The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
In pursuit of Theater for the Playwright Talking with Artistic Director Ostermeier of the Schaubuehne
In pursuit of Theater for the Playwright Talking with Artistic Director Ostermeier of the Schaubuehne
Feuergesicht Fireface
Feuergesicht Fireface
Schaubuehne am Lehniner Platz
Feuergesicht / Fireface
Photo: Arno Declair
About the Schaubuehne theater:

I would like to explain something about the position the Schaubuehne has in Berlin today and what its situation is. I think some of the people gathered here will already know that Schaubuehne has a long history of 40 years. During those four decades, the period when it was most active as a theater was between 1970 and ’85, when Peter Stein was its art director. At that time, it functioned mainly in the ensemble format and the productions were created by a process of consensus, with results that were very fresh and interesting. However, from the later half of the 80s into the 90s, that freshness was lost and it became like a museum to things past with a conservative approach of protecting the tradition that had been built up there over the years.
At the end of the 90s the person in charge of at the time called me in. Before that, I had served as an artistic director of a company called Baracke in Berlin for about three years. It was a production type company made up of a small group actors, several of whom were from the Deutschen Theater (German Theater), and we would put together contemporary theater productions in a very short working period.
At the time, in about 1996, the Volksbuehne was ascendant and had won some degree of acclaim, and in some sense they had become enveloped in their own world. To counter that trend, we were running Baracke as an alternative.
The direction the Volksbuehne was taking in its productions was a sort of deconstructive one aimed a breaking down the conventions of theater as such. On the other hand, we in Baracke, as representatives of the younger generation, were wondering if we couldn’t use a different methodology. We looked for a direction that was Baracke wilder and more extreme. Our answer was to try to bring social realities into the theater. The primary basis for this, the umbilical cord, so to speak, was the playwright. I thought, isn’t it possible to bring the world of the playwright as he writes it directly into the theater?
In the case of Mayenburg who wrote Fire Face, I felt that his work had not really been written to be performed in the theater. Rather, it seemed to me to be a text that he had written in a process of self-reflection. [In the production this time] we concentrated on the storyline that shows the development of the characters in the story, and in that sense it might be considered somewhat conservative in method. And, since in that sense our performance this time doesn’t conform to the image of the young power of a young theater company on full display, I hope people won’t come to it with the wrong expectations in that aspect (laughs). Rather than a typical portrayal of youth, I think the thing to watch this time is the development of the story.

About the nurturing of playwrights and the festival:

We are working now to discover works of good contemporary playwrights and support them. Central among these for us are works that are written with a critical eye towards society. At the same time, we are taking the works of playwrights of the past and adding new interpretations and staging them in the contemporary context in ways that bring new reality to them. Some examples are Buchner’s Woyzeck and works of the woman playwright Marieluise Fleisser.
As a platform for discovering and nurturing young contemporary writers, Schaubuehne is now organizing a yearly international festival to introduce the works of young playwrights. With each holding we focus on works of a different language and introduce works mainly in a drama reading format. Most of the works are staged by excellent directors and we choose costumes and props for the productions. But, in fact, the readings sometimes go better than the actual performances.
In March 2005, we had drama readings for to Japanese playwright’s works, Suzuki Matsuo’s Machine Diary and Keralino Sandrovich’s Frozen Beach. With Kera’s work the production used devices like music to maintain the pace of the original, and the reaction was very good among the primarily young audience. Like Fire Face, Frozen Beach is also a kind of family drama and it reflects very vividly the topology of TV culture and entertainment culture. I appreciated this drama, this creative world, very much.
Ours is a 5-day festival in which we present five to eight works. It is very international in terms of both the works presented and the audience, and it functions as a sort of messe (exposition). We use it as a platform to think about the works we will bring to production for the coming season.
What we hope to do through these activities is to get more people in the young generation to look to theater, and to make it a part of their actual lives. Perhaps it is going too far to say that the young generation of playwrights are lacking in imagination, but it is clear that through the influence of movies and TV they are weak in their ability to tell their own stories. It is our hope that our theater will serve as a last fortress in the effort to nurture and support playwrights. And we hope that our festival will continue to be a forum that ensures the type of communication that should normally be going on.
Of the two works that we brought to Japan this time, Nora is a part of the modern era theater repertoire and Fire Face is by a newly discovered playwright who we supporting. In other words, these two works reflect very well the two directions that Schaubuehne is pursuing today. I am very excited to see how these works will be received here in Japan and what kind of communication they will inspire.
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