Barbara Weber

© Stefan Minder
Barbara Weber was born in 1975 and grew up in Wattwil (Canton of St. Gallen). She studied directing for the stage from 1997 to 2001 at the Institute for Theatre, Musical Theatre and Film in Hamburg.
From 2001 on, Barbara Weber made a name for herself with her 'unplugged' format, which she developed on the independent scene in coproduction with various theatres, creating series in several parts such as Hollywood Unplugged (2001/02). In 2005, she won the Berlin Performing Arts Fund Award with RAF-unplugged at the Impulse Festival.
Alongside her work on the independent scene, Barbara Weber also started directing for established Swiss companies (including luzernertheater and Stadttheater Bern) in 2002; in 2005, she made her debut at the Münchner Kammerspiele with Oxygen by Ivan Vyrypaev, which was followed by further productions for the same company (Tangiers unplugged, Kebab), in parallel to which she was working at the Schauspiel Essen and the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin.
In 2006, Barbara Weber took part in the Young Directors Project at the Salzburg Festival. The following year, she won the Merit Award of the St. Gallen Cultural Foundation, and in 2008 she presented The Lears at the Vienna Festival. Since the 2008/09 season, Barbara Weber has been one of the two artistic directors at the Theater Neumarkt in Zurich, a role she shares with Rafael Sanchez. She directs productions both at her own theatre (e.g. Biography: A Game, Anna Karenina, Baby Jane) and at German venues.

    Portrait: Barbara Weber

    The classical theatrical canon is not her thing. 'Finished plays fence me in. You really have to know what new story you want to tell with them, then things get interesting again,' says Barbara Weber when interviewed, pacing in her garish green training jacket along the bookshelves that Volker Hesse and Stephan Müller left behind after their time in charge at the Theater Neumarkt. Today, Barbara Weber occupies the artistic directors' office with Rafael Sanchez. Apart from running the Zurich theatre, she looks well off the beaten track for her material as a director: novels, cinema films, biographies and correspondence form the starting points for her productions. And Barbara Weber is prepared to tackle things that seem impossible. Such as Tolstoy's mighty 1000-page novel Anna Karenina. Weber made short work of it when she put the story on the Neumarkt stage in 2009: In one magical scene, Anna skated across the wooden floor with her lover Vronsky, oblivious to the derisive comments being blurted out by the novel's other characters as they slumped on sofas in a corner of the stage. Later, clouds of steam billowed from a locomotive as the lovers tearfully paid farewell to each other at the railway station. The design for this production made the Neumarkt a setting for great emotions that looked rather like a film studio with pieces of scenery and various stages for filming. It was always clear that feelings were being manufactured there, even if this was something the audience was quite happy to ignore.

    The director drew attention right from the very beginning with big emotions and big subjects. After studying at the Institute for Theatre, Musical Theatre and Film, Weber presented the four-part theatre series Hollywood Unplugged at Zurich and Hamburg in 2001/02. This stripped away the glamour from the factory of dreams and its shoddy hackwork. Her deconstruction of pathos was just as suggestive as the productions' quick-fire pace. The 'unplugged' evenings adopted the working conditions prevalent on the independent scene as an aesthetic principle: They were created on a shoestring in one or two weeks of rehearsal and were extremely portable, with stage sets that fitted into a couple of plastic bags.

    What remains of Hollywood's pathos when its technology is stripped away? It was possible to sense the actors' mischievous pleasure at this question: they recreated the boxing saga Rocky and the tearjerker Titanic with the most rudimentary of resources and tremendous verve, adapting the films' plots and themes to the contemporary world as modern myths and exploring the spaces of yearning opened up by a media-dominated star system. In subsequent years, Weber further developed the 'unplugged' format with the actor and author Mike Müller, the dramaturg Haiko Pfost and the stage designer Sara Giancane, investigating media phenomena such as Britney Spears and the legends that surround Germany's 1970s revolutionaries. In 2005, she received the Berlin Performing Arts Fund Award for RAF-unplugged at the Impulse Festival.

    The director is one of those theatrical figures who have worked both on the independent scene and with established companies. Barbara Weber's career has been shaped by these two theatrical worlds. After completing her studies, she produced her 'unplugged' evenings independently until 2007, building up a network of coproducing theatres and, at the same time, infiltrating her way into the system of municipal institutions. She directed for Swiss companies (including luzernertheater and Stadttheater Bern) and made her debut at the Münchner Kammerspiele in 2005. The following year, she worked at the Volkstheater in Vienna and the Schauspiel Essen, and participated in the Salzburg Festival's Young Directors Project. This was followed by productions at the Münchner Kammerspiele, the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin and the Vienna Festival. The 2008/2009 season saw Barbara Weber move up to a new level when she and Rafael Sanchez became the joint artistic directors of the Theater Neumarkt in Zurich. The expectations of the young management team really were unrealistically high. Although the theatre has found its place in Zurich's theatrical landscape, it is a big challenge to pull off the balancing act involved in nurturing a permanent company of actors while coordinating a busy schedule with a high turnover of productions.

