Armin Petras


© David Baltzer
Born in Meschede in the Sauerland in 1964. In 1969 he moved to the GDR with his parents. Grew up in East Berlin. 1985-1987 studied Direction at the Ernst Busch University for Dramatic Arts in Berlin; co-founder of the independent theatre group Medea Ost. In 1987 he produced Heiner Müller’s “Wolokolamsker Chaussee 1-3” at Nordhausen Theatre. In 1988 he left the GDR and moved over to West Berlin.

Assistant director at Frankfurt’s Theater am Turm (TAT) and at the Munich Kammerspiele. After the Berlin Wall came down he produced plays at western and eastern German theatres: Kleist Theatre Frankfurt/Oder, Chemnitz Theatre, Freie Kammerspiele Magdeburg, Schauspiel Leipzig, Nationaltheater Mannheim, Volkstheater Rostock, Berliner Ensemble, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz Berlin, Schauspiel Hanover, Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel Munich.

1996-1999 Senior Play Director at Nordhausen Theatre and in-house director in Leipzig. 1999-2002 Director of Acting at Staatstheater Kassel. In 2002 he moved to Schauspiel Frankfurt as full-time director, where he has managed the venue in Schmidtstraße since the 2003/2004 season. In addition, he also produces plays at the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg and at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin.

Armin Petras also works as a writer under the pseudonym Fritz Kater. For his play “time to live, time to die” he was awarded the Mülheim Dramatists’ Prize in 2003 and in the annual survey of the journal Theater heute voted him “Dramatist of the Year”. Petras’s production of this play, and the premiere of his play “We are camera/Jasonmaterial” (2003), were invited to the Berliner Theatertreffen.

Since the season 2013/2014 Petras is manager of the Schauspiel Stuttgart.

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Portrait: Armin Petras

Since the early 1990s Armin Petras has brought out a good 50 productions, 15 of which were in 2002 and 2003 alone. This shows what a restless, tireless and quick worker he is. He doesn’t hesitate long in his approach to plays, either. Petras understands texts as material that he cuts radically when he has to and mixes with the most varied style media.

All of his productions are characterised by a principle of irony and a degree of playfulness, with which he constantly surprises the audience and critics, and often also divides them. Regardless of whether he is interpreting classics or contemporary material – he makes them into lush theatrical orgies full of relish, enriched with gags, slapstick and ironic jumps, often using microphones, modern media and pop music. This sampling technique is his approach to contemporary narrative theatre: a theatre that in spite of all the forced nature of the means, still asks questions about morals, about "How am I living?". "Collecting sentences, images, symbols. In the midst of the familiar, rooting through the old and find out, crossing and commenting with a new look. Leaving beauty and strangeness alone like a forbidden zone," is how Petras describes his own way of working as a director.

Petras gives his love and attention to the underdogs and losers. "Problems in bourgeois society don’t interest me at all because I have never had these problems," he said in 2004 in a conversation with the literary manager Juliane Koepp. "I am interested in problems that are existential. When people get into difficulties and these difficulties also have something to do with the society in which we live."

He achieved one of his most succinct productions along these lines recently with Gerhart Hauptmann’s naturalistic social drama "The Rats" at Hamburg’s Thalia Theatre. By setting the comedic events around the feuding theatre director Hassenreuter and his pupils in a raised transparent box like a puppet theatre, Petras put it in a stark contrast to the proletarian tragedy on the level below. With intelligent breaks in style and ironic eruptions, the theatre constantly comments upon itself in this production to ultimately return to the only thing that remains to it in view of the desperation: acting, carrying on and laughing.

Petras’s own plays are also something like social dramas. As a writer he has given himself the pseudonym Fritz Kater and he strictly insists on the separation between Armin Petras, the director and Fritz Kater, the dramatist with a fictitious CV. The German-German splits, which are expressed both in Petras’s own biography and in that of his alter ego (invented), is also the subject of those three Kater plays, which taken together form a sort of GDR Homeland Trilogy: "Fight City.Vineta" (2001), "time to love time to die" (2002) and "We are camera/Jasonmaterial" (2003), all premiered with great freedom by Armin Petras at the Thalia Theatre in der Gaußstraße.

