Roland Schimmelpfennig
Selected Plays

Roland Schimmelpfennig not only writes for the stage, but since 2016, novels as well. Photo (detail): © dpa-Zentralbild / Jan Woitas


Roland Schimmelpfennig, born 1967, is one of the most performed contemporary playwrights internationally. He worked as a journalist in Istanbul and was engaged at the Munich Kammerspiele after studying directing at the Otto Falckenberg School.

Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai has collaborated with Mr. Schimmelpfennig for a translation project “Junge deutsche Dramatik in südasiatischen Sprachen” in which his eight plays will be translated into various south Asian languages, along with other contemporary German playwrights.

Das fliegende Kind

It has to be really dark when children and their parents go out into the night with their lanterns. And, just like every year, there are lots of pairs of children and halves of parents. They drag the little ones, shove the big ones, follow the light. And, just like every year, the halves chat with the other halves. So, unfortunately, no one notices when the little one quickly ducks back because he left his car somewhere.

Out of the light and into the dark. Across the street. Dangerous. Especially the father who gets to his car much too late after mass. Much too late to get to the next one on time. Much too late to calmly get comfortable. It’s new, after all, the big, black car. Much too late, and the car is still stubborn and the music is too loud and his nerves are frayed and his thoughts are far away. And the black monster only feels a slight resistance. Under the wheels. On the street. Barely discernible. Was that something? A flying child?

Roland Schimmelpfennig drives the tragic death of a child into your flesh like a thorn. Right from the beginning, he leaves no shadow of a doubt that the lantern procession will end badly. The women pronounce bleak prophecies. The sewerage workers beneath the street are unsettled.

Like harassing fire, the moral failures of the parents flicker through the funeral song. Because as if the loss of the child weren’t bad enough, a friendly father caught the attention of the mother during the procession and furtively caught her hand. And as if the guilt over the death of the child weren’t bad enough, the father was driving not only in an unfamiliar car but also in eager anticipation of an auspicious encounter with a beautiful stranger. Guilt is flying around with the dead child. And settles on the shoulders of those who have lost. No ifs and buts. Because ifs and buts don’t exist any more.

Source: Verband Deutscher Bühnen- und Medienverlage e.V.


Der Zinnsoldat und die Papiertänzerin

Once upon a time, there was a paper ballerina and a tin soldier with only one leg, nobody was fond of either of them. They were not part of the collection of toys, they were just arbritrarily placed on the window ledge. Love at first site – no sooner that they discover the lovely feeling, the window opens and unwillingly, they are forced to embark upon an adventure. He is heavy like a stone, he falls down – she is as light as a feather, she whirls in the air.

Two journeys, two stories. They narrate the flight into the clouds, wild paper boat cruises through the canalisation, merciless procedure of passport control at the border. During the onslaught of risks and dangers, there is only one consolation for both – they remember that the journey started together. They almost travel through a miracle and meet at the end on the kitchen board and their story gets united, becomes one. They have toiled through and survived water and fire, now they stand in front of the audience and tell the story.
One of the most widely performed contemporary playwright from Germany, Roland Schimmelpfennig has developed a captivating script based on the renowned fairy tale. He directs the play himself.

Source: Verband Deutscher Bühnen- und Medienverlage e.V.


Die ewige Maria

Maria and Karl want to get married. But the boy next door is away, and without the boy, the pair can’t wed. Karl goes looking for the boy and brings him back. The boy has a missing eye.
Karl and Maria celebrate their wedding. Maria wants to go away with Karl to build a new life together – open a bakery or a cheap hair salon.

Roland Schimmelpfennig’s characters are unsettling, and their story remains a mystery. 
“Things are not easy. They might seem easy, because they seem to follow a pattern. Every character sees the story from a different side. Which one should I pick out and tell? In the end, someone is right and someone is wrong – but can you say definitively who? Franz? Maria? Karl? – (not that I don’t know) Or no one is right and no one is wrong: those are the worst plays of all – I have tried to explain why life is hard for Maria, Karl, Franz and the others. It’s hard. 

Source: Verband Deutscher Bühnen- und Medienverlage e.V.

Translations: Die ewige Maria

Die vier Himmelsrichtungen

A truck driver has an accident, leaves his cargo lying in a ditch by the roadside, and sets off in search of a better life. Another man discovers the abandoned boxes on his way to work. The colourful modelling balloons they contain allow him to try his luck as a street artist.

The one man comes from the North – bringing rain along with him – and buys a gun; the other hails from the South and thinks he is Perseus. Both men fall in love with a young woman with snake-like hair. This Medusa figure works as a waitress and is accompanied by the West Wind. Life brings together people from all four points of the compass, seemingly at random. Only Madame Oiseau, the fortune teller from the East, knows that their fates are intertwined – and that today one of them will depart this life for good. 

Source: Verband Deutscher Bühnen- und Medienverlage e.V.

Translations: Die vier Himmelsrichtungen


Triumphant, Idomeneus returns home from the Trojan War with his fleet. But shortly before Crete seventy-nine of his eighty ships sink. In despair Idomeneus invokes the sea. For his survival he promises to sacrifice the first living being that will cross his path in Crete. He doesn’t anticipate yet that it will be his son Idamantes. In Mozart’s opera Idomeneo Idamantes has the possibility to fight for his life and thereby soothe the oracle.

On the basis of the same promise of sacrifice, Roland Schimmelpfennig plays through the variations of the Idomeneus saga which go from blood-drenched drama to seemingly peaceful ending. In changing choric compositions, men and women tell of the homecoming of the king, of the illusion of purchased happiness and the inevitable tragic outcome. Thus a myth of possibilities is told with chosen simplicity and precise beauty. A reflection on the saving temptation of the moment which can obscure the sight to that which follows. And what remains is the hope for a turn for the better, a hope for the forgiving god from Mozart’s opera. Tenderly and yet following the unrelenting law of the gods, Roland Schimmelpfennig takeson this king and decides, after some pros and cons, to let him have his last will. Even if only in a figurative sense.

Source: Verband Deutscher Bühnen- und Medienverlage e.V.

Translations: Idomeneus

Push Up 1, 2, 3

They are on the move to the executive level, to board meetings, to the diplomatic missions abroad, or they are about to end their career: they are fired, suspended or sent into early retirement. The women and men in “Push up 1-3” work on the office floors of a large corporation, the scene of three power struggles, each of which is fought by two people at a time – a merciless competition against each other for professional and personal interests. 

The managers – Angelika, the executive, and Sabine, a young, upcoming, promising manager, play off their different power games and advantages against each other: Angelika assumes that Sabine is having an affair with her husband, who also happens to be Sabine’s boss. Sabine confirms the false suspicion in front of the competitor, which is her own undoing; Angelika fires her.

Patrizia and Robert, who are having an affair, also try to take away each other’s chances. Likewise, Hans and Frank, who, just like the others, have applied for the long-awaited job in Delhi, also experience the merciless competition for selection. Here, Hans, who is older, loses out to Frank, who is younger in age, despite Hans’ abilities and fitness. Only the security guards seem to be free from this venom and inhuman state of affairs.

Comments by the press

Schimmelpfennig’s managers and advertising fuzzies are so mentally and emotionally determined by the performance principle, that their room for manoeuvre reaches the level of isolation prisoners. Again and again, all heads are dominated by the same compulsive self-image of the all-around successful, attractive and curiously enough sexually active and free spirit personality. One believes that one has to fight for this image at all imaginable fronts. 
It is an entertaining piece, funny, apt, well-assembled – probably the most concrete text that Roland Schimmelpfennig has ever written. In contrast to his last piece, “Die Arabische Nacht”, where the narrative fantasy is devoured between an Arab harem and a German apartment block and produces whimsical things, “Push Up” always maintains its posture and form. It is true that the characters get out of their dialogues every now and then and speak to themselves in their minds, but there is an astonishing realism when it comes to depicting reality, quite unlike Schimmelpfennig’s general style and concept of presenting reality.

Source: Verband Deutscher Bühnen- und Medienverlage e.V.

Translations: Push Up 1, 2, 3


Vorher / Nachher (Before / After) is a montage in fifty one parts.In Bathrooms, hallways, stairwells, hotel rooms, doorways, bedrooms— young couples and old couples and their everyday lives.Sustained between disillusion and happiness—like an extended snapshot, this play is about people experiencing life where disenchantment sets in—where disappointment takes hold. Cold disillusion. Thoughtful disappointment. Welcome to happiness. 

The scenes are short, some very abrupt. A mixture of stage directions and thoughts and spoken thoughts and dialogue with no distinguishing commentary from the author, one scene just plays on TV. Some of the scenes may be silent. But the play is about people, and happiness and the environment are of their own making. As we slide from one situation to another, we are caught in a kind of seemingly random, but subtly patterned, series of security cameraesque blips—from one room to another—from one life to the next with negligible crossover. The whole play could happen in one Motel 6 on the outskirts of a small town with a bar next door, and a middle-income condominium Scene from everyday life. But with a few extraordinary elements—a man climbs into a picture on the wall, an organism confronts a scientist. A woman around thirty years old just before consummating an affair and then just after, and then a month or so after. In another room, a businessman watches a soft porn bikini re-enactment of some special forces operation south of the border.

