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Germany's best theater online

Sabine Peschel eg
May 6, 2020

Theaters are closed due to the coronavirus crisis, but fans worldwide have access to some of Germany's most legendary productions as they are streamed online, including the plays selected for the Berliner Theatertreffen.

Schaubühne Berlin - Jugend ohne Gott
The Schaubühne play 'Youth without God' from 2019Image: Arno Declair

Every year, theater fans in Berlin get the chance to discover, among all plays staged within the German-speaking realm over the past year, the 10 productions that were deemed the most noteworthy by the jury of the Berliner Theatertreffen.

This year, you don't need to be in Berlin to attend the festival, and you don't need tickets either. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the festival is held for the first time in a virtual form.

Many of the plays shown online are available with English subtitles. That's the case for the production featured on May 6, Chinchilla Arschloch, waswas (Chinchilla Arsehole, eyey) staged by the award-winning theater group Rimini Protokoll, along with four different German theaters and a public radio broadcaster.

And beyond the videos of the plays, made available online for 24 hours, the virtual festival also offers a livestreamed talk with the creators of each production. For instance, Japanese theater director Toshiki Okada and his creative team will be live on May 9 to talk about their work on The Vacuum Cleaner.

The classics of modern theater

Another Berlin institution renowned for its modern theater productions, the Schaubühne, started screening plays every evening when the theater had to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They feature their productions from the past decades. For example, two versions of Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, one from 1993 and the other from 2005, can be seen — and both of them are legendary. The most recent one, directed by Thomas Ostermeier, has subtitles in English and French.

You can stay with Ibsen and watch a virtual version of Nora, streamed by Hamburg's Thalia Theater. Every evening at 7 p.m. the theater features one of its most memorable productions of the past years. The videos remain available online for several days after the stream as well.

Thalia Theater - Hereroland
'Hereroland,' a Thalia Theater productionImage: Armin Smailovic

Plays and talks, stories and poetry take place on the digital stage of Vienna's renowned Burgtheater. On Mondays and Fridays, with its series titled "Edition Burgtheater," the theater's classics are made available for 24 hours, from Shakespeare's Othello to Thomas Bernhard's Heldenplatz.

The Burgtheater's website also features an ongoing special project developed in reaction to the current crisis: French theater director Sylvain Creuzevault has invited actors from all over the world to read one of 100 tales of Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, the 14th-century classic set during the Black Plague. Over 100 days, a series of short radio plays will thereby be created, often in French, but also in Geman, English and other languages.

The Deutsches Theater Berlin also releases online on Tuesdays and Fridays a production from their repertoire. In case you want to compare, their list includes another staging of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, from 2013, as well as the Norwegian playwright's Ghosts, as staged by the great East German director Thomas Langhoff in 1983.

East German history was portrayed in Eugen Ruge's bestselling novel, In Times of Fading Light. The stage version of the book, in which the author participated, can also be seen on the Deutsches Theater's website.

New plays via Zoom

Beyond the numerous German theaters streaming productions from their repertoire during the crisis, some are offering new material as well. Lisa Stiegler from Munich's Residenztheater has created a Zoom meeting version of Georg Büchner's Lenz, while the Deutsches Theater in Göttingen offers a "drive-in-theater" in the underground car park for a new staging of Corpus Delicti, by bestselling author Juli Zeh.

With their current productions, many theaters provide a commentary on the times and see themselves as an important forum for discussions beyond the stage. An overview of everything on offer can be found on the theater website nachtkritik.de.