The festival 2016

The past Theatertreffen was an impressive demonstration of the artistic variety of German-language theatre, in all the diversity of material, staging approaches and aesthetic forms employed by contemporary directing teams. A striking amount of festival newcomers presented their work at this year’s Theatertreffen. The frames of reference for their creations ranged from Dadaist texts to adaptations of novels and films, devised projects, documentary evidence and contemporary overwritings of classic works. The diversity of their approaches notwithstanding, most productions were united by their examination of social upheaval and their consequences for the individual, in a world where the accepted social systems are no longer effective. The tableau of invited productions reflected worlds and families that are out of joint, the invasion of “the foreign” into hermetically closed communities and critical examinations of one’s own identity. These were partly grounded in contemporary reality and partly translated and made unfamiliar through aesthetic sign vocabularies.

The 53rd Theatertreffen opened with the stage adaptation of “Schiff der Träume (É la nave va)”, based on the eponymous film by Federico Fellini, presented by Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg. In Karin Beier’s interpretation, this became a symbol for a self-referential Europe on the eve of its demise, tired of facing the current developments. At the same time, it symbolized the theatres’ attempts to respond to global challenges with the devices of art. “The Situation”, Yael Ronen’s devised project on the topic of the Middle East, featuring the vigorous acting company of the Maxim Gorki Theater, was an examination of global conflicts from the perspective of Berlin-Neukölln, which has become a place of refuge for many Palestinians and Israelis in recent years. The formally powerful performative installation “Tyrannis” by Ersan Mondtag described metaphorically how social rituals become prone to disruption by foreign influences. As an interleaving with “Deutsches Requiem” by Johannes Brahms and a hybrid between drama and musical theatre, Anna-Sophie Mahler staged “Mittelreich” by Josef Bierbichler as an exploration of identity, origins and German history.

In a timeless experimental arrangement, Daniela Löffner and her strong cast of Deutsches Theater Berlin cautiously fathomed the disorientation of individuals in times of social transformation in Ivan Turgeniev’s “Väter und Söhne (Fathers and Sons)”. Using devices of documentary theatre, Hans-Werner Kroesinger and his dramaturg Regine Dura approached a dark chapter in the history of Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe in “Stolpersteine Staatstheater”, reviewing many layers in the discrimination of Jewish employees of the theatre during the NS-regime. Of course, Henrik Ibsen, the classic among Theatertreffen-dramatists and expert for incidents of social breakdown, was presented this year, with no less than two of his works. Both “John Gabriel Borkman”, directed by Simon Stone, and “Ein Volksfeind (An Enemy of the People)” were characterized by a strong contemporary relevance. Simon Stone’s staging in designer Katrin Brack’s snowy landscape and the brilliant actors Birgit Minichmayr, Martin Wuttke and Caroline Peters partially continued Ibsen’s original play and located it in the world of social media. The radical overwriting of “Ein Volksfeind (An Enemy of the People)” by journalist Dietmar Dath struck the newspeak prevalent in urbanist media democracies.

A veritable feast of the art of acting was offered both by the nostalgic radio show of “Effi Briest”, which featured fantastic actors telling stories of missed opportunities for youthful liberation through upbeat pop hits full of unfulfilled longings, and by Herbert Fritsch’s anarchic-poetical review of texts by Konrad Bayer, “der die mann”, a virtuoso, acrobatic text score in gaudy red, blue and yellow.

The Theatertreffen’s Stückemarkt set out to search for the political dimensions of narratives and focused on the question of how the altered political reality of European societies manifests itself in times of global upheavals. There was a striking scope of contemporary authorship, ranging from participatory, choreographic and installative projects to documentary and literary theatre pieces. The selected works reflected a new global realism, dealing chiefly with documentary material on subjects like genocide, the reappraisal of one’s own history, war scenarios, dictatorship and a loss of culture. The new commission of a play, awarded by the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, went to Bara Kolenc and Atej Tutta from Slovenia.

The International Forum continued the reflection on the areas of tension between art and politics in workshops led by experienced artists, and established a global workspace for the discussion and further exploration of social issues.

The Theatertreffen-Camp, a place where the festival’s topical and aesthetic threads of discourse are concentrated, once again invited guests to 17 days of discourse, participation and controversy. Due to the altered political realities and the humanitarian catastrophe of global migration, the opening weekend focused on “Arrival Cities – Germany: A country of Welcome?” In conversations with various emphases, future strategies for an open society were considered together with audience members, theatre and culture makers, politicians and experts. The weekend at the middle of the festival was dedicated to an “Artists’ summit”, where a young generation of theatre makers from all parts of the world took part in workshops about how artistic practises can contribute to the development of new social forms of citizenship. On the final weekend, the Theatertreffen hosted a focus on “Sculpture/Performance/Drama” on the interface with visual and performance art, examining the changed roles of actors in times of interdisciplinary concepts. This was also a continuation of the exchange of artistic ideas with the Berliner Festspiele’s Martin-Gropius-Bau, where Isa Genzken’s exhibition “Mach dich hübsch!” could be seen during the time of the Theatertreffen. The installative premiere reading of Isa Genzken’s screenplay “Skizzen für einen Spielfilm” and Susanne Kennedy’s early theatre installation “Hideous (Wo)men” were both presented as part of this focus.

This year’s Theatertreffen was once again complemented by our Education Programme, which enabled students from ten international art academies and universities to take part in the Theatertreffen’s Open Campus programme.

The Theatre Prize of Stiftung Preußische Seehandlung was awarded to Shermin Langhoff and Jens Hillje of the Maxim Gorki Theater for their extraordinary services to German theatre. Director Herbert Fritsch received the 3sat-Awards for his pioneering, artistically innovative impulses and the Alfred Kerr Acting Prize was bestowed by juror Maren Eggert to Marcel Kohler for outstanding achievements in acting. As part of the “Be my Guest”-programme, Itzik Giuli, artistic director of the Israel Festival in Jerusalem, invited the production “der die mann” to be presented at his festival. The theatre exchange with China, which was established in 2015, will take three selected productions from 2016 to China.

On a final note, the Theatertreffen was once again a festival of actors. There is no other festival where you can see this many excellent actors, like for instance Michael Wittenborn, Charly Hübner, Lina Beckmann, Robert Hunger-Bühler, Caroline Peters, Birgit Minichmayr, Martin Wuttke or Oliver Stokowski in the space of 17 days. Lars Eidinger was once again the DJ for the big Theatertreffen Bergfest-party and Josef Bierbichler gave his debut at the festival as an author.

As far as we are concerned, after the festival is before the festival. The preparations for the 2017 Theatertreffen have already begun and we are once again looking forward to the Theatertreffen’s next edition, which will bring the tried and trusted, the new and the controversial. We are counting on your unabated curiosity and we would be delighted to welcome you as our guests again next year.

Our heartfelt thanks go to the Federal Cultural Foundation and 3sat, the Theatertreffen’s partners and sponsors.

Yvonne Büdenhölzer
Director of the Theatertreffen

The Theatertreffen is sponsored by the Federal Cultural Foundation. 3sat is the festival’s media partner.