Performing Privilege

Privileges are wonderful and invisible, because they are taken for granted by those who have them. I can just walk across town obliviously and be treated with respect. Laws are made for my protection, police officers assist me, jobs are given to me even where there is a lot of competition: privilege is the quiet certainty that the world is made for me. Privilege is also the luxury of choosing whether I want to reflect on privilege at all. Having them, knowing them, not wanting them? Well, that’s the privilege of privileges, sings the pop artist Molly Nielsson.

The paradox of privilege is that a privileged person enjoys benefits without even ‘wanting’ to.


I benefit daily from being white, even though I am not a racist. Men have career advantages, even when they are in favour of equality. I am against the exploitation of people in the global South, but my daily grocery shopping actually reinforces their poverty. With a German passport, the world is open to me whether I intend to travel or not.

The globalised world is peopled by far more losers than winners, the gap between rich and poor is getting bigger everywhere and the internet has let us all know where the wealth of the few is concentrated. Walls are being built in order to safeguard privileges – from Fortress Europe to the gated community.

PERFORMING PRIVILEGE investigates the visualisation and representation of privileges. Literature from all over the world is full of stories about con-artists; revealing privilege to be a precise performance. From Felix Krull to the Great Gatsby, these characters all attain the American Dream by taking a shortcut: performance instead of work. In fairy tales where a working-class woman is transformed into a sophisticated lady - ranging from Cinderella and Eliza Doolittle all the way to Pretty Woman and Germanys Next Topmodel. Attaining a higher status is shown to be strenuous work a woman must perform on her body, her manner of speaking and perhaps even on her way of thinking. In contrast to a genuinely starving body, the skinny body of a model today exhibits privileged self-mortification. Stories about black people passing as white and women posing as men or consciously identifying themselves as such, describe privilege as a necessary deception in order to achieve goals. Body, food culture, fashion and language are indicators of privileges that can also be implemented in a targeted way: How do I present my body? What do I eat (or not eat)? What do I cover myself with? How do I move and what language(s) can I employ? What allegiances am I attesting to when I do so? Is eating organic food a privilege that the poor are just not entitled to? What privileges are inscribed in / on our bodies, whether we like it or not? Where and how is privilege represented? Who has the privilege of performing in front of a paying audience?

Theaterfestival Schwindelfrei 2018 is investigating analytical navel-gazing, critical Whiteness, contemporary con-artists, the impossible idea of equality the fashion codes of upward social mobility, and the question of whether we really would be willing to share our own privileges with the have-nots of the world.