Roger Vontobel

Roger Vontobel was born in 1977 in Zurich, and grew up in Switzerland and Johannesburg, South Africa. He studied drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and Pasadena from 1998 to 2001, before working as an actor with various groups, including ARK Theatre Company in Los Angeles. He worked as a director for the first time on his own adaptation of Maxim Gorky's Summer Guests.

In 2001, Roger Vontobel moved to the Hamburg Theatre Academy to study directing. A year later, he founded the fringe group VONTOBELhamburg. Since then, he has collaborated repeatedly with the actress Jana Schulz, for whom he adapted Lessing's Philotas as a monologue. fi'lo:tas became Roger Vontobel's first signature production. It was followed by invitations to several fringe festivals, such as Impulse in North Rhine-Westphalia and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Vontobel completed his directing course in the 2004/2005 winter semester. By this time, he was already working as a director with his own fringe group and directing for the first time at the Thalia Theater Hamburg's Gaußstraße venue and the Theaterhaus Jena. Since completing his studies, he has held permanent positions as a director at the Munich Kammerspiele, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg and the Schauspiel Essen. In 2006, Roger Vontobel was named young director of the year in the Theater heute critics' survey. That same year, he received the Gertrud Eysoldt Prize for Young Directors for his production of Franz Grillparzer's Das goldene Vlies (The Golden Fleece).

Related links

Portrait: Roger Vontobel

When he began working as a director in Germany, Roger Vontobel, stood on his own two feet, doing his bit to make the barriers between fringe theatre and the municipal theatre companies even more porous than they already were. His version of Lessing's Philotas was premiered in Hamburg by his fringe group, VONTOBELhamburg. By this time, he was 25, had already spent two years studying drama on the sunny west coast of the USA and would also have been able to build a career as an actor. At some point, however, he must have tasted blood, at the latest when he presented his own adaptation of Gorky's Summer Guests in the north of Hollywood under the title Summerfolk. The actor Roger Vontobel redefined himself as a director, returned to Germany and studied directing at the Hamburg Theatre Academy, distinguishing himself even during his time as a student as someone who reworked texts in unconventional ways.

The most important decision of his still young directing career was taken when he presented his monologue version of Lessing's Philotas in 2002. The monologue was performed by Jana Schulz, who was then a drama student - and the foundation stone of an enduring collaborative relationship had been laid. fi'lo:tas was invited to important fringe festivals, such as Impulse in North Rhine-Westphalia and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, while prestigious theatres were already showing interest in Vontobel as a director. If the wunderkind was very rapidly able to become an established figure in the world of directing, this was partly a result of the fact that he understands himself as a directing co-author, both when putting on productions of classic works and when premiering new plays.

Regardless whether he is staging Grillparzer's Das goldene Vlies (The Gold Fleece) or Mark Ravenhill's pool (no water) - he always seeks pithy solutions for dramatic narratives that amount to more than literary retellings. As, for instance, when he adapted Juli Zeh's novel Spieltrieb (Gaming Instinct) for the stage together with Bernhard Studlar, having it performed in front of the bare walls of the Malersaal auditorium at the Hamburg Schauspielhaus and focussing on the virtuality of the worlds people inhabit today. The prose text centres on a schoolgirl who seduces her PE teacher and blackmails him with photographs on the Internet. At the premiere, Vontobel said the speed with which the media transform the situations that arise in contemporary life meant young people no longer experienced the moment and therefore reacted with indifference to even appalling scenarios. The schoolgirl who can no longer distinguish between actual and pretended emotionality was played by Jana Schulz, and it was once again possible to gain the impression that Vontobel plans some of his theatre works "just" for this actress, who certainly penetrates into the material offered by her characters with great intensity.

Realities distorted by the media stand at the centre of Vontobel's directing work. At the beginning of 2008, he dug out Ibsen's early play Helden auf Helgeland (The Vikings of Helgeland), directing the opening of Ibsen's response to the Old Icelandic Saga of the Völsungs as a virtual Second Life. The icy world of the Völsungs was depicted as a computer animation with actors who seemed to be putting words into the mouths of their PC avatars. Vontobel had been searching for a possible way of setting about Ibsen's unwieldy early work, and settled on bloodless computer animation for the beginning of his production. Only when he went back to the essence of this archaic family drama was he able to rely once more on Jana Schulz, whose Nordic Brünhild displayed the shabby sides of a female soul disfigured by hatred.