In "Fight City.Vineta" Petras/Kater tells the story of an ex-boxers and other losers of the fall of Communism in Frankfurt/Oder. The play – just like "Stars over Mansfeld" – is an east German melodrama about people who have been pushed to the margins by history, full of yearnings and homesickness, grief and anger. In "time to live time to die" (after the film "Time Stands Still" by Peter Gothár) he unfolds a scenic triptych about growing up in the GDR, a funny and sentimental adolescence and family story that ends with an unhappy love story in the west. "We are camera/Jasonmaterial" also tells a German family story between the west and east. The play, which appears like an espionage thriller, is a mixture of teenage drama, family soap and marriage tragedy, a journey into childhood and a game of memory.

At the latest it was the productions of these three works – all three were invited to the Play Festival in Mülheim, the latter two also to the Berliner Theatertreffen – that catapulted Armin Petras to the front ranks of German directors. Whereas he had previously been written off as a slapstick lover and destroyer, Petras has now made it clear that he is not only a philanthropist and moralist, but also a great romantic.

Christine Dössel

Productions - A selection

  • Fritz Kater "5 morgen" (i.e. "5 tomorrow")
    2013, Schauspiel Stuttgart
  • Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz/Judith Schalansky "The Tutor, or, The Advantages of Private Education/The Giraffe's Neck"
    2013, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Fritz Kater "demenz depression und revolution" (i.e. "dementia depression and revolution")
    2013, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • After Gerhart Hauptmann "Bahnwärter Thiel"
    2012, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Henrik Ibsen "John Gabriel Borkmann"
    2012, Munich Kammerspiele
  • Jonathan Litell "Les Bienveillantes" ("The Kindly Ones")
    2011, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • After the novella by Heinrich von Kleist "The Earthquake in Chile"
    2011, Staatsschauspiel Dresden, coproduction with Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • John Steinbeck "Fruits of the Anger"
    2010, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Heinrich von Kleist "Hermann's Battle"
    2010, Munich Kammerspiele
  • Eugene O'Neill "A Moon for the Misbegotten"
    2010, Schauspielhaus Bochum
  • Fritz Kater "we are blood"
    2010, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Carlo Goldoni ("La Guerra")/Heinrich von Kleist ("Robert Guiskard") "Der Krieg" (i.e. "The War")
    2010, Münchner Kammerspiele
  • Friedrich Dürrenmatt "The Visit"
    2009, Staatsschauspiel Dresden, 2010, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • After Einar Schleef, theatre adaption by Armin Petras, "Abschlussfeier" (i.e. "The Graduation")
    2009, Anhaltisches Theater Dessau, Maxim Gorki Theater (Gorki Studio), Berlin
  • After John Cassavetes, theatre adaption by Armin Petras "Opening Night"
    2009, Schauspiel Frankfurt, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • William Shakespeare "The Merchant of Venice"
    2009, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Darja Stocker "Zornig geboren" 8i.e. "Born Angry")
    2009, Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen (Halle Marl), Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Werner Bräunig, Theatre adaption by Armin Petras "Rummelplatz" ("The Fairground")
    2009, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Armin Petras (after Motives of the novel "Homo Faber" by Max Frisch) "Ödipus auf Cuba" (i.e. "Ödidpus on Cuba")
    2008, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Dorota Maslowska "Zwei arme Polnisch sprechende Rumänen" (i.e. "Two Poor Romanians speaking Polish")
    2008, coproduction of the Maxim Gorki Theater with the Vienna Festival, Schauspielhaus Wien and the Festival Theaterformen
  • After the novel by Clemens Meyer, theatre adaption by Armin Petras and Carmen Wolfram "Als wir träumten"(i.e. "When We Were Dreaming")
    2008, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Heiner Müller/Inge Müller "Die Korrektur" ("The Correction")
    2008, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Einar Schleef, theatre adaption by Jens Groß "Gertrud"
    2008, Schauspiel Frankfurt, 2009, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Gerhart Hauptmann "The Beaver Coat"
    2007, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Fritz Kater "heaven (to Tristan)"
    2007, Schauspiel Frankfurt, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Peter Høeg, theatre adaption by Armin Petras and Juliane Koepp "Fräulein Smillas Gespür für Schnee" ("Miss Smillas Feeling for Snow")
    2007, Thalia Theater, Hamburg (Thalia in der Gaußstraße), Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Heinrich von Kleist "Prince Frederick of Homburg"
    2006, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Einar Schleef "Das Haus" (i.e., "The House")
    2006, Maxim Gorki Theatre Berlin
  • Henrik Ibsen "The Master Builder"
    2006, Maxim Gorki Theatre Berlin
  • Fritz Kater "Tanzen !" (i.e., "Dancing !")
    2006, Festival Steirischer Herbst Graz/Maxim Gorki Theatre Berlin
  • Fritz Kater "Abalon, one Nite in Bangkok" (i.e., "Abalon, one Nite in Bangkok")
    2006, Thalia Theatre Hamburg
  • After Christoph Hein „Horns Ende“ (i.e., Horn's End"), 1. Part and „In seiner frühen Kindheit ein Garten“ (i.e., "In his Early Childhood, a Garden") 2. Part
    2006, Schauspiel Frankfurt (1. Part Coproduction with Schauspiel Leipzig)
  • After Georg Büchner „Lenz“
    2005, Torshovtheatre, Oslo
  • Johann Wolfgang Goethe „Egmont“
    2005, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • After Friedrich Dürrenmatt „The Pledge“
    2005, Thalia Theatre, Hamburg
  • Henrik Ibsen „The Wild Duck“
    2005, Schauspiel Köln
  • Gerhart Hauptmann „Before Sunrise“
    2005, Nationaltheater, Mannheim

