Sun, 16 Mar 2003

Curtain up on Vienna and its flourishing theater world

Dietmar Telser, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Vienna

Vienna offer much for tourists who enjoy the theater. The most renowned theaters are the Akademietheater, the Volkstheater and the Theater in der Josefstadt - and above all the Burgtheater.

But there is far more to the theater scene than these big names. The visitor can go to any number of smaller theaters and become familiar with another side of culture in Vienna.

Kurt Welunschek has been director of the Rabenhof theater since 2001. In that time he has staged plays such as the one involving a criminal psychologist using toy Playmobil figures to work a sequel to Shakespeare's Richard III.

Or in Austria's Greatest Entertainer, another play which deals with the most famous serial killer in Austrian history.

Cultural events have since the autumn of 2002 drifted increasingly into the city's 20th district, a colorless working- class area between the Danube and the Danube Canal. Here, a men's hostel at Meldemannstrasse 25-27 is converted at irregular intervals to a makeshift theater.

It was here that a young artist by the name of Adolf Hitler lived between 1910 and 1913. And this is where Hubsi Kramar, one of the most controversial cultural figures in Vienna, put on a production of George Tabori's Mein Kampf and staged talk shows with Hitler as a guest.

But the stage's future is in doubt. The hostel is due to be closed later this year and it is not known whether plays will continue to be staged there.

In Gumpendorferstrasse, in the 6th district, there is another unprepossessing theater: Gruppe 80 is regarded as one of the established small theaters in the city. Helga Illich and Helmut Wiesner found premises for the theater in the 1980s after a long search. The place used to house a porno cinema.

Twenty years ago, Gruppe 80 brought the classics of 19th century playwrights Johann Nestroy and Ferdinand Raimund to the stage. These days, works of more modern writers such as Peter Handke, Ernst Jandl or Marieluise Fleisser are put on.

Gruppe 80 and six other theaters have come together in a group called simply "7" in a deal under which visitors to one theater receive discounts to performances of the other six.

Among the "7" is the dieTheater in the Karlsplatz.

The Akzent theater in the 4th district is remarkable because of its spaciousness. The foyer resembles a hotel lobby from a bygone age.

In the Porzellangasse is a theater which can compare with any of the bigger stages. It has been headed since 2001 by an Austrian- Australian duo, Airan Berg and Barrie Kosky.

The theater is especially known for putting on premieres of modern Austrian playwrights such as Werner Schwab.