Berliner Ensemble, Germany, 2016

Tour Dates: November, 2016

Berliner Ensemble was founded by Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel in 1949, following the greatly acclaimed production of Brecht’s Mother Courage...

Tour Dates
  • November, 2016


Berliner Ensemble was founded by Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel in 1949, following the greatly acclaimed production of Brecht’s Mother Courage. After Brecht’s return from exile, the company first worked at Wolfgang Langhoff’s Deutsches Theater. Eventually, in 1954, it was given its own home at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, a theatre with a lavish neo-Baroque interior which had survived the war without much damage. In 1928 the debut performance of Bertolt Brecht’s and Kurt Weill’s The Three Penny Opera took place at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, directed by Ernst Josef Aufricht. It was one of the most successful theatre performances in Berlin in the 20th century.

In this theatre Brecht directed his plays The Caucasian Chalk Circle and, together with Erich Engel, The Life of Galileo. After Brecht’s death in 1956, Helene Weigel continued as the company’s artistic manager. Young directors including Manfred Karge and Matthias Langhoff started their careers with the Berliner Ensemble. When Ruth Berghaus became artistic director in 1971, there was a chance for political and artistic renewal. She directed Cement by Heiner Muller, much of whose work was banned from the theatre in the German Democratic Republic. The political establishment did not accept the challenge of Berghaus’s more experimental ways, and Manfred Wekwerth replaced her as artistic director in 1977.

In 1992, under the new artistic management of Matthias Langhoff, Fritz Marquardt, Heiner Muller, Peter Palitzsch, and Peter Zadek, the Berliner Ensemble changed from state-owned theatre into a private limited company subsidised by the city government.

Artistic Director: Claus Peymann

Claus Peymann, born June 7, 1937 in Bremen, is a German theater director and currently artistic director and managing director of the Berliner Ensemble. In September 1999 Claus Peymann became artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble putting the focus of attention on contemporary theatre and first performances of plays as well as directing classics with a modern point of view. In 2001 the performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II., directed by Claus Peymann, was invited to the 38. Berliner Theatertreffen, to the Fadjir Theatre Festival Tehran/Iran in 2005, and was awarded the Friedrich-Luft-Preis. Since the season 2002/2003 Claus Peymann has put special focus on plays of Bertolt Brecht: The Mother, Saint Joan of the Stockyards and Mother Courage and Her Children in 2005 (since then guest performances in e.g. Lyon/France, Tehran/Iran and Porto Alegre/Brazil). His latest productions are the popular play Spring Awakening. A Children’s Tragedy by Frank Wedekind, staged in December 2008, Carlo Goldoni’s The Holiday Trilogy, opening in December 2009, Mark Ravenhill’s contemporary play Freedom and Democracy I hate you in 2010, Simply Complicated by Thomas Bernhard in 2011, Danton’s Death by Georg Buchner in 2012 and Intrigue and Love, is in March 2013 and Kafka’s Trial in 2014. The opening of his latest production was in March 2015: The power of habit by Thomas Bernhard.

Program: Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children is a play written in 1939 by Bertolt Brecht during his exile in an attempt to counter the rise of Fascism. The production is set during the Thirty Years’ War of 17th century in Germany. Anna Fierling, nicknamed ‘Mother Courage’, a wily canteen woman with the Swedish Army who is determined to make her living from the war, together with her two sons and one dumb daughter. Looking at her truck, a soldier forecasts, ‘Anyone who wants to make living from the war has to give something to the war.’ This woman pins all her hope of life on the war and finally gets her family broken up. It’s the tragedy of a reckless woman who is not afraid of adventure in war to make a living. The name of the central character, Mother Courage, is drawn from the picaresque writings of the 17th-century German writer Grimmelshausen, The Runagate Courage. The word ‘Courage’ means women’s scheming of entrapping men in the era of Baroque. And in Brecht’s writing, it becomes small potatoes’ necessary ‘courage’ for living. 

Program: For Times Have to Change

A revue excerpted and rearranged from Brecht’s play

In 1963, as actor, director and playwright, Manfred Karge made his debut at Berliner Ensemble. Since then till the next half century, he staged 18 works of Bertolt Brecht, and interpreted as singer and actor quite a few roles in Brechts plays. As director, he is able to explore the most hidden part of Brechts works by his unique viewpoints.

In For Times Have to Change... Manfred Karge reviews songs, poems, ballads, moritat and choirs. He traces the path of the great playwright and gradually goes together with nine actors/singers of the Berliner Ensemble as well as five musicians in a journey through the poetic and musical works of Bertolt Brecht -- from the early satire plays up to the world-famous political parables, from Baal until Days of the Commune.

In 1963, 25-year old Manfred Karge received an invitation from Helene Weigel and became an actor in Berliner Ensemble. Soon he staged together with his friend Matthias Langhoff Little Mahagonny and Brotladen. For 20 years, he was inseperatably attached to the names of the collaborated directors: firstly at Berliner Volksbuhne with Benno Benson and Heiner Muller, later with Claus Peymann at Schauspielhaus Bochum, where the last production was staged in 1984. Though following Claus Peymann to Burgtheater, Manfred Karge eventually returned to Berliner Ensemble, where he staged among others Schweik in World War II and Conversations in Exile by Bertolt Brecht, and also played the leading role of Mauler in The Slaugterhouse of Saint Joan.