The Theatre Performance Documentation collection traces its roots back to the 1960s, to the work of the Academy of Arts (East Berlin) and the GDR Union of Theatre Producers. The aim of this process of documentation was the exchange of artistic experiences and work among theatre professionals. Apart from offering a differentiated look at theatre practitioners’ professional history and creative processes, the documentation also shows how contemporary society is mirrored in theatre productions. The collection is significant not only for providing valuable and unique documentation of the creative working processes in GDR theatres, it also captures shifting approaches towards the regime, in particular starting in the 1980s.
10115 Berlin Robert-Koch-Platz 10 , Germany
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Name of collection
- Theatre Performance Documentation
Provenance and cultural activities
The collection and documentation of work processes and performance material from GDR theatres was first initiated by members of the Academy of Arts in East Berlin in 1966. Together with the GDR Union of Theatre Producers, they decided to document theatre performances. The first documented performances date back to the theatrical season of 1967–68. Only starting in 1974 was the union fully responsible for documentation.
The central task of this project was to preserve and exchange documentation that could be used as a source of inspiration for the work of artists, screenwriters, directors, and others. This was of particular interest to screenwriters and directors as they could make use of and reflect upon the material produced by their colleagues working on the same play in other theatres. The use and adaptation of material already produced from various other playhouses was common practice in GDR theatres.
The significance of the collection lies also in its documentation, in particular starting the 1980s, of directors and screenwriters who explored new working methods and experimented with innovative aesthetic language but also adopted a critical stance towards the regime. Among such directors and screenwriters, one should mention Heiner Müller, Christoph Schroth, Fritz Marquardt, Christoph Hein, Franz Castorf. In addition, the performances of various Soviet screenwriters from the Perestroika period were also documented.
The uniqueness of this collection lies particularly in that it documented working processes within GDR theatres, and particularly theatre performances. Thus, one can follow all of critical steps taken in the production of a play, from its conceptualisation and scripting, to stage design and costume sketches, to the performance itself and its reception by the audience. The rehearsal became an important part of the documentation of the performance. Inspired by Bertold Brecht and Walter Felsenstein, who accurately described the working methods and processes they used in theatre production, the documentation collected here is unique in that it developed specifically during the work processes by those directly involved in various stages of production. Furthermore, the working processes and the changing role of theatres in the GDR reflect a significant part of contemporary history.
Following regime change and the reunification of the two Academy of Arts in Berlin (East and West), theatre documentation of the GDR theatres performances was entrusted first to the Centre for Theatre Documentation and Information in 1990, and then in 1994 to the Foundation's Archive of the Academy of Arts Berlin–Brandenburg. Since 1994, the Archive of the Academy of Arts has managed the collection of GDR theatre performances and continues to document current performances following the East German tradition. Thus, additional acquisitions have been carried out, so as to include theatre documentation by Academy members from throughout Germany as well as from German-speaking countries. Starting in 2000, the theatre performance collection has been integrated into the performing arts section of the Academy of Arts' Archive in Berlin.
If the material initially represented a main source of inspiration for theatre professionals, its interest to researchers came following regime change. The material is currently used for research, and exhibitions by local and international scholars, the latter among the first to show interest in the GDR collection.
Description of content
The documentation of theatre performances in the GDR began in 1966 and was collected up until the fall of the regime, and it also thus captured the transformational processes of 1989, 1990, and after. The documentation was initially commissioned by the Academy of Arts in East Berlin and the GDR Union of Theatre Producers; starting in the 1970s, it was managed by the Theatre Union. From the almost 1500 performances held during a staging session in GDR theatres, only documentation of 40 to 50 were selected to be included in this collection. Among the criteria which guided the selection processes, one can note the novelty of the performances, the premiere of prominent GDR screenwriters, the documentation of directors who introduce new methodologies, or up-and-coming theatre professionals.
The material collected varies from one play to another; however, there are specific structures which have been followed by each documentation. Namely, the sequence within the performance production had to be comprehensible, so as to cover the preparation process, the rehearsals, the performance itself, and its reception by the audience. Each play documentation had to also include theatre publications, including programme leaflets, posters, promotional material, etc.
Thus the forms and media types of documented material are manifold. They include analyses, conceptual paperwork, secondary literature, historic images, translations from foreign literature, minutes from meetings, stage design, masques and costume sketches, rehearsal notes, scripts, production books, photographic documentation, and performance reviews among others.
The section for performing arts of the Academy of Arts' Archive in Berlin carried out this pioneering project and expanded the documentation of theatre productions to include documents from throughout Germany and to include other German-speaking countries. The German Theatre in Berlin, for instance, has been a long supporter of the project and has documented 110 performances thus far. In total, the collection has documented 1,000 performances by 350 directors in 120 theatres.
Following the events of 1989, the material has drawn attention from foreign scholars and researchers in particular, interested not only in the political changes but also changes in the theatres landscape of the GDR. Currently, the material can be accessed for academic activities, exhibitions, or research.
- graphics: 1000-
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
- memorabilia (posters, flyers, stamps, etc.): 1000-
- other artworks (that cannot be classified by other filter categories such as paintings, sculptures, graphics, etc.): 100-499
- photos: 1000-
- video recordings (including oral history recordings): 500-999
- voice recordings (including oral history recordings): 100-499
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Mach-Meyerhofer, Konstanze. 'Sammlung Inszenierungsdokumentationen. Die Geschichte der Sammlung und zur Theorie und Praxis der Inszenierungsdokumentation [The Collection Theatre Performances' Documentation. History of the Collection, and on Theory and Practice of Theatre Performances' Documentation] , In: Braun, Jutta, Schäbitz, Michael (Eds.) Von der Bühne auf die Strasse. Theater und Friedliche Revolution in der DDR [From the Stage into the Street. Theater and the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR], Berlin: Vorwerk 8, 2016.
Author(s) of this page
- Demeter, Laura
Sara, Örtel, interview by Demeter, Laura, October 25, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Last edited on: 2020-03-04 15:43:19