Dyke Dogs is a queer-lesbian performance series and theatre salon at Schaubühne. For those who associate West Berlin’s most hallowed theatre space with sober performances of Hamlet and long monologues of French autofiction, it can be a bit of an eye-popper. Because not only does Dyke Dogs push the boundaries of genteel theatre, it was also designed as a space of wild creativity for queer-lesbian people and allies.
The project is the brainchild of Lynn Takeo Musiol and Eva Tepest – known collectively as the “Dyke Dogs” – who describe the start of their creative relationship as a kind of “elopement – in a collaborative sense”. Both hail from the industrial Rheinland in western Germany.
You can only afford to not be perfectionist if you have worked through a lot of pain and shame
Eva initially worked for a member of parliament and as a freelance journalist and writer. A first essay collection, Power Bottom (März Verlag) goes on sale this February. After studying criminology in Hamburg, Lynn decided to pursue a career as a dramaturg, including a spell in a theatre in Düsseldorf – where their queerness still occasioned intermittent hostility.
The pair met when Lynn edited a queer-themed edition of Metamorphosen Magazine that Eva wrote a piece for – and found they had a lot of the same passions, ideas and frustrations with the Hauptstadt’s cultural milieu. Both then in their late twenties, they worried it was too late to restart creatively.
“We had this immediate conversation about how queerness is important for us in terms of bigger ideas, like class,” Lynn explains. “Personally, for me, it was also so important to speak to someone who saw how it is all connected to things like the climate crisis.”
Both felt that the concept of minority relevance in global topics can sometimes get lost in discourses around issues like gender and identity politics. Just about anyone in a place like Berlin can tell you that defending the rights of oppressed groups, like queer folks, is important on a human rights level; they may be harder pressed to explain how intersectionalism means that the fight for LGBTQ equality is linked to existential issues like the climate crisis and workers’ rights – issues with a disproportionately greater impact on minority communities. This connection is exactly what fascinated Eva and Lynn.
“We wanted to ask how we could engage with queerness in terms of these bigger narratives,” Lynn sums up. After exploring different ideas, the upshot, four years later, is Dyke Dogs.
“We had this plan to set up a space that has some kind of lesbian headline and to dig into lesbian history in Berlin,” Lynn says. “We needed a space to do that, to negotiate contemporary lesbian issues. From the beginning it was very, very playful.”
This playfulness has been their guiding light, a million miles away from stereotypical visions of late-night, hard-drinking creative marathons. “We empower each other in a very tender, cosy way,” is how Lynn puts it. “And that’s what makes this collaborative approach special. It’s so joyful!”
The salon structure
The idea of the salon came once the groundwork for their collaboration had already been laid. Eva and Lynn say their initial inspiration came from reading about the salon culture in Paris in the 17th and 18th centuries, when literary bigwigs like Molière and Voltaire would meet in private drawing rooms or coffee houses to workshop plays and share ideas.
“And then later [in the 20th century] people like Gertrude Stein did the same thing,” Lynn explains, adding a lesbian role model. “She invited people and they discussed art, politics and literature. And this is very empowering – to say we would like to also have a space where we can invite people who can stimulate each other and make specific topics visible. And that’s some kind of historic framework for this kind of entity.”
Eva and Lynn saw the opportunity to use this structure to create a space that a traditional theatre performance could not offer, a space where cooperation was prized above sitting around and simply consuming art.
We were very keen to work more towards an inclusive creative space – to hang out and exchange and talk
“When you think of a reading or a performance or whatever, you have a much more distinct image of what that would look like as someone participating and going there,” Eva says. “But with a salon, it is different, as we hope with Dyke Dogs. In the salon everyone is equal.”
“I mean, there’s no space where everyone is equal,” Eva clarifies. “But the salon carries with it a more egalitarian notion than performance or theatre usually does. We were very keen to work more towards an inclusive creative space – to hang out and exchange and talk.”
The ideal variation of this, they joke, would be simply to be rich and have a huge house they could invite creatives to come and spend time in. Hampered by Berlin rents, they looked for other ways to bring their theatre salon idea to fruition.
The collaboration with Schaubühne began last year, and they have signed up to produce monthly or bi-monthly events up until summer. They say they are gratified at how much creative control they have been allowed. Their first Schaubühne salon, New Lesbian Theatre, took place in October 2022.
Lesbian sex death
The question then – with space and funding from one of Berlin’s biggest theatres and creative freedom to play in whatever way they wanted – is why they chose to focus on lesbian issues in particular. Berlin, after all, is seen by many as a mecca for the queer community, and theatre pieces with a queer angle are ten a penny. But for both Eva and Lynn, one of the key ideas was the way lesbians are often excluded from queer spaces.
“There’s a specific kind of discrimination against lesbians in our culture,” Eva says. “And of course there’s also specific kinds of discrimination against gay people, trans people, bi people. You have all these layers. But just to give one example, there is the idea of lesbian sex death. In society, you either have lesbian porn made for straight audiences or else there is this idea of lesbians not having sex at all. It’s like this Mary/Mary Magdalene dichotomy. This is something that we also address in a space that is labelled as a lesbian-led space.”
While these perceptions do not actually reflect lesbian lived experience – after all, few lesbians, or people of any sexual orientation, can be exclusively categorised as either sinners or saints – what’s important here is vocalising one group’s perspective. It’s often part of the solution.
Lynn explains why the “lesbian-queer” term is important for them, especially as both Eva and Lynn prefer they/them pronouns.
“We have this lesbian-queer hyphenated term that we sometimes use,” Lynn says. “And I think it’s important for us, due to lots of battles, struggles, historical incidents in the past, to also include ‘queer’. It’s just shorthand meaning for: lesbians are not the same as cis females.”
“It doesn’t mean we are completely refusing that,” Lynn goes on. “And of course, I’m not saying this in a kind of TERF way. We use this term so that people familiar with these debates know what we’re about. We have a lot of queer people, especially in the performance and theatre scene.”
So they are tackling big issues in the salon – but the great advantage of their model is they can make mistakes and are not afraid to embarrass themselves.
“We don’t need to be perfect,” Eva says. “This doesn’t need to be bulletproof. But I think we can afford to take that risk – because we are not 22 anymore! We’re at the beginning of our thirties. We’ve been working together for a long time. We’ve had a lot of shit to deal with already, and you get to be playful and also kind of open and vulnerable.”
Maybe the breadth of their experiences outside of the theatre industry and relative youth is exactly what allows them to be so playful. Young actors trying to make it big at the Berliner Ensemble or the Deutsches Theater might shy away from a concept like Dyke Dogs, too afraid to be seen as anything but perfect.
We wondered, what’s the term for a non-lesbian who really loves lesbians? Then we came up with Dyke Dog!
“I mean, you can only afford not to be perfectionist if you have worked through a lot of pain and shame,” Eva agrees. “I couldn’t have done that four years ago.”
The two start laughing. In the middle of a discussion piece about how cis white gay men get all the good queer stories, the pair spontaneously reenacted a scene from Brokeback Mountain.
“People really liked it,” Eva says. “But we can only afford to do that because we have each other. Lynn gives me a lot of security.”
In fact, the connection between the two creatives is at the heart of the whole event.
“It’s all about security and trust,” Lynn says. Coming from a working-class family, Lynn says they never had the confidence to feel like they belonged in this kind of cultural environment. “When it comes to my childhood, I always had this kind of fascination for theatre, and now I’m super connected. Eva and I are in this trust connection and I’m super playful in the way that I approach it. If one of us has an idea, we do it! Because there’s this space that we have. It’s beyond traditional ideas that theatre has to be perfect, or that we need to rehearse it.”
Lynn sums it up neatly: “Dyke Dogs is all about imperfection and trust and the ‘wish to be’.”
What to expect?
The next salon will take place on February 23, a “live radio show” and an interactive night of theatre piece that asks, in a tongue-in-cheek way: “How many lesbians does it take to put together a radio show?” All are welcome.
After that, in May and June, two more salons are planned, one around sports – “tennis is the lesbian motherland,” Eva laughs – and then a salon about class. You can go as a spectator, or go to interact and workshop ideas. Separately, they hope to put on more small-scale workshops and other events.
All that is left is to get an answer to where the name Dyke Dogs came from. Eva says the origin story has become the stuff of myth, but the term does actually have a meaning.
“I was at a party, and I was talking to this gay guy, and he said, ‘Oh, I love lesbians. I always hang out with dykes. You know, they’re like my favourite people to be with.’ And we wondered: ‘What’s the term for a non-lesbian who really loves lesbians?’ Because with gay guys you have fag hags – and then we came up with Dyke Dog!” The pair laugh. “And I also like it because it makes me think of a dog following a dyke in a submissive, power bottom way,” Eva adds.
But the main reason the name stuck was because of its intrinsic silliness, which lines up with the duo’s mission for a playful performance salon event that would never dare to take itself seriously.
“It’s so silly, I’m still laughing to myself when people just mention it in passing in the theatre: ‘Time for Dyke Dogs!’ It’s so funny that this silly term became the thing and it’s on stickers and posters. It’s almost like a prank!”
- Dyke Dogs are performing at the Schaubühne (Kurfürstendamm 153, Charlottenburg) on 23.02.23. Accessible in German and English.You can get more information – and also live-stream the show (German only) – here.