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Complete lies! (01/2024)

Theater fever.

Text: Marion Maurer

Philomena Grütter studied German Philology and French at the University of Basel. Her passion for literature then took her to Theater Basel, where she works as stage manager for the "Kleine Bühne".

Philomena Grütter.
Philomena Grütter. (Photo: Christian Flierl)

Audiences at Theater Basel may never see her face, but Philomena Grütter plays a leading role: She ensures that everything goes smoothly on stage, or to be more precise: on the Kleine Bühne (“small stage”), the theater’s smaller performance space. Grütter has been its stage manager and artistic production manager since 2022. She organizes and coordinates events, oversees rehearsals and takes charge during performances. She provides the cues for the actors, dancers, technicians, props and lighting, and coordinates costume and scenery changes. Even in hectic moments, she stays calm and keeps on top of things. And every show she oversees, she knows inside out.

Love of the theater.

She knew she wanted to work in the theater aged just 13, after a work placement at the Komische Oper Berlin. “I was hooked!” After finishing high school in Berlin, she moved to her father’s hometown: “Basel is part of my culture, somehow,” says Grütter. Here, she matriculated at the University of Basel to study German and French. Her subject choice was obvious, she says, as she had always enjoyed reading and languages.

She looks back fondly on her move to Basel and her choice of degree program: “I had a great time at Basel University, above all thanks to the good contact ratio between students and teaching staff, as well as the individual support they provided.” After her bachelor’s degree, she trained as an assistant director at Theater Basel, working on the opera The Barber of Seville. This was a project close to her heart, staged by Nikolaus Habjan using life-sized puppets with articulated mouths, and she really enjoyed working with everyone involved.

When she subsequently applied for her current job, she didn’t actually think she’d get it. So it was all the more thrilling that her dream of working in theater was fulfilled so unexpectedly.

Putting studies into practice.

The knowledge and skills she gained during her studies come in handy every day at Theater Basel. Naturally, there are some parallels in the content on the one hand: She had studied many of the works that are performed, including Le barbier de Séville, the literary inspiration for Gioachino Rossini’s opera buffa. On the other hand, Grütter also emphasizes the excellent coordination skills that her work requires. Coordination has always been one of her strengths, but her studies demanded and strongly encouraged a high level of self-organization, particularly if students were also working part-time.

As stage manager, Philomena Grütter often works evenings and weekends, and the period leading up to a premiere can be intense and stressful. But, as she explains, that side of things is easy to deal with when every day is different and the work is varied and entertaining.

One of her favorite productions so far is Streit by multi-award-winning Dutch director Jetse Batelaan. The production was just as exciting for those behind the scenes as it was for the audience. The set was constructed of three rooms on a turntable featuring three people arguing. The rooms were constantly rotating, and whenever a room was hidden from the audience, it had to be rearranged with lightning speed – all coordinated by Philomena Grütter.

She found it both impressive and entertaining to watch the technicians and stagehands hauling items on and off stage. These are the moments that, for her, make the theater so magical.

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