Each year the festival directors invite from around the world 30 to 35 individuals and companies whose creations are marked by formal independence, innovative character and artistic ambition. Part of the budget is reserved for festival-owned productions or co-productions. Precedence is given to projects that reflect a connection to the festival.
Outstanding artistic personalities and new off-theatre talents whose unusual works are making ripples in the world of international theatre, dance and performance mark the history of the Zürcher Theater Spektakel. The programmes feature various forms of artistic expression. They have included politically engaged companies such as the Market Theatre and the Handspring Puppet Company from Johannesburg, the subversive hotheads of La Fura dels Baus from Barcelona, the video theatre pioneers of the Wooster Group from New York as well as state of the art directors Peter Brook, Robert Lepage and Christoph Marthaler.
As of 2000, productions on the cutting edge of various artistic art forms – new music, theatre, opera, video, dance and performance – have been the highlights of the programme: New forms of music theatre such as presented by Guy Cassiers from Holland and Wayn Traub from Belgium, Liza Lim and the Elision Contemporary Music Ensemble from Australia and Ong Ken Seng from Singapore. In addition, the video, performance and fine arts creations of Marina Abramovic, Richard Forman, Michael Laub, Guillermo Gomez-Peña and the Australian Museum of Modern Oddities have demonstrated the versatility of the contemporary arts scene.
In recent years, the festival programme has focused increasingly on young, urban artists from Africa, Asia and Latin America who reflect their living and working conditions in artistically interesting and formally innovative ways. Fine examples are the works of choreographers such as Boyzie Cekwana and Faustin Linyekula from Africa, Lemi Ponifasio from Samoa, Pichet Klunchun from Thailand or Bruno Beltrão from Brazil as well as the docu theatre productions of Argentinian Lola Arias, the genre-crossing creations of Brazilian Enrique Diaz, the language dance theatre of Japanese Toshiki Okada or the video theatre works of the Chinese multi media artist Wang Jianwei. Outstanding representatives of the European theatre scene continue to be a part of the programme: Creations by Emma Dante from Italy and Gintersdorfer/Klassen from Germany as well as productions from Belgium and the Netherlands – two of the most prolific European theatrical landscapes. The festival has recently presented the latest works of Kassys, Jetse Batelaan, KVS, Peeping Tom, Hotel Modern and Jakob Ahlbom. The Swiss theatre and dance scene has enjoyed increasing attention under the new artistic direction: Premieres and works by newcomers are regularly presented in the international context of the festival. A further accentuation to the programme is added by the presentation of innovative productions influenced by the French Nouveau Cirque. Companies such as Cie 111, Le Boustrophédon, Zimmermann & de Perrot, MPTA or Atelier Lefeuvre André have enthused a broad audience and are part of the festival's long-standing programming section aimed specifically also at families.