Hatred was also the theme in Frankfurt when he staged Mark Ravenhill's pool (no water), in which four moderately successful artists slag off a more famous colleague. Vontobel located his production on the stage like an environment, while the Frankfurt actors played out all the vanities exhibited by a monomaniac artistic precariat. pool (no water) is not one of Ravenhill's strongest texts, while Monsun (Monsoon) is not necessarily the best piece by the young German playwright Anja Hilling. In both cases, though, Vontobel showed how it is possible to make brilliant drama out of such texts. He currently holds permanent positions as a director at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, the Theater Essen and the Munich Kammerspiele.

Jürgen Berger

Productions - A selection

  • Gerhart Hauptmann "Lonely Lives"
    2014, Schauspielhaus Bochum
  • Bertolt Brecht "In the Jungle of the Cities"
    2013, Schauspielhaus Bochum
  • William Shakespeare "Hamlet"
    2012, Staatsschauspiel Dresden
  • Heinrich von Kleist "The Broken Pitcher"
    2012, Stasschauspiel Dresden
  • William Shakespeare "Twelfth Night or What You Will"
    2011, Schauspielhaus, Bochum
  • Friedrich Schiller "The Maid of Orleans"
    2011, Schauspielhaus Bochum
  • Arthur Miller "All My Sons"
    2010, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • Sophocles, Eschyle, Euripides "Die Labdakiden"(i.e. "The Labdacids")
    2010, Schauspiel Bochum
  • Heinrich von Kleist "Penthesilea"
    2010, Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg
  • Friedrich Schiller "Don Carlos"
    2010, Staatsschauspiel Dresden
  • Henrik Ibsen "Peer Gynt"
    2010, Schauspiel Essen (Grillo Theater)
  • Jörg Albrecht "Können wir uns die Katastrophen nicht sparen, Herr Calvin ?"(i.e. "Couldn't we surrender the catastrophies, Mr. Calvin ?")
    2009, Theater am Neumarkt, Zurich
  • Heinrich von Kleist "The Maiden of Heilbronn"
    2009, Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg
  • Jörg Albrecht "Laß mich dein Leben leben ! Dirty Control 2" (i.e. "Let me live your life ! Dirty Control 2")
    2009, Münchner Kammerspiele (Werkraum)
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Clavigo
    2008, Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin
  • Aeschylus, The Oresteia
    2008, Schauspiel Essen
  • After Lukas Moodysson, Lilya 4-ever
    2008, Munich Kammerspiele
  • Henrik Ibsen, Die Helden von Helgeland (The Vikings of Helgeland)
    2008, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
  • Mark Ravenhill, pool (no water)
    2007, schauspielfrankfurt
  • Gerhild Steinbuch, Verschwinden, oder die Nacht wird abgeschafft (Disappearing, or Night is Abolished)
    Premiere: 2007, Schauspielhaus Graz/Styrian Autumn
  • Heinrich von Kleist, Die Familie Schroffenstein (The Schroffenstein Family)
    2007, Munich Kammerspiele
  • Franz Grillparzer, Das Goldene Vlies (The Golden Fleece)
    2007, Schauspiel Essen, Gertrud Eysoldt Prize for Young Directors
  • Bernhard Studlar, Me and You and the EU
    Premiere: 2006, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
  • Christian Dietrich Grabbe, Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung (Comedy, Satire, Irony and Deeper Meaning)
    2006, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg/Young Directors Project, Salzburg Festival
  • Gerhild Steinbuch, Schlafengehn (Going to Sleep)
    Premiere: 2006, Schauspiel Essen
  • Bernhard Studlar/Roger Vontobel, after Juli Zeh, Spieltrieb (Gaming Instinct)
    2006, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, invitation to the 2007 Radikal Jung festival, Munich
  • Anja Hilling, Monsun (Monsoon)
    2006, Munich Kammerspiele
  • Marius von Mayenburg, Eldorado
    2005, Schauspiel Essen
  • Heinrich von Kleist, Die Hermannsschlacht (Hermann's Battle)
    2005, Theaterhaus Jena, invitation to the 2005 Impulse festival
  • Juli Zeh, Präsentation eines Prototypen (Presentation of a Prototype)
    Premiere: 2005, Munich Kammerspiele
  • Ferdinand Bruckner, Früchte des Nichts (Fruits of Nothingness)
    2005, Staatstheater Stuttgart, invitation to the 2006 Radikal Jung festival, Munich, Radikal Jung Critics' Prize
  • Lucy Prebble, The Sugar Syndrome
    2004, Munich Kammerspiele
  • David Gieselmann, Herr Kolpert (Mr Kolpert)
    2004, Thalia Theater Hamburg
  • Vladimir Sorokin, Dostoyevsky Trip
    2002, Zeise Hallen, Hamburg
  • After Lessing, fi'lo:tas
    Premiere: 2002, Zeise Hallen, Hamburg