Two workers fix a light bulb and determine that Americans weren’t the first in space—a toast to Juri Gagarin. A woman over 70 who caught a glimpse of her body in a mirror today is shocked but what she saw and seems stopped in paralyzed by the event. There are 36 roles listed on the title page of this play. Not all of these individuals are seen more than once. And it is possible to scale it down some, without risking the accidental creation of a real protagonist. There are moments in life when things change. When a before and an after take on a ruthless and persistent shape. These are not always big glamourous Events. Schimmelpfennig seems concerned with photographing the quiet parts of big events—how does the air taste after consummating the affair.

From the director: This is an unusual play with the potential to be a great performance. I am very drawn to its reality and to its potential to shine a light on the singularities of existence. It moves fast and slow, but the situations are compelling and it may be made beautiful.
It’s not abrasive. Maybe once or twice. I will use some of Chantal Ackermann’s films as source material - especially Toute Une Nuit. And maybe some of Sam Taylor Wood’s photography–particularly her revolutionary five seconds series. Beginning with some improvisations around themes and actions in Ackermann’s film and then pushing what emerges into the context of the play.

Sometimes this could feel like an approach to dance in which choreography or steps are replaced with behaviour, passionate attraction heated up, turned into disenchantment. A structurally challenging play. it’s held together musically (rhythm) visually (repetition), and the narrative works by accumulation. An overall feeling pervades and it is this aura or general feel that more than anything provides the payoff. This a speculation. It moves in a direction without moving toward a resolution. It is not pushy and only a couple of the scenes feel flexed or obvious—they’ll be under the knife. This might be where the task lies—in delivering the sensation of an environment so strong it’s undeniable. But of course, this is speculation.

Translations: Vorher/Nachher


It’s just before Christmas and Albert and Bettina, a well-heeled couple with one child, is extremely riled. Bettina’s mother, Corinna, has come to stay. The relationship between mother and daughter is tense, and the conflicts between them smoulder. Not only does Corinna want to stay until New Year’s Eve, but she’s also invited along with a person she met by chance on the train. Rudolph, as he is called, is an aesthete – a highly ambivalent and inscrutable one. Roland Schimmelpfennig’s play centres on issues of personal and political boundaries, and the question of when a person should assume responsibility.


About Roland Schimmelpfennig

Roland Schimmelpfennig, born in 1967, is one of the most performed contemporary playwrights internationally. He worked as a journalist in Istanbul and was engaged at the Munich Kammerspiele after studying directing at the Otto Falckenberg School.

Since 1996 Roland Schimmelpfennig has been working as a freelance author. His plays are performed with great success in over 40 countries worldwide from Vienna’s Burgtheater to Tokyo's National Theatre and within India.

In 2016, his first novel "On a cold, clear January morning at the beginning of the 21st century" was published and was shortlisted for the Leipzig Book Fair Prize. Up to now, he has written three dozen stage and radio plays. His plays have been translated into 20 languages. In the summer of 2010, he was awarded the Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis, regarded as the highest honour for a playwright in the German language. Previous winners include Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek and East German playwright Heiner Müller.

Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai has collaborated with Mr Schimmelpfennig for a translation project “Junge Deutsche Dramatik in südasiatischen Sprachen” in which his eight plays will be translated into various south Asian languages, along with other contemporary German playwrights.

Prizes and Awards:

  • Else-Lasker-Schüler-Preis for "Fisch um Fisch" (1997)
  • Fördergabe des Schiller-Gedächtnispreises von Baden-Württemberg (1998)
  • Einladung zu den Mülheimer Theatertagen 2000, 2001 und 2002
  • Nestroy Prize 2002 as best young author
  • Invitation to the Mülheim Theatre Days 2003 for his play Vorher/Nachher ("Before/After")
  • Invitation to Stücke 2004 at the Mülheim Theatertage
  • Invitation to the Mülheim Theatre Days 2005 for his play ''Die Frau von früher" (i.e."The Woman from the Past")
  • Invitation to the Mülheim Theatre Days 2009 for his play Hier und Jetzt (i.e. "Here and Now")
  • Nestroy Prize for the best play (Besuch bei dem Vater, i.e. "Visit at the Father") 2009
  • Else-Lasker-Schüler-Prize 2010
  • Invitation to and prize at the 2010 Mülheim Theatertage with The Golden Dragon
  • The Golden Dragon was chosen as play of the year in the 2010 Theater Heute yearbook critics survey

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