Founded in 1957 as part of Rowohlt publishing house, Rowohlt Theater Verlag quickly became one of Germany’s leading play agencies. From the outset, Rowohlt focused on contemporary and political drama. Among the first plays was Wolfgang Borchert’s The Man Outside, which has long since become a modern classic with over three hundred productions worldwide and a book circulation of almost three million copies.

Rowohlt represents German translations of Albert Camus’ and Jean-Paul Sartre’s complete dramatic work, which have become and remain an inherent component of Rowohlt’s repertoire. In 1963, Rolf Hochhuth’s Christian tragedy "The Deputy" was performed for the first time and provoked a long-standing debate about the role of the Catholic Church during the Third Reich. The Czech dramatist Václav Havel, whose plays were also presented in German by Rowohlt, is another writer who was to influence political debates for the next two decades.

British contemporary drama has figured prominently in the Rowohlt programme since its inception. Today, Rowohlt Theater Verlag represents the majority of Britain’s most significant contemporary playwrights, most with their complete works. Two important and widely performed Scandinavian contemporary dramatists can be added to these in the Rowohlt programme, the Swede Lars Norén and the Norwegian Jon Fosse.

Since the early 1990s, the Rowohlt Theater Verlag has expanded especially in the direction of numerous German-speaking playwrights, including Heinar Kipphardt, Elfriede Jelinek, Botho Strauss, Sibylle Berg, Klaus Pohl, Theresia Walser, Jürg Laederach, Juli Zeh, Ulrike Syha, René Pollesch, Moritz Rinke, John von Düffel, Händl Klaus, David Gieselmann, Tim Staffel, Thomas Freyer, Thomas Arzt and Philipp Löhle. Rowohlt represents these and a large number of important authors internationally. Their pieces are now also performed abroad many times and are available in numerous translations. A complete list of the playwrights can be found here.

Several times in the last few years a playwright represented by Rowohlt Theater Verlag has been voted “Best German-speaking Author of the Year” in the critics' survey of the magazine Theater heute: Moritz Rinke (2001), René Pollesch (2002), Händl Klaus (2006), Elfriede Jelinek (a total of seven times, most recently in 2011) and Sibylle Berg (2014). Many of them have been also awarded prizes for their dramatic work. The Muelheim Dramatists’ Award, the most prestigious prize for German playwrights, has gone twice to René Pollesch (2001 & 2006) and Elfriede Jelinek (2002 & 2004). The winners of both the Franz Kafka Literature Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature were Elfriede Jelinek (2004) and Harold Pinter (2005).