Starting Point and Career Accelerator
The Körber Studio for Young Directors in Hamburg and the Munich Radikal jung Festival take care of young directors
It is not so long since the traditional path to a director’s career in Germany generally started with a long-term assistantship, from which the young artists slowly worked their way to directing a children’s play, then a small production at a side stage and, if all went well, moved on from the provinces to a big city theatre. In the last twenty years this has changed radically: more than half of all young directors today come from directing schools, of which there are now twelve in the German-speaking countries: two in Munich, in Berlin, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Salzburg, Vienna, Zurich, since 2008 Ludwigsburg. In addition, there are programmes focused on Applied Theatre Studies and Performance at the Universities of Hildesheim and Gießen.
Meeting place for the directing schools
That this tendency has intensified in the last ten years is largely thanks to Barbara Müller-Wesemann. In 2003, in cooperation with the Thalia Theatre, the Deutscher Bühnenverein and the Hamburg Körber Foundation, the teacher of Theatre Studies at the University of Hamburg launched the Körber Studio for Young Directors (Körber Studio Junge Regie) as a platform and competition for young talents. Her wish that the Gießen Institute for Applied Theatre Studies be one of the seven institutions invited to the first year of the competition caused naked terror at the other directing schools: post-dramatic theatre? No roles, no empathy, no “as-if”? Students who perform their own texts, lay people on stage and assemblies of snippets from the fashionable philosophers of the decade? The excitement has long since subsided; one year later, even Hildesheim was invited, and since 2009 the eleven German-speaking institutions have been joined each year by a school from abroad, whose participation is intended to broaden the view. In 2013 this was the National Theatre from Strasbourg.
The past decade can be looked back on with satisfaction. The Studio for Young Directors has redeemed everything it promised ten years ago. Back then the director schools were hardly acquainted with each other, says Müller-Wesemann. Today they meet once a year at the Körber competition for intense discussions. Table talks, public discussions, symposia and open spaces are intertwined with the performances. People get to know one another and, what was not necessarily to be expected, aesthetics mingle.
Even traditionalist institutions such as the Berlin Ernst Busch School today occasionally present performance formats, and in 2013 the winning play, which is annually chosen by a five-member jury of directors, dramaturges, directors of theatres and theatre critics, came for the first time from Gießen: Der souveräne Mensch (i.e., The Sovereign Human Being) by Kim Willems started as a lecture performance and ended up behind ceiling-high black velvet curtains as a conciliatory balancing act between discourse and poetry. The winners of recent years have used the Körber Studio for Young Directors as a starting point for sometimes impressive careers: David Bösch, the very first winner, will be heading to the Vienna Burgtheater next year, and Heike Maria Götze and Julia Hölscher have also quickly found their way into German municipal theatre.
Platform for young directors
The ideal-typical career for a young director today may be imagined as follows: as one of the lucky few, he succeeds in passing the entrance exam to a German directing school, is sent by his teachers (often after his graduation production) to Hamburg, to the Körber Studio, with directorial work and wins there the 10,000 euro prize intended as development support for a work at a German municipal theatre or in the independent scene. The ensuing enquiries of the theatre lead to a production, which is invited to Munich: to Radikal jung(i.e., Radically Young), the festival for young directors, established in 2005 at the Munich Volkstheater by the artistic director Christian Stückl and the dramaturge Kilian Engels. Every year, the critic and journalist C. Bernd Sucher, the actress Annette Paulmann and Engels himself view about fifty productions of young directors (the criterion “young” can certainly be extended to over 35 years of age) and invite ten of them to Munich. The public festival, flanked by discussions with the artists, a workshop and a festival newspaper, sees itself not as a “best of” but rather as a reflection of the diverse themes and aesthetic interests of the young generation of directors. Their approach has become “more political”, says Engels, “away from navel-gazing”. To widen the perspective, one or two productions from abroad have also been invited since 2011, this year from Israel.
A young director may be invited at the most three times; ideally, the path can lead from the school production to the Studio and then to the big stage. David Bösch has again demonstrated this paradigmatically: after his victory at Körber, from 2005 to 2007 he was thrice a guest at Radikal jung, and there in 2006 won the 2,500 euro Audience Award. This year’s award went to Babett Grube for her Bielefeld production of a play by Laura Naumann: demut vor deinen taten baby (humility before your actions baby). We may expect to hear often from her.