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
Thomas Ostermeier
About directing:

I believe that my role is not one of a comprehensive artist so much as an artist dedicated to plays and their interpretation. For me, the most important part of my job is to find the best way to bring out the core of the playwright’s work, the playwright’s play. The playwright may be Mayenburg or it may be Sarah Kane.
In the case of plays from the modern repertoire like Ibsen’s Nora, for example, I do a lot of modification of the original when I bring it to stage. When I direct a work such as this, I ask myself what kind of message the playwright would want to deliver if they were righting today. Perhaps you could say that I seek the spirit of the playwright.
With Nora, I don’t change the storyline much. Perhaps Ibsen would be angry if he saw my production, but I respect and have been faithful to the plot. But, I am focused mainly on what the story shows and the situations that are contingent with the events of the storyline. Why did this situation develop, why does Nora leave the home, or not leave it; I superimpose these things on today’s society and direct the play while thinking of ways to make the questions come alive so that the audience will also ask why?

About the Schaubuehne audience:

Our audience is made up of a number of different groups. In the case of Nora, the audience is largely people who come wanting to see a performance of A Doll’s House, and you might say that it is an older audience. In the case of works by contemporary playwrights the audience is younger, of the same age group as the playwright. For an example, we mounted a production of Mark Ravenhill’s play Shopping and Fucking. We have given about 120 performances of it and the audience is young, in the 18~28 age group. The people who used to come to the Schaubuehne in the past got the feeling that its tradition came to a standstill in the mid-80s. But now that generation is starting to come back to the theater gradually. I think that this is a result of the fact that our activities have gained momentum and found a positive trajectory.
In Germany there is a traditional theater system in which people would always plan to see a certain number of plays during a year and make their reservations before the start of the season. This theater culture remained as part of the German belief in cultivating appreciation for the arts and culture and made the theater—going for the liberal populace something almost equivalent to church-going until the 1960s. But now, that kind of cultivation of cultural appreciation is all but dead. Behind this change is the development of various types of entertainment and culture besides theater. Good examples are film and the club culture of the younger generations. It is very difficult to get these people to come to the theater.

About the works in the Schaubuehne repertoire:

In our repertoire are plays by Brecht and Chekhov. Although I didn’t direct it, we have a production of St. John of the Cross and one of Man is Man that I directed. In 2000, one of the plays we opened our new theater with was a rewritten version of Brecht’s The Decision. In the autumn of 2004 we presented a greatly revised version of Chekhov’s The Seagull directed by the young playwright and director Falk Richter. In the future we are considering productions of The Cherry Garden and Three Sisters. And, we plan to do these productions using new interpretations by contemporary German playwrights.
We have also presented numerous English-language plays at Schaubuehne by playwrights like Edna Walsh, Sarah Kane, Martin Crimp, and Jim Cartwright. We haven’t produced a work by Martin McDonagh yet, but he is a playwright with whom we have a personal relationship and whose work I like very much. Looking now at all the English plays we have done, I think it may even be too much! (laughs)

About the violent scenes in Fire Face and other works

In Fire Face I think there is a strong impression of violence for the audience. But, there is nothing really new about these scenes of violence. The works of Yukio Mishima are full of violence and classics like the Greek tragedies often depict violence I believe. In Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus there is a scene where Lavinia’s tongue is torn out and hands cut off and the name of the villain is written in the sand. I have never seen such a shockingly violent scene in a contemporary playwright’s work (laughs).
I believe that from its beginnings, theater is a medium that deals with the theme of death. And by confronting death, you might say that a spirit id appeased. I believe it serves that sort of function. This aspect can perhaps be seen in the fact that most of the Greek tragedies are said to have been created after the Persian wars. After the Persian wars many barbaric people came and performed murders on stages or other acts of violence to appease the spirits of the dead. The non-political aspects that could not be dealt with in the everyday world were acted out on stages. I believe that is one of the functions that theater performed.
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