Ruhrfestspiele theatre festival in Recklinghausen
The oldest theatre festival in Europe is set to impress with its international programme
Stars from film and television and an international programme that ranges from the traditional to the provocative: Europe’s oldest theatre festival is a real magnet for the public in the Ruhr Area.
Recklinghausen proudly calls itself the ‘City of the Ruhrfestspiele’. In fact, with its Ruhrfestspiele theatre festival, the district seat on the edge of the Ruhr Area has a lot to be proud of – it is one of the most important and traditional theatre festivals in the country and is even the oldest in Europe.
During the festival season from early May to mid-June of each year, Recklinghausen becomes a magnet for artists and theatre enthusiasts from around the world. Every year on 1 May, northern Ruhr Area locals and visitors come together at the Festspielhaus (Festival Hall) in the park to celebrate the start of the festival with a grand cultural celebration. There the stage is set for great classics of dramatic literature, experimental theatre at the Fringe Festival, but above all for the masterful theatre of stars. Away from the film business, famous celebrities from Hollywood and Babelsberg come together on the stage in Recklinghausen.
Festival visitors come to experience the extraordinary: international stars such as Cate Blanchett, Kevin Spacey, John Malkovich and Juliette Binoche, as well as German film and television celebrities such as Iris Berben, Harald Schmidt, Heike Makatsch and Nina Hoss, dare to tread these hallowed marquees.
Unpretentious yet passionate
The Ruhrfestspiele’s audience is unpretentious yet sophisticated. Enthusiasm for theatre productions and passion for the arts are prioritised more highly than chic evening dresses and fancy headwear. Sometimes disparagingly dubbed the ‘Bayreuth Union’, it is precisely this concept of openness and sense of purpose without any loss of artistic quality that make the Ruhrfestspiele so successful. Spoken-word theatre of an exceptional standard is the flagship of the festival, with some 80,000 visitors a year, but the literature series and cabaret programme in particular have also established themselves.
Every year the festival has a different theme, such as a specific playwright – Shakespeare, Goethe and Kleist, for example, have all been the focus of the festival. Alternatively, the Ruhrfestspiele may devote itself to a thematic issue or the theatre scene in a specific country. There are few major directors who have not staged a performance at the Festspielhaus in Recklinghausen: in co-production with the most important playhouses in the country, the festival sees participants such as the Deutsches Schauspielhaus (Hamburg), the Thalia Theatre, the Berlin Ensemble and the Deutsches Theater.
Contemporary playwrights also premiere their works in the unusual theatre tents scattered across the park. The European-oriented festival also regularly attracts international groups. In particular, as a young and experimental offshoot of the Ruhrfestspiele, the Fringe Festival has become an impressive platform for the international fringe scene: its productions are imaginative, provocative, off-beat and fast-paced.
A story like something out of a film
The roots of the Ruhrfestspiele theatre festival are closely linked to the history of the Ruhr Area. Its origins lie in an unprecedented act of solidarity: in the cold winter of 1946/47 following the war, a shortage of coal to heat the rehearsal rooms and stages meant the Hamburg stages faced closure. With the courage of despair, a delegation of lorries made its way to the Ruhr Area and explained their situation to the miners of Recklinghausen. Together the theatre folk and their new friends illegally smuggled several cartloads of coal past the military police to Hamburg, thus ensuring the show would go on. The following summer, 150 actors visited Recklinghausen, giving a guest performance titled ‘Art for Coal’ in the city hall by way of thanks.
Though this theme may no longer quite fit with the transformative, forward-facing Ruhr Area of today, the basic tenets remain the same. The ideal foundation for the region’s new cultural self-confidence was laid here in the northern part of the Ruhr, while at the same time establishing a festival of European significance.