As part of the RTYDS 18-Month Residency, RTYDS directors and artists from their host theatres went to Berlin to visit theatres including the Schaubühne, Maxim Gorki Theatre and the Deutsches Theater to see some work and meet artists and theatre makers. We had some fantastically interesting and inspiring meetings with dramaturges from the Berliner Ensemble, directors and producers of different theatres as well as seeing shows that sparked brilliantly passionate discussions. Lekan Lawal, RTYDS Resident Assistant Director at Derby theatre has written a blog about the trip.

RTYDS Berlin Trip

At the beginning of February, a group of RTYDS resident assistant directors and representatives from their respective theatres travelled to Berlin to meet theatre practitioners working there and see some of their work. Our group was made up of Nikolai Foster and Julia Thomas (Curve), David Orme and Jo Newman (Salisbury Playhouse), Alex Zeldin and Daniel Bailey (Birmingham Rep) and Caroline Barth and myself (Derby Theatre).

We arrived in Berlin on a Thursday night and winged our way to the hotel to get some rest before our jam-packed weekend began. The next morning, we were met by Philipp Arnold, our excellent guide for the weekend and a theatre director currently working at the Deutsches Theater as a resident assistant director.

The Deutsches Theater was our first stop, where we had a backstage tour and saw their rehearsal room for A Cage Went in Search of a Bird by Franz Kafka. The set for the show comprised four identical rooms at varying inclines that were stacked on top of each other two by two. Because the rehearsal room wasn’t high enough for this massive structure, the rooms were laid across the space – this wasn’t the real set but an exact replica just for rehearsals. We also met with Hannes Oppermann, the resident dramaturge, who spoke about the theatre, its history and his work. One of the interesting things we learnt was how closely the Artistic Director and his team of 8 dramaturges work together in programming and script development, each dramaturge will take the lead on four or five productions. They have a repertoire of 50 productions and premiere 30 to 35 new shows a year across their three spaces with a permanent ensemble of 46 actors and 58 guest actors.

The Hamburger Bahnhof

In the afternoon we went to the The Hamburger Bahnhof and spent a couple of hours looking at their contemporary art collection before heading across town to the Schaubühne. Here we met Stefan Nagel, the executive producer, who took us on a tour of the theatre and gave us an overview of the work that they do. Their current season is repertoire made up of 28 previously performed shows and 13 new works playing across three spaces (A, B and C). All the shows are cast from an ensemble of 30 actors, and the theatre employs around 200 staff in total.  Tickets generally go on sale a month before performances and the Schaubühne maintains a full programme whilst also touring internationally. After our meeting we got to see A Piece of Plastic, written and directed by Marius von Mayenburg.

On Saturday morning we met with Lisa Lucassen, a founding member of She She Pop, a female performance collective concerned with female topics and/or a feminine viewpoint on issues. An example of this is Testament (which came to the Barbican in 2014) their reinterpretation of King Lear which honed in on the relationship between the three daughters and King Lear, it was less concerned with the other male characters and featured their own fathers. Lisa talked about the company’s work and how it has evolved over the years from being recent graduates to more seasoned artists with over 20 years’ experience collaborating with each other. They keep their artistic relationships fresh by constantly trading places within the company, for example Lisa used to have an additional financial role within the company whilst now she does much more music development. But all the members are involved in all the decisions surrounding a show. They tend to rehearse over 12 weeks and tour their work around Germany and internationally.

The Hamburger Bahnhof

Afterwards we went to the HAU (Hebbel am Ufer) and met Laura Diehl, the head of marketing there. It is made up of three spaces, HAU 1, 2 and 3. The Artistic Director programmes theatre and works with a team of curators who specialise in music, dance and theory and text – they curate inter-disciplinary work in conjunction with talks and symposiums. HAU1 tends to programme classical theatre and discourse events and some dance, HAU2 is much more geared for dance as it has a wider and more flexible stage and HAU3 tends to be for more experimental performances. Unlike the Deutsches Theater and the Schaubühne, they don’t have a permanent ensemble, but rather have close relationships with an array of international artists (including She She Pop, Forced Entertainment and Gob Squad) who present work at the venues. This also means that although they do not have a repertoire, they do have a very diverse programme of more than 500 events a year, producing and receiving work globally. After our chat with Laura and tour of HAU 1, we went to HAU 2, where there was a video installation by Vincent Moon based on several years of anthropological exploration of rituals from around the world.

In the evening we went to the Maxim Gorki Theater, which is known for having the most diverse resident ensemble in Berlin. Made up of 18 permanent actors and 38 guest actors they are currently performing this season’s repertoire of 23 shows and 13 premieres. We met Monica Marotta, the production manager of Studio R, the theatre’s second space. She talked about the the history of the theatre and the work that they are making as well as giving an overview of Studio R. where radical new forms and political theories merge with theatre. We then got to see their production Kleiner Mann – was nun? by Hans Fallada, a classic German text adapted and directed by Hakan Savaş Mican. The play was performed by the theatre’s ensemble with a live band.

Schaubühne Theatre

On Sunday we headed back to the UK full of inspiration, keen to interrogate our own practices and spend more time in Berlin soon. The theatre culture there is much more extensively funded through government subsidies than in the UK, which allows for many theatres in Berlin and across Germany to have their own resident ensembles and companies to create hugely ambitious work. As a model it seems to allow for a wider spectrum of work to flourish as well as deeper creative relationships between artistic directors, creative teams and ensembles that can last decades. Theatre tickets are cheaper and theatre is generally much better attended with shows regularly selling at 80-90% capacity at a lot of venues that we went to. However, at the same time, there seemed to be a lot less focus on outreach and learning work within the local community that has become a desirable funding pre-requisite for all of our subsidised theatre. Additionally, despite the cheaper tickets, I gather that regular theatre going audiences seem to be made up in the main of the same homogeneously affluent audiences we have here. It was a really valuable trip that allowed us all to think about our work in a wider context and it is really fantastic that the RTYDS was able to give us this opportunity.

Lekan Lawal
RTYDS Resident Assistant Director, Derby Theatre