All theatre in East Germany is controlled by the state. Commercial theatre in any style was abolished with the founding of the Democratic Republic of Germany in 1949. While state control has meant a number of significant differences from theatre in Western Europe, especially in terms of repertory, there are many resemblances to other German-speaking theatres.
The East German theatre is very much a regisseur's (stage manager's or stage director's) theatre, but it is not as experimental as the West German theatre. East Germany has stage work from theatre to theatre, but the concept of a freelance regisseur does not exist, with most apt to be identified with one house and to have less mobility than in West Germany. Some East German regisseurs work in other German-speaking theatres; some go "out" to other European countries and even the United States. There are uncomfortable signs that the East German government may be in the process of ending this cultural emigration. Stage directors from capitalist countries rarely work in East German houses, though it has happened. Most often regisseurs from other Socialist countries are invited as guests.
There are not nearly as many theatres in East Germany as there are in West Germany simply because only one-quarter of the East German populace lives in large cities. East Germany has about 80 theatres, whereas West Germany has 225.
East Germany also tends to spend less on its theatre than West Germany does. Approximately 80 percent of the West German theatre budget comes from subsidy, whereas in East Germany the average runs to about a fifty-fifty split between box office and subsidies (though figures are exceedingly difficult to obtain). This means that most East German theatres tend to stage fewer productions per year and to keep them in the repertory longer, many remaining for years. In contrast, the average life of a production in West Germany, Austria, and German-speaking Switzerland is one to two years.
Most East German houses are comfortable, especially those outside Berlin.