The resumption of “Love. An Argumentative Exercise” finally establishes the permanent collaboration with the Munich Kammerspiele under the artistic direction of Barbara Mundel from 2020. The play follows Olivia Öl – the girlfriend of the cartoon character Popeye – from puberty.
Olivia and Popeye
For fear of loneliness, Olivia accepts a shared home, a shared account, and sexual addiction to her brutal companion. “Olivia and Popeye were an amazing backdrop that made everything a little bit less pathetic, a little bit easier – and I could use that for my next attack,” says Ben Yishai.
“Like Lovers do: Memoirs of Medusa” also follows this logic of confident play with human pain. It also premieres in Munich. In May, she will show the work at the Berlin Theater Meeting – the jury describes it in advance as a “dark, poetic song” about sexism and sexual violence.
Sivan Ben Yishai is currently writing a text for a production of Ibsen’s “Nora”, which will be on the repertoire at the Kammerspiele from next September. The approximately 20-page prologue already exists.
Ben Yishai sees the fact that she makes a living from writing – that is, in Virgina Woolf’s sense of having found space, time and money enough for it – as a privilege: “Part of my morning ritual is a moment where I say to myself himself: ‘Sivan, good morning. How nice it is that you can write today. It does not come naturally, remember.’ “
Manuscript in the gym
Her day begins with the radio news, and then she devotes herself to writing for the afternoon – as an “agreement with myself that I can get to”. Sometimes it means editing a script in the gym. Sometimes she has to get up from her desk, stroll along a Berlin channel, listen to a podcast, cook – “and then I sit back at my computer and do the work in five hours or days in 30 minutes”.
She is also in daily contact via Facebook with her 94-year-old grandmother, who lives on a kibbutz in northern Israel – “Israel-Palestine”, Ben Yishai emphasizes. “Having a generation between us gives my grandmother and me more openness and a radical encounter, a real exchange. We can think differently about the world. “
Her grandmother used to be an example for her to be independent of classic female role models and consistently encouraged her in her life decisions – as “another idea of what it means to be a woman”. Today, however, she sometimes worries about her granddaughter’s lifestyle. Sivan Ben Yishai laughs. But: “She gave me a choice.”