A dark blue poster with the yellow lettering “Theatertreffen” in front of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

© Berliner Festspiele, photo: Fabian Schellhorn

About Theatertreffen

Every year, a jury of critics selects 10 remarkable productions from up to 600 productions from the German-language region to be presented in Berlin in May. The 2024 festival edition featured discussions on aesthetic, social and culture-political issues with and in front of the audience. Established formats and platforms were continued and became enhanced by more networking activities between them and a closer connection with the ten remarkable productions. 

The scholarship programme of the International Forum gatheres artists from theatre-related disciplines and all continents to think together and make connections. The aspiring arts journalists of the Theatertreffen-Blog will provide critical coverage of the festival. Open Campus turns Theatertreffen into a place of networking and encounters for Berlin school and international university students. And since 2021, the Forum Ökologische Nachhaltigkeit im Theater (Forum Ecological Sustainability in the Theatre) brings representatives of the theatres invited as one of the 10 remarkable productions together for an exchange of ideas on sustainable culture production. In addition, several prizes are traditionally awarded during the festival: the Theatre-Award-Berlin, the Alfred-Kerr-Acting-Award and the 3sat-Award.

History of the Theatertreffen

As early as 1963, one year prior to the first Berlin Theatertreffen, Berliner Festwochen invited five productions from German city theatres to Berlin – as a kind of pilot project. In October 1964, the first Theatertreffen took place under the title of “Berliner Theaterwettbewerb (Berlin Theatre Competition)” during the 14th Berliner Festwochen.

Its basic structure was the same as today: Ten remarkable productions were selected by a jury of theatre critics and presented in Berlin. The founding declaration (1964) states: “The Berlin Theatre Competition is an attempt to present a selection of drama productions from the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria and Switzerland with the aim of giving not only an overview of the current state of German-language theatre, but also to give an opportunity for comparison – an opportunity that is particularly necessary given the isolation of the individual theatre cities. A committee of German, Austrian and Swiss theatre critics has selected productions from the 1963/64 season that seemed especially remarkable to them. The annual confrontation with each other may serve to turn the theatres’ present contactless juxtaposition into cooperation, and to once more find common standards that used to be set by Berlin as the theatre centre.”

The well-known epithet of “showcase of the West” initially referred to Berliner Festspiele in their entirety. After the construction of the Berlin Wall, however, it became more politically charged and from 1964, it was mostly used with reference to the Theatertreffen. Although being a “showcase of the west” may not have been the chief reason given for the necessity of hosting the Theatertreffen, but the slogan was a welcome argument, especially during the Cold War. Repeated invitations to East German theatres long remained of a purely symbolic nature.

Nicolas Nabokov was the Theatertreffen’s director during its founding year.

From 1965, the Theatertreffen operated under the term of “Treffen (meeting)” and was moved to May to make it easier to consider productions of the already running season. The festival was also separated from the other events of Berliner Festwochen. The title of “Theatertreffen” was first used in 1966. In 1967, the Berliner Festspiele GmbH was founded as a supporting organisation for the Theatertreffen.

Gerhard Hellwig was the Theatertreffen’s director from 1965 to 1968.

1965 saw the foundation of the Theatertreffen’s International Forum (it was called “Begegnung junger Bühnenangehöriger” until 1973 and “Internationales Forum junger Bühnenangehöriger” until 2005). This makes it the oldest continually active institution of its kind. Initially an information and discussion event for young professional theatre makers from the Federal Republic of Germany (the GDR did not get involved in this format either), the circle of participants was extended to include participants from Austria and Switzerland in 1970, based on agreements with institutions in these countries.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Theatertreffen played a vital role in establishing new generations of theatre directors. Peter Zadek (21), Claus Peymann (19) and Peter Stein (18) were the directors who enjoyed the most frequent invitations to the Theatertreffen.

Walther Schmiedling was the Theatertreffen’s director from 1969 to 1972, Ulrich Eckhardt held the same position from 1973 to 1981.

In 1978, the Theatertreffen’s Stückemarkt was founded as the first supporting initiative for contemporary drama in the German-language region. Prior to this, there had been no authors’ support and no platforms for as yet unproduced plays, much less any writing academies for emerging dramatists. During the festival’s first twenty years, the Stückemarkt’s directors selected five plays from among all those licensed for a first production, in order to present them to a broader audience during the Theatertreffen. There was no jury yet – the Stückemarkt’s directors were single-handedly responsible for the programme.

1980 saw the beginning of a cooperation between the International Forum and the Goethe-Institut, which opened up the International Forum to the world. At the same time, the Forum’s focus shifted towards practical work – after a phase of experimentation from 1975, workshops became an essential component of the Forum programme.

From 1982 to 1988, the Theatertreffen was headed by Ulrich Eckhardt and Börries von Liebermann. Torsten Maß was the festival’s director from 1989 to 2001.

In May 1989, only a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, theatres from the socialist part of the country were finally permitted to travel to the Theatertreffen. After the fall of the Wall, the original argumentation of the founding declaration moved into centre-stage again: The festival was to “give an overview of the status of German-language theatre” rather than a “showcase of the West”, which had been important during the period of West-Berlin’s isolation.

Since the reunification in 1990, the “showcase of excellence” has not lost its relevance. In fact, due to the fact that numerous international curators, artists, artistic directors and journalists from all parts of the world have visited the festival’s performances, the Theatertreffen has become a showcase of German-language theatre for the world.

The Stückemarkt expanded in 2003 to include authors from all over Europe, who were invited to submit theatre texts in their original languages. The presentation of new plays for an audience of theatre professionals was thus transformed into a competition for as yet unknown authors. Since then, a jury of experts shifted through hundreds of plays; and five to seven of them were presented as staged readings during the Theatertreffen until 2022.

Iris Laufenberg was the Theatertreffen’s director from 2003 to 2011, after Dieter Hansen had taken over the directorship in 2002.

In 2005, the festival-newspaper was launched. Until 2008, it was created in cooperation with Berliner Zeitung and provided a critical accompaniment to the Theatertreffen. In 2009, this initiative went digital and the festival-newspaper became the Theatertreffen-Blog. Furthermore, the inclusion of English-speaking participants leads to a greater internationalisation of debates.

Yvonne Büdenhölzer was the Theatertreffen’s director from 2012 to 2022.

In 2012, the Stückemarkt expanded its concept of authorship: For the first time, devised projects by theatre collectives were admitted to the competition.

In 2012, the Open Campus was launched as a place for theatre makers of tomorrow to meet and form networks. As part of this format, emerging actors, directors, dramaturgs, scenographers and theatre scholars from universities, art academies and theatre institutes from the German-language regions attend the Theatertreffen’s performances and discourse programme. Through workshops and discussions with artists and the festival team, students come into contact with different aesthetics and ways of working.

In 2014 the “Focus” series was established at the Theatertreffen, setting artistic and discursive focuses within the festival programme. Up to 2016, the following were created: Focus Dimiter Gotscheff, Focus Fassbinder and Focus Sculpture, Performance, Acting. From 2014 to 2016, a theatre festival curator was invited to accompany and reflect on the Theatertreffen as part of the “Be my Guest” programme in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut. At the end of the Theatertreffen they invited one of the selected productions to their own festival.

Since 2015, the International Forum has focused increasingly on the global dynamics of social development, with the aim of investigating the theatre as a venue of the political public sphere. Since then, its workshops and discourse events have focused chiefly on the theatre between the poles of art, politics and society. In 2015 photographer and director Marcus Gaab started his project One on One on One, which lasted till 2019.

From 2016 to 2022, the Stückemarkt and the Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung/bpb) have been awarding a commission of work together. In 2016, selected Theatertreffen productions were presented for the first time at the Theatertreffen in China, at the invitation of Wu Promotion in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut China and with the support of the Berliner Festspiele, the Federal Foreign Office, the Hamburg Department of Culture and Volkswagen Group China.

