Austria and Germany

Austria and Germany are discussed here in a single report because theatre cultures in these two countries share important networks and systems, display similarities in attitudes and tastes, work with comparable conventions, and the German and Austrian languages are entirely intelligible to one another. This makes the circulation of texts and productions easy and commonplace, though some cultural differences persist. Both countries enjoy a solid and supportive contemporary playwriting culture against the backdrop of extremely well-funded state venues that routinely work with living playwrights writing in German and in other languages. However, in general, we found that our Austrian experts tended to be less confident about the state of their contemporary playwriting and theatre translation culture than our German interlocutors.

Our experts affirmed that in both countries, there has been a surge of interest in new plays in the past 10–20 years. The vast majority of respondents—93% in Germany, 90% in Austria—were confident that most theatres in both countries “regularly” or “sometimes” programme contemporary plays. Around 70% of respondents in Germany affirmed that “most” or “some” audiences and makers are interested in contemporary plays written in German, while in Austria this figure dropped to 60%.

With regard to contemporary plays in translation, the responses differ: in Germany, 60% of respondents thought that “most” or “some” audiences and makers are interested in contemporary foreign plays; in Austria, only 30% of respondents affirmed that “some” are interested, which amounts to a marked difference between the two countries; however, we only had 10 responses from Austria so any single response makes a big difference. In response to this result, one expert commented: “I actually think that the interest is nearly as high as in Germany.”

Elisabeth Findeis and Burak Uzuncimen in Gegen die Freiheit (Original title: Contre la llibertat; English: Against Freedom) by Esteve Soler. Trans. from Catalan by Birgit Weilguny. Dir. by Hans Escher. Dramaturgy by Bernhard Studlar. Produced by Wiener Worstaetten and Werk X Theater. Werk X, Vienna, November 2019. Photo: Joachim Kern © Fabulamundi
1. Key Players

Austria. Austrian theatres that programme new plays by local living authors are located in the capital and in a few other big cities. Some of the main venues for contemporary playwriting are the Schauspielhaus Wien, the Theater in der Josefstadt, the Volkstheater Wien, the Werk-X, the Wiener Wortstaetten, the Theater Nestroyhof/Hamakon, the Kosmos Theater, Dschungel Wien (Theater for young audiences) and, above all, the Austrian National Theatre/Burgtheater in Vienna; the Schauspielhaus Graz; the Landestheater and the Theater Phönix Linz; the Theater Kosmos Bregenz; and the Schauspielhaus Salzburg. Festivals include the Hin & Weg Theaterfestival, the DramatikerInnenfestival in Graz and the Wiener Festwochen.

Germany. In Germany, virtually every city has a state-funded theatre which programmes new plays—though some respondents suggest this is more systematically the case in Berlin. However, contemporary playwriting is not well represented German independent venues because these are spaces traditionally dedicated to theatrical “research and innovation,” and playwriting is not perceived as “innovative” enough. As a result, independent venues programme more collective devising and/or director-driven productions. It is beyond the scope of this report to list every theatre in Germany that programmes new plays, but below are some key players.

The main venues for contemporary playwriting in Berlin are the Deutsches Theater, the Schaubühne, the Maxim Gorki Theater, the Berliner Ensemble, the Volksbühne and the Sophiensäle. Some of the independent venues in Berlin also play a relatively important role in this field, such as the Interkulturelle Theaterzentrum (ITZ), the Theaterdiscounter, the Theater an der Parkaue, the TAK (Theater Aufbau Kreuzberg) and the Ballhaus Ost.

In other large German cities, state-funded theatres that support playwriting include: Schauspiel Köln in Cologne; the Schauspiel Frankfurt; the Thalia Theater and the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg; the Nationaltheater and the Theaterhaus G7 in Mannheim; the Theater Rampe and the Staatschauspiel in Stuttgart; the Theater Bonn; Theater Osnabrück; Theater Heidelberg; the Schauspiele in Leipzig Düsseldorf and Dresden; the Kammerspiele and the Residenztheater in Munich; and the Staatstheater Nürnberg.

Festivals. Festivals in Berlin include the Berliner Theatertreffen (the Berliner Stückemarkt section in particular), FIND at the Schaubühne, Autorentheatertage at the Deutsches Theater and 100 Grad Festival. In Heidelberg, the Heidelberger Stückermarkt; in Mülheim, the Mülheimer Theatertage and Impulse Theatre Festival (also in Düsseldorf and Cologne); the Spielart Theaterfestival in Munich; the at.tension in Lärz; the Greizer Theaterherbst in Greiz.

Werner Waas and Lea Barletti in Stillleben mit Schauspielern (Original title: Natura morta con attori; English: Still Life with Actors) by Fabrizio Sinisi. Trans. from Italian by Werner Waas. Dir. by Barletti/Waas. Produced by Interkulturellen Theaterzentrum in collaboration with Barletti/Waas theatre company. Haus der Statistik am Alexanderplatz, Berlin, June 2019. Photo: Paolo Costantini © Fabulamundi.
2. Systems and Practical Conventions
2.1 Funding and Income Opportunities

Initiating a production. Theatres in both countries have a solid habit of commissioning plays from authors but will also consider plays that are already written. Respondents affirmed that both in Austria and in Germany new productions tend to result from commissions made directly by venues, directors, or companies. Often, these commissions are a result of agents/publishers pitching new plays to relevant venues, which then result in commissions from these venues. When a play in translation is staged, on the other hand, the process can be initiated by a publisher/agent representing a foreign playwright, a translator that knows a source text or a director that knows the foreign text.

Playwright fees. The most established playwrights can sustain themselves through playwrighting alone, but most also have another job. Playwrights in both countries tend to be paid through a combination of flat fee and box office percentage (between 10% and 14% of gross box office for authors depending on the size and reputation of the theatre). In both countries, a typical new play commission/premiere will be paid between €3,000 and €20,000, depending on the status of the playwright and the venue.

New play development is overwhelmingly funded with public money, through either state arts funding or city/regional arts funding (the latter is prevalent in Germany, due to the federal structure of funding streams). Funding opportunities for the development of new plays in Germany are provided through commissions by many theatres and theatre festivals (see those mentioned above). Other institutions sponsoring play development are the Deutscher Literaturfonds and the Heinz und Heide Dürr Stiftung. In Austria, play development is funded by Literar Mechana, the Wiener Wortstätten, UniT Graz and through the state and regional arts council’s stipends and grants.

Translator fees. Translations can be commissioned by venues or by publishers, acting as agencies. Translators are payed either a flat fee only (between €500 and €2,000 depending on the venue, the production budget and the playwright) or a flat fee and a percentage of box office income. If the translation is funded by the publisher/agency, they retain a share of copyright. Generally, if there is a translation, the split is 7.7% for the author and 2.8% for the translator, but percentages vary if the agency is also involved.

Funding for translations. Respondents in Austria were unaware of funding streams specifically targeting the translation of new plays. Conversely, most respondents in Germany were familiar with translation-specific funding streams and cited the following examples alongside Fabulamundi: the Deutscher Übersetzerfonds and Literaturfonds, the Goethe Institut and other cultural institutes, publishing houses (Rowohlt, Suhrkamp, Fischer), theatres (when interested in producing a play), state-funded grants, awards and stipend programmes (that is Bundesland-specific “Übersetzerstipedien”), and other organisations, such as the Projektförderung Literatur Berlin, the Arbeitsstipendium Literatur Berlin, the Kinder- und Judendtheaterzentrum (KJTZ), the Internationales Theaterinstitut (ITI), the Berliner Übersetzerwerkstatt and the European Theatre Convention (ETC). Drama Panorama is a network of theatre translators, but it does not provide funding.

Length of run and tours. German and Austrian state-run theatres tend to employ a permanent ensemble of actors and present work on a repertory basis, whereby a production may be on once or twice a week for several years. As a result, plays by contemporary playwrights do not tend to tour after opening in the producing venue, although some touring happens nationally around specific festivals, rather than venues, and the most prestigious ensembles can tour internationally. German and Austrian independent theatre productions of new plays do not tour very often, but they sometimes tour to the Impulse Theater Festival, which is held every year in the Rhine-Westphalia region, in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mülheim an der Rhein.

Exchanges with other media. Respondents affirmed many playwrights also write for film and TV both countries, and that contemporary plays are “sometimes” programmed on radios on Deutschland Radio Kultur. An expert argued that, in Germany, “in comparison with theatre productions, playwrights can sometimes earn more for a radio commission than for a theatre one, but fewer broadcasts in total are aired than productions performed.” Radio plays are broadcast less often in Austria, for instance on Ö1 Kulturradio, and playwrights “sometimes” also write for TV and film.

Gegen die Freiheit (Original title: Contre la llibertat; English: Against Freedom) by Esteve Soler. Trans. from Catalan by Birgit Weilguny. Dir. by Hans Escher. Dramaturgy by Bernhard Studlar. With Elisabeth Findeis, Saskia Klar, Burak Uzuncimen, Daniel Wagner, Heinz Weixelbraun. Produced by Wiener Worstaetten and Werk X Theater. Werk X, Vienna, November 2019. Photo: Fabulamundi
2.2 Gatekeeping and Support Structures

Dramaturgie departments. Most, if not all, state theatres in both countries have dramaturgy departments, which are responsible for all matters of text selection and have a big role in advising the artistic direction department. They attend rehearsals and take part in conversations around aesthetics, acting, text editing and interpretation.

Agents/publishers. Playwrights in both countries are generally represented by agents, which correspond in fact to publishing houses, based principally in Germany for both the Austrian and the German theatre scene. These tend to be theatre-focused sub-sections of big German publishers such as Rowohlt, S. Fischer, Henschel, KiWi and Suhrkamp; and theatre- and arts-focused publishing houses such Thomas Sessler Verlag and Kaiser in Vienna, henschel Schauspiel Berlin, Per H. LaU.K.e, Drei Masken, Verlag der Autoren, Felix Bloch Erben and Schäfersphilippen Verlag. In Germany, agents/publishers are very frequently successful in promoting their writers with venues.

