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In the tradition of progression

The Berliner Theatertreffen

“Theatre should always be grounded on individual perspective regardless of one’s background.” Nino Haratischwilli, Georgian theatre director and playwright[i]

This article was commissioned by the  Korean Arts Management Services and originally published in Korean  for – a database website for the global exchange of performing arts, a project supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Republic of Korea.

Life and Times – Episode 1, Direction: Kelly Copper & Pavol Liska, Burgtheater, Wien © Reinhard Werner

In a span of 46 years, the Berlin Theatertreffen has staged 460 of the best plays in the German-speaking world.  This means that approximately 18,400 productions have passed the critical eyes of a total 80 jurors since 1964. For an entire year, a jury of 7 theatre experts, serving a maximum of three-year consecutive term, follow an average of 400 productions in the German-speaking theatre.  From this theatrical journey, the ten “most remarkable productions” are selected and staged in May of each year. And although the Theatertreffen has set the benchmark and established a strong tradition in the international theatre arena that brought prestige to a many names as well as stages, its director, Iris Laufenberg remarks, “Nobody has to do theatre because of the festival. The city and state theatres work for another audience.”

Among the top ranking theatres that have been repeatedly invited over the years are Burgtheater Wien, [ii]Münchner Kammerspiele[iii], Schaubühne am Halleschen Ufer / am Lehniner Platz Berlin,[iv] Deutsches Schauspielhaus (in) Hamburg[v]. Thalia Theater Hamburg[vi], Schauspielhaus Bochum[vii], Schauspiel Stuttgart[viii], Staatliche Schauspielbühnen Berlin (Schillertheater, Schloßparktheater, Werkstatt[ix]),Schauspielhaus Zürich[x], Schauspiel Köln[xi], Deutsches Theater Berlin[xii], Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz Berlin[xiii], Theater Bremen (Schauspiel und Tanztheater)[xiv], Schauspiel Frankfurt[xv], Theater Basel [xvi]and Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel München.[xvii] As for the directors, among the names that have raised to prominence are Peter Zadek, Peter Stein, Claus Peymann, Christoph Marthaler, Luc Bondy, Jürgen Gosch, Frank Castorf, Andrea Breth, Rudolf Noelte, Hans Hollmann, Andreas Kriegenburg, Peter Palitzsch, Niels-Peter Rudolph, Klaus Michael Grüber, Hans Neuenfels, Dieter Dorn, Thomas Langhoff, George Tabori, Michael Thalheimer, Hans Bauer, Jürgen Flimm, Hansgünther Heyme, Alexander Lang, Sebastian Nübling, Thomas Ostermeier, Stefan Pucher, Nicolas Stemann and Robert Wilson. [xviii]

Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten Direction: Viktor Bodó, Schauspielhaus Graz © Peter Manninger

Conceived with as aspiration of opening a window to the world employing the theatre as the vantage point, this festival has invited 2,023 international theatre makers from 60 different countries throughout its history.  The 44-year old festival director says, “The idea is to show that Berlin is important to the world before and after 1989 (following the fall of the Berlin wall).  We would like to know what other people/theatre makers think.  There is no other German theatre festival of such kind.”

Housed at the Berliner Festpiele[xix], Theatertreffen receives an annual funding of 1.5 Million Euro from the Bundeskulturstiftung (German Federal Cultural Foundation).[xx] It hosts an array of programmes besides giving recognition to the “top ten” German-language productions with the combined with resources from its partners and supporters.  Each spring, Theatertreffen welcomes theatre professionals, journalists and the general audiences, while facilitating public debates involving prominent personalities in the fields of culture, politics and business in view of bridging theatre with current socio-political concerns.  An umbrella platform called “tt Talent” (Theatertreffen talent) [xxi]covering three platforms have been set-up to involve the young and emerging professionals in an exchange, continuous debate and networking: Stückemarkt, Internationales Forum and Theatertreffen Blog.

The Stückemarkt (Play Market) was conceived in 1975 as a “festival within the festival.” It presents new plays by aspiring European playwrights with a goal of developing and promoting contemporary playwriting in the German-speaking theatre. Stückemarkt has successfully advocated the long-term support for up-and-coming playwrights and proven to be the springboard for careers of numerous writers like Anja Hilling, Nuran David Calis, Dirk Laucke, Thomas Freyer, Philip Löhle, Anne Habermehl, Oliver Kluck and Nis-Momme Stockmann.  Embracing a range of events such as staged readings, discussions with writers and theatre experts, dramatists’ presentations and workshops, audio theatre as well as prize awarding, this platform serves as marketplace for playwrights, agents, theatre makers and critics alike opening pathways to production and spots in the theatre repertoires.  In over three decades 215 plays have been selected for Stückemarkt.  From 2003 until 2010, 99 premieres and sequels have been noted following the presentation of the pieces at this Theatertreffen programme.[xxii]

Stückemarkt 2010© Pierro Chiussi

The International Forum, on the other hand, set-up in 1965 has undergone successive transformations.  In its formative years, it engaged predominantly young theatre professionals from West Germany until it enlarged its network to include participants from Austria and Switzerland.  Following a decade of experimentation, the International Forum moved from a discussion based platform towards a pro-active programming, incorporating practical workshops over a scheduled two-week meeting.  By 1980, the formalised co-operation with the Goethe Institut-Munich resulted in the further extension to worldwide participants. “The International forum is a 40 year tradition. We invite about 45 people from all over the world paid for by the Goethe Institut with the condition that they have an understanding of German. Another part of it is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs- where we invite about 20 foreign directors or festival managers for the ‘tt Talent,” remarks Laufenberg.  In 2010, 199 guests from 41 countries took active part in the festival equipped with a combination of competitive theatrical backgrounds and German-language skills. [xxiii]

The third and youngest pillar is the Theatertreffen Blog, a daring platform that offers a fresh approach to theatre criticism in the web. Revamping the printed festival newspaper, Theatertreffen Blog, likewise, addresses the need of such an international gathering to win a mass of audiences that have yet to learn about it in the worldwide web. It is an avenue promoting new formats of online journalism and invites 7 young international culture bloggers (6 writers and 1 photographer) to follow the festival for three weeks.  The team of bloggers captures a complete view of the performances and the work scenario behind the curtain. The participants are given the freehand (mind) to write their uncensored views.  They are joined by media experts for seminars to reflect on current social debates and investigate the possibilities for arts journalism in times of international media networking.  The Theatertreffen blog report reflects that in 2009, its 14,938 visitors made 23,219 visits and hit a total of 227,828 pages, considering that the festival actively runs for less than three weeks with German as its primary working language.  This year, the Theatertreffen blog extended its team including an English-speaking writer. In 2011, the blog is inviting German, English and Spanish writers in its pool of talents. Nikola Richter, Director of the Theatertreffen blog, is continually finding strategic avenues to enlarge the reach of this platform. Richter, a young accomplished writer and author says that “it is essential to recognise the changes and happening within the festival in relation to its immediate environment as well as the predominant language used in the online world. “ Since German is not the widely popular international language employed by web-users, this platform seeks to have a further reach by eventually becoming multi-lingual.[xxiv]

Laufenberg, who has witnessed the progression of the Theatertreffen prior to her appointment as its director in 2003 says, “When I joined, I was aware of the tradition and my goal is to open up the festival to different audiences.  Now I try to open the Theatertreffen for foreign audiences with at least 4-5 productions with surtitles.” She explained that such measure remains a subject of debate since many directors prefer to have their productions on stage as a pure theatre piece without visual “distractions” of the digital translations.   Laufenberg boasts that the audience of the Theatertreffen “know a lot of theatre.”  She is convinced that 98% that represent the 20,000 volume of Theatertreffen attendance are speciliased audiences.  “We can educate the audience in other terms. Now the festival is focused on Europe because of the resources (limited). Europe is so big, “ she continues.

Internationales Forum © Pierro Chiussi

The Top-notchers and the Future

When one reviews the list of “top-notchers”, it is easy to spot the close association between the powerful and highly-subsidised state or city theatre institutions and the directorial prowess that have been borne in the nearly five decade theatrical tradition.  The professional practices of both the stages and names are generally linked or joint to the hip.

Of its recent history, Laufenberg proudly mentions the exceptional international success of Schaubuehne’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s “Nora”, directed by Thomas Ostermeier in 2002, performed 270 times all over the world; and the German theatre collective, Rimini Protokoll[xxv], whose works can be seen at different international festivals following their nominations at Theatertreffen“Success is not only about the audience attendance — it is also about the reviews and reactions of the people,” points out Laufenberg.  Theatertreffen 2010 was featured in 1009 TV, radio and print media, accounting 108 national and 42 international journalists covering the festival.

