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Berlin 24/7: The end of theater? No way!

Iconic Berlin theater directors Peymann and Castorf leave – and predict the end of theater. Nonsense, says DW’s Gero Schliess, who looks forward to Chris Dercon’s first season at the helm of the Volksbühne theater.”Rascals, would you live forever?”

Frederick the Great’s rage was notorious, even though he had formally been thought a reluctant soldier. Nowadays, Berlin’s eternal theater directors Frank Castorf and Claus Peymannmonarch would undoubtedly have become a target of the monarch’s anger – as he was also known as an avid patron of the arts.

Peymann and Castorf

After all, the 18th-century Prussian king and head of all Berlin theaters at the time basically leads the list of Frank Castorf’s und Claus Peymann’s predecessors. Berlin’s current wan mayor, Michael Müller, for his part, shows little of the luster and style of centuries past.

Müller and his predecessor, Klaus Wowereit, should have looked to the royal smart mouth for inspiration. I’m sure Old Fritz would have known how to deal with the two reigning directors and would have swiftly curtailed their dynastic claims to eternal employment. As the king put it, “the people from the opera are such scoundrels.” Whether opera or the theater, we know what he means.

Instead, we have for months witnessed acts of unstoppable self-aggrandizement. The name of the play: “Me, my theater and the evil world” and it’s showing at two traditional Berlin theaters: Claus Peymann’s Berliner Ensemble and Frank Castorf’s Volksbühne theater. Both are doing it with a devil-may-care attitude.

Peymann claims, for instance, that the Berliner Ensemble is being “annihilated.” Well, perhaps not just the ensemble, but the egos of our elderly directors are in danger. The idea that they might suffer from a Methuselah complex – a general overestimation of one’s capabilities in old age – would never cross our minds.

Death blow for the Volksbühne

But, let’s admit it, both have surprisingly good instincts. Ever since Castorf’s successor, Belgian curator Chris Dercon, announced his plans for the Volksbühne theater, we have understood that the veteran directors’ nightmares are coming true. This is the death blow for the Volksbühne, or better yet, for the Volksbühne as we know it. The traditional theater on Rosa Luxemburg Square was financed by workers who paid into the Association Free Volksbühne, and was a leftist theater, a very leftist theater always out to change the world, no holds barred, with renowned directors including Herbert Fritsch, Rene Pollesch and actors like Martin Wuttke.

Dercon wants to change the world, too. But he doesn’t need actors or directors. Hey, weren’t they always overrated in the theater anyway?

Open-heart surgery

Now, there are constant installations, performances, and things digitalized. The Volksbühne has become the new playground for Berlin’s culture start-up community. And if they are not drilling and researching, they are dancing. Of course, Chris Dercon is right to