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Theatertreffen 2020 selection is anything but business as usual

Just announced, this year's Theatertreffen selection has some surprises - good ones according to our stage critic. He eyes up the bill in the first year that female-directed productions make up the majority of invitees.

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Photo by Julian Baumann. Toshiki Okada’s The Vacuum Cleaner was among those selected for this year’s Theatertreffen.

Same procedure as every year: critics of the German theatre world filed into the Haus der Berliner Festspiele yesterday, eager to hear this year’s selections for the prestigious Theatertreffen in May. After seeing 432 performances last year, the seven-strong jury revealed this year’s cut – but this year’s selection is anything but business as usual. In the words of jury member Franz Wille: “At the Theatertreffen, you can’t be sure of anything.”

Since 1964, the jury-curated festival has invited the 10 bemerkenswertesten (or: most noteworthy) productions from the Germanosphere to the (now) capital. But this year, there’s an important twist. After successive criticism over the lack of female representation within the selections, the Theatertreffen has introduced a quota: at least 50 percent of the invitees must be directed by a woman. This quota is a crucial first step in challenging the status quo of a male-dominated theatre world in which 78 percent of productions in Germany’s large state theatres are directed by men. Spoiler alert: it’s certainly not because they’re better directors. With six female-directed productions on the bill, the target has more than been met. It’s the first time women have been in the majority at the festival – and 2020’s selection is all the better for it.

German theatre is obsessed with the cult of the lone director genius, or as they like to call it: Regietheater. The Theatertreffen is no exception and has a tendency to re-invite their darlings, who also just happen to be male: Ulrich Rasche, Simon Stone and Ersan Mondtag have all been invited three times since 2016. They are all very talented directors but some fresh wind could revitalise what some still see as a bastion of the old guard.

This year, the quota has really shaken up the invitations and the festival will benefit massively as a result. Thomas Oberender, director of the Berliner Festspiele, spoke of a “refreshing selection” at the press conference. Alongside the boost in female representation (last year just three female-directed pieces were invited), there are plenty of fresh faces (Anne Lenk, Toshiki Okada, Alexander Giesche and Antonio Latella), as well as some familiar figures (Katie Mitchell, Claudia Bauer and Johan Simons).

This year’s selection has come as a surprise to many – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There were some shoe-ins that were rightfully chosen (Johan Simons‘ Hamlet and Florentina Holzinger’s TANZ) but also some bookies’ favourites that weren’t (Pollesch and Hinrich’s Glauben an die Möglichkeit der völligen Erneuerung der Welt and Susanne Kennedy’s ULTRAWORLD). An overall trend of the selections is a thematic focus on illness in relation to society, from Helgard Haug‘s (Rimini Protokoll) production Chinchilla Arschloch, which stars everyday experts with Tourette’s syndrome, to Katie Mitchell’s Anatomy of a Suicide to Anta Helena Recke’s Die Kränkungen der Menschheit (“The Sicknesses of Humanity”).

But perhaps the most scandalous trend this year is the drastically shorter performance lengths. German theatre isn’t exactly known for getting to the point quickly, a fact anyone who’s ever seen a Castorf production might perhaps still be traumatised by. Last year’s average run-time was undoubtedly boosted by Christopher Rüping’s 10-hour antiquity marathon Dionysos Stadt, but there were plenty of four-hour pieces on the bill too. In this respect, this year’s selections are remarkably short. The longest, Hamlet, clocks in at just two and a half hours and is the only one to have a break. Anta Helena Recke’s Die Kränkungen der Menschheit is the shortest with a runtime of just 70 minutes. As Fabian Wallmeier rightfully remarked on RBB: these are dark times for the pretzel vendors.

This year promises to be an untypical Theatertreffen in many respects. But after 57 years, that might just be what the festival needs. Come spring, I’ll be dissecting, criticising and analysing this year’s selections as part of the Theatertreffen Blog. Until then: there’s still a chance to see Die Kränkungen der Menschheit on February 6, 8 and 9 at HAU, and Anne Lenk’s Der Menschenfeind on February 19 and 21 at the Deutsches Theater before the Theatertreffen gets into full swing.


1. Anatomie eines Suizids (Anatomy of a Suicide)

Director: Katie Mitchell (check out our interview!)

By Alice Birch


2. Chinchilla Arschloch, waswas. Nachrichten aus dem Zwischenhirn (Chinchilla Arsehole, eyey. News from the Diencephalon)

Director: Helgard Haug

By Rimini Protokoll

Schauspiel Frankfurt, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm (Frankfurt), and HAU Hebbel am Ufer (Berlin)

3. Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän (Man in the Holocene)

Director: Alexander Giesche

Based on a visual poem by Max Frisch

Schauspielhaus Zürich

4. Der Menschenfeind (The Misanthrope)

Director: Anne Lenk

By Molière

Deutsches Theater Berlin

5. Die Kränkungen der Menschheit

Director: Anta Helena Recke

By Anta Helena Recke

Münchner Kammerspiele in Co-Production with HAU Hebbel am Ufer (Berlin), Kampnagel (Hamburg) and Künstlerhaus Mousonturm (Frankfurt)

6. Eine göttliche Komödie. Dante < > Pasolini (A Divine Comedy. Dante < > Pasolini)

Director: Antonio Latella

By Federico Bellini

Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel/Residenztheater, Munich (under the Artistic Direction of Martin Kušej)

7. Hamlet

Director: Johan Simons

By William Shakespeare with Extracts from Die Hamletmaschine by Heiner Müller

Schauspielhaus Bochum

8. Süßer Vogel Jugend (Sweet Bird of Youth)

Director: Claudia Bauer

By Tennessee Williams

Schauspiel Leipzig

9. TANZ Eine sylphidische Träumerei in Stunts

Director/Choreographer: Florentina Holzinger

By Florentina Holzinger

Co-Production with Spirit and Tanzquartier Wien, SPRING Festival (Utrecht), Productiehuis Theater Rotterdam, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm (Frankfurt), Arsenic (Lausanne), Münchner Kammerspiele, Take Me Somewhere Festival (Glasgow), Beursschouwburg (Brussels), deSingel (Antwerpen), SOPHIENSÆLE (Berlin), Frascati Producties (Amsterdam), Theater im Pumpenhaus (Münster), asphalt Festival (Dusseldorf)

10. The Vacuum Cleaner

Director: Toshiki Okada

By Toshiki Okada

Münchner Kammerspiele