What is far more striking is the limited nominations of female directors.  Andrea Breth, for instance, stands out as the only woman in the top-ten directorial chart, with a total of nine-festival nomination.  Pina Bausch, Karin Beier, Sasha Waltz, Barbara Bürk, Ellen Hammer, Karin Henkel, Katie Mitchell, Meg Stuart and Katharina Thalbach are among the few female theatre makers that have been invited once or twice to the Theatertreffen.

In a male-dominated theatre tradition, Laufenberg remarks, “When I started it was patriarchal. There was no woman in the jury and now out of seven, we have at least three. Each year, there is at least one female director out of the 10 best productions nominated.”  Although she says that such decision is not done deliberately, there is an apparent air of ambivalence when confronted with this specific issue.  Laufenberg is convinced as she articulates, “The German theatre needs more female directors.” Following this statement, she highlights the rising number of women attending directorial studies at universities as well as a project she is co-curating at the Akademie der Kuenste called “Regie Frauen,” [xxvi]that puts forward the life and works of four generations of female directors in Germany.

The Theatertreffen jury is composed of theatre experts, scientists and journalist, from different generations and hailing from different cities and theatrical education/orientation.  For 2011, critics Wolfgang Höbel (Hamburg), Andres Müry (Salzburg), Ellinor Landmann (Basel), Christine Wahl (Berlin), Ulrike Kahle (Stuttgart), Vasco Boenisch (Bochum) and Franz Wille (Berlin) began travelling in the end of February to observe the theatrical landscape in the German speaking theatre.  According to Laufenberg, each jury member is requested to follow specific regional theatres.  “It’s their job to watch performances.  We collect votes from each jury member.  He/She explains why such a nomination is made then I follow them too in the process together with the other jury members.  To win the nomination, 4 votes need to be cast in the process,” elaborates Laufenberg.   The jury meets five times a year in Berlin.

As for the future of Theatertreffen, “I am dreaming of a German festival with another festival on the side that will involve the top ten of the city theatres in Europe, “ visualises the festival director.  Within Laufenberg’s capacity, she began developing frame programmes that include smaller works from younger theatre makers to accompany the festival. “We start now with Europe then later worldwide. The collaborations abroad, for instance cooperation with South Korea, maybe would be the result of my dream,” she affirms.

The Berliner Theatertreffen is scheduled at the Berliner Festspiele on 6-22 May 2011.  For opportunities to participate in the Stückemarkt, Internationales forum and Theatertreffen blog, visit<


[i] Die Ambivalenz des Brückenbauens, taken from the Keynote speech by Nino Haratischwili at the opening of Stückmarkt 2010 (translated from German to English).

[ii] Burgtheater Wien<

[iii] Münchner Kammerspiele<

[iv] Schaubühne am Halleschen Ufer / am Lehniner Platz Berlin<

[v] Deutsches Schauspielhaus (in) Hamburg<

[vi] Thalia Theater Hamburg<

[vii] Schauspielhaus Bochum<

[viii] Schauspiel Stuttgart<

[ix] Staatliche Schauspielbühnen Berlin (Schillertheater, Schloßparktheater, Werkstatt)ühnen_Berlin

[x] Schauspielhaus Zürich<

[xi] Schauspiel Köln<

[xii] Deutsches Theater Berlin<

[xiii] Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz Berlin<

[xiv] Theater Bremen (Schauspiel und Tanztheater)<

[xv] Schauspiel Frankfurt<

[xvi] Theater Basel<

[xvii] Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel München<

[xviii] The above-mentioned theatres are noted in ascending order with a range of 43 to 14 invitations, whilst the directorial nominations range from 21 to 5.   To view this data, visit<

[xix] Berliner Festpiele<

[xx] Bundeskulturstiftung <

[xxi] “tt Talent” (Theatertreffen talent)<

[xxii] Stückemarkt<

[xxiii] International Forum<

[xxiv] Theatertreffen Blog<

[xxv] Rimini Protokoll<

[xxvi] Regie Frauen, “Director Women- An Exhibition as Meeting Place”

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