Directors of children's and youth theatre – Dominik Günther

Biography

Dominik Günther © private

He was born in Bonn in 1973. He studied social sciences and German, focusing on theatre studies, at the University of Bielefeld. During his studies, he was an actor with the independent theatre group Canaillen Bagage. He sings and writes lyrics for the musical cabaret group Nik Neandertal. Eight years ago, he founded the Neandertal Theater in a Hamburg neighbourhood.

From 1998 onwards, he took up his first jobs as assistant director at theatres in Bielefeld and Bonn and at the Thalia Theater Hamburg. Since 2005, he has been a freelance director, producing works at the Thalia Theater Hamburg, the Deutsches Theater Berlin, Theater Heidelberg, Theater Heilbronn, theater junge generation in Dresden, the Landestheater Linz, Theater Berne, Theater Erlangen, Theater Lübeck and, during the 2011/12 season for the first time at the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe. Günther has directed a number of theatre projects with young people at the Thalia Theater Hamburg.

In 2008, he was nominated for the German theatre prize Der Faust for his production of Hikikomori, a play by Holger Schober, at the Thalia Theater Hamburg. This work was invited to the Ruhrfestspiele in Recklinghausen and the 10th children’s and youth theatre festival “Augenblick mal!” in Berlin in 2009. Dominik Günther was awarded the Austrian theatre prize “Stella09” in 2009 for his production of “Clyde und Bonnie” (Clyde and Bonnie) by Holger Schober and the jury’s prize at the bestOFFstyria 2.9 in Graz for the same work.

In 2010, his production of Nuran David Çalış’ adaptation of Wedekind’s “Frühlings Erwachen!” (Live fast – die young) was invited to the 17th children’s and youth theatre workshop in Leipzig and the following year to the 11th children’s and youth theatre festival “Augenblick mal!” in Berlin.

Since September 2005, Günther has been a lecturer on set and role study at the Schauspiel-Studio Frese in Hamburg.

    Portrait

    Full Speed Ahead

    Like no other theatrical form, children’s and youth theatre depends on its actors. Often, that is due to limited funding, which does not permit opulent sets. Often enough, however, it stems from the artistic credo that the actor alone can reach and open up the hearts and minds of his audience through his acting.

    This is very much Dominik Günther’s approach. He is regarded as a top representative of youth theatre producers who have shown the genre new possibilities through their distinctive personal style, vision and ability to promote strong ensemble acting. Günther is not interested in whether any particular production he stages is made for the ordinary theatre or for children’s and youth theatre.

    Characteristic elements of Günther’s works are a speed and physicality that sometimes take actors and audiences to their limits. Günther, who is in his late thirties, would like to break through the fourth wall without “directly opening it”.1 “Commitment”, “achievement“, “risk“ and the search for “directness and aggressiveness” are concepts that capture Günther’s view of theatre and give an impression of how he succeeds in arousing actors’ enthusiasm for his acting ideas.

    The fact that this enthusiasm also spreads to the audience and how this happens is exemplified by Günther’s staging of Nuran David Çalış’ adaptation of Wedekind’s “Frühlings Erwachen” (Spring Awakening), which was presented at a number of festivals. In Günther’s production, Moritz, Melchior, Wendla and the other adolescents risk everything almost unquestioningly to get everything life has to offer. We see a growing-up that is painful and demanding, for example when Moritz Stiefel, who has died, lies headlong in a paddling pool filled with water for more than a quarter of an hour. For the audience, the torment of both the character and the actor are equally tangible. The production follows a musical rhythm (and that is why it is so precisely constructed). It is fascinatingly rich in playful details and it is choreographed without the fact being immediately apparent, another feature typical of Dominik Günther’s works.

    Children’s and youth theatre is a contemporary theatrical form like no other. It could not be otherwise. After all, what justification would there be for its existence if it did not deal with its audience’s lifestyles, life plans and life stages? The authors are the key here. Holger Schober is one of the most productive and renowned writers in the field of contemporary youth theatre. Schober and Günther are regarded as the youth theatre scene’s dream team because in Dominik Günther, the playwright has found a kindred spirit who brilliantly translates his texts from page to stage.

    Why is that so? Perhaps because Schober’s texts give director Günther precisely the scenic scope his theatre needs – to balance extremes, and to stage an “abrupt swing from moments of extreme exaggeration to moments of extreme personal need“ and “emotional roller-coaster rides“. Günther demonstrated his credo in “Superman ist tot“ (Superman is dead) at the Theater Heilbronn in November 2010, a work the theatre commissioned from Holger Schober, a play about drugs and drug consumption and thus about the state of our society. Once again, Günther has his two protagonists racing across the stage at breakneck speed and crashing into large foam matrasses with at least 140 beats per minute. One is involuntarily astounded to see that Susan Ihlenfeld and Sebastian Weiss have the stamina to run a marathon. A pause for thought and the quiet sound of a voice still trembling from the effort are all the more effective and pensive - strikingly loud in the sudden silence. “Hikikomori (Japanese expression for young peoples’ more or less self-imposed reclusiveness) was similarly impressive. This was the sensational work that brought the Schober / Günther duo nation-wide acclaim for the first time in 2007. The Berliner Morgenpost referred to the wild production “Stubenhocker-Solo” with Ole Lagerpusch as an “extremely powerful performance, as electrifying as a rock concert. A divestiture. An exertion.“2

    It is this complete devotion to the stage character that Günther demands from the actors and it is this that fascinates us as an audience so much. It is possible because Günther manages to make the actors trust him utterly, particularly that it is worthwhile to make extreme efforts, to take risks, to endure suffering, thereby making extreme human experiences visible and tangible.

    Is it not this that makes us love the theatre?

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    1 Unless otherwise indicated, the quotations are taken from interviews held by Tristam Berger with Dominik Günther in May and June 2011.

    Tristan Berger

    Productions (selection)

    Holger Schober “Du bist dabei!” (You are part of it!)
    2012, Deutsches Theater, Berlin

    Werner Schwab “Die Präsidentinnen” (The women presidents)
    2012, Stadttheater Berne

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “Werther”, adaptation by Dominik Günther
    2011, theater junge generation, Dresden

    Ingrid Lausund “Benefiz – Jeder rettet einen Afrikaner” (Benefit – everyone rescues an African)
    2011, Theater Heilbronn

    Felicia Zeller “Kaspar Häuser Meer”
    2010, Stadttheater Berne

    Holger Schober “Superman ist tot” (Superman is dead)
    2010, premiere, Theater Heilbronn

    Holger Schober “Und sie bewegt sich doch!”  (And yet it does move!)
    2010, premiere, Theater Heidelberg

    Holger Schober “heimat.com” (home.com) (premiere)
    2010, Theater Heilbronn

    Frank Wedekind / Nuran David Çalış “Frühlings Erwachen! (Live fast – die young)”
    2010, Theater Heidelberg

    Gotthold Ephraim Lessing “Emilia Galotti”
    2010, theater junge generation, Dresden

    Phillipp Löhle “Genannt Gospodin” (Called Gospodin)
    2009, Theater Lübeck

    J. Rudyard Kipling “Das Dschungelbuch” (The Jungle Book), arranged by Dominik Günther and Nebojša Krulanović
    2009, Landestheater Linz

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “Torquato Tasso”
    2009, Rheinisches Landestheater Neuss

    Enda Walsh “The Homefront”
    German premiere, 2009, Vereinigte Städtische Bühnen Krefeld und Mönchengladbach

    Holger Schober “Clyde und Bonnie” (Clyde and Bonnie)
    Premiere, 2008, coproduction of the Guerrilla Gorillas, Dschungel Wien and theaterland steiermark

    Gerhard Meister “und das da ist das überdruckventil” (and that is the pressure control valve)
    Premiere, 2008, Stadttheater Berne

    Carles Batlle i Jordà “Versuchung” (Temptation)
    2008, Vereinigte Städtische Bühnen Krefeld und Mönchengladbach

    Aglaja Veteranyi “Warum das Kind in der Polenta kocht” (Why the child is cooking in the polenta)
    2007, Theater Unikate, Hamburg

    Holger Schober “Hikikomori”
    German premiere, 2007, Thalia Theater, Hamburg

    Michael Ende “Momo”
    2006, Theater Lübeck

    Peer Paul Gustavsson “Das Wunder von St. Georg” (The miracle of St. George)
    2006, Thalia Theater, Hamburg

    Andri Beyeler “kick & rush”
    2004, Thalia Theater, Hamburg

    Rebecca Prichard “Yard Girl”
    2003, Neandertal Theater, Hamburg