Thomas Ostermeier


Audio caption of the interview with Thomas Ostermeier, whom we had the chance to meet in Avignon during this year’s theatre festival. (Interview made by Karolina Markiewicz for Kulturstruktur in Avignon, on 23rd July 2014)

Apart from his new production Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The marriage of Maria Braun), based on a movie by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Thomas Ostermeier talks about the crisis in theatre and the current political situation.

The interview is in german. Nevertheless, you can find a written english translation below.

Thomas Ostermeier
Thomas Ostermeier

Kulturstruktur: The story of your newest play fits our current times. You tell it through the perspective of a woman. Are you more interested in the female role in theatre, or is it just a coincidence?

Thomas Ostermeier: No, it’s not a coincidence.
There are two reasons to this: It is a historical moment on the german history, right after the World War II. You have the notion of Trümmerfrauen (the women of ruins or debris), and the one of economic miracle. It is a historical reality that most of the men died in the war, have been captured or came back as war invalids. The rebuilding of Germany was in the hands of women, that’s precisely what Trümmerfrauen means.

In the fifties, the notion of the economical miracles came up, when suddenly this nation rose from the ashes and obtained an economical independence. This is being told with the person of Maria Braun. On one side it is a historical reality, and on the other side the female roles interest me, because they live in a male-dominated society. This society depicts women with these prejudices, being sensible and sentimental. They are less brutal and violent. All this is being refuted by the play. Maria Braun kills her lover, because her husband returns unhurt from war. She is absolutely deadhearted. She uses her brains, not just her body, as she learns english in a very short time, to find different alliances in postwar Germany and to make her way as a businesswoman. These roles are very interesting in theatre. They represent a counterpoint between what is said about women and how they act in my productions. It creates a dazzling strength on stage.

KS: To rebuild oneself seems to be the most up-to-date part in this play. Somehow, Germany rebuilds itself in a really strong way for the last few years. This is not a place to be sensible and show your feelings.

T.O.: Absolutely right. For the last three weeks, I reproduced this play with a completely new cast, and I was shocked by the accurateness it has today. Even more then in 2008, when I first produced it. This woman uses her economical predominance to overcome her unfulfilled emotional life. She has subconscious feelings of guilt and desires, and tries to replace them with material wealth and the dream of a villa, money and luxury.

The movie, just like our play, ends with the finals of Bern, 1954. Now, a week ago, the Germany’s national team won the world cup again, which adds another layer of actuality.

KS: The times are difficult. Ten years ago, you were artiste associé here in Avignon. Right now, the fight of the intermittents (temporary workers) in France is going on. Is this a concern in Germany? How is theatre doing, generally speaking?

T.O.: I never have any concerns about theatre when I am here in Avignon. Avignon is close to being a lived utopia. We re simultaneously at the festival in Salzburg, where Katie Mitchell is doing a production for the Schaubühne. The audience in Salzburg is a completely different world, compared to the one here in Avignon. The audience here is amazing. I have a feeling that they don’t consider theatre a nice entertainment before a three-course-meal, but they have genuine interest in the content of the plays. Also, the tickets are more or less moderately priced. There’s still a real discourse about what is happening on stage and during the festival.

In Germany it is quite difficult to talk with me about the crisis in theatre, as our most successful season came just to an end. The Schaubühne has had its most successful season, not only in regards to economical numbers, but also to the public reception. Last season, we had 30.000 spectators more, just in Berlin. We visited 35 places worldwide, and had 90 presentations all over the world. We stayed for 5 weeks in Paris, but also at other places: From Sao Paolo over Buenos Aires, over Istanbul to London, where we are heading next.

Having a look at our audience at the Schaubühne, and compared to other german theatres, it will hard to discuss the crisis with me. It is a real miracle what is happening there and what an audience we have. Young people, between 15 and 35. In our foyer can be heard all languages of the world, a lot of spanish, italian, scandinavian, french. Currently, our audience is exactly what Berlin is representing, as a cosmopolitan, international city. This is a dream that came true.

Of course, we could largely discuss the politico-cultural realities in Germany. These are a lot more hopeless, especially in regard of the communes and provinces. Hopefully, Germany is in that concern not a role-model for the rest of Europe, because nothing is going on there.

KS: You recently stated in an interview, that the bourgeoisie should be rescued. Could you explain what you mean by that?

T.O.: That’s a good question! Evidently it is provocatively phrased, and it’s only temporarily that the bourgeoisie should be saved.

But it should be saved, because at the beginning of what we call the civil society, stands the Enlightenment. We still find ourselves in the tradition of the Enlightenment, and I fear that the only class that will defend these ideas in our actual historical situation, will be the bourgeoisie. The idea of a state, a parliamentary democracy, the idea of the separation of powers between three, the idea of an independent media, the rudimentarily and marginally maintained idea of social justice with everything it includes, like healthcare, education and public libraries – all these are accomplishments made over the last 200 years, beginning with the French Revolution. Now, we are in a position where all these ideas are threatened by a walkover of the neoliberal ideology. This is an ideology that protects the rights of the strongest, but not the middle class.

The bottom line is, that the winner’s side is just about 0.5% of the society. These 0.5% dominate the rest of the world, just like it is the case with global corporations. This is has nothing to do with what once stood at the beginning of a liberal, civic idea, namely a class that wanted a meritocracy instead of the aristocracy. Meaning that people, who want the free entrepreneurship and a free market, found a society and let others  have a part of the wealth they generate. This idea is abandoned and the government is supposed to withdraw from the public life. If it’s sponsorship of culture, healthcare, or public transportation – in these domains, they are a step ahead in Great Britain compared to the continent. And you can see it’s destruction.

I think you have to defend the idea of a state and a middle class, to not having to take more destruction and damage in any social, political or democratic kind.

We cannot change the world, nor save it with theatre. There will neither be a spectator, who will leave the hall after a play and start a revolution. But we can try to ask right and intelligent questions, and to formulate wiser questions than the simple generalisations, that are also popular with economical rulers. Simplified answers to cultural phenomena – With the political success of the FN (Front National) in France, we got an accurate example of how their side tries giving simplified answers to have political success. One should try to analyse these things in a more complex way.

Thomas Ostermeier
Thomas Ostermeier

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