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New Research Unit

Theatre in a time of crisis

München, 09/28/2017

A new DFG-funded Research Unit, coordinated by LMU‘s Institute for Theater Studies, will take an in-depth look at the impact of societal crises on the performing arts.

Foto: aerogondo /

The occupation of the avant-garde Volksbühne theater in Berlin by a local artists’ collective this month, and ongoing debates over the financing of the performing arts and the cost of renovating many playhouses have highlighted growing strains in Germany’s theatrical scene. As Christopher Balme, Director of the Institute of Theater Studies at LMU and Coordinator of the new Research Unit, points out: “The performing arts in Germany have been in a critical state for some time, but this development is now being exacerbated by other symptoms of crisis. While the unique diversity of the theatrical scene in Germany is internationally recognized, its future is threatened by increasing public skepticism with regard to the relevance of so-called high culture (Hochkultur) to society as a whole.”

The primary focus of the Research Unit is encapsulated in its title: “Crises in the Arts: Institutional Dynamics of Current Transformations in the Performing Arts”. It will explore the effects of periods of crisis on the performing arts, and attempt to relate their impact on the theatre to more general social changes. The collaborative venture is strongly interdisciplinary in character, and involves specialists in the areas of Theater Studies and Musicology, German Language and Literature, Sociology, Arts Management, Labor Relations and Political Science, based at several institutions. The project will look at various performance forms, including opera, ballet and orchestral concerts, as well as newer experimental formats.

The Unit’s main goals are to elucidate the driving forces behind the transformations catalyzed by societal crises, and to assess the effects of these upheavals on perceptions of the performance arts and their contribution to public discourse. This will involve consideration of the role of demographic factors and regional particularities, as well as the impact of critical responses and new forms of presentation. The repercussions of changes in hiring practices and employment contracts will also be taken into account, as more and more theatres are being forced to become more commercial in their approach. The researchers hope to obtain insights based on empirical data, and to construct a theoretical model of the institutional structure of the performing arts in both their stable and independent organizational forms.

Funding for the new Research Unit has been approved for a period of 3 years in the first instance. DFG Research Units are designed to enable teams of researchers to work together on intensive, interdisciplinary, medium-term projects that promise to open up new areas of investigation.

For more information on Christopher Balme’s research, see: