Academic journal article TheatreForum

Andreas Kriegenburg: The Cabinet-Maker Director

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Andreas Kriegenburg: The Cabinet-Maker Director

Article excerpt

As the house director of what most consider the leading theatre in Germany today and as one of the directors most frequently invited during the past decade to the prestigious Berlin Theatertreffen, Andreas Kriegenburg is arguably the most visible director in contemporary Germany, whose theatrical culture has for the past century placed the director at the pinnacle of the theatrical enterprise.

Kriegenburg's path to this position of prominence was not a smooth one. He was born in East Germany, in Magdeburg, in 1963, and began his career not as a theatre artist but as a cabinetmaker. It was through carpentry that he entered the theatre, serving as technician and stage carpenter of the Magdeburg Theatre from 1982 to 1984. There he became interested in directing, and in 1984 moved to the smaller Gerhart Hauptmann Theatre in rather remote Zittau, on the Czech border, as assistant director. He began his directing career with Yevegeny Schwarz's Little Red Riding Hood that same year. In 1987 he obtained a position as assistant director and later director at the larger Kleist-Theater in Frankfurt an der Oder; his first production there was Miss Julie in 1989. The destruction of the wall that same year inspired widespread celebration in both East and West Germany, but Kriegenburg took a darker view. While well aware of the shortcomings of the DDR, he anticipated not a new golden age for Germany but a continuation of struggle, frustration, and thwarted dreams. Indeed his response to the major event of the decade was a powerful and disturbing staging of Lothar Trolle's dark Barackenbewohner (Barrack Residents), which Kriegenburg himself characterized as a reaction to the euphoria sweeping the country at the time.

Trolle's text, dense and poetic, is inspired by the second book of Moses, where the Hebrew people begin to lose hope in the wilderness. Their camps become the camps of the modern German people, the camps of fascism and Stalinism, and Kriegenburg's production suggested no end in sight to their search for the promised land, but a continuation of their waiting, their deferred hopes, their aimless wandering. He kept the rather abstract contemporary figures of Trolle's play, but created a new collage of lines from the play and improvised action. At the end the various tokens of hope and suggestions of stability are gathered into a pile of rubble in the middle of the stage, among it the fragments of an elegant white bust of Stalin which presided over most of the evening but at last is broken up and scattered among the other symbols of disappointed hopes. The play's troubled characters face this rubble without any feeling of release but only a desperate feeling of loss and lack of direction (see Pietzsch 4).

Kriegenburg's striking and innovative production of Barackenbewohner added distinctly to his growing reputation and helped to gain him an invitation to become a staff director at the Berlin Volksbühne, which had been a major theatre in the former East Germany. His first production there was a highly praised reworking of Büchner's Woyzeck in 1991. [Photo 1] Utilizing an approach to this classic that would become particularly associated with the Volksbühne during the 1990s and often described by the then-popular critical term, "deconstructive," Kriegenburg broke Büchner's series of fragments down into its individual parts, then put it back together again with visible cracks, showing the title character as both a perpetrator and victim in a dehumanizing society. Conservative critics were outraged by the rough approach and the almost hysterical style, but the impact of the production was so great that it was invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen, the annual festival of ten outstanding German productions from the previous season. This selection caused a minor sensation, not only because of the shocking approach, but because Kriegenburg was the only director selected that year from newly assimilated East Germany.

Suddenly Kriegenburg, already known in the East, entered Western consciousness. …

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