Performing theatre in public spaces is not a new idea. It is actually the basis for the modern, western notion of theatre. Even in ancient Greece plays were performed for the polis in the open air. At the start of the twentieth century Max Reinhardt was one of the directors to rediscover public spaces. He staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a wood, brought The Merchant of Venice back to the locations it is set in, and in 1920 established a tradition which continues successfully to this day, presenting Jedermann (Everyman) in front of Salzburg cathedral. In the 1960s and 1970s public spaces were reclaimed largely by political theatre actions, represented most significantly by The Living Theater from New York and the Brazilian theatre producer Augusto Boal.
From the 1980s onwards summer festivals and arts programmes in many German cities began to include performances in the field of street theatre. Initially it was mostly groups from southern Europe who performed in Germany: Fura del Baus from Spain, Teatro Nucleo from Italy, later Jo Bithume from France, or Karls Kühne Gassenschau from Switzerland. Their appeal to audiences was above all their spectacular, large-scale installations. Fireworks, acrobatics and enormous constructions dominated. They inspired many German groups. At the end of the 1980s juggling became increasingly popular, performed mostly on ‘the street’.
Entry is almost always free to these events today. Free access to theatre for all citizens of a town is unusual in Germany, but theatre in public spaces has now become an integral part of contemporary theatre. It can reach wide sections of the populace; the audience includes people of different ages and educational backgrounds. In Germany there are currently over thirty street theatre festivals and a variety of summer arts programmes with an emphasis on street theatre or theatre in public spaces.
In 2005 the Bundesverband für Theater im Öffentlichen Raum e.V. (association for theatre in public spaces) was founded. Its aim is to establish, promote and integrate theatre in public spaces as a distinct art form. The expression ‘theatre in public spaces’ was chosen consciously, to emphasis the theatrical aspects of the genre and to distinguish it from purely circus-based performance or from comedy shows.
The high levels of debt among German local authorities has led to drastic cuts in cultural events over recent years. While budgets were mainly just frozen, now cuts to funding for the ongoing development of street theatre has had serious consequences. Festivals and summer programmes have been reduced or abolished. One of the most important tasks for all concerned will be to find new ways to retain and strengthen the forums for this genre.
Internationales Straßentheater Festival in Holzminden; Europäisches Straßentheaterfestival in Detmold; Tête-à-tête – Internationales Straßentheaterfestival in Rastatt; Welttheater der Straße in Schwerte; Gassensensationen – Internationales Straßentheater Festival in Heppenheim; La Strada – Internationales Straßenzirkusfestival Bremen;Internationales Straßentheaterfestival in Ludwigshafen; Via Thea – Internationales Straßentheaterfestival in Görlitz;Sommerwerft – Theaterfestival am Fluss, Frankfurt; Just for Fun, Darmstadt; Internationales Musik- und Theaterfestival in Pforzheim; Naumburger Straßentheatertage; Straßentheaterfestival Idar Oberstein, Da Capo – Straßentheaterfestival in Kronberg