Bringing Theatre Heritage to Life

This sub-project is dedicated to the challenge of making theatre heritage visible and finding new virtual forms of mediation that do justice to »theatre« as an immaterial art form in its entirety. For in the many and varied collection sites for theatre history(s), such as private artists’ estates, theatre houses, city museums, museums of local history or technology, the objects are numerous, but often organised in a decentralised manner and insufficiently connected. The artefacts of »theatrical memory« are often removed from their context and are difficult to access for the public. In addition, the ephemeral nature of the theatre as an »ephemeral art form« and the complexity of the theatre as a »Gesamtkunstwerk« cannot or can only partially be reflected in the collection structures. There is also much more to the immaterial cultural heritage of theatre: the stories and the diversity of its participants, the interplay of artistic and technical forces and the atmosphere in the room.

Under the motto »Sharing Heritage« of the European Cultural Heritage Year, we are asking ourselves here how accessibility to »theatre objects« in archives and museums can be improved through the use of digital tools.

As an exemplary application case, one of the most important theatre buildings of the last century is at the centre of our work: the no longer existing Große Schauspielhaus Berlin by the architect Hans Poelzig. In 1919, theatre founder Max Reinhardt and his architect Poelzig created one of the most visionary theatre buildings of the 20th century in the middle of Berlin. With expressionist formal language, innovative stage technology and trend-setting stage space, they created an icon of architecture that became popularly known as the »stalactite cave«. During the Golden Twenties, theatre director Erik Charell brought the glamour of great Broadway shows to Berlin through his revues.

Our cooperation partner – the Friedrichstadt-Palast Berlin – is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary in an anniversary season 2019/20 with numerous events, and is bringing the building and its stage art back into the public consciousness as part of its own tradition. The currently developed Virtual Reality project »One Show. Three Perspectives«, which is currently being developed, opens a digital window of experience into the past, through which the history(s) of the theatre, its architecture and its art can be spatially experienced in the here and now. A history that we can follow from three different perspectives: The theatre visitor Walter Schatz leads us through the impressive foyers into the gigantic auditorium, the celebrated singer Fritzi Massary takes us into her dressing room and lets us dive into the cosmos of a stage star, the young lighting technician Otto Kempowski shows us the fascinating world of theatre technology. These three protagonists invite us to take part in their very personal journey of memory through the Große Schauspielhaus – in front of, behind and on stage.


Wegediagramm Großes Schauspielhaus Berlin
Three perspectives / three ways through the Große Schauspielhaus Berlin

The special feature of this project: historical objects from the Berlin City Museum and other archives are integrated into the virtual narration. In this way, the digital exhibits, such as programme booklets, props or stage equipment, convey theatre-historical knowledge in a poetic way. Hans Poelzig’s unique architecture becomes a virtual exhibition space that can be experienced virtually, contextualizing the objects through the stories of the three protagonists.

The opening of the VR installation in the foyer of the Friedrichstadt-Palast and in an online version is scheduled for autumn 2020. Further adaptations of this model solution to other theatres and buildings, stories or perspectives, other archive collections are conceivable.



digital.DTHG Team: Pablo Dornhege, Franziska Ritter, Sascha Sigl, Lea Schorling, Rebecca Eisele, Maria Bürger

Script: Ralph Tharayil, Sound: Lorenz Fischer, Illustration: Regina Hapel

Friedrichstadt Palace: Guido Herrmann with Thomas Herda, Nora Botzenhardt, Gero Konietzko and others

Archive partners: Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin Theatre Collection (Bärbel Reissmann and team), Theatertechnisches Kabinett der Oper Leipzig, Architekturmuseum TU Berlin and others

*The project is based on a design »One Show – Ten Perspectives«, which was prototypically conceived by Rebecca Eisele, Elena Kunau, Dominique Lauvernier and Lea Schorling within the framework of the workshop Im/material Theatre Spaces under the direction of Franziska Ritter and Pablo Dornhege under the patronage of the DTHG.


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