Writing for the drawer? Why contemporary drama has no audience. And what the Winkelwiese theater wants to do about it

You are not born a classic. You become a classic. It would be unthinkable for today’s educated middle class to place the dramas of Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt on their bookshelves without the idea of ​​a canon, this ominous selection of plays with an allegedly immovable, timeless meaning.

Much has been done in Switzerland over the past twenty years to rejuvenate this predominantly male canon. Funding programs such as the Basel piece laboratory, which puts in-house authors in touch with the theatre, or the drama processor writing workshop were set up. Thanks to them, this mausoleum of the 1990s, when Swiss theater audiences were fed up and satisfied with their godfathers Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Max Frisch, was filled with new life.

Contemporary drama has entered the mainstream

After all, there are one to three contemporary plays made in Switzerland on every municipal theater schedule today. In addition to established authors such as Sybille Berg, Melinda Nadj Abonji and Lukas Bärfuss, there are young women with very individual styles. These include Katja Brunner, who became a shooting star in young drama, Julia Haenni and her accessible cliché surveys, but also Daniela Janjic, Suhrkamp author Ariane Koch, Ivna Zic, who was nominated for the Swiss Book Prize, Maria Ursprung and last year’s book prizewinner Martina Clavadetscher – Ursprung and Clavadetscher are taking on a management role at the renowned Aargau Theater Marie. And Kim d’Horizon, who has just been nominated for the German and Swiss Book Prize, is presenting a world premiere these days at the Berne Theater. The fact that many of these authors are recognized by Swiss literary criticism suggests that they have arrived somewhere in the mainstream.

Nevertheless: Unlike Dürrenmatt or Schiller, a world premiere did not automatically sign up for a permanent subscription. Theaters still like to use the label “world premiere” as a marketing tool, but secondary exploitations are considered unattractive. How is the audience supposed to discover and appreciate new material over the long term? Julia Haenni partially succeeded in doing this with “Frau disappears (versions)”, premiered in 2019 at the Berne stage – productions in Vienna, Geneva and Dresden followed. But she remains one of the few exceptions.

The Zurich Theater Winkelwiese wants to break with this premiere hype. The new theater director Hannah Steffen says:

We want to be a Source of inspiration for the author’s theater and promote it, among other things, with commissions, revisions and second performances.

In the future, all dramas by living Swiss authors that have premiered will be documented on the theater’s online presence. With the 55 graduates of the drama processor, which belongs to the Winkelwiese, that’s already 280 works – many have never been performed. “We want people to come into contact with these ancient texts. Highly topical issues are negotiated there,” says Steffen. A few will be pulled out of the drawer again this weekend at the inaugural festival.

Are theaters picking the wrong plays?

Stage Aarau director Peter-Jakob Kelting invented the drama processor around 20 years ago. He can understand the effort of the audience with contemporary texts: the dialogue, the core of every theater work, is often neglected today. The much-played text surfaces, which get by without a first-person, tended towards a formal hermetic nature. He asks himself whether this does not fundamentally express an inability to engage in dialogue. Author Martina Clavadetscher can confirm that. She plays the ball back to the theaters:

“I’ve noticed that directors often shy away from dialogic text passages.”

It is not due to the lack of offers on the play market. Directors are currently primarily interested in texts without dialogue, because they give them more artistic freedom.

Perhaps not only our society has to relearn how to dialogue, but also the theatres.

Celebration of contemporary drama: The three-day opening festival of the Winkelwiese theater

The opening festival of the Theater Winkelwiese in Zurich will take place from September 23rd to 25th. On September 23, plays that have never been premiered as well as the beginnings of plays by past drama processor graduates will be heard, including those by Esther Becker, Dmitrij Gawrisch, Daniel Goetsch, Daniela Janjic, Joël László, Jens Nielsen, Viola Rohner and Darja Stocker. On September 24th there will be a reading with new texts from Italian-speaking Switzerland and a panel with the Swiss book prize contenders: Kim d’Horizon and Daniel Goetsch. In addition, Barbara Weber has the play “Who is Walter?” by Ariane Koch years after its premiere in an updated version. On September 25th there will be more beginnings of plays as well as radio plays and excerpts from particularly unsuccessful writing projects, the so-called “fuck-ups”. (jst)

They rock the Swiss stages

Katja Brunner The Zurich native made her breakthrough at home and abroad with her play “From the legs too short”, which earned her many comparisons with Elfriede Jelinek. The play about sexual abuse, which was awarded the Mülheim Dramatist Prize in 2013, was followed by more than a dozen other dramas. Last world premiere: “The Art of the Wound” at the Schauspiel Leipzig (April 2022).Sibylle Berg The Swiss author (“GRM”) has written dozens of plays for the stage over the past twenty years. She has worked with director Sebastian Nübling for many years. He recently staged her novel “GRM” for the Festival Theater der Welt in Düsseldorf (July 2021).Lukas Bärfuss Even if the intellectual voice of Switzerland has recently appeared more as a novelist or essayist: Bärfuss’ plays are still popular played worldwide. Most recently, his Stendhal adaptation “Julien – Rot und Schwarz” premiered at Theater Basel in 2020. Martina Clavadetscher With seven world premieres, the Swiss Book Prize winner in 2021 is doing well in the theater business. Next up will be her new play “Beasts, we beasts” about the curse and blessing of reproduction on December 10th. to be seen at the Bern stages. Directed by Franziska Autzen.

The article is in German

Tags: Writing drawer contemporary drama audience Winkelwiese theater

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