Social Dialogue Magazine
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Nadja Damm is research assistant in the “LernKünste” project, lecturer for creative writing and coaches Social Justice & Diversity writing workshops for youths and adults

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Johanna Kaiser is Professor for Culture Aesthetics Media with emphasis on theatre at the Alice Salomon Hochschule (ASH), Berlin and scientific director of the project “LernKünste”

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Elisabeth Schneider is a cooperation coordinator and research assistant in the “LernKünste” project.

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Sibylle Mall translation with additional assistance from Benjamin Sandhu

Creative chaos – aesthetic form: biographical and participative approach to theatrical work as the subject of the cinematic investigation in the project "LernKünste"

For the joint project “LernKünste“, the Alice Salomon Hochschule (ASH) Berlin cooperated from 2014 to 2017 with the association ACT e.V. Führe Regie über dein Leben (a non-profit organisaion in the arts and culture). ACT e.V. developed and tested a multidisciplinary professional training course to qualify artists and culture professionals for working with children and adolescents. This course is based on a participative and biographical approach to youth theatre work. The ASH Berlin provided scientific research support for the project with “classic“ qualitative and quantitative methods as well as artistic research with filmic means.

The filmic visualization of aesthetic as well as social processes in theatrical work facilitates (...) a unique comprehensibility with the senses. The cooperation between science and art opens dimensions which cannot be achieved by either disciplines in their respective ”pure”form. In this sense, cinematic investigation is to be regarded as a multidisciplinary method producing and teaching ”artistic knowledge” (Klein 2011) as well as putting it up for discussion.“ (Kaiser 2016: 149) This article makes the fundamental research strategy, the methods and procedures, as well as selected results, transparent and accessable.

Professional training and scientific guidance in the joint project “LernKünste”

The focus of the course is on working with children and adolescents from socially marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds and areas. The basis of the concept is emphasizing strengths, self-efficacy, participation and inclusion.

The training is aimed at artists and culture professionals from all disciplines and is based on experience. It comprises biographical theatre work and results in a multidisciplinary production. Starting from the skills and backgrounds of the artists and cultural practitioners methods are developed and tested, in the sense of individually shaped creative ‘launch pads’.

The scientific support for the project “LernKünste“ entails two parts:

  1. Evaluation of the subject of research; the multidisciplinary training – with reference to the quality of structure, process and result (see Lüders 2006; Hill 2014) as well as
  2. Cinematic investigation of the artistic and pedagogic processes in the professional training and in the youth theatre work of ACT e.

With reference to Breidenstein et al. (2013) we chosed an ethnographic research strategy and used the triangulation of qualitative, quantitative and artistic methods (such as participating observation, group discussions, interviews, standardized questionnaire, cinematic investigations).

The cinematic investigation also focuses upon the youth theatre work of ACT e.V. The question of how the participants experience the biographical-participative theatre work and how they actively participate in shaping it is investigated with filmic means.

These five cinematic investigations explore all different aspects of the creative processes and social relationships in the youth and adult groups by having the camera accompany the actors at different stages over the course of 2-3 days. The above question is extended with specific focalizations.

On the research approach of cinematic investigation

Cinematic investigation is a variant of artistic research (Bippus 2010) which encompasses social and aesthetic processes in cultural work with adolescents and adults. It renders these processes comprehensible in their entirety, differently to traditional methods of social science. Here cinematic investigation is not to be confused with the use of film material, video data and corresponding processes as is common in social sciences – though of course there are intersections. There is a scientific connection to the aesthetic research of Kämpf - Jansen (2012) and the cinematic ethnographic research (Mohn 2008), here are also utilized non-traditional methods.

The research approach and its intersections with other approaches are further detailed in a version of this text accompanying the DVD.

1. The filmic research design and the filmic concept

Cinematic investigation observes, analyzes and processes the interactions emerging from biographical- participative theatrical work with filmic means. Thereby they are made accessible to the participants of the training and an interested expert audience on a visual, auditory, verbal and physical, aesthetic, intuitive and cognitive level. Each of the five investigations have a specific focus and corresponding questions based upon the current state of research and explorative surveys in the respective field, the scientific direction/ direction developed the content-based concept for the films.

The comparison between specific sequences from the material with previously explored topics and research hypotheses was decisive for the subsequent evaluation. The concept was designed to capture the artistic work of the protagonists, the interactions which in the respective group and the reflections of the adolescents and/or adults on film. The focus was on selected actors. This caused conscious omissions and focalisations, and at the same time helped to keep the film material manageable. The handheld camera was to be kept close to the protagonists during the process. They were invited to give an in- depth reflection by way of the interviews. Scenes from rehearsals alternating between of performances, all five films were to show extracts from interviews focusing on diverse research questions and partly emphasize or contrast what was happening in the group.

Music is only heard in the films when it was played as part of the artistic process. This decision was based on the effort to ensure authenticity. Likewise the decision not to use narration invites the viewer to have their own interpretation and to directly perceive the aesthetics and content of the research results, but it carries the risk of leaving out information, which is avoided by providing accompanying text. The films and their dramaturgy were developed further through a circular process of screening, evaluating and editing of the film material, on the basis of the research concept.

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2. One example of the results

The films offer a wide range of insights which can be elaborated in discussions after watching the films (see chapter 5). One specific realization shall be outlined here as an example, the film called “It Is Not That Easy To Be The Disturbance.” The focus was on examining how the participants dealt with and reflected on the rehearsal process to achieve repetitive of scenes as well as the concerted dramaturgical work. It centred around the interactions of the participants – this time in the second round of the training. Here a comparative method seemed adequate to filter potential similarities or differences with the first group of participants. Correspondingly the following topics were of interest:

How do they struggle with the form, how do they deal with successes and fails, the challenges in comparison to those of the adolescents? How do the differ between adults and adolescents?

How do they reflect it with respect to the cooperation transcending disciplines and professions the transfer to the work with adolescents and group dynamic processes?

The five interviewees are representative of the group (age, gender and level of experience in working with adolescents). Beside one very experienced actor and director we also interviewed a visual artist, a designer and two actresses with relatively little previous experience.

In the opening sequence of the film one participant describes how she first felt swamped by the theatrical mixing board and the associated unfamiliar vocabulary. Shortly after this another participant relates another challenge: the biographical task to disclose something personal to the other participants. He transfers this experience on to working with adolescents and assumes that the youths in theatre projects probably also often feel overwhelmed by the tasks he assigns to them.

In a similar way as in the rehearsal process a pressure to perform is building up in the first training course. This clearly is not caused by the respect for the others’ artistic professions, but on the one hand is caused by the impending performance, and on the other because a direct relation to working with adolescents is established regarding content and aesthetics. This is visualized in the cinematic investigation by a take of a scene improvised by one participant. The close-up shows an actor moderating the scene: “Textbook of pedagogics, chapter resistances. Standard situation number twelve. In school, assembly hall. A drama teacher (...) and twenty-two students.” A large group of actors in the role of adolescents enter the stage. The following scene presents a humorous aesthetic condensation of the situation of overload as it is often experienced by artists and educators. The overload of the course instructor instantly becomes apparent and the film shows the complexity of the situation. The faces of the participants in the roles of adolescents have a questioning look, insecure and lost in this situation. This short sequence provides a comprehensive impression of different facets of how overload in cultural educational practice can present itself.


The results of the evaluation research were communicated elsewhere in form of a scientific article and an evaluation report. We published the results of the cinematic investigation as films (and this accompanying text).

Research based on cinematic methods is an important way to make processes and products of culture in social fields visible and comprehensibly. All films were immediately used as teaching materials for the professional training.The cinematic investigations is understood as a contribution to the scientific discourse on cultural education and social and cultural activities. With this kind of research it is possible to make processes visible and further a development of the research approach of cinematic investigation.


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Bippus, Elke (2010): Wissensproduktion durch künstlerische Forschung. In: Bader Egloff/ Christen/Schöbi: [email protected], S. 9-21 Bittner, Eva/Kaiser, Johanna (1996): Graue Stars. Erscheinungsort Freiburg: Lambertusverlag.
Breidenstein, G./Hirschauer, S./Kalthoff, H./ Nieswand, B. (2013): Ethnografie. Die Praxis der Feldforschung. Konstanz und München 2013 Flick, Uwe (2012): Qualitative Sozialforschung. Eine Einführung. 5. Aufl. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.
Kämpf-Jansen, Helga (2012): Ästhetische Forschung. Wege durch Alltag, Kunst und Wissenschaft ; zu einem innovativen Konzept ästhetischer Bildung. 3. Aufl. Marburg: Tectum Verlag (1. Auflage 2001 Köln: Salon Verlag).
Kaiser, Johanna (2016): Chancen und Hürden filmischer Erforschung intergenerationeller Theaterarbeit am Beispiel des Projekts „Schule des Lebens“ (Theater der Erfahrungen Berlin): In: Fricke, Almuth/ Hartogh, Theo (Hrsg.) (2016): Forschungsfeld Kulturgeragogik – Research in Cultural Geragogy. München: kopad. S. 149-172.
Klein, Julian (2011): Was ist künstlerische Forschung? In: Perspektiven, Ausg. 2/2011, S. 1-5. Online verfügbar unter, abgerufen 14.10.2016 Mohn, Bina Elisabeth (2008): Die Kunst des dichten Zeigens.
Plath, Maike (2014): Partizipativer Theaterunterricht mit Jugendlichen. Praxisnah neue Perspektiven entwickeln. Weinheim und Basel: Beltz.
Schröder, Ute B.; Streblow, Claudia (Hg.) (2007): Evaluation konkret. Fremd- und Selbstevaluationsansätze anhand von Beispielen aus Jugendarbeit und Schule. 1. Aufl. Leverkusen: Budrich.
Select Film Research with English subtitles But we are not. Ten women talk about themselves and their past in the Nazi-time D: Johanna Kaiser. G: 1992. DVD. 29 Min. Subt.: span./engl.
Tracing. Jewish identity in the mirror of the generations. D: Johanna Kaiser. G: 1998. DVD 29 Min. und DVD 59 Min. Subt: engl.
Spotlight instead of retreat. An intercultural theater with elderlies goes to the schools D: Johanna Kaiser. 2001. DVD 30 Min. Subt.: engl.
Theater makes (high) school D: Johanna Kaiser. 2008 DVD 30 min. Subt: engl.
Old Irion– Making of. A view behind the stage of theatre work with elderly people D: Johanna Kaiser.2013. DVD 30 Min. Subt.: türk., engl.
Teatre is my home. A transnational exchange between Berlin and Bademler (Turkey) D: Johanna Kaiser. 2016. DVD 30 Min. Subt.: türk. engl.
“It Is Not That Easy To Be The Disturbance.” Cinematic investigation of the final rehearsals for the theater production “without title”
D: Johanna Kaiser. 2016. DVD, 20’, Subt.: engl. Just Have To Try It Out. Cinematic investigation of the final rehearsals for the theater production “About Blank“.
D: Johanna Kaiser. DVD, 15’DVD 2015