John Dew: Darmstadt making theatre history

Is there a company with a staff of 500 from some 35 countries in a city of only 142,000 inhabitants? Yes, indeed! The Darmstadt state theatre happens to be one such rarity.


How is that possible? I believe it has to do with the inter­national renown of Darmstadt’s culture. For a connoisseur of theatre history, Darmstadt is of particular interest. The tradition of a permanent theatre operation has been around here for 300 years. Here, theatre history was made multiple times. In the 19th century, for example, Germany’s largest ballet was found here, and during the Weimar Republic, this was among Europe’s most exciting scenes. After World War II, theatre life flourished again thanks to the broad support of the citizens of Darmstadt and the state of Hesse.

Artists from a vast variety of cultural circles were drawn to Darmstadt to enter the great tradition of this theatre. Interestingly, visitors often marvel at the harmony that results from the collaboration between people from so many cultures and countries. One may think that commu­­nication alone would be an insurmountable obstacle. But that is not the case, and I think that language alone will never become such an obstacle. Case in point: many a staff member switches between German, English, Italian, French or Russian with ease.


Given such cross-cultural coexistence, I often wonder about the meaning of “dominant culture”. Here in Darmstadt, we perform plays from a variety of different countries, but still have no trouble identifying with the German cultural tradition.

My conviction is that only the merging of the various influences by the theatre staff with the rootedness in German culture is what enables us to open up new theatre directions. In my opinion, tradition is like a tree – one must take care of the roots to be able to grow fruit. Incidentally, a big problem I find with our school system is that it neglects those roots. Culture is history, and without learning where we come from, we cannot know why we are here nor where we would like to go.


Even though the union between artist and audience seemed to break in the wake of the change following the movement of 1968, my goal is precisely to rebuild that bridge. The success of that endeavour can be meas­­ured by the rising number of our visitors. As a matter of fact, we have been put in the fortunate position of re­­cording the highest level of visitors since 1989. The enormous rise in the number of youths and students who have visited the theatre in recent years demonstrates that the much cited demographic imbalance of our society has not condemned theatre to death. On the contrary, so long as art remains creative, it will always find an audience.

Neues-BildJohn Dew was born in Cuba in 1944 and grew up in New York, where he studied art history and set design. From 1982 to 1995, Dew was opera stage director at the Bielefeld city theatre. He has had productions in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Zurich, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Paris, Prague, London, Madrid, Houston, Taipei, Salzburg, and Vienna. From 1995 to 2001, the author was director of the Dortmund theatre. Since the 2004/2005 season, he has been artistic direc­­tor of the Darmstadt state theatre. Darmstadt productions to date: “Oedipus the Tyrant”, “Antigonae”, “Apollo et Hyacinthus/The Obligation of the First Commandment”, “The Wise Woman”, “Parsifal”, “La Juive”, “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg”, “Turandot”, “Katja Kabanowa”, “Gisei, the Sacrifice/De temporum fine comoedia”, “Anatevka”, “Fidelio”, and more.