Great dramatic art does not need a large venue. A few square metres are enough to stage the world. Where Else set out in search of gems in the region that also offer a programme over the summer and found off-off-theatres that are run with a lot of commitment, idealism and heart and soul. In the second part of our small series, we visit what is probably the smallest theatre in Germany. In an old tower of the Freinsheim city wall, Anja Kleinhans and her Theader offer stage art in an atmosphere of immediacy and intimacy.

A steep, stone staircase winds up to the second floor. It leads to a room with creaking wooden floorboards, about twelve square metres in size. To the right, there are two oversize steps that serve as a seating area: ten seats in the first row, nine in the second; and two spectators can sit in the small niche in the wall. To the left is the stage, six square metres in size. A ship is about to set sail for a voyage on the Amazon on these six square metres that have already staged an ice-cold snowstorm and an artificial silk girl who wandered through Berlin. It is a place where people kill and love, argue and make music—six square metres on which life takes place.

Last meeting before Boris Ben Siegel and Anja Kleinhans take that one step forward onto the stage.

The Theader in Freinsheim is probably the smallest theatre in Germany. What’s more, it is located in a very unusual place: in the Casinoturm, a medieval defence tower that is part of the well-preserved Freinsheim town wall. The tower has become a place where theatre has been performed since 2007 thanks to Anja Kleinhans. Anja was born in Weisenheim, only a few kilometres from Freinsheim, in the Palatinate. She used to perform in the theatre club back when she attended primary school and later at the grammar school in Frankenthal. “Performing theatre was a mainstay of my time in school,” she says, “but I never considered it a realistic career opportunity for me.” That is, until she went to the US as an au pair and had to enrol in a degree course there. She chose acting at Harvard University. The lecturer encouraged her to turn her passion into a profession. Anja took the plunge, decided against studying law or business administration and trained as an actress at the educational department of the Europäisches Theaterinstitut in Berlin. After that, she has performed on large and small stages all over Germany.

Anja Kleinhans brings great dramatic art to a small place behind this window on the second floor.

Anja learned on one of her visits to the Palatinate that a tower of the Freinsheim city wall, the Diebesturm, was being rented out. She applied on a lark, was accepted straight away and moved back to the Palatinate. “Living in a medieval tower—that was the only thing that could lure me away from Berlin at that time,” Anja laughs. The place comprised 37 square metres spread over three floors. She just loved it. Then she also noticed that the neighbouring Casinoturm, somewhat larger than her abode in the tower, was hardly ever used for events. “Setting up a small, free theatre in it—that would be it,” she dreamt. But just dreaming about it was not enough for her. So she devised a concept, applied to the town and was handed the keys for the tower a few months later.

Die Platzanweiserin (The usherette) was the first work staged in the tower, inaugurating it as a venue. It is an interactive play, in which Anja literally moved the audience back and forth. “That’s what’s great about the limited space and intimacy we have here. I’m not playing to an anonymous audience, but to people with whom I can interact directly.” She loves to break the fourth wall, the imaginary boundary with the audience. She involves her audience, speaks to them and touches them. Anja is now so used to the prevailing proximity that she is sometimes even irritated when she goes back to play on larger stages or when she is an audience member in larger theatres. “I sometimes ask myself why they are making such a big effort up there,” whereas in the tower each audience member would feel that this play is being performed just for them.

That’s what’s great about the limited space and intimacy we have here. I’m not playing to an anonymous audience, but to people with whom I can interact directly

Anja Kleinhans

Das weiße Dorf (The white village), a co-production with the Mannheim Theater Oliv, is a typical example of plays performed in the Theader in Freinsheim. It is a quiet, vulnerable piece. A play in which the silence between Anja and her stage partner Boris Ben Siegel is almost more important than the utterances, and in which you can read from their faces what is not said—thanks to the immediacy. Every wink of the eye, every crease on the face, every gentle touch with the hand can tell a little story here.

Actress, producer, props mistress, cleaner—Anja Kleinhans lives for her Theader.

Anja Kleinhans actually embodies the Theader. She runs it, adjusts the spotlights, takes care of the set, plays, produces, vacuums and cleans. Standing behind the small counter on the ground floor whenever she has a chance, her mother Siegrid gives her support, among many others. When the weather gets warmer, many spectators arrive well before performance begins, grab a drink and sit down on the chairs and benches in front of the tower. The sun is then above the fig trees that grow along the city wall sending the last evening rays through the leaves before the audience meanders up the tower.

A TheaderSummer event in a beautiful atmosphere in 2018. But beware—wild women are crossing in the woods in the Waldweiberwildwechsel comedy.

In the summer, the theatre moves entirely to the lawn in front of the tower and becomes the TheaderSommerFreinsheim. “The plays are usually a bit louder and funnier than those performed in the tower. Entertainment aspirations become more evident then,” Anja says and smiles. Entertaining it is, but never platitudinous. Achtsam morden (Murdering mindfully) will be on the summer 2023 programme. Anja will be on stage together with Leni Bohrmann and Christian Birko-Flemming, who perform regularly at the Theater in der Kurve in Neustadt-Hambach. The three know, appreciate and support each other.

Christian Birko-Flemming, Anja Kleinhans and Leni Bohrmann during the rehearsal for Achtsam morden (Murdering mindfully).

Anja has one more dream that she is currently working on realising: a Theater der Liebe (theatre of love). It is a larger theatre format, which she is already realising on a mobile stage as small open-air theatre festivals at various locations, but for which she is still looking for a permanent home. She wants it to be just as beautiful as the tower, but somewhat larger, more spacious. “With 21 spectators the tower is pretty limited. And the stairs and seating can be quite a challenge for older people,” she explains. She also longs to work more as a team and therefore enjoys the cooperation with other independent theatres in the region.

But even if the theatre of love were to find a permanent home, Anja would definitely never give up the Theader project. “Now that the tower has turned out to be such a fine and special cultural venue, I even feel obliged to it,” and committed to intimate drama through proximity to the audience. After all, nowhere else can the fourth wall be broken as beautifully as here.


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