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Theatertreffen Blog: German theatre’s Super Bowl

Our stage editor Rebecca Jacobson would like to say hello before she takes us through the journey of the 52nd Theatertreffen – Germany's largest theatre festival. Find out what to expect and watch this space for more big game blogging.

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Theatertreffen is coming.

What’s Theatertreffen? I once heard an American critic describe it as the Super Bowl of German theatre. (Brits, that’s kind of like winning the Premier League, just with more commercials and glitzier halftime shows.) Every year, a seven-member jury zips across Germany, Austria and Switzerland, taking in scads of theatre to determine the 10 “most remarkable” German-language productions. This year – Theatertreffen #52 – they saw 379 shows. If each production averaged two hours (a conservative estimate, given that this is German-language drama), that’s the equivalent of 32 days at the theatre.

Of this year’s 10 shows, half are helmed by directors making their first Theatertreffen appearance. And three of this year’s directors are women – not bad for what’s historically been a boys’ club.

I’ll be covering the festival here and at the Theatertreffen blog, and I’ve got a few reasons you should follow along. Los geht’s:

  • Most shows are sold out, so if you want to participate in intelligent chatter at your next Prenzlauer Berg cocktail party, this is your best chance to collect some material.
  • Frank Castorf, soon-to-depart artistic director of the Volksbühne, will present his controversial Baal for the last time. The production was attacked by Bertolt Brecht’s publisher, Suhrkamp, as an “unauthorised adaptation,” because Castorf added numerous other texts to the original script. (He also takes Brecht’s story of a debauched young poet and transplants it to the Vietnam War, complete with a dead pig, a life-size helicopter and plenty of orgiastic chaos.) Suhrkamp took the Münchner Residenztheater to court, and in February it was ruled the production could be shown only twice more: a final time in Munich, and once at Theatertreffen. All of which is a long way of saying you don’t stand a chance of getting a ticket – I’m still unsure if I’ll be able to get in – but if I get drunk with Castorf at the bar, I promise to write about it. The experience will probably last 27 hours and include lots of screaming, airborne potato salad and nudity, and at the end we will each pee into a bucket.
  • We’re not limiting ourselves to straightforward reviews. This could mean: pie charts, limericks, Cosmo-style quizzes, Mad Libs, video posts, tweets, GIFs, listicles, lullabies, crossword puzzles, word searches, bathroom graffiti, bad selfies, and/or rudimentary cartoons drawn on beer-drenched napkins.
  • On Monday, May 4, I will be tweeting in an invented Middle European language. Take that as either enticement or warning.
  • Legit enticement here: Theatertreffen has a heap of programming devoted to the late, great Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In addition to the mainstage production of Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?, there are other stage adaptations of Fassbinder’s films, numerous movie screenings, a daylong symposium and two museum exhibits. Patrick Wengenroth, a director at the Schaubühne, presents some sort of “theatrical action,” and actress Hanna Schygulla sings poems written by Fassbinder.
  • Beyond the 10 mainstage shows, there’s the Stückemarkt, featuring five new plays by young writers from across Europe, and tickets are still available for a few of the shows (at only 10€!). These writers could be the future of theatre on this continent. At the very least, they prompted the extraordinary Swiss theatre artist Milo Rau to proclaim: “Shit, what the hell is the matter with these people?”
  • I’ll be fueling myself on the traditional diet of the German theatre – Bier und Brezeln – which means anything could happen.

And please, if you’re at Theatertreffen and see a curly-haired, sleep-deprived American with pretzel remnants across her face, say hello. I’d love to meet you.

Read more at the Theatertreffen Blog website.

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