Barbara Frey, artistic director of the Ruhrtriennale 2021-2023, in front of the Turbinenhalle in Bochum.
Artistic director Barbara Frey in front of the Turbinenhalle in Bochum. | © Daniel Sadrowski / Ruhrtriennale 2021

The Swiss drama and musical theatre director, born in Basel in 1963, studied German and philosophy at the University of Zurich. She worked as a drummer and songwriter in various Swiss bands before joining the Theater Basel in 1988 as a musician and assistant director under the then direction of Frank Baumbauer. Since her first production in 1993 with texts by Sylvia Plath, Barbara Frey has worked as a freelance director, first in the Swiss independent scene and later at all the major German-language theatres. From 1999 to 2001 she was in-house director at the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz Berlin, and from 2005 to 2008 she held the same position at the Deutsches Theater Berlin. In 2009 she made her debut as an opera director at the Munich State Opera with Janacek's Jenufa. This was followed by engagements at the Dresden Semperoper, the Basel Opera and the Stuttgart State Opera. In 2009, she became the first woman in the history of the theatre to take over the artistic direction of the Schauspielhaus Zurich for ten years. In May 2016, Barbara Frey received the Swiss Theatre Prize for her services to theatre in Switzerland.  Since 2006, she has also worked regularly at the Burgtheater Wien, most recently in October 2020 with the successful production of Automatenbufett by Anna Gmeyner. The production is one of the ten plays invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen 2021.

Her directorship of the next three editions of the Ruhrtriennale, which begins in November 2020, faces particular challenges. The preparation comes at a time when borders are being closed, contacts are being restricted, curfews are being imposed and cultural life is coming to a standstill almost worldwide. What do these changes mean for the planning of an international theatre festival ? What are the consequences for art that wants to draw from the full, but at the same time takes into account the challenges of climate change and the idea of sustainability? The themes that emerge from this fundamental self-questioning in close exchange with the invited artists will flow into the structure and projects of the upcoming three-year festival period. As a first consequence, the festival under the direction of Barbara Frey will increasingly concentrate on in-house productions. The productions will be created on site. Artists will stay longer in the Ruhr region and present their diverse work in a wide variety of formats. »Especially now, in times of pandemic, which oppresses, worries, frightens us in the most diverse forms, positive friction is essential for generating warmth«, says Barbara Frey in an interview with Kulturwest. »Arctic cold is necessary for the severely threatened world climate and urgently worth preserving. In common artistic research, on the other hand, it has no place.« Under the impression of our completely changed world, her programme focuses on present-day fault lines, on unsettled historical constructions of identity, on collective and individual memory processes, the complicated relationship of man to nature and the restless spirits of the dead.