Directors of children's and youth theatre – Franziska Steiof


Franziska Steiof © privat

Franziska Steiof was born in Offenbach in 1962 and died 23rd January 2014 in Hamburg. She studied law and education and found her way to the stage through studying theatre education with Professor Peter Jochimsen and through working as assistant director at the Theater Kiel and the Theater im Werftpark.

Franziska Steiof has worked as a director and author for theatres including the Schauspiel Hanover, the Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf, the Grips Theater Berlin, the Landestheater Schleswig, the Theater im Zentrum in Vienna, the Städtische Bühnen Kiel, and with the independent group DeichArt. Franziska Steiof writes plays for children and adults. Her productions have been invited to many festivals, including “Augenblickmal” in Berlin on two occasions. She was awarded the IKARUS theatre prize in 2006 and 2011 for her productions “Nelly Goodbye” and “So lonely”. She was nominated for the German Children’s Theatre Prize and the Mühlheim Children’s Play Prize in 2010 for the play “Undine, die kleine Meerjungfrau” (Undine, the little mermaid), which she wrote for the Junges Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf. Her productions “Norway, today”, and “Baden gehen” (Going swimming) were nominated for the Friedrich Luft Prize of the City of Berlin.


    Crossing borders

    Franziska Steiof always knows exactly what she wants. At rehearsals, she brings artists together, skilfully mediating when there are conflicts, with the aim of concentrating on the main thing - a relaxed performance. She sets the framework and within it leads the actors entrusted to her through the adventure of the production sensitively and challengingly, but confidently.

    This reflects her special approach to reading and developing plays and looking behind the surface. Her dry north German humour is unbeatable, and gently and unimposingly cloaks every production. Her visual language consistently succeeds in being recognisable and surprising at the same time.

    What is typical of Franziska Steiof is the way in which she moves between the genres, something she describes as being particularly enriching for herself (and for the genres). Music is always part of her productions, sometimes contemporary “discoveries“ by indie pop songwriters or songs and underscoring music composed especially for a production. Franziska Steiof is someone who defines children’s and youth theatre on the basis of her firm belief that they are an integral part of theatre, and she loves to cross the genre’s visible and invisible borders.

    In the theatre, however, she always focuses on the human dramas, the existential basic conflicts that require constant renegotiation in the context of the respective social circumstances, particularly for children. Karl Marx writes: “All emancipation is the leading back of the human world and of human relationships and conditions to man himself.” Steiof takes this statement seriously and takes a precise look at the world that is reflected in people.

    Franziska Steiof’s theme is the self-determination of human beings who are in conflict with their fate and circumstances that impede humane behaviour. Her heroes seek the freedom to determine how they will live their own lives, but are always earthbound.

    It is no coincidence that she keeps coming back to look for classical material. She keeps its core message, skilfully and intelligently transferring it to the present without merely following transient fashions.

    She produced an impressive “Henry V” in 1997, a coproduction of Kampnagel and Theater Triebwerk. An early highlight of her work was her celebrated 1993 staging of “Sturmhöhe - Die Nächte der Schwestern Brontë” (Wuthering Heights, the Nights of the Brontë Sisters). The critics cheered her “elegant, intensive play that makes use of anti-naturalistic devices.”

    Steiof’s productions always have a strong rhythm all their own. She rhythmicises the action, maintains it, lets it freeze, and choreographs landscapes of the soul and spiritual kinships, only to be able to dissolve them back ironically into realism. She takes the audience on a trip that is demanding, but she does take them along! For her, thinking about her audience it is a natural part of the staging progress.

    In Düsseldorf, she wrote and staged “Artus” (Arthur), “Schneekönigin” (Snow Queen) and “Pünktchen und Anton” (Anna Louise and Anton) for the Junges Schauspielhaus, while in the “parent theatre”, under Amélie Niermeyer’s management, she staged Molière’s “Der Menschenfeind” (The Misanthrope) with equal success. “Schimmelreiter” (The Rider on the White Horse) at the Theater der Jugend in Vienna and “Kohlhaas ”at the Staatstheater Hanover are two of this season's highlights that successfully perform the balancing act of being equally popular among the audience and the critics.

    She has been successfully writing plays, including some for children, for a number of years. They include “Noah und der grosse Regen” (Noah and the downpour), “Schneekönigin ”(Snow Queen) and “Undine, die kleine Meerjungfrau” (Undine, the little mermaid). Together with Volker Ludwig, she has written two full-length works: “Baden gehen” (Going swimming) and “Rosa”, both of which she staged at the GRIPS Theater. In the last ten years, she has enriched the GRIPS Theater’s repertoire with ten productions, extending its understanding of the theatre. It is here, on curiously convoluted paths, that she has found an artistic home through creating intelligent, political theatrical art that meets her audiences emotionally where they are and presents them with an aesthetic challenge. In September 2011, Steiof will be staging the first work to be performed under a new management team at the GRIPS Theater. “Schöner wohnen” (Living more comfortably) is a musical evening about the fate of a house in Berlin and its inhabitants in an age of gentrification.

    Stefan Fischer-Fels

    Productions (selection)

    Franziska Steiof “Schöner Wohnen” (Living more comfortably)
    2011, Grips Theater Berlin

    Per Nilsson, dramatization of Michael Müller “So lonely“
    2011, Grips Theater Berlin

    Erich Kästner “Pünktchen und Anton” (Anna Louise and Anton)
    2010, Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus

    Franziska Steiof “Szenen der Lust” (Scenes of Lust)
    2010, DeichArt Kiel

    Volker Ludwig, Franziska Steiof “Rosa”
    2009, Grips Theater Berlin

    “Looking for Maria Stuart
    2008, DeichArt Kiel

    Jean-Baptiste Molière “Der Menschenfeind” (The Misanthrope)
    2008, Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus

    Franziska Steiof after H.C. Andersen “Die Schneekönigin” (The Snow Queen)
    2006, Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus

    Franziska Steiof “Schwitzende Männer im Schuhgeschäft” (Sweaty Men in a Shoe Shop)
    2006, DeichArt Kiel

    Horst Lohr “Nellie Goodbye”
    2005, Grips Theater Berlin

    Franziska Steiof “Artus” (Arthur)
    2004, Junges Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf

    Volker Ludwig, Franziska Steiof “Baden gehen” (Going Swimming)
    2003, Grips Theater Berlin

    Theodore Isaac Rubin, version by Franziska Steiof “David und Lisa” (David and Lisa)
    2001, Grips Theater Berlin

    William Shakespeare “Heinrich V.” (Henry V)
    1997, Theater Triebwerk / Kampnagel

    Susanne Schneider “Die Nächte der Schwestern Brontë” (The Nights of the Bronte Sisters)
    1993, Theater Kiel