Barbara Frey

© Sebastian Hoppe
Born in Basel on 29 April 1963. Studied German and Philosophy at Zurich University. Was already working as a drummer and songwriter at this time. From 1988 assistant director, musician and actress at Basel Theatre.

From 1992 onwards she produced plays in Basel, at Mannheim Nationaltheater, at Zurich’s Neumarkt Theatre and at Hamburg’s Schauspielhaus, but also continued to work with independent groups and developed theatre projects. At the start of the 1999/2000 season she became in-house director at Schaubühne Berlin for two years.

Since 2002 she has mainly produced at Basel Theatre and at the Bayerisches Schauspielhaus Munich. Teaching activities, including at the Berlin University of the Arts. In future she will also produce at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin and at Schauspielhaus Zurich.

As of the 2006/2007 season, Barbara Frey has held a permanent position as a director at the Deutsches Theater Berlin while continuing to direct at Zurich Schauspielhaus.

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Portrait: Barbara Frey

Barbara Frey’s early days as a director were characterised by a search in the overlapping areas of theatre and music. As a member of Frank Baumbauer’s team during his management in Basel, she was officially a theatre musician, but also developed her form of project theatre. She saw herself as a director/writer because she developed plays out of thematically linked collections of material.

She presented one of her greatest in 1997 at the Nationaltheater in Mannheim with “The Secret of Life – A Seminar of Murderesses”. The starting point for the scenic study of women who murder was the French Papin sisters, who attacked their mistress and her daughter like avenging angels in the 1930s. The exegesis about murderesses succeeded because Barbara Frey countered the conventional ideas of out-and-out lust for murder by setting the evening in a library and made the Papin sisters into colourful librarians.

During this project work, Barbara Frey travelled on several tracks and developed her own style as a director. In 1999 she achieved a remarkable production with the presentation of Bernard-Marie Koltès’s “Roberto Zucco” at Basel Theatre. On the one hand she once again revealed how much she is interested in the subject of the inexplicably evil. She showed the killer without using the clichés of monstrosity. Roberto Zucco was given shape in that other characters in the play reacted to him.

At the start of the 1999/2000 season Barbara Frey moved as a permanent in-house director to the Berlin Schaubühne and the team around Thomas Ostermeier. In this time, she produced Alfred Jarry’s “King Ubu” and the premiere of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s “A Long Time Ago in May”. The cooperation ended in early 2001.

Since then, Barbara Frey has been working under Dieter Dorn at the Bayerisches Schauspiel Munich and at Basel Theatre, where she presented one of her best productions to date in 2003 with the premiere of the play “The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents” by Lukas Bärfuss. At the centre of this play is fifteen-year-old Dora, who is not quite mistress of her senses, has long been pacified with medicine and lives in a twilight zone. When she stops taking her medicine, she discovers life, men and lust. Barbara Frey set it in an artistic sofa landscape, trenchantly and with a great sense of atmospheric changes. The play and production were invited to the Mülheim Theatertage.

Since leaving the Berlin Schaubühne, Barbara Frey has decisively turned to the classics and redefined her directorial work. The result is a production style that thoroughly investigates the text without surrendering to it in humility. At the end of 2003 she produced Heinrich von Kleist’s “Amphitryon” in Basel, set the linguistic work of art on confused identities at the court of the King of Thebes in a beach environment with bungalows on stilts and placed nightmarish scenes next to sheer comedy.

“When I am dealing with the classics this discussion about the theatre of yesterday and today doesn't exist for me,” says Barbara Frey. “Kleist, for example, is extremely contemporary for me because he asks far-reaching questions about identity, subjectivity and the fragility of the world.”

With her most recent productions, above all, Barbara Frey has made it clear that, beyond playing for effects, she is an interpreting director who is seeking modern content in great classic material – as in “Tales from the Vienna Woods”. She directed Horvath’s play in 2005 as a coproduction between the Salzburg Festival and the Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel, creating moments “of a paradisiacal, embarrassing freedom” (Die Zeit).

Since the start of the 2006/2007 season, Barbara Frey has held a permanent position at the Deutsches Theater Berlin, where she has staged Euripides’ “Medea”. She also continues to receive regular commissions from the Zurich Schauspielhaus. There she will take the direction in 2009.

Jürgen Berger

Productions - A selection

  • Carlo Goldoni "Servant of Two Masters"
    2014, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
  • Richard Strauss "Electra"
    2014, Semperoper, Dresden
  • Barbara Frey/Christine Besier after Franz Kafka "The Process"
    2013, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
  • Ferenc Molnár "Liliom"
    2013, Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Molière "The Misanthrope"
    2013, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
  • William Shakespeare "Richard III."
    2012, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
  • Elfriede Jelinek/Oscar Wilde
    (German by Elfriede Jelinek after the translation by Karin Rausch)
    "An Ideal Husband"

    2011, Burgtheater (Akademietheater), Vienna
  • Georg Büchner "Leonce and Lena"
    2011, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
  • Anton Chekhov "Platonov"
    2011, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
  • Marieluise Fleißer "Purgatory in Ingolstadt"
    2010, Schauspielhaus, Zürich
  • Friedrich Schiller "Mariy Stuart"
    2009, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
  • Botho Strauß"Big and Little"
    2008, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • William Shakespeare "The Tempest"
    2007, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • Heiner Müller "Quartet"
    2007, Salzburg Festival
  • Pierre Carlet de Marivaux "The Triumph of Love"
    2007, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • Joseph Kesselring "Arsenic and Old Lace"
    2006, Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Euripides "Medea"
    2006, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • Anton Chekov "The Cherry Orchard"
    2006, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • Henrik Ibsen "John Gabriel Borkmann"
    2005, Schauspiel, Zurich
  • Ödön von Horvath "Legends of the Viennoise Forest"
    2005, Salzburg Festival
  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing "Minna von Barnhelm"
    2005, Deutsches Theater Berlin
  • William Shakespeare “As You Like It”
    2004, Basel Theatre
  • Johann Strauß “Fledermaus”
    2004, Basel Theatre
  • Racine “Phaedra”
    2004, Bayerisches Staatschauspiel Munich
  • Heinrich von Kleist “Amphitryon”
    2003, Basel Theatre
  • Lukas Bärfuss “The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents”
    premiere 2003, Basel Theatre
  • Anton Chekhov “Uncle Vanya”
    2003, Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel Munich, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Yasmina Reza “Life x 3”
    2002, Basel Theatre
  • Samuel Beckett “Endgame”
    2002, Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel Munich
  • Conor McPherson “Port Authority”
    2001, Schaubühne Berlin
  • Ödön von Horváth “The Stranger from the Seine”
    2000, Schaubühne Berlin
  • Roland Schimmelpfennig “A Long Time Ago in May”
    premiere 1999, Schaubühne Berlin
  • Alfred Jarry “King Ubu”
    1999, Schaubühne Berlin
  • Bernard-Marie Koltès “Roberto Zucco”
    1999, Basel Theatre
  • Susanne Hinkelbein “Nightbook Zurich”
    premiere 1998, Neumarkt Theatre Zurich
  • Barbara Frey “The Secret of Life – A Seminar of Murderesses”
    1997, Nationaltheater Mannheim
  • Vladimir Sorokin “The Honeymoon”
    1996, Nationaltheater Mannheim
  • Irmgard Keun “The Artificial Silk Girl”
    1995, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
  • Barbara Frey/Desire Meiser “The Drunkards”
    1995, Basel Theatre
  • Barbara Frey after Sylvia Plath “I Can Do It Especially Well”
    1993, Basel Theatre