Theatre 'in der Wende' Collection
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Name of collection
- Collection 'Theatre in the Wende'
Provenance and cultural activities
Prior to 1989, the GDR theatre landscape was one of the densest in Europe with almost 70 theatre houses. The sheer amount and variety of local and regional theatres allowed nevertheless for spaces of innovation and creativity outside of the political norm. This happened despite the fact that theatres were strongly politicised as institutions, and despite intense surveillance by the Stasi. Thus, during the 1980s, theatres and theatrical performances started to critically reflect on daily life in the GDR, either by means of classical plays or through new types of performance. Critique was often delivered via stage design, texts, or costumes. By the end of the 1980s, GDR theatres often took a critical approach towards the socialist regime's telling of its history. Moreover, theatres made a large contribution to the protests during the Peaceful Revolution in 1989.
Changes in cultural politics in 1989 and 1990 had a strong impact on theatres. During this period, the GDR regime aimed to comprehensively reorganise and financially reform the theatrical landscape. The basis for the initially named Theatre in ‘Transition’ (Theater in Übergang) collection can be found in the context of the Peaceful Revolution, following the call for reform launched by the GDR Union of Theatre Producers (Verband der Theaterschaffenden der DDR). Following the closure of the organisation at the end of 1990, its members founded the Centre for Theatre Documentation and Information (Zentrum für Theaterdokumentation und -information), which carried on collecting and documenting GDR theatres and was responsible for curating the Theatre in ‘Transition’ and the Performance Documentation (Sammlung Inszenierungsdokumentationen) collections. It also collected documentation concerning the process of transformation of GDR theatres. Almost 30 theatres responded to the call to document the period of 1989 to 1994, including performance schedules and plans, programmes, posters, and photo documentation.
The Theatre in ‘der Wende’ and Performance Documentation collections were acquired in 1994 by the Association of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, subsequently enlarged, and are currently held by the Archives of the Academy of Arts Berlin. The collection on Theatre in ‘der Wende’, documents changes in the theatres themselves but also in cultural politics between autumn 1989 and mid- 1990s. The collection can be accessed as part of the archive preserving performing arts from the 20th and 21st century of the Academy of Arts in Berlin. The collection can be accessed online for research and documentation.
Description of content
The collection contains documentation from theatres, professional associations, and administrative bodies responsible for cultural politics. Twelve theatres, including theatres from former GDR, but predominantly focused on Berlin and Brandenburg, have been documented. Additionally, three theatres that came about after 1990 have been also included. The theatres are the Berliner Ensemble, Deutsches Theater, Maxim-Gorki-Theater, Staatliche Schauspielbühnen Berlin, Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Brandenburger Theater, Hans Otto Theater Potsdam, Kleist-Theater Frankfurt (Oder), Neue Bühne Senftenberg, Staatstheater Cottbus, and Uckermärkische Bühnen Schwedt (Brandenburg) as well as newly established theatres such as: Freie Kammerspiele Magdeburg (Saxony–Anhalt), Kammertheater Neubrandenburg (Mecklenburg–West Pomerania) and Theaterhaus Jena (Thuringia). The latter group emerged following the closure of the Theater für Junge Zuschauer (Theatre for Young Audiences in Magdeburg, closed 1990), Puppentheater Neubrandenburg (Puppet Theatre in Neubrandenburg, closed 1991), and the Jenaer Theater.
Earlier changes to some theatres, which began before 1989, have been also documented. The material included in the collection focused on the main production activities in theatres including programmes, cast lists, photographs, audio and video recordings of the plays and performances, and posters. The media files include reviews and press files about the plays and the theatres, and visitor surveys, among others. Administrative documents such as reports and contracts have been also included, in addition to documents related to cultural policy (reports, evaluations, statistics, etc.).
The collection covers newly emergent theatrical approaches in Berlin, theatres as cultural and social centres, the founding, alliance-making, merging, and closing of theatres, and how the fall of the Berlin Wall was treated in various productions and performances.
The material has been selected to showcase the uniqueness of the changes affecting theatres at the time and changing working conditions connected to changing cultural policies. Consequently, the collection is somewhat wide in scope. Besides the large diversity of materials preserved at the Academy of Arts in Berlin, the collection is also significant due to the multiple perspectives it offers on theatre in transition. The collection should be considered an ongoing project, as new materials are constantly being added. Also, to comprehensively understand theatres in the GDR, the collection can be complemented with material preserved in personal archives and in the Performance Documentation collection (Sammlung Inszenierungsdokumentationen).
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 10-99
- memorabilia (posters, flyers, stamps, etc.): 100-499
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 1000-
- video recordings (including oral history recordings): 100-499
- voice recordings (including oral history recordings): 10-99
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
- Zolchow, Sabine
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Braun, Jutta, Schäbitz, Michael, eds. 2016. 'Von der Bühne auf die Strasse. Theater und Friedliche Revolution in der DDR' (From the Stage into the Street. Theater and the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR), Berlin: Vorwerk 8.
Klunker, Heinz. 1992. 'Der DDR in Illoyalität verbunden', In: Jenseits der Staatskultur. Traditionen autonomer Kunst in der DDR, (Connected in illoyality with the GDR, In: Beyond state culture. Traditions of autonomous art in the GDR) edited by Muschter Gabriele, Rüdiger Thomas, 179-201, München, Wien: Carl Hanser Verlag.
Author(s) of this page
- Demeter, Laura
Zolchow, Sabine, interview by Demeter, Laura, August 12, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection