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Berlin’s top chicks: Curtain queens

As part of our BERLIN'S TOP CHICKS series from THE BERLINER FRAU issue, we take a look at the women on top in the Berlin theater scene. It's a bit of a man's world – with some notable exceptions.

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Clockwise from top left: Kirsten Harms, Shermin Langhoff, Brigitte Fürle, Iris Laufenberg (Photos by André Rival and David Baltzer, bildbuehne.de)

One look at the numbers and it’s easy to despair at the lack of women in top-level positions at Berlin theatres. Artistic director at the Volksbühne? Male. Artistic director at the Schaubühne? Male. Deutsches Theater? Male. Hebbel am Ufer? Male. It’s the same story at the opera houses, with the one notable exception of Kirsten Harms at the Deutsche Oper, and her reign was fraught with controversy and will end at the close of this season. But concluding that this means Berlin’s stages are closed to Frauen requires ignoring the scores of women heading departments, directing groundbreaking productions and running their own successful theatres.

Some of the most innovative multidisciplinary work comes out of the Prenzlauer Berg/Pankow venues of Dock 11 and the newly renovated Eden Studios, a labor of love from Wibke Janssen and Kirsten Seligmüller. Developing theatre and dialogue in Kreuzberg, the German-Turkish director Shermin Langhoff has been serving as artistic director of the award-winning Ballhaus Naunynstraße since its reopening in 2008.

The Haus der Berliner Festspiele is the one publicly funded established institution to boast women at the top of its divisions. Although headed by godfather Joachim Sartorious, two goddesses run the curative show. The Theatertreffen, a few weeks of madness in which the best artists from the German-speaking theatre world descend on Berlin, has been directed by Iris Laufenberg since 2003. As for Brigitte Fürle, she has been guiding spielzeit’europa since 2006, bringing dance, theatre and every kind of performance from around Europe to the Berlin stage. When it comes to dance, innovative female choreographers like Sasha Waltz and up-and-coming talents like Argentinean born Constanza Macras have attained success, but men still tend to run the show.

Prominent female comedians are also rare, Cindy aus Marzahn and Gayle Tufts being the exceptions that prove the rule. Whether or not these observations represent a permanent glass ceiling for women in certain areas of the arts in Berlin can be argued from both sides ad naseum.