Swiss Theater, the theater encompassing the four language regions (German, French, Italian, Romansh) of Switzerland; mostly in the tension between regional identity and the cultures of neighboring countries with the same languages.
The theater traditions of German- and French-speaking Switzerland go back to the Middle Ages. The performances of spiritual games in the Rhaeto-Romanic region have been attested since the 16th century; in Italian-speaking Switzerland in religious institutions of the Somaskians (Lugano), the Jesuits and the Benedictines (Bellinzona) since the 17th century. In general, Switzerland has been played by professional actors’ societies mostly from neighboring countries in modern times. B. appeared in stalls on marketplaces, inn and guild halls or theaters. In the first half of the 19th century, some polyfunctional buildings or specially constructed theater buildings were referred to as city theaters, which the respective director ran as a private business into the 20th century; urban subsidies remain marginal. The relationship between the theater forms of city theater and folk or amateur theater, and later also between independent theater and the other two, has traditionally been much discussed, since theater outside the city theater accounts for a much larger proportion of Swiss theater activities than in any of the neighboring countries. In the federal state of Switzerland, the promotion of culture and education are subject to the sovereignty of the cantons, and a constitutional article on culture is being prepared.
At the latest since the 15th century, performances of sacred games have been recorded in several cities; in 1406 a »maître Léon« was mentioned in Lausanne, in 1438 the first Swiss director known by name, Jean Piaget, who in 1458 staged a Passion Play. The Epiphany Games were shown in Neuchâtel in 1483. The Reformation first used the theater for its goals - Théodore de Bèze (* 1519, † 1605) “Abraham sacrifiant” – but later refused it, while the Catholic areas (Friborg, Wallis and the Jura) continued the theater tradition. In the 18th century, theater companies emerged from the middle class. Professional troops erected wooden ephemeral theater booths, “baraques”. In 1783 the first stone theater building, the »Théâtre de Neuve«, was built in Geneva. In Lausanne and Geneva, Voltaire’s dramas were premiered in his presence. Born in Geneva, J.-J. Rousseau advocated the promotion of popular celebrations in the open air. One of the most famous of these “Fêtes” has taken place in Vevey since 1797 until today, the “Fête des Vignerons” (winegrowers’ festival). In 1908 the playwright René Morax (* 1873, † 1963) founded in the village of Mézières near Lausanne the “Théâtre du Jorat”, a wooden building that was designed as a “choral” theater for musical theater performances. It was here in 1921 that A. Honegger’s “Le Roi David” premiered. The Geneva AF Appia is considered to be an important innovator of the stage design, É. Jaques-Dalcroze from Geneva changed music, dance and theater with his teaching method, which he published in 1906 under the title “Méthode Jaques-Dalcroze pour le développement rythmique et le sentiment tonal”.
While permanent ensembles had established themselves in the city theaters by the middle of the 20th century, theater professionals were only hired for certain productions afterwards. The guest performance agency “Galas Karsenty” with mainly Parisian troops achieved a cultural supremacy in the theaters of western Switzerland. In 1949 Charles Apothéloz (* 1922, † 1982) founded the »Compagnie des Faux-Nez«. Directors such as Apothéloz in Lausanne, François Simon (* 1917, † 1982)and Philippe Mentha (* 1933) in Geneva, Charles Joris (* 1935, † 2015) in the canton of Neuchâtel took over established theaters in the late 1950s or founded their own. Their own productions pushed back the guest performance system. A lively independent theater scene developed in the 1970s. In 1982 B. Besson returned to western Switzerland after 30 years of theater work in Germany. He became director of the Geneva Comédie. His productions received a lot of attention in the French-speaking area. Claude Stratz (* 1946, † 2007) successfully continued the »Comédie« from 1989–99. M. Langhoff, 1989–91 director of the “Théâtre Vidy” in Lausanne, turned it into a co-production theater with great charisma.
The theaters of Lugano (1805, 1897), Mendrisio (1935), Bellinzona (1847), Locarno (1902) and Chiasso (1935), all located in the canton of Ticino, still function today as guest houses for Italian troops. There are numerous productions by lay groups and popular cultural theatrical events (Sacre Rappresentazioni of Mendrisio, Maggiolata Malcantonese, Carnival). – The professionalization of the local scene began in 1932 with the establishment of Radio Svizzera Italiana (RSI). Its employees were also active on the stage and founded the first theater groups: Teatro Prisma (1956–59), Teatro La Cittadella (1961–66), Teatro della Svizzera Italiana (1983–87), Teatro La Maschera (1984–95); outstanding is the directorial work of Alberto Canetta (* 1924, † 1987). From the 1970s, a new generation emerged, for whose work multilingualism and the Commedia dell’Arte (Teatro Paravento; Marcus Zohner Theater Compagnie), children’s theater (Teatro Pan) and puppet theater (Teatro Antonin Artaud, Teatro dei Fauni) have become characteristic. One trusts in the collective development of the performances (Teatro delle Radici), focuses on clown and mime play (Teatro Sunil; Teatro Dimitri) and dance (Margit Huber, * 1951). There are currently around 20 theater groups.
Mardi Gras games – “Dretgira nauscha” (Bad Dish) – were probably held in the Bündner Oberland as early as the end of the 15th century, played by local cumpagnias da mats. The first Rhaeto-Romanic theater performance is documented in Zuoz in 1534 (Gian Travers, * 1483, † 1563). More biblical games followed. In the 16th century, the idea of the Reformation was spread through the theater. Secular dramas are occasionally attested from the second half of the 17th century in addition to school theater performances by the Jesuits (Disentis Abbey). Romansh theater was and is almost exclusively produced by amateur groups. Pastors and teachers were authors, created translations, adaptations, their own texts and directed. Numerous amateur groups exist, among them the “La Culissa”, founded in 1944, stands out, led for many years by the director and playwright J. Semadeni . The freelance director Gian Gianotti (* 1949) has been creating productions that incorporate two or all three of the canton’s languages since the 1980s.