Ersan Mondtag

Ersan started making theatre in elementary school. As a young actor he played in movies, musicals and operas. Not long after he created his own low budget projects in the off-scene of Berlin, while working as a directing assistant for many directors in Germany. He went to directing school afterwards, but didn’t function within, so he quit after one year and rolled into theatre business. We talked about his process of creating and his first appearance in Belgium.

Interview by Eleonore Van Godtsenhoven
Photos shot by Judith Buss

You are often called ‘a rebel’, why is that?

I’m not the rebel that I used to be. When I started to work as a director, I was 25 years old, I had to be a rebel in a way. It’s quite difficult in Germany to fight against the strong structures of city and state theatres. They’re huge houses with strict schedules. You have to fit in or they just kick you out. There’s a fixed white male power structure and not a lot of diversity. When I arrived as a young gay Turkish boy, I often heard that I was not the one to tell them how things work. But I did! I think that’s why they called me a rebel. Now I got accepted in that structure so my time of being a rebel is over, I guess.

Like a child that is playing with funny ideas, I’m trying to realise them

Where do you get the inspiration or ideas for a new piece? 

I only do things that I like to do, so it’s always about liking and loving. When I do something on stage I only use things that I love to see. Like a child that is playing with funny ideas, I’m trying to realise them. In that way ideas can come from anywhere. Even when it seems like a crazy idea at first, when you try to realise it, it becomes real. It’s a very magical moment when you imagine something and a little bit later you see it as a huge stage design in which people are walking. It’s like an architect who has created a building and is standing in front of it the first time; a very fulfilling moment.

How do you work?

I work on different projects with different schedules at the same time. On each project I have a different team. In total, the team has about thirty members: architects, painters, singers, actors, filmmakers…
When I have a basic idea, I put a small team together that starts to create. I watch and, like a general art director, I tell them how to edit and transform. After that, there’s a period in which I plan the rehearsals. This can change the whole idea into another one but usually the first idea is kind of similar to the final result. It’s magical to match the beginning and the end.

Your work is sometimes called ‘sci-fi-theatre’. Why is that? 

I use elements of science fiction, especially the utopian elements. The logic of the scenery is also a bit different. It’s not a narration of a story from A to Z like we know it, it’s more fictional with animals passing by, the last humans in a march towards a new society. My stage designs are not naturalistic but very colourful, with paintings and strange elements in them. 

In theatre you have the freedom to pretend anything. The audience is more open to accept

In another interview you said you couldn’t be without theatre as a form to express your extreme visual style. Can you explain why?

In theatre you have the freedom to pretend anything. The audience is more open to accept every creature, form or aesthetic. A painter has that freedom, too. In movies, on the other hand, the audience is expecting more realism. Theatre generates the freedom to express yourself in different aesthetics while the audience will still honour the result.
But it’s also the live performance! There’s a body in the space that talks, makes noises, screams, imitates a robot… You have plenty of options in theatre. You can play with the music or the set design. It’s much more expressive because it’s live. For me that’s what makes it one of the highest forms of art because you are with the audience in a room, creating an atmosphere, which can be a very strong moment to share.

What do you think theatre needs today?

Theatre should never be something to be sold

The only thing theatre needs is an audience. I am not sceptical like many people are. There’s so much going on. If you go from Warschau to New York to Paris to Ghent, you’ll find completely different theatres. You just need people to continue to create. Artists that feel free to do whatever they want to do, rather than making a successful piece to please the audience like a pop-song. Theatre should never be something to be sold.

In February we can see your play ‘Die Vernichtung’ in NTGent. What is it about?

For me it’s about the complexity of what is being hidden and what is being told. About European society that is talking about threats that are coming from outside and doesn’t realise that the biggest and most destructive energies come from inside, from the centre of Europe itself.


die Vernichtung
13 February, NTGent Minnemeers
free for members. Join here