Directors of children's and youth theatre – Brigitte Dethier

Biography

Brigitte Dethier © Tom Pingel

Since her first production at the Schauburg, Munich’s youth theatre, in 1988, Brigitte Dethier, who was born in the Black Forest in 1959, has become one of Germany’s top-profile directors in the children’s and youth theatre scene.

After reading German, theatre studies and psychology at Goethe University Frankfurt and training to be an actress, she started her first job as Jürgen Flügge’s assistant in Munich. There, she was also responsible for PR for Schauspiele 86, the second international children’s and youth theatre meeting in Munich. From 1989 to 1993, she directed the children’s and youth theatre at the WLB Esslingen and then directed the Landestheater Tübingen from 1993 to 1995. From 1996 to 2002 she was director of the Schnawwl theatre in Mannheim. Since 2002, she has managed the Junges Ensemble Stuttgart (Young Ensemble Stuttgart - JES), where she also heads the international festival Schöne Aussicht (Bright View) which takes place at the JES every two years alongside the festival of theatre for children and young people in Baden-Württemberg.

As well as her activities as theatre manager and director, she is also on the board of the German section of ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People. She is an influential member of the Working Group of Baden-Württemberg Children’s and Youth Theatres, which does cultural policy work, and also sits on various committees.

    Portrait

    This commitment to cultural policy is part and parcel of Brigitte Dethier’s artistic work. Getting involved, constantly reflecting on her work and seeing it within its wider social context are intrinsic aspects of her stage production work.

    Her attitude to her audience is characterised by her sympathy with children and young people today, with their fears and problems, but also their hopes. Each of her 33 productions to date has been characterised by this approach and by her curiosity about how adults and children get along with one another, and about how the world – quite in keeping with Brecht – can become a little friendlier. Utopian possibilities for dealing with one another differently are revealed in all her presentations of adult-child relations. While she may fathom her characters using depth psychology, her productions are wonderfully light.

    She is a story-teller with a penchant for comic disaster. Her productions reflect her basically humorous attitude to life. She also uses subtle slapstick and searches for the simplest way to realise her ideas. But much more than that, one feels in Dethier’s artistic work the empathy and sympathy she shows towards all the characters she puts on the stage. She is also successful in unostentatiously transferring this empathy to the audience. In combination with her eye for gentle everyday comedy, a fundamentally optimistic view of on the world emerges, not only in her “Mama“ plays, of which there have been four to date. Laughter becomes an important form of therapy.

    A distinctive aesthetic feature of her work is her constant experimentation with the means used in other artistic genres. For example, in her Tübingen adaptation of Franz Fühmann’s Der Sommernachtstraum (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in 1995, she cooperated with the well-known puppet theatre maker, Frank Soehnle. Back in 1994, she tried out forms of dance theatre in Gertrud Stein’s The world is round. She has found a congenial partner for her work in recent years in the Belgian Ives Thuwis, bringing together professional actors and young people to act and dance. In 2009, they were awarded the German theatre prize the Faust in the children’s theatre category for their production Noch fünf Minuten (Five More Minutes). In their latest cooperation, 9 Leben (Nine Lives), themes and forms that have influenced Dethier’s work come together in grandiose fusion. In this production, nine young men work through their relationships with their mothers, sometimes aggressively, sometimes tenderly, in forms of Contact Improvisation. Dethier surprises her audience again and again in the process, not only in her dance and slapstick productions, but also in her gentle and intensive staging of Das Geschenk des weissen Pferdes (The Gift of the White Horse) by Rudolf Herfurtner, which places complete trust in the actors.

    As theatre manager, she has been very concerned to cultivate a corps d´ésprit among her ensemble ever since she first took up the post of director in Esslingen, and also to cooperate with directors such as Klaus Hemmerle, as well as with her dramaturgs and assistants. The latter have meanwhile become directors themselves, and they have been given the opportunity to stage their productions at her theatre. Cultivating a corps d´ésprit among her ensemble, too, is the purpose of the many ensemble projects that feature distinctively on JES’s programme. Theatre education is one particular focal area of Dethier’s work as artistic director, and it takes place within a network involving a large number of schools and projects. Her work with clubs for young people, children and senior citizens has high priority. Cultural networking and standing up for what she believes in are also part of her approach.

    Productions

    Own production: 9 Leben (Nine Lives)
    2011, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart

    Rudolf Herfurtner: Das Geschenk des weissen Pferdes (The Gift of the White Horse)
    2010, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart

    Ensemble production: Merhaba Mama Salz, Pappa Pfeffer (Mama Salt and Papa Pepper)
    2010, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart

    Maritgen Matter Ein Schaf fürs Leben (A Sheep for Life)
    2008, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart

    Own production: Noch fünf Minuten (Five More Minutes)
    2008, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart

    Ensemble production: Mama Salz, Papa Pfeffer (Mama Salt and Papa Pepper)
    2007, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart

    Lutz Hübner: Das Herz eines Boxers (The Heart of a Boxer)
    2007, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart

    Friedrich Karl Waechter: Die Schöpfung (The Creation)
    2005, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart

    Gitte Kath/Jakob Mendel: Nebensache (Minor Matters)
    2003, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart

    Ensemble production: Systemfehler (System Error)
    2001, Schnawwl Mannheim

    Friedrich Karl Waechter: Die Eisprinzessin (The Ice Princess)
    1998, Landestheater Linz, Austria

    Christina Nilsson/Cecilia Torrund: Einsame Mamma (Lonely Mama)
    1998, Schnawwl Mannheim

    René Schack: Die kleine Zoogeschichte (Little Zoo Story)
    1997, Schnawwl Mannheim

    Franz Fühmann, based on Shakespeare: Der Sommernachtstraum (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
    1995, Landestheater Tübingen

    Gertrude Stein: The world is round
    1994, Landestheater Tübingen

    Nils Gredeby: Metamorphosen (Metamorphoses)
    1991, Württembergische Landesbühne Esslingen

    Suzanne van Lohuizen: Der Junge im Bus (The Boy on the Bus)
    1988, Theater der Jugend-Schauburg Munich

    Helmut Ruge/Ensemble: Abflug (Take-Off)
    1988, Theater der Jugend - Schauburg Munich