  • Victor Hugo „Lucretia Borgia“
    2005, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Fritz Kater "3 of 5 Million"
    2005, Deutsches Theater Berlin
  • Heinrich von Kleist "Kate of Heilbronn
    2004, Schauspiel Frankfurt/Schauspiel in der Schmidtstraße
  • Euripides "Alkestis"
    2004, Schauspiel Leipzig
  • Fritz Kater "mach die augen zu und fliege oder krieg böse 5"
    2004, Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin, Schauspiel Frankfurt/Schauspiel in der Schmidtstraße
  • Henrik Ibsen "The Lady from the Sea"
    2004, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Gerhart Hauptmann “The Rats”
    2004, Thalia Theater Hamburg
  • Albert Camus “The Just Assassins”
    2004, Deutsches Theater Berlin
  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing "Minna von Barnhelm"
    2003, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Fritz Kater “We are camera/Jasonmaterial”
    premiere 2003, Thalia Theater Hamburg in der Gaußstraße, invitation to the Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Tennessee Williams “The Glass Menagerie”/Sarah Kane “Blasted”
    2003, Schauspiel Frankfurt in der Schmidtstraße
  • Friedrich Hebbel “Maria Magdalena”
    2002, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Fritz Kater “Stars over Mansfeld”
    premiere 2003, Schauspiel Leipzig
  • Armin Petras/Einar Schleef “Cigarettes”
    premiere 2003, Nationaltheater Mannheim
  • Fritz Kater “time to live time to die”
    premiere 2002, Thalia Theater Hamburg in der Gaußstraße, invitation to the Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Knut Hamsun “Game of Life”
    2002, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Oscar Wilde “Salome”
    2002, Schauspiel Leipzig
  • Friedrich Schiller “The Maid of Orleans”
    2002 Staatstheater Kassel
  • After the novel by Daniel F. Galouye “Simulacron”
    2001, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Fritz Kater “Fight City. Vineta”
    premiere 2001, Thalia Theater Hamburg in der Gaußstraße
  • William Shakespeare “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
    2001, Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel Munich
  • Farid Nagim “Elephant’s Cry”
    premiere 2000, Thalia Theater Hamburg in der Gaußstraße
  • After texts by Martin Walser/Fritz Marquard/Heinrich Böll “Myths of the Republic”
    2000, Staatstheater Kassel
  • Friedrich Schiller “Cabal and Love”
    1999, Staatstheater Kassel
  • William Shakespeare “Othello”
    1999, Staatstheater Kassel
  • Armin Petras after Jeff Noon “Yellow”
    premiere 1999, Schauspiel Leipzig
  • Henrik Ibsen “A Doll’s House”
    1999, Nordhausen Theatre
  • Bertolt Brecht “The Life of Galileo”
    1998, Nordhausen Theatre
  • Armin Petras after the novel by John Berger “To the Wedding”
    premiere 1998, Schauspiel Leipzig
  • Armin Petras after motifs by Marek Hlasko “Dog”
    premiere 1997, Schauspiel Leipzig
  • Armin Petras after the film by Assi Dayan “Life according to Agfa”
    premiere 1997, Schauspiel Leipzig
  • Lothar Trolle “The Pit”
    premiere 1996, Frankfurt/Oder
  • David Greig “Europe”
    1995, Chemnitz Theatre
  • Ulrich Plenzdorf “Father, Mother, Murdering Child”
    premiere 1993, Frankfurt/Oder
  • Fritz Kater “Black – A Cut”
    premiere 1993, Frankfurt/Oder