The Schaubühne was founded in 1962 as a private theatre with a politically and socially committed repertoire under the name »The Schaubühne at Halleschen Ufer«. Of the original four founding members, Jürgen Schitthelm continues to be a managing director of the Schaubühne. Since 1991, Dr. Friedrich Barner has also been a member of the directorate.
Well-known directors and actors in the German theatre, including Peter Stein, Klaus Michael Grueber, Luc Bondy, Robert Wilson, Andrea Breth, Bruno Ganz, Edith Clever, Jutta Lampe, have led the house to worldwide fame. The theatre staged its first plays at the Halleschen Ufer in Kreuzberg (in today’s HAU 2) and, from 1981, in the Mendelsohn-built building on Lehniner Platz. Under Thomas Ostermeier, Jens Hillje, Sasha Waltz and Jochen Sandig, who led the Schaubühne artistically from 1999 to 2004, the theatre evolved into an internationally plugged-in theatre for contemporary speech and dance. Today, under Ostermeier’s artistic direction, the stage is the only major dramatic theatre in west Berlin. The repertoire includes both contemporary texts as well as those of past centuries.
The most relevant consideration as to what goes into the repertoire, that is the choice of text and director, is determined by a critical-analytical, and frequently political view, on social reality and its consequent questioning of the forms of contemporary realism in terms of staging, acting and stage design.
Engagement with the lives of people in today’s Germany includes the consideration of marginalised groups and of the excluded, as well as of those at the heart of bourgeois life between the new centre and the old West Berlin. After works such as »Human Circle 3.1« by Lars Norén in the 1999/2000 season, Ostermeier took up the 19th century classics:
In the productions of Henrik Ibsen’s »Nora - A Doll’s House«, (invited to the Berliner Theatertreffen 2003), and »John Gabriel Borkmann«, (which won the Grand Prix de la Critique in France for the best foreign production of the 2008/09 season), the critical public sees its fears and hopes reflected and the its material and mental situation analysed. The accessible and internally coherent representation of texts from the bourgeois canon opens to the audience – when it’s done successfully – the actuality of a conflict, as well as its historic dimensions.
Moreover, Ostermeier has made his mark as the director of world premieres of plays by contemporary playwrights such as Caryl Churchill, Richard Dresser, Jon Fosse, David Harrower, Sarah Kane, Lars Norén, Marius von Mayenburg, Mark Ravenhill and Karst Woudstra.
Ostermeier’s work as artistic leader and director at the Schaubühne has been characterised by the development of and support for the ensemble. The intensive work with the actors has been decisive in the theatre’s contemporary interpretation of classic theatre texts and its engagement with new drama. Ostermeier has developed specific acting styles for these hugely divergent texts. Both the formal and substantive characteristics of the material are thus questioned as radically as the traditional aesthetics and performance aspects of a piece. This can be seen most clearly in Ostermeier’s productions of plays by Shakespeare. Having expanded the boundaries of interpretation with a production of »A Midsummer’s Night Dream« (together with the choreographer Constanza Macras) he succeeded in creating an internationally acclaimed and award-winning »Hamlet« (critics’ prize for »best foreign production« in Barcelona) of the ever-hesitant Danish prince for the 2008/09 season. His engagement with Shakespeare will continue in 2009/10 with his production of »Othello«.
The directors, brought to the Schaubühne by Ostermeier and his team, get to grips in specific, often political ways, with social reality and the possibility of its representation on stage whereby the theatre places great worth on a multi-facetted and, if possible, contradictory aesthetics and acting styles.
While Falk Richter explores the postmodern individual, Volker Lösch rains powerful blows against social injustices. Ivo van Hove’s detailed work on the text seeks out personal, touching stories in the context of great social upheaval. By contrast, Constanza Macras’ choreography, with its powerful images, physically springs right into life’s centre.
Benedict Andrews plays with the influence of contemporary art and film on theatre. Friederike Heller’s work on prose and plays from the epic theatrical tradition starts on the other hand with the musicality and the aesthetics of performance. Jossi Wieler opens up complex historical material using precise textual analysis and subtle actor work.
The artistic programming of the house meets with a great response both within and beyond Berlin. Every year countless guest productions confirm how successfully the artistic team is succeeding in taking the international reputation of the Schaubühne ever further afield. So far, 534 guest productions with 1,453 performances – over one half of which took place since the 1999/2000 season and mostly abroad.
Since 2008, the Schaubühne has been a founding member of the European theatre union »Prospero«. Six theatres from Portugal, France, Belgium, Italy, Finland and Germany joined forces to develop a joint production and exchange guest productions. Ostermeier’s production of Ibsen’s »John Gabriel Borkman« launched the collaborative project in Rennes. Between now and 2012, the network will develop productions by, among others, Alvis Hermanis (Latvia), Krystof Warlikowski (Poland), Pippo Delborno (Italy) and Falk Richter (Berlin) and present them in participating theatres.
Additionally, Prospero will produce the works of young directors within the context of an up-and-coming young directors programme. It has also created a network of European theatre scientists that will present their findings in 2010 and 2012.