25 years of the Children’s and Young People’s Theatre Centre Our Think Tank

The logo of  the Children’s and Young People’s Theatre Centre in the Federal Republic of Germany
The logo of the Children’s and Young People’s Theatre Centre in the Federal Republic of Germany | © Kinder- und Jugendtheaterzentrum in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

In 1989, an institution was founded that is one of a kind worldwide:  the Children’s and Young People’s Theatre Centre in the Federal Republic of Germany with headquarters in Frankfurt/Main. Today it is lovingly and respectfully called “our centre” by theatre makers, cultural policy makers and scholars throughout Germany.

The legal entity was and is ASSITEJ Bundesrepublik Deutschland, representing the interests of professional theatres for children and young people. With the Centre, the volunteer board of the cultural policy association ASSITEJ created its most important instrument and set it up on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Youth.

“The Centre serves the development of children’s and young people’s theatre and its inclusion in all area of youth services. It takes into account t that children’s and young people’s theatre is not only a means but also an end of educational and cultural work”, says § 1.2 of the regulation issued by the Federal Ministry for Youth. Thus it was established from the start that the Centre would devote itself to theatre for and with children and young people. Its field of activity includes international and national exchange, training and advanced training, information, documentation and support for writers.

Founding years

The birth of the Centre was bound up with the person of Wolfgang Schneider, its first director. The opening took place on 1 December 1989 as part of the 1st Frankfurt Authors Forum, which is still one of the Centre’s most important events and in 2014 also forms the framework for the anniversary. Wolfgang Schneider faced the specific duties of the Centre director in its first years in a bold, goal-oriented and diplomatically adept spirit. It was necessary not only to establish the institution and assemble a team, to develop events, formats and publication series, but also to respond effectively to the rapid changes brought about by German reunification and to unfold pan-German strategies.

Wolfgang Schneider, Christel Hoffmann and Henning Fangauf, today the most senior comrades-in-arms at the Centre, were important partners in the merger of the East and West German sections of ASSITEJ in 1991. It is because of this history that the Centre, in addition to its headquarters in Frankfurt/Main, is also resident in Berlin. In the ninth year of its existence, Jürgen Flügge, the first chairman of ASSITEJ, could confirm that children’s and young people’s theatre had “finally found a spiritual home” in the Centre. It had, he said, “become an asset for the children’s theatre of the world”.

In April 1991 Schneider could issue invitations to the 1st German Children’s and Young People’s Theatre Meeting in Berlin. Originally planned as a German-German exchange and grown into a pan-German event because of reunification, the hitherto largest project of the Centre was launched by the then Federal Youth Minister, Angela Merkel. Ever since, national and international exchange, artistic and theatre educational training and advanced training have been united at this Biennale. In the year of its founding, the Centre also established what was to become its second long-standing event, the Frankfurt Authors Forum.

New director

In August 1997 Gerd Taube took over the directorship of the Centre and the artistic direction of the national biennale “Augenblick mal!” (ie. Hang On There), as the Berlin theatre meeting of children’s and young people’s theatre was now called. The heart of the Centre’s work, and its number one goal (developed by the team in 2008), is the further development of children’s and young people’s theatre as art. Goal number two is the participation of all children and young people in the performing arts. Guided by these principles, the eight full-time employees of the Centre have become a “think tank” for children’s and young people’s theatre of the world. Hand in hand, they work with and for ASSITEJ, whose managing director is also administrative manager of the Centre and works at its headquarters in Frankfurt. Endowed with a total budget of 1 million euros, the Centre today represents its own lines, critically follows the practical work of its members and networks at all levels, national and international.

Examples of this are, in addition to the support of authors, three major strategies of the Centre with which, together with ASSITEJ, it has changed the German theatre scene: the rescue of the large theatres of the GDR by extending them into children’s and young people’s cultural centres (1990–1996); the venture of “Theatre from the Start”, with which the Centre has contributed significantly to the development of performing arts for small children nationwide (2005–2008); and the Centre’s symposium at the 6th German Children’s Theatre Festival in Stuttgart (held since 2004 and this year in October).

In these and all other projects, the Centre aims at guiding the aesthetic, cultural and social discussion through the experiences of artists. The Centre never appears alone: exemplarily and completely in keeping with its networking mission, it is invariably one host among many. It brings together partners from practice, scholarship, at home and abroad and, of course, sponsors. It is open to the stimulus offered by ASSITEJ members and seeks direct exchange.

It is also always examining its own position. The renaming in 2013 of the subtitle of “Hang On There” as “The Festival of Theatre for a Young Audience” illustrates the most recent step in the development of the Centre. It no longer has in view only the member theatres of ASSITEJ but the whole growing range of offerings for a young audience. In future all actors will provide fresh impulses, initiate trends, actively follow, evaluate and document scholarly discussions and artistic processes for and with the young audience.

Accordingly, the tasks of the Centre have changed: training and advanced training has made way for the promotion of young people, and the cultural education services have just started a big project named “Paths to the Theatre”. The promotion of authors is on the way to its next format. Gerd Taube sees social and artistic developments presenting the theatre specialists for and with young people with ever new tasks. He therefore wants the structure of the Centre to become still more flexible. So that between Constance and Flensburg people will still speak of “our Centre”.