Directors of children's and youth theatre – Ania Michaelis


Anja Michaelis © Anne de Wolff

Ania Michaelis, who was born in Westphalia in 1965, is an actress, director and writer. After studying at the “Totales Theater” School in Switzerland, she had contracts with the Schauspielhaus Köln (Cologne) and the Westfälischen Landestheater as well as working in independent projects, mainly in Berlin, but also, for example for the Expo ’92 in Seville.

She has staged productions at venues including the Nationaltheater Mannheim, the Puppentheater Halle, the Theater Junge Generation in Dresden, the Freies Theaterhaus Frankfurt am Main and the Theater des Lachens Frankfurt an der Oder. Since 1993, she has cooperated with the Theater o.N. in Berlin, becoming its artistic director in 2010. From the 2011/12 season, she is also senior director of the play and puppet theatre sections at the Theater Junge Generation in Dresden. In 2001, she received the first prize at the theatre days in Karlsruhe for “Das Muschelessen” (The Mussel Dinner) Her work has been invited to attend many children’s and youth theatre festivals in Germany and abroad.


    In her work, Ania Michaelis makes elementary feelings tangible for the tiniest tots. In “Kokon” (Cocoon), a play about metamorphosis and eclosion, actress Minouche Petrusch chews a large whole walnut. Her cheeks bulge, her eyes roll, the nut clicks on her teeth, refusing to be broken. The world is wonderful, and full of resistance. In Ania Michaelis’ works, even the technical theatre apparatus takes on a poetic quality. In “funkeldunkel - lichtgedicht” (flashdark - lightrhyme), a round beam cast by a spotlight turns into a ball thrown to and fro by two actors, and a circle of light on the floor functions as a stepping stone. Simple actions appear to be magically changed, for example when an actress who is looking at her feet in amazement is immersed in a large glass of water or looks through a large blue fragment of glass in bewilderment. The director and her actors are close to their young audience as they discover the world. The audience are spellbound, not by feelings and stories being acted out, but by their zest for discovery.

    Michaelis’ Dresden production “funkeldunkel - lichtgedicht” is a visual experiment with light and dark and light and shade. But her productions are also auditively stimulating for audiences from the age of two. A common rhythm is created through rubbing hands together quickly, slapping thighs and drumming on wood. When the actress in “Kokon” has been released from her misshapen, brown cocoon and does a dance in her wide butterfly dress, she is accompanied by a cheerful nonsense rhyme on the ukulele by the musician Karlo Hackenberger. Music is a basic element of Michaelis’ productions.

    Ania Michaelis has been making productions for tiny tots since 2007. This is almost as long as theatre has been staged for tiny tots in Germany, and Ania Michaelis is one of its pioneers. Michaelis has worked as a director since 1998, however, and has a broad spectrum. Her repertoire not only includes works for children’s and youth theatre. Folk tales and literary fairy tales have always been part of her repertoire. They range from “Das hässliche Entlein” (The Ugly Duckling), “Der kleine Muck” (The Story of Little Muck) and the “Machandelboom” (The Juniper Tree) to “Zar Saltan” (Tsar Saltan) and “Das bucklige Pferdchen” (The Little Humpbacked Horse). Ania Michaelis has also staged productions for adults, particularly in the late nineties and early 2000s. They include “Salzwasser” (Saltwater) by Conor McPherson, “Der unbekannte Bruder Grimm” (The Unknown Brother Grimm), a play developed in cooperation with Hartmut Mechtel, and “Das Muschelessen” (The Mussel Dinner) after Birgit Vanderbeke, which was awarded a prize at the Theatertage in Karlsruhe. It does not seem to be easy to switch from making theatre for tiny tots to making theatre for adults, however: “If you have ever made theatre for the children’s room, you are not allowed back into the living room”, says Ania Michaelis without reproof.

    She develops her theatrical language in new, ever changing forms. “Die hässliche Herzogin Margarete Maultasch” (The Ugly Duchess Margarete Maultasch) in Halle was her first production for puppet theatre, and since autumn 2011, she has not only been senior director of the play section at the Theater Junge Generation Dresden but also of its puppet theatre section. Michaelis, who has been working with schools and pupils for some time now, undertook an excursion into social and theatre education work with people ‘from a difficult background’ in “was dann passiert” (what happens then). With assistance from Ania Michaelis and Cindy Ehrlichmann, five teenagers from Hellersdorf made great progress in learning the language of theatre over a period of six months. They fused as a group, transforming aggression into choreographed sequences of movement on the stage of the o.N Theatre, openly recounting their life stories. Before the first public performance of the 13 to 21-year olds, Ania Michaelis spoke of the bitter-sweet pain caused by the step from the approximate into the visible, not only for the beings of fable such as trolls or elves. It is difficult but enriching to work on the identity that theatre can be for young people, and that it always is for Ania Michaelis.

    Elena Philipp

    Productions (selection)

    “was dann passiert” (what happens then)
    2011, Theater o.N., Berlin

    After the novel by Lion Feuchtwanger, adaptation by Hartmut Mechtel “Die hässliche Herzogin Margarete Maultasch” (The Ugly Duchess Margarete Maultasch)
    2011, Puppentheater Halle

    “Fingerfühl, Hörehell, Schlauschau” (Fingerfeel, Hearclear, Smartlook)
    2010, Theater Junge Generation, Dresden

    “Kokon” (Cocoon)
    2010, Theater o.N., Berlin

    Jan Liedtke, Laura Naumann “Turm E / Tut mir ja leid Vati, aber ich muss” (Tower E / Sorry Dad, But I Have To)
    2009, Theater Junge Generation, Dresden

    “Der Junge, der den Schlüssel stiehlt und das Mädchen, das die Perlen weint” (The Boy Who Steals The Key and the Girl Who Cries Pearls)
    Premiere 2009, Theater Junge Generation, Dresden

    After the children’s book ”Wir können noch viel zusammen machen”  (There’s Lots We Can Do Together) by F.K. Waechter “Alle Freunde fliegen hoch” (All the Friends Fly High)
    Premiere 2009, Schnawwl am Nationaltheater Mannheim

    After the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen “Das hässliche Entlein” (The Ugly Duckling)
    2008, Theater La Senty Menti at the Theaterhaus Frankfurt

    “funkeldunkel – lichtgedicht” (flashdark – lightrhyme)
    2008, Theater Junge Generation, Dresden

    Theatre project by Liora Hilb and Ania Michaelis with 70 young people “RUHE, HERRSCHAFTEN!” (QUIET, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!)
    Premiere 2007, Berlin

    Alma Jongerius ”Die Müllmaus” (The Rubbish Mouse)
    2006, Schnawwl am Nationaltheater Mannheim

    After the fairy tale poem by Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov, in verses by Adolf Endler and Elke Erb “Das bucklige Pferdchen” (The Little Humpbacked Horse)
    2006, Theaterhaus Frankfurt

    “Das Glück wie das Pech” (Good Luck and Bad Luck)
    2004, Theater La Senty Menti at the Theaterhaus Frankfurt

    Hartmut Mechtel “Der unbekannte Bruder Grimm - Ein Gesellschaftsspiel” (The Unknown Brother Grimm – A Parlour Game)
    2004, TheaterSalon, Berlin

    Birgit Vanderbeke “Das Muschelessen” (The Mussel Dinner)
    2001, Theater o.N., Berlin

    Conor McPherson “Salzwasser” (Saltwater)
    1999, Theater o.N., Berlin

    Alexander Pushkin “Zar Saltan” (Tsar Saltan)
    1998, Theater o.N., Berlin

    Ania Michaelis “Die Geschichte von der dicken Frau” (The Story of the Fat Woman)
    1993, Theater o.N., Berlin