Directors of children and youth theatre – Jürgen Zielinski


Jürgen Zielinski © Cora Steinbock

Jürgen Zielinski was born in Bergkamen in 1953. He studied social pedagogy, media communication and cultural studies in Bochum and Dortmund.

In 1980, he took up a post as dramaturg and in-house writer at the children’s and youth theatre at the municipal theatres in Dortmund. There he wrote two pieces for that theatre, “Kein Bock auf Nix” (Couldn’t Care Less About Anything) and “Deutschländer und Eingeborene” (Deutschländer and Natives – the term “Deutschländer” refers to Turks who grew up in Germany and who relocate to Turkey), as well as staging three productions for young people. In 1984, he prepared three productions for the Junges Theater Göttingen as well as making stage adaptations of stories for young people by writers such as Christine Nöstlinger and Roy Kift. In 1984, he became the founding director of the theatre programme for children and young people at the Landestheater Tübingen. He left Tübingen in 1989 to work as a freelance director in Kiel and Berlin.

In 1991, he became theatre manager of the newly-founded youth theatre at Kampnagel, where he staged seven productions before the theatre fell victim to spending cuts by Hamburg Senate’s Culture Department in 1994. From 1995 to 2002, he worked as a writer and freelance director, no longer exclusively for children and young people, but increasingly for adults as well.

In 2002, he took up the post of theatre manager of the Theater der Jungen Welt in Leipzig, the oldest German theatre exclusively staging children’s and youth theatre. His contract runs until 2017.


    When Jürgen Zielinski began to work for children’s and youth theatre in Dortmund in the early eighties, he wanted to educate youngsters and confront them with the reality of the Ruhr district. Foreigners were not yet called migrants, but second-generation foreigners were already living in Germany. Although he had been employed as an in-house writer and dramaturg rather than as a director, he staged his own two plays on this subject, the first of which was co-authored by Klaus Leubner.

    In the following years, which took Zielinski via Göttingen to Tübingen as the founding director of the children’s and youth theatre department there, he staged works for children and young people. As well as dramatisations and pieces created jointly with the ensemble, he discovered new plays for the children’s and youth theatre repertoire, seeking dramatically high-quality material that confronted children and young people with reality in a new way. At first, he was indebted to emancipatory children’s and youth theatre but soon tried out more experimental forms and sought artistic partners from outside theatre.

    As theatre manager of the Jugendtheater auf Kampnagel (JAK for short) in Hamburg, a theatre exclusively targeting a young audience in an environment showing primarily independent international productions for adults, Zielinski started a cultural and artistic experiment, which opened up completely new vistas to him as a director. In the early nineties, no-one else in Germany was putting on productions just for young people all the year around, so Zielinski looked mainly in the English-speaking world for plays and material for the JAK’s repertoire that looked at reality in a different way and called for different ways of accessing it. His failure was by no means due to his artistic ability but to Hamburg’s cultural policy. In 1994, Zielinski left the field of children’s and youth theatre for a while and began work as a freelance director, staging productions for adults. It was during the years that followed that he produced Lessing’s “Nathan” for the Goethe-Institut in Karachi, Pakistan. He was later to stage another production of this play in Leipzig and now counts these productions as two of his theatre career’s major achievements. He became theatre manager of Germany’s oldest independent children’s and youth theatre in Leipzig (founded in 1946) in 2002.

    As the director of more than 70 productions, he has a mastery of and uses different styles, from fast-paced pieces with racy dialogues, such as those required by Lutz Hübner’s plays, to pieces that discover new intellectual spaces through the intensity of the acting, for example Ulrich Zaum’s “Albert and the Sumo Angel”. Zielinski’s choice of plays and artistic forms is inseparable from what he regards as key social issues. “We make a theatre of questions with the aim of promoting discussion," says Zielinski. He has his actors ask the questions that matter most to him when preparing “Zerreissprobe Faust” (Crucial Test Faust), says Ute Grundmann in “Deutsche Bühne”: " How does one express passion, what are feelings, is theatre even the right medium?" Zielinski gives the classic answer to this last question in the production of “Nathan” referred to above, appealing to his young audience for religious tolerance and tolerance of different cultures, thereby leading them to the drama’s key issue.

    As well as working as a director and artistic director, Zielinski has been seeking exchange with other people involved with children’s and youth theatre through various European networks for a number of years. Of course, this also means communicating the passion required to make theatre for this specific audience and that has always motivated Zielinski, with brief interruptions. He not only has his eye on young audiences, but also on adult audiences. However, he expects them to come to his theatre and uses young themes to attract them to it.

    Eckhard Mittelstädt

    Productions (selection)

    Oscar van Woensel “Zerreissprobe Faust” (Crucial Test Faust)
    2011, Theater der Jungen Welt, Leipzig

    Daniel Danis “Kiwi”
    2010, Theater der Jungen Welt, Leipzig

    George Tabori “Mein Kampf”
    2010, Theater der Jungen Welt, Leipzig

    Georg Büchner “Woyzeck”
    2008, Theater der Jungen Welt, Leipzig

    Ulrich Zaum “Albert und der Sumo-Engel” (Albert and the Sumo Angel)
    2006, Theater der Jungen Welt, Leipzig

    Walter Kohl “ritzen” (cutting)
    2003, Theater der Jungen Welt, Leipzig

    Lutz Hübner “Creeps”
    2002, GRIPS Theater, Berlin

    Jim Cartwright “eight miles high”
    1999, Stadttheater Würzburg

    Karst Woudstra “Strand” (Beach)
    1999 Landestheater Linz, Austria, u/hof:

    Katharina Gericke “Maienschlager” (Warweser)
    1998, Staatstheater Braunschweig, Kleines Haus

    Tim Staffel “Du bist nicht Elvis” (You are Not Elvis) / Bertolt Brecht “Der Jasager und der NEINsager” (He Said Yes / He said NO)
    1998, Staatstheater Braunschweig, Magnikirche

    Ferdinand Bruckner “Krankheit der Jugend” (The Pains of Youth)
    1997, Staatstheater Braunschweig, Kleines Haus

    Gottfried Ephraim Lessing “Nathan der Weise” (Nathan the Wise)
    1996, Karachi, Pakistan, Goethe- Institut
    2005 to the present, Theater der Jungen Welt, Leipzig

    Trevor Griffiths, Sonja Voss-Scharfenberg und Peter Sichrovsky “Abwege - ganz normal nach rechts” (Off the Straight and Narrow – Quite Normally on the Right)
    1992, Jugendtheater für Hamburg auf Kampnagel

    Per Lysander “Die Speckpferde” (The Pork Horses)
    1991, Jugendtheater für Hamburg auf Kampnagel

    Nino d´Introna and Giacomo Ravicchio “Robinson & Crusoe”
    1991, Theater Rote Grütze, Berlin

    Staffan Göthestam “Grenzland” (Borderland)
    1991, Theater der Freundschaft, Berlin

    Knut Weber and Jürgen Zielinski after Christine Nöstlinger “Das Austauschkind” (The Exchange Child)
    1985, Kinder- und Jugendtheater am Landestheater Tübingen

    Volker Ludwig und Detlef Michel “Alles Plastik” (Everything is Plastic)
    1984, Junges Theater Göttingen

    Jürgen Zielinski “Deutschländer und Eingeborene” (Deutschländer and Natives)
    1982, Kinder- und Jugendtheater an den Städtischen Bühnen Dortmund