How we do it in Germany: On Money and the History of Production Conditions
In my last (and first) post here I gave a short introduction on what the situation of contemporary musical theatre in Germany is like. I mostly focused on these bigger productions with lots of money and institutional power in the background – in Germany most of the ‘regional’ theatres are state supported. We kind of live with the thought that theatre should – theoretically – be accessible to anybody. When I – as a student – want to see a performance I mostly pay between 7 and 15 Euros (10 to 20 Dollars), while regular tickets range between 20 and 70 Euros for straight plays and up to 120 Euros for (a very expensive) opera ticket. These prices and generous discounts are only possible because of the financial support theatres get from the state (but, let me tell you, if I ask the theatres if they had enough money, their answer most definitely would be NO!) – while our larger scale musical productions (e.g. the try-out production of Rocky which happened in Hamburg, Germany) are produced by companies that don’t get financial support and that’s why their ticket prices go crazy.
As a result, there is a kind of political pressure on theatre managers and directors. As inhabitants of the country of Goethe and Schiller, those who regularly go see plays/performances/shows (maybe even have a subscription) value ‘high culture,’ which puts pressure on theatres. While the situation of state supported theatres might suggest that everything is fun and games, because they get their money anyway – it really isn’t like that. As I mentioned earlier, theatres always need money and in addition to their subventions they also depend on ticket and subscription sales. This makes most of the artistic decisions (if you want to try out new things) twice as hard – if you try things your audience isn’t quite ready for yet or simply does not like, you first lose the money you get from ticket sales and then the state might decide that this particular theatre is not relevant for society anymore and just might close it down (and of course it happens that communities decide they’d rather spend their money on other things than theatre…). Over the past two decades this happened quite a lot following the unification of both ‘Germanies,’ but I am getting started with a whole other kind of story. So, basically a theatre manager and director has to face not only economic problems, but also some kind of social pressure – somehow people love to ask the question “Why should we pay for something (theatre) we don’t like in the first place?!”, even in Berlin which is known for its huge variety of theatrical and cultural entertainment of any kind.
Let’s talk more about original/new works here in Germany. A few years ago I worked on a completely new theatre project that was to be realized in a government-supported theatre in the North of the country. Like everywhere else in the world, new works are always a risk, most of all a financial one – while new works and projects can be made to ‘fit’ the place and the audiences, it of course is expensive and there is still a risk that people won’t like it (although theatres all across the country like to ask their audience what they might be interested in, especially in more suburban/rural environments).
In this weird construct of governments fiving or taking money, audiences that might want to see things that are really different from what those who create new things want to do, political fights and trying to live up to this ‘Goethe-and-Schiller-high-culture’ image – new works and new musical theatre face challenges when trying to be realized. Needless to say that most works of contemporary musical theatre don’t happen in there, but luckily (and to make everything just a little bit more confusing) we, as in Berlin and other bigger cities, also have various private or partly private theatres, which usually are much smaller venues and have a much smaller crowd they reach. For example Neuköllner Oper (which I already mentioned in my first post) only produces new musical theatre, mostly operas, some musicals and some musical-opera-hybrids. They produced a new musical about dope and a funeral home and what happens when you mix these two things together – the first run was a kind of workshop-showcase and almost a year later they just ended their ‘real’ run with further developed material, which had a sold-out run. They played in the smaller of the two spaces Neuköllner Oper has, which seats 54, while the larger space has room for about 160 people I’d guess.
Because at the end of the day we – as probably everywhere else in this world – are in fact a rather small community of musical theatre enthusiasts, creators, writers and researchers. Maybe even a little bit smaller.
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