Switzerland has a long and rich theatre tradition. Basel, Bern, Zurich all have institutions with a name extending beyond their boundaries – the same with Geneva.
The large theatres, with or without orchestras and or ballet ensembles, take up the lion’s share of their respective cities’ arts budgets. But there are also numerous small theatres, sometimes specialising in classical repertory, comedy, or fringe productions.
Most plays and productions are regionally or linguistically rooted, but Friedrich Dürrenmatt transcended these strictures to achieve world renown as a dramatist.
Theatre in German
In the dark days of the Nazi period in Germany, Zurich’s Schauspielhaus was an important centre for theatre where many German refugee writers, directors, and actors performed or staged productions.
The country’s two most outstanding postwar dramatists, Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt, first staged their plays at the Schauspielhaus. Contemporary playwrights such as Maja Beutler, Thomas Hürlimann, and Matthias Zschokke have also staged works there.
Theatre in French
In French-speaking Switzerland, Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne is an integrated part of the professional theatre system of France and as a matter of course coproduces works with major municipal theatres such as the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris.
In Geneva, the large Comédie de Genève as well as the smaller Théâtre Le Poche and Forum Meyrin explicitly focus on contemporary authors.
Similarly, there are independent theatrical troupes in Switzerland’s Italian- and Romansh-speaking cities and towns, which have no major municipal theatres.
Switzerland also has an abundance of open-air productions despite the often inclement weather. There are open-air stages for productions of William Tell in Interlaken, and for the Fête des Vignerons in Vevey.
Another staging of the William Tell story is held every four years in Altdorf, in Uri, in Tell’s historical homeland.
Calderon’s baroque masterpiece Theatre of the World is staged at regular intervals in Einsiedeln, Switzerland's best-known pilgrim site. For the production in 2000, Thomas Hürlimann was commissioned to rewrite the play in a modern vein.
In the Romansh-language area, the Cumpagnia da teater Laax, another amateur troupe, produces an open-air play every ten years involving more or less the entire village. In 2009 a lavish production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (translated by the Romansh writer Leo Tuor) was created under the direction of internationally renowned actor Bruno Cathomas, who is himself from Laax.
Also in the Romansh area, the Origen Festival at the castle of Riom, directed by Giovanni Netzer, features religious drama; in 2010 a play was put on by the group at the Julier Pass in the middle of the Alps.
Opera and dance
Opera and dance are also well represented in the major Swiss centres: Zurich, Geneva, and Lausanne have opera houses.
There are also several modern dance troupes. In addition, Switzerland hosts the Prix de Lausanne, an international dance competition for upcoming young dancers.