The most prestigious festival for German-language theater sees a freie Szene breakthrough, expensive stage design and diversity issues. Catch the fest May 3-17.
Since 1964, the Berliner Festspiele has invited the crème de la crème of performances from the German-speaking world to perform at Theatertreff en, a two-week festival in the city each spring. Last year, the 10-strong jury team saw 418 performances in 65 cities to arrive at a shortlist of 39 productions from which the 10 “most notable” were selected to be performed at the fest – all with English surtitles. So what made the cut this year?
The German theatre landscape has been traditionally dominated by Stadttheater, with most medium-sized cities boasting at least one state-funded institution. Typically, they have also dominated the invitation lists. In this respect, 2019 marks a breakthrough for the free scene as three independent co-productions step up to the plate: She She Pop’s participative Brechtian property polemic and gentrification drama Oratorium, Thorsten Lensing’s hilarious stage adaptation of David Forster Wallace’s postmodern masterpiece Infinite Jest, translated as Unendlicher Spaß, and Swiss director Thom Luz’s enchanting, smoke-filled Girl from the Fog Machine Factory: a romantic, musically rich tale of a hard-up company struggling to reinvent itself. All three productions also stand out as must-see performances during the festival.
In contrast to an often precarious freie Szene, the Stadttheater have comparatively more cash. And Theatertreff en is not immune to games of theatrical one-upmanship, as last year proved with the €500,000 price-tag for fi ve performances of Frank Castorf’s Faust and the ginormous, mechanically-rotating hydraulic disc in Ulrich Rasche’s Woyzeck. This year, Rasche returns to the festival with not one, but two giant spinning wheels (no, really) in Das große Heft – one of two productions invited from the Staatsschauspiel Dresden (the other being Erniedrigte und Beleidigte, Sebastian Hartmann’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Humiliated and Insulted).
Ersan Mondtag’s Das Internat is certainly a frontrunner when it comes to aesthetics, however, its nightmarish Caspar David Friedrichesque mise-en-scène sadly couldn’t be staged during the festival due to technical constraints – a decision that came as a great disappointment to many. But there will be another chance to catch the deservedly-hyped director in Berlin this autumn with a Gorki premiere of Sibylle Berg’s Hass- Triptychon after it opens this month at the Wiener Festwochen.
Continuing the TT’s apparent motto of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the jury also invited 35-year-old Simon Stone for a third time with his logistically-impressive Hotel Strindberg, produced for Vienna’s Burgtheater. On a three-story stage, heterosexual couples play through intimate scenes that oscillate between the tragic and the comical, inspired by the late misogynist Swedish author August Strindberg’s fictional universe. Theatertreff en has previously come under fire for being too white, male and homogenous – a critique that is sadly still relevant. Despite a female majority on the jury, only three of the 10 invitees are directed by women. This year’s “Burning Issues” conference during the festival focuses on gender disparity in theatre. But is that enough?
Unendlicher Spaß May 4-5 Sophiensæle, Mitte, May 18-19 Volksbühne, Mitte | Oratorium May 10,12-14 HAU1 Kreuzberg | The Girl from the Fog Machine Factory May 6-7 Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Wilmersdorf | Das Große Heft May 19-20 Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Wilmersdorf | Erniedrigte und Beleidigte May 13-14 Volksbühne, Mitte | Hotel Strindberg May 3, 5 Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Wilmersdorf