Liz O’Neill, Artistic Director and CEO of Z-arts, visits Grips Theatre in Berlin, a political theatre for children, young people and adults


At the end of June I went to Berlin for two days to look for international examples of venues or companies making theatre for young audiences that responds to social change. The trip was funded by the Future Arts Centre’s Ambition for Excellence project which has paired Z-arts with Stratford Circus Arts Centre and we were particularly seeking venues or companies who prioritise reflecting multi-cultural communities and working with second and third generation artists.


Our research led us to GRIPS theatre in Berlin, a political theatre for children, young people and adults. The theatre was established in 1969, partly in response to the political riots of 1968 to “fight for the right of the oppressed children” in an age prior to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.


All plays performed in the theatre are new, produced for GRIPS and will generally run for over 40 shows at their theatre. The shows cover topics including violence, broken homes, refugees, the diversity of family, radicalisation, homelessness and much more.


We saw several shows during our visit. Highlights included a show for ages six plus dealing with the diversity of modern family. We also watched a show for teenagers and young adults inspired by the true life story of a political figure in Berlin. The performance detailed his life as a young gay Muslim in Berlin who rebelled against his authoritarian parents and ultimately escaped murder at their hands before taking them to court. Grips approached him directly and he agreed to let them make a show about his teenage years. Finally, we saw a show for adults that was about a baby found in Burger King, and the stereotypical assumptions people make as to who might have left it there.


GRIPS have a big focus on creative education, employing six ‘pedagogues’ or applied theatre practitioners, who lead workshops, tours, artists talks, run a free youth theatre, teacher training and lots more academic engagement.  They run various programmes that are funded by NGOs or commercial groups. A personal favourite was ‘theatre on prescription’ a scheme in partnership with the association of children’s doctors, who can give free tickets to children receiving regular medical care.


All parties were very excited to think about ways we might work together in the future, and we will continue conversations to identify a clear pathway or project that we could work together on that would build and share the strengths of each organisation.