Save the English Theatre?


F40: English Theatre Berlin/Theatre Thikwa

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English theatre Berlin

I worked at the English Theatre in Frankfurt and had wonderful time. The theatre was packed every evening with many different nationalities including many Germans.
It's a great shame if the Berlin English Theatre loses it's funding and therefore closes, it's so international to have the facility of English productions for everone. It would be good if this theatre could be run like so many of the other great theatres in Berlin. It's all in the management and the managements creativity and imagination.

belinda mayne more than 9 years ago

"You pay a great deal too dear for what's given freely"

I've been to the English Theatre five times in the last two years. In my own very subjective opinion the quality ranged from lukewarm to embarrassing, but I don't think that it's a problem as we are in Germany after all, and even with a large number of "expatriates" like me, most likely if there would be an outstanding English speaking actor or writer he or she would be somewhere else in some English speaking country producing their shows. I also don't really understand what "avant-garde" or groundbreaking really means in the article and comments, but I guess that went over my pretty head. I think that it's good that the locals have a little club they can play around in, though I understand the Berlin senate withholding support (as far as I know there isn't a single English theatre mostly managed by non-professionals being supported by local municipalities anywhere in France, Spain or Italy, and certainly I can tell you as a matter of fact nor a German being publicly supported in Great Britain).

Emily more than 9 years ago


I don't understand. Is the innovative and daring theatre in Germany represented by companies likes the Deutches Theatre's backwards, uncreative and highly offensive use of blackface on white actors? Is this the great theater Germany is trying to save?

Alexander Thomas more than 9 years ago

Must Be Saved !

I am a German actor, and I have been a ensemble member of the Deutsches Theater and the Thalia Theater in Hamburg for over 20 years. I saw many shows at ETB because I like original-language plays. It´s not at all true that all the shows were not worth the money, some like Travels With My Aunt were very good and Carol Churchills A NUMBER was brillant ! Every theater has their ups and downs artistically, same at ETB.
Theater professionals actually don´t use the word amateur to put anyone down - everyone was an amateur at one point. Only amateurs use that word to make others look bad.
ETB should most definitely be saved, for many different reasons.
The money issues must be solved, though - actors etc must be paid according to their work!

Hans more than 9 years ago

english theatre yes, etb no.

The ETB has more problems that this article can even delve into, but I thank the author for digging a bit deeper and for holding the theatre to the standards that it should be held, both in its quality of theatre and its treatment of its artists. After working at the ETB on more than one occasion, I found that I could no longer work there for the exact reasons mentioned here. It takes advantage of local artists and talents, produces mediocre theater, has no clear artistic direction, and lacks the business sense and PR/Marketing knowledge to sustain itself. It should have used previous grant money to develop and grow instead of run the theatre into the ground. I do believe there should be an English theatre in Berlin, of course, and also that theatre can be about the well-made play and not always avant garde and ground-breaking pieces, but there is nothing 'well-made' about the way the ETB works. In addition I find it appalling that in the end of the article Gunther suggests that the English Theatre Frankfurt just panders to large companies like Mercedes, when the theatre is having such a high level of success and his is falling apart, he should be asking them about their business model. Such a shame, because any professional that's crossed through there will tell you that place has so much potential but it lacks all the key ingredients to making it work.

bbiseman more than 9 years ago

Not what it's cracked up to be...

It's nice to see that some volunteers have expressed their personal feelings and experiences with the ETB in this comment section. To blame the article for trying to be unbiased just reflects on their sentiments and nothing else. But that's probably a core issue in this discussion.

Over the years, I've rarely seen a production at the ETB that was worth any money - the few that were, were not ETB productions. The fact that actors, directors and playwrights often saw little to no money for their work and everything relied on volunteering is the real scandal and not the fact that the Senate finally cut funding for this place.
I don't know about the renewed LAB program, but the one I know only benefited the ETB and no one else involved. There was no PR and no profit sharing with the playwrights or actors who presented original work.
Also, despite repeated expressed interest, Berlin's universities never got a foot in the door for collaborations. Apparently, that's not their kind of audience. Berliners, at large, weren't although I strongly believe a publically funded theater should've been a meeting place for expats, guests and local natives.

In general, the atmosphere was amateurish rather than professional. I know, there is a growing number of Berlin enthusiasts who likes shabby chic and unprofessional charm. I don't and a lot of people I know (as theater professionals, as well as "mere" audience) have felt the same way for years.

Lisa more than 9 years ago

'The well-made play' is still a valuable, necessary form of expression

Full disclosure: I have been a volunteer for ETB for the past six months (though they never asked me to reply to this story).

I strongly object to the notion that the well-made play needs to be ushered away to be replaced by avant-garde performance and conceptual art. I agree that there is a place for this latter type of expression and it certainly should be patroned and funded. However, to sweep (just slightly) older forms of theatrical arts from the stage is equivalent to shutting down the Neue Nationalgalerie in favor of the next Berlinische Galerie. We absolutely still need - and thus, should fund - the traditional play in it's myriad of manifestations, many of which are just as fresh and startling as the so-called 'post-dramatic forms.' The modern theatrical play's place is to understand and express the human condition through an accessible form that, though open to multiple interpretations like any other piece of art, must not be deconstructed and clarified in an Artist Statement in order to be enjoyed. Again, I don't think avant-garde art is wrong or bad and it should continue receiving the steady funding it gets from the Senate. But dumping a fantastic, unique playhouse with consistently fresh and impressive works (they likely wouldn't sell out most shows if they really produced 'pedestrian and poor-quality work', as the British director claims) is not the right move.

Finally, as a journalist, I am disappointed by this writer's attempt to be objective and show both sides. One angry opinion filled with heresy and unsubstantiated claims should not get more words than the well over 1000 people who signed this petition so far, many with heartfelt and genuine long-form comments about the theater. The writer here shows significant negligence in not following through on her source's claims, nor on getting any opinions on other folks who are affiliated with or affected by the theater (such as, say, all those sold out audiences). It's unfortunate that meaningful facts get lost in the regurgitation of finger-pointing gossip. Here's to better journalism (as well as theater) for the expat Berlin community.

Max more than 9 years ago

Berlin doesn't need more avant-garde theater; it needs more community theater, i.e. ETB

The title image of this article is of the LAB series, exploring the use of Black Face in Germany by German-speaking theater in a greater conversation in Berlin about race. ETB was the only theater I know of to have tackled such issues openly on the stage - issues that affect Berlin's development in a serious way, as demographics change.
This said, they are also the only theater I know to host readings by poets and playwrights that are not pretentious in their avant-guard character (words only used in response to the assertion that ETB doesn't do anything "ground-breaking", which frankly this city has enough ideas of to feed its own ego infinitely) - they are just writers and thinkers sharing words with a diverse audience, often words that do not come with a cultural brand of a movement or genre, rather explore the human condition in all the ways theater and the arts should do.

I have been a volunteer at ETB for more than a year and must say that the staff are genuinely kind, concerned about communities, engaged with local students and young people, and supportive of initiatives with many lesser-known programs and artists that would otherwise be passed up for lack of being "innovative and ambitious", as this article writes. One disgruntled playwright should not tarnish the image of a lovely institution, nor should critics with views that seem to elevate the purpose of theater to a status of pleasing the critics themselves. One should dig a little deeper than gossip and generalizations of 'theater in society' before passing such judgment. Perhaps speak to the droves of high school students participating in its plays and programs, the neighbors invited to fests and open houses, or the lesser-known poets meeting old friends and sharing an insight or two with a small but tight-knit audience.

Kelly more than 9 years ago

Sorry, but...

I'm distracted by the image of a black man in black face. Not exactly the right image to garner support. Then again, what do I know?

Thurzday Next more than 9 years ago

Neighbors is purposeful commentary

Yeah, what do you know? Sorry, but Neighbors by Brandon Jenkins Jacob is a brilliant exploration and commentary on the use of black face coming out the it's awful history. There is a gross difference between that and arbitrary, clueless offensive use of black face on a white actor trying pretend he is black that a major theater here used.

Alex more than 7 years ago

It's not really...

...a matter of quality we're discussing here. How many "official" spaces for english plays are there in Berlin? This one, period. And of course, it's far from being perfect and it always seemed to me a bit old fashioned, but still, do we really want it to disappear?
Here's the alternative: us, rehearsing our english stuff in a cellar, performing our show in front of 20 expat friends in some bar.
Don't get me wrong: I love it, I did it, I'll do it again, I'm just saying that sometimes having an "official" institution might help in being recognized.

BorderReader more than 9 years ago

In with the new!

Dated snoozefest for sure! ETB is not progressive enough. Wake-up and shake-up, ETB just doesn't cut it. Keep the venue, renovate the management!

Berliner Theatre Fan more than 9 years ago


Lots of Berliners would strongly disagree with "theater lover" and miss the ENGLISH THEATER very much. I have spent many enjoyable evenings there with friends, other writers and artists who also appreciate the risks taken and the chance to see new work as well as old favorites reinvisioned. I do hope the theater's fan base will rally round and help them to somehow find a stable future.

Laurie Taylor more than 9 years ago

Move over, alte ETB!

Thanks for this article, Summer, especially an effort to present the numbers at play and varying opinions. I suspect that many of Save ETB's supporters are under-informed. JC's assessment of the theatre as pedestrian, and its practices as non-supportive and perhaps even exploitative is bang-on. Having performed in 3 shows and more than a few LAB readings at ETB, and been involved in other capacities as jury member, reviewer, and audience member, I was surprised and dismayed by the apparent greed and/or laziness demonstrated by the disorganization, and lack of initiative to produce ambitious, exciting, contemporary work at ETB. Let it be considered that the two decision-making positions are base-funded positions, and do not come from a theatre background. I mean, COME ON! In a healthy, professional environment this would never fly. Do ETB's managing directors stand up to broad peer-review on "artistic quality and its development"? Do they attend workshops, conferences, and collaborations with other exciting, contemporary theatre artists? It would seem not -- exactly why they aren't being refunded. HAU & Sophiensaele are perfect counterpoints to the dated snoozefest of ETB, and good examples of what's really "on" in Berlin. At ETB, when good productions do show & sell out, the theatre nabs an overwhelming percentage of profits (for offering next to zero managerial support!), leaving the artists and director with ridiculously low pay. After our sellout production, this made our team absolutely unwilling to ever do another show at ETB. Frankly, ETB is an amateur joke, and a poorly-run one at that. Move over alte ETB, and let something new & relevant be created in your stead!

Danielle more than 9 years ago

Not a loss

Not a loss, it is basically the amateur hour of standard Berlin theatre productions. As much as it is sad to see any institution go, perhaps it would create a better environment, not one that exists merely because it is completely subsidized. You want New York, London, Paris? Then mature and forget the creative childhood of the past, sorry, the ETB is just not that good.

Theatre Lover more than 9 years ago

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