Protagonist of the Biennale Theatre in Venice, the production designer of Ostermeier talks about his path at the Schaubühne in Berlin
Of the many theatres that Berlin can boast, the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz is certainly one of the most important. Originally called "am Halleschen Ufer" for the poor and suburbal position, after moving to the former cinema designed by Mendelssohn in the 20s and the restoration by Karl-Ernst Hermann, the three modular rooms, it represented the Bauhaus' ideal of a total theatre. It is here that Peter Stein (1937) captures the masterpieces of Ibsen's Peer Gynt (1971), The Prince of Homburg by von Kleist (1972), The Holidaymakers by Gorky (1974), As You Like It by Shakespeare (1977) or the Oresteia by Aeschylus (1980).
A big name was needed to continue the tradition, after the departure of Stein, in 1985, from the artistic direction. In 2005 that name finally arrived: his name is Thomas Ostermeier (1968). Very young, with a handful of valid actors and set designers, he has been maintaining the standard of his predecessor, having energetic, irreverent, anti-naturalistic style. Jan Pappelbaum (1966) is the perpetrator of this revolution. Former student of architecture in Weimar "loaned" to the theatre, after the meeting with Ostermeier at the Weimar Art Festival in 1995, he pursued a"totalitarian" ideal of fusion between stage and audience, breaking down traditional barriers.
Another key point of this research is the principle of the associative material: never reducible to a mere naturalism, Pappelbaum's scenographies are marked by a symbolic, natural, extratemporal element which stimulates the imagination of the audience and the action of the actor, such as the oil for Othello, the gold for Measure for Measure or the land for Hamlet, recently revised at the Biennale Theatre in Venice.
There is, however, an evolution in the way that Pappelbaum has to approach the space: at the beginning of his career, the attention was focused on the whole "building theatre" - think of the monumental platform of Lars Noren, located in the centre, or of the urban suburbs of Woyzeck. The difficulty of exporting works abroad, the costs and the inevitable acoustic problems drove Pappelbaum to progressively restrict the space of the action, creating more versatile scenic installations without giving up to a creative relationship with the viewer. Exemplary, in this sense, is a scene of the Dream of a Midsummer Night, inspired by the great shopping centres, photographed by Pappelbaum, in which actors can freely interact with the public. Or, again, the rotating stage of Hedda Gabler, the luxury hotel of the Damned by Sarah Kane, the camper of Better Days or the translucent tent of Hamlet and Othello, taken from night bars: the ones modeled by the architect-designer are real pictures of ordinary life; living realities, powerfully poetic, from which the viewer is attracted and in which he would like to live.
The moral is simple: the theatre, for Pappelbaum and Ostermeier, is above all human and political experience; a participated ritual that seeks and wants its audience. No time for intellectual speculation or aesthetic exercises, at the most attractive for a small elite. Placed outside of the historic circle of the great theatres in Berlin, the Deutsches Theater, the Berliner Ensemble, the Schaubühne was born and lives as a student theatre. And this is basically the reason why these shows seem so relevant. A punch in the stomach that amazes and impresses, as it should be for every genuine artistic expression.