Prizes and bursaries in Austria. According to respondents in both countries, prizes, awards, bursaries and/or residencies are made available to local and foreign playwrights by a wide array of organisations. In Austria, prizes include the Retzhofer Dramapreis, the Nestroy-Preis, the Exil-DramatikerInnenpreis. Residencies and bursaries include the Hans-Gratzer-Stipendium, the Wiener Dramatik Stipendium the Peter-Turrini-Stipendium, the Preis der Theaterallianz, stipends offered by KulturKontakt Austria, Literar Mechana, the Bundeskanzleramt Wien and the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMU.K.K); as well as the “Stadtschreiber” stipends (both in Austria and Germany).

Prizes and bursaries in Germany. The most prestigious accolades include the Berlin Theatertreffen and Heidelberger Stückemarkt prizes, which are crucially open to foreign playwrights and have contributed to launching many European playwrights’ careers. Also worth mentioning are the Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis, the Kinder- und Jugendtheaterzentrum Preis, the Kleist-Förderpreis für junge Dramatik, the Jakob-Michael-Reinhold-Lenz-Preis der Stadt Jena and the Else-Lasker-Schüler-Dramatikerpreis. Bursaries are offered, among others, by organisations such as the Frankfurter Autorenstiftung, the Stuttgarter Schriftstellerhaus, the Akademie der Künste and the Stiftung Künstlerdorf Schöppingen.

2.3 Education, Publishing and Press

Higher education and other training in Germany. Many, if not most, aspiring playwrights in Germany study playwriting at the Berlin Universität der Künste (UdK), which offers the most prestigious course in the German-speaking world, the 4-year BA plus MA course in Creative Writing for the Stage. The course, which boasts a long list of celebrated alumni, concentrates on writing techniques, and no other theatre-related subject such as acting or directing are included in the curriculum. Playwriting can also be studied, but less specifically and as part of theatre practice, in German Hochschulen (conservatoire and drama schools) such as the Theaterakademie August Everding München; the Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf; the Hochschule für Schauspielkunst Ernst Busch; the SRH Hochschule der populären Künste; and the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg or Felix Mendelsohn Leipzig. Other universities offer Theaterwissenschaft (Theatre Studies) courses that focus on the theory and history of theatre and often include contemporary playwriting, which is taught theoretically. Less formal contexts include the Neues Institut für dramatisches Schreiben, or NIDS (New Institute for Dramatic Writing) founded by playwrights Maxi Obexer and Sasha Marianna Salzmann in Berlin.

Lea Barletti, Hauser: Dramatische Republik: Meine Gedichte werden die Welt nicht verändern (My Poems Won’t Change the World). Produced by ITZ, Berlin, in the streets of Neukölln. Photo: Lea Barletti

Higher education and other training in Austria. Respondents from Austria agree that playwrighting is studied mainly informally, but also at certain universities, especially the Sprachkunst (Language Arts) programme at the Univerität für angewandete Kunst in Vienna—a creative writing course which includes dramatic writing—and UniT Graz’s Dramaforum—a two-year selective course. Drama schools in Austria do not tend to offer playwriting, but informal courses are held, for example, at the Wiener Wortstaetten, Leondinger Akademie für Literatur and during the Hin & Weg festival.

Publishing. Plays in both Germany and Austria are not often published as books. Instead, they are publicised within the industry as part of a publisher/agent’s catalogue and sent to the Dramaturgie departments to be read and selected for production. Some theatre-focused magazines publish contemporary plays—for example Theater der Zeit and Theater Heute in Germany—the latter featuring an unpublished play in every issue. In Austria, literary magazines Manuskripte and Lichtungen sometimes publish plays.

Press. The vast majority of respondents in both countries affirmed that reviews or features about contemporary plays “regularly” or at least “sometimes” appear in the general press, such as national newspapers (in the Feuilleton or the Kulturseite sections of the most important newspapers such as Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Berliner Zeitung, Tageszeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Der Spiegel and Der Freitag in Germany, and Der Standard, Falter, Kurier, Kronenzeitung and Die Presse in Austria). Contemporary plays are “regularly” reviewed and discussed in theatre-focused publications in Germany and at least “sometimes” in Austria. Specialised Austrian magazines include Die Bühne and Mottingers Meinung (culture-focused) and local cultural magazines. Among the most important German magazines–relevant, however, both in Germany and Austria—are Theater der Zeit, Theater Heute and Das Theatermagazin. Nachtkritik is the most important online platform for theatre in Austria, Germany and Switzerland working with a big network of correspondents.

3. Advice for Foreign Playwrights

“Get involved in festivals in the Germanophone countries, where it is easier to meet people (especially international ones).”

“Have your play translated into German or English (if possible, by a good translator!), or write a multilingual play. Then, pitch your play to one director or dramaturg in particular, whose work you know and feel your play would resonate with. Explain to them why you think this is.”

“Get in touch with publishing houses and/or professional theatre translators who work closely with theatres and dramaturgy departments.”

“Send your play (or a translation of it) to self-organised networks such as Drama Panorama and Eurodram, which connect playwrights with translators and professionals from different countries.”

Copyright © 2020 Margherita Laera
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411

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