    The director likes her home base on the Neumarkt: 'Working from a centre is good,' says Weber. And while her most recent productions at German theatres, such as Goethe's Elective Affinities at the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin (2009), have had a mixed reception, she has succeeded over and over again in creating outstanding shows at Zurich, including Baby Jane (2009), based on Robert Aldrich's film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Barbara Weber did not resort to psychology when she presented this material, but adapted a myth into the present. She transplanted the fallen Hollywood stars who featured in Aldrich's film to a condemned building on the fringes of Zurich. It was there that the two protagonists tortured each other in various genres, from the TV melodrama to the horror film, toying with one another via an intricate media system of live video links.

    Barbara Weber will carry on pursuing myths, the media and great emotions. For the director sees her oeuvre as a work in progress serialised in many parts – of which she remarks drily: 'Really, I am only ever working on the one thing, just in various chapters.'
    Ellinor Landmann

    Productions - A selection

    • Sarah Ruhl "Nebenan. The Vibrator Play" ("Next Door. The Vibrator Play")
      2012, Residenztheater, Munich
    • Bertolt Brecht "The Good Person of Szechwan"
      2011, Theater Neumarkt, Zurich
    • Luigi Pirandello "Clothing the Naked"
      2011, Theater Neumarkt, Zurich
    • "Are You Still Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?"
      A Project by Barbara Weber and Michael Gmaj
      2010, Theater Neumarkt, Zurich
    • Brief an den Vater. Franz Kafka (Letter to His Father: Franz Kafka)
      2010, Theater Neumarkt, Zurich
    • Bonnie and Clyde
      2010, Münchner Kammerspiele, Munich
    • Baby Jane after motifs in Robert Aldrich's film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
      2009, Theater Neumarkt, Zurich
    • Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities) after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
      2009, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
    • Anna Karenina after the novel by Leo Tolstoy
      2009, Theater Neumarkt, Zurich
    • Max Frisch, Biografie: Ein Spiel (Biography: A Game)
      2008, Theater Neumarkt, Zurich
    • Hair Story
      2008, Theater Neumarkt, Zurich
    • Die Lears (The Lears) after William Shakespeare
      2008, Vienna Festival, Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin, Theater Neumarkt, Zurich
    • G. E. Lessing, Miss Sara Sampson
      2007, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
    • Tanger Unplugged (Tangiers Unplugged)
      2007, Münchner Kammerspiele, Munich
    • Gianina Carbunariu, Kebab
      2007, Münchner Kammerspiele, Munich
    • Calderon De La Barca, Life is a Dream
      2006, Schauspiel Essen
    • VIKTOR! Happiness is a warm gun after Roger Vitrac
      2006, Young Directors Project, Salzburg Festival, Theater Freiburg, Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin
    • Radikalisierungsgeisterbahn (Radicalisation Ghost Train)
      2006, Bunnyhill 2, Münchner Kammerspiele, Munich
    • JACKO unplugged 2006, auawirleben, Bern, Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich
    • paultschi unplugged
      2006, Volkstheater, Vienna
    • Niklaus Helbling, Les Syrènes after Homer
      2005, Fabriktheater, Zurich
    • X-Wohnungen (X-Homes)
      2005, Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin
    • RAF-unplugged
      2005, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich, Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin and auawirleben, Bern
      Won the Berlin Performing Arts Fund Award at IMPULSE 2005
    • Ivan Vyrypaev, Oxygen
      2005, Münchner Kammerspiele, Munich
    • Roland Schimmelpfennig, Die Frau von früher (The Woman from the Past)
      2004, Stadttheater Bern (Swiss premiere)
    • mother t.: stars unplugged no. 2
      2004, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich, Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin
      Invited to the 2005 Politics in the Independent Theatre Festival
    • X-Wohnungen (X-Homes),
      2004, Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin
    • britneyland: stars unplugged no. 1
      2003, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich, Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin
    • Kathrin Röggla, die 50 mal besseren Amerikaner/fake reports (the 50-times-better Americans/fake reports)
      2003, Sophiensæle Berlin, TIF/Staatsschaupiel Dresden, Theaterhaus Jena
    • Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit)
      2002, luzernertheater, Lucerne
    • Roland Schimmelpfennig, Die arabische Nacht (The Arabian Night)
      2002, Theater an der Winkelwiese, Zurich (Swiss premiere)
    • Star Wars: Hollywood Unplugged No.4
      2002, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
    • Titanic: Hollywood Unplugged No.3
      2002, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich, invited to IMPULSE 2002
    • Rocky: Hollywood Unplugged No. 2
      2001, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
    • Bonnie and Clyde: Hollywood Unplugged No.1
      2001, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg