Swiss Grand Award for Theatre / Hans Reinhart Ring 2018
Trusting a young audience
Since 1982, Theater Sgaramusch in Schaffhausen has been creating professional independent theatre for children that is equally appealing to their adult companions. More than 40 productions have been staged to date, proving so universal and accessible that Sgaramusch has already toured in 16 countries on four continents, though mainly appearing at numerous venues in German-speaking Switzerland. Sgaramusch was founded by theatre educator Urs Beeler and has been led since 1997 by Stefan Colombo and Nora Vonder Mühll. The duo, who mostly appear on stage themselves, work on every production with a rotating, often small team of actors and directors. Scripts and music are almost always composed collaboratively or improvised from scratch. The defining feature of this outstanding children’s theatre is intelligent productions that deploy a varying selection of theatrical resources such as figures and music but avoid lecturing their audience, relying instead on their open-mindedness and questions. This makes Sgaramusch a major force in theatre for young audiences – recently resurgent in Switzerland thanks to the new “jungspund” festival in St. Gallen.
Like most of the nine productions in its repertoire Sgaramusch’s latest, “Knapp e Familie” (2017), a co-production with the Schlachthaus Theater Bern and the Fabriktheater at the Rote Fabrik in Zurich, is aimed at children, here aged 7 and over. “Something’s missing.” – “What?” – “A child”: imagining themselves as parents, a woman and a man played by Stefan Colombo and Nora Vonder Mühll offer an insight into the secret life of adults. Performed using simple means, the works still manage to be distinctive; for all their frequent quirkiness and absurdity, they tackle serious topics. Sgaramusch opens up new perspectives on familiar works. Its retelling of Jeremias Gotthelf’s “The Black Spider”, a production from 2010 that is still in the repertoire, is what might be called a pocket-sized three-hander. The simplicity of Sgaramusch’s productions also gives them flexibility, allowing the theatre to perform in kindergartens and schools, in private spaces and even in a sandpit. Works are presented in Swiss German but also in standard German, English and French.
“Based in Schaffhausen, Theater Sgaramusch has been making theatre for the youngest generations for 36 years. But its shows are actually aimed at audiences of all ages. And while today the golden age of theatre for young audiences might seem to be over, through its ability to innovate Theater Sgaramusch continues to affirm the necessity of its work with undiminished freshness. Its performances deny the theatrical illusion; their very simplicity underlines the ludic nature of theatre, drawing on a wide array of expressive resources. Stefan Colombo and Nora Vonder Mühll don’t set out to teach. They are interested in good stories that ask questions of their viewers, leaving it to each to find the answer that suits them best. That’s the way Theater Sgaramusch has always operated: trusting unwaveringly in its young audience.”
Gianfranco Helbling, chair of the jury