Sebastian Hartmann

© Marcus Lieberenz
Born 1968. Studied at Hans Otto Drama University in Leipzig. The stage and television actor. 1991-1993 hired at Deutsches Nationaltheater Weimar; 1993-1994 at Carroussel Theatre in Berlin. From the mid-1990s first productions in the independent sector.

1998 founded the independent group “wehrtheater hartmann”. Invitations to the festivals “Impulses” (1998) and “Politics in the Independent Theatre” (1999). 1999 work at Jena Theaterhaus and at “Theater unterm Dach” in Berlin, then he moved to Frank Castorf at the Berliner Volksbühne, where he produced plays for two years. Since then he has worked again as an independent director, especially at the Hamburg Schauspielhaus, as well as in Göttingen, Cologne, Basel and Vienna.

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Portrait: Sebastian Hartmann

Sebastian Hartmann is an exceptional talent as an inventor of images. The globalised baroque with which he equips his productions always creates exciting collisions of historical stories and modern imagery. There, Schiller’s “Robbers” land on Mars in space suits, a picture-book cottage spins above a Snow White coffin (Tarkovsky's “Sacrifice”) or a Chinese fire dragon and a George W Bush clone dance nightmarishly though Max Frisch’s Firebugs world.

Inspired by Frank Castorf, at whose Berliner Volksbühne he produced a few plays before he became an in-house director at Hamburg’s Schauspielhaus, Hartmann has developed his own technique of fragmentation and hysterification of material. This method, that Castorf uses as criticism of a duplicitous-harmonious understanding of the present until the audience is totally over-stretched, is diluted in Hartmann’s hands into a critical-poetic theatrical reality - true to the motto “All that we see on scene is but a dream within a dream”, which he has borrowed from Edgar Allen Poe and inserted in every one of his productions.

Possibly his best work of recent years, the game with “The Firebugs” at Hamburg’s Schauspielhaus, is typical of the associative revision of classics, with which Hartmann transfers complete dramas into a complex media world. At the start, the petit bourgeois who brings about his own downfall with his rigid conventions lives in an elegant flat on the Alster where increasingly odd things happen. Not only the weird fellows who will later set fire to the building make their homes with him. Much rather, the curious quickly becomes a matter of course.
A fireman with a night-vision camera tramps through the house, Biedermann’s wife turns into Linda Blair in the devil’s clutches and floats in bed, a “Save the Forests” parody mocks the new middle-class flavour of political correctness. As this production goes on longer, these ideas culminate in a media termite entity. Certainty about reality is completely undermined by the possibilities of the images.

Hartmann even takes over the wonderfully over-excited art of acting, which is what makes Castorf theatre possible in the first place at the Berliner Volksbühne, in a less animated form for his own productions. Although the mode of speaking often slips into the shrieking of thin-skinned city people and his characters, too, perpetrate plenty of mad actions on the stage that disrupts and comments on the plot, the wasteful elements of his directorial ideas are more in balance with a moderate exaggeration towards the actors.

In his most recent productions in particular, Hartmann, who like many of the younger German directors (such as Michael Thalheimer, Sebastian Nübling or Leander Haußmann) changed from the acting profession to being a director, has moved more to the calmer traditions of narrative theatre. Although his productions of Chekhov’s “Platonov" and Tennessee Williams’s “Glass Menagerie” impressed once again with the force of the images (a spinning forest in Chekhov and a fully glass house case around a dead tree in Williams), the attempt to develop contemporary people and conflicts from the material can be felt much more clearly.

Naturally, these productions do not manage without grotesque interludes and directorial ideas – such as the love scene in a hole in the moor or a zoo of stuffed forest animals – but Hartmann’s new concentration on portraying modern psychologies has now made them into something of an ornament. This positive development from a deconstructivist image director to an observer of human nuances is much rather taking him back to the heart of the theatre – the actor. It is this emancipation from Castorf’s legacy that is the key to Hartmann’s very own originality, if he retains his youthful energy while connecting overflowing imagination and character studies.

Till Briegleb

Productions - A selection

  • Sebastian Hartmann nach Johann Wolfgang Goethe "mein faust" (i.e. "my faust")
    2012, Centraltheater, Leipzig
  • Hans Fallada "The Drinker"
    2012, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • After Thomas Mann "The Magic Mountain"
    2010, Centraltheater, Leipzig
  • William Shakespeare "Macbeth"
    2008, Schauspiel Leipzig
  • Georg Büchner "Leonce and Lena"
    2008, Nationaltheater Oslo
  • Knut Hamsun "At the Mercy of Life"
    2007, Nationaltheater Oslo
  • Antonio Vivaldi "Orlando furioso"
    2007, Theater Magdeburg
  • Eugène Ionesco „Jeux de massacre" (“The Big massacre or Triumph of the Death") (After the theatre scandal about the actor Thomas Lawinky, who offensed a famous German feuilleton journalist at the premiere of the production, the play was called „Being Lawinky“)
    2006, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder „The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant“
    2005, Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Wiliam Shakespeare „Macbeth“
    2005, Theater Magdeburg
  • After Hermann Hesse „Steppenwolf“
    2005, Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Peter Handke "Offending the Audience"
    2004, Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg
  • Sebastian Hartmann after Vladimir Mayakovsky “Mystery Bouffe”
    2004, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Tennessee Williams “The Glass Menagerie”
    2003, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
  • Gerhart Hauptmann “Before Sunset”
    2003, Burgtheater Vienna
  • Anton Chekhov “Platonov”
    2003, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
  • Max Frisch “The Firebugs”
    2002, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
  • Friedrich Schiller “The Robbers”
    2002, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
  • Christa Wolf “Divided Heaven”
    2001, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Gerhart Hauptmann “Lonely Lives”
    2001, Bühnen der Stadt Köln
  • Sebastian Hartmann after Andrei Tarkovsky “Stalker”
    2000, Volksbühne Berlin im Prater
  • Henrik Ibsen “Ghosts”
    1999, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Ernst Toller “Brokenbow”
    1999, Theaterhaus Jena
  • Ferdinand Bruckner “Tears Mock”
    1999, independent production
  • Sarah Kane “Blasted”
    1997, Schaubühne Lindenfels Leipzig