The Theatertreffen’s international platform Shifting Perspectives was launched by Yvonne Büdenhölzer and Daniel Richter in 2017. It added non-European perspectives to the ten remarkable productions from the German-language region and reflected a broader spectrum of current social issues, aesthetic positions and pioneering trends.

Initiated by Yvonne Büdenhölzer and Daniel Richter, the overarching discourse programme TT Context took place for the first time in 2018, complementing the festival’s established artistic programmes until 2022. It opened a discursive approach to Theatertreffen’s artistic programme by creating social, political and economic contexts and backgrounds and by taking the presented works as an opportunity to raise questions about our ways of living together, here and now. The format was a further development of the “Camp” format, which previously bundled the discourse events of Theatertreffen. Furthermore this year, the Open Campus, which took place from 2013 to 2022 under the direction of Anneke Wiesner, also opened up to Berlin school students in cooperation with the LiteraturInitiative Berlin (LIN). In 2018, Daniel Richter took over as director of Theatertreffen while the director was on parental leave.

In 2019, the conference on gender (in)equality “Burning Issues meets Theatertreffen” took place as part of Theatertreffen. Initiated in 2018 by Lisa Jopt and Nicola Bramkamp, the conference was given a special focus in the festival and was designed here together with the founders by Yvonne Büdenhölzer, Daniel Richter and Maria Nübling.

With its 2020 festival edition, Yvonne Büdenhölzer introduced a female quota of at least 50 percent in the position of directors for the selection of ten productions. Due to the limitations caused by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the Theatertreffen was hosted online as a Special Edition 2020. It featured recordings of the selection of ten productions as well as audience discussions and conversations on the online platform Berliner Festspiele on Demand. The format “Unboxing Stages”, a cooperation with the Academy for Theatre and Digitality and the initiative Digitale Dramaturgie, opened the conversation between online theatre protagonists, theatre makers, artists from the 10 selected productions, IT experts, technicians and scientists in panel discussions.

In 2021, due to the ongoing Corona pandemic, the Theatertreffen again took place purely digitally. The “Berliner Festspiele Digital” platform, which also included a virtual festival garden and two digitised stage sets, was developed for the presentation of the 10 selected productions, the Stückemarkt, the focal points “Stages Unboxed“ and “Focus Living Theatre” as well as the TT Context events. In cooperation with the Action Network Sustainability in Culture and Media and initiated by Jacob Sylvester Bilabel, Yvonne Büdenhölzer and Katharina Fritzsche, the pilot project “Forum Ecological Sustainability in the Theatre” took place for the first time. Since then, representatives of the theatres and production houses nominated for the festival’s 10 remarkable productions have come together annually as Green Ambassadors to develop strategies for ecologically sustainable cultural production.

With its 2022 festival edition, Theatertreffen returned to the Haus der Berliner Festspiele and was once again attended by guests and live audiences. Live streams of selected events were accessible via Berliner Festspiele’s new media library. For the first time, the issue of sustainability was given its own programme focus during the festival. In addition, the cooperation between Theatertreffen and Burning Issues took place for the second time in 2022 under the title “Performing Arts & Equity” in collaboration with the Akademie der Künste and the German Centre of the ITI – International Theatre Institute.

For 2023, Olena Apchel, Marta Hewelt (until 31 March 2023), Carolin Hochleichter and Joanna Nuckowska were in charge of the Theatertreffen. The new format 10 Treffen (English: meetings or encounters) was introduced – a series of ten different transdisciplinary formats of encounters which took place during the entire period of the festival in a variety of formats and included both new events and already existing programme pillars of the festival. 10 Treffen was looking at the aspect of “meeting” on a European level.

Nora Hertlein-Hull has been director of Theatertreffen since 1 January 2024.