The German Play Markets
On paper, the balance for contemporary drama on the German-language stage looks pretty good: according to the statistics of the German Theater Association, the number of premiers has more than doubled since 2000. Even subtracting from this number the large share of novel adaptations and projects, which are not texts in the sense here intended, it still indicates a significantly upward trend. Playwright initiatives such as the Berlin “Battle Authors” argue, however, that contemporary drama is, for one thing, too rarely seen at big theaters and, for another, that the theaters are possessed by a veritable “mania after fresh meat”: instead of cultivating authors in the long term and showing interesting new texts a second, third or fourth time, they fall upon premiers. In the long run contemporary drama thus becomes the victim of inflation instead of being actually promoted.
Role of play markets
German play markets, usually trade fairs and festivals in equal measure, therefore play a role not only as institutions that inform directors, artistic directors, critics and audience about the newest trends in contemporary drama; they are also increasingly diversifying themselves, enriching their programs with new assistance measures such as workshops, symposia and thematic discussion, and attempting to influence positively the situation with tax instruments such as special prices for second performances. Basically, the play markets can be divided into two large groups with partial overlapping: the first, the discoverer market, introduces texts that have hitherto not been performed, while the second group presents guest performances of new plays that have already been staged.
Berlin Play Market
The Berlin Play Market is regarded as the forefather of all discover play markets and is still an important stepping stone for young dramatists. Founded in 1978, it takes place under the auspices of the Berlin Festival as part of the Theater Meeting and has over the years undergone some modifications. The basic framework remains unchanged – from up to 500 submitted new plays, an annually changing jury of experts chooses the five most notable texts, which are then presented by well-known directors and actors in staged readings – but the call for plays, which was originally confined to German-speaking world, has since 2003 been extended to include all European countries. In addition, the Berlin Play Market has responded to changing concepts of the work and of the author: in 2012, along with the five authors, an artists collective was invited for the first time to develop a performance in a project lab with the help of a well-known mentor. The Berlin Play Market awards three prizes: the Promotion Prize for New Dramatists, endowed with € 5,000; the Commission Prize, endowed with € 7,000, which is given not to a submitted text but rather to an author whom the jury judges to be particularly talented so as to enable him or her to write a new play, and is coupled with a premier at a prestigious theater; and the Radio Play Prize for the adaptation of a text for radio, awarded in cooperation with Deutschlandradio Kultur.
Berlin Playwrights Festival
Many other contemporary drama festivals orient themselves in keeping with the basic principles of the Berlin Play Market, as for instance the Essen Playwrights Festival “Stück auf!” (Play On!), launched in 2012, or the Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz Prize of the City of Jena. The Playwright Festival launched in 1995 by Ulrich Khuon, then the artistic director of the Hanover Schauspiel, and which subsequently followed its founder first to the Thalia Theater in Hamburg and then to the Deutsche Theater in Berlin, has a special place among discoverer festivals. While it primarily has the format of an ambitious guest performance festival that invites finished productions of contemporary plays from the entire German-speaking world, it traditionally concludes with the Long Night of the Authors. Here up to five new texts of hitherto unknown playwrights are presented in a mixed form consisting of staged reading and casually staged performance. The selection is made by a single, annually changing judge – generally a cultural journalist, who also chooses the theme of the tender.
Innovations at the Heidelberg Play Market
The highly regarded Heidelberg Play Market, which was launched in 1984 by the then artistic director of the Heidelberg Theater Peter Stoltzenberg, has also changed over the decades. Like the Berlin Play Market, the core of the festival is still staged readings of new plays, though Heidelberg presents, along with German-language texts, international works with an annually changing national focus. Since the appointment of Holger Schultze as artistic director in 2011, however, texts that have already had their theater premiers may also be submitted in the competition for the € 10,000 Author’s Prize, with the idea of providing sustained support for playwrights. In addition, the festival has been extended to include a “Second Performance Prize”: three plays that have already been produced in a theater for the second time compete for a guest invitation to the Mülheim Festival. There are also awards for international texts and a youth play, and the Friends of the Heidelberg Theater sponsor an Audience Award.
Play markets for international drama
The most prestigious festival of already produced contemporary plays, more or less the counterpart to the Berlin Theater Meeting in the field of new drama, is the Mulheim theater festival „Plays“ (Stücke). Since 1976, the festival has annually awarded the € 15,000 Dramatist Prize, probably the most important award for German-language playwrights. The winners have included Peter Handke, Elfriede Jelinek, George Tabori and Einar Schleef. The atmosphere of the festival is as unique as is its international appeal and procedure: a jury consisting of theater critics chooses from about 130 plays premiered in the current season the eight most noteworthy for a guest performance in Mülheim. From the presented works, in turn, an annually changing jury of theatre experts select the prize winner in an open discussion.
In addition to the play markets with a focus on dramatic works written in German, there also of course exist renowned international festivals for contemporary drama. For example, under the motto F.I.N.D., the Berlin Schaubühne annually presents theatre texts from around the world, while every two years the Wiesbaden Biennial mounts New Plays from Europe.
is a theater critic and journalist. She writes for various publications, including Spiegel online, the Berliner Tagesspiegel and Theater heute. She is a member of the jury of the Capital City Culture Fund and the Berlin Theater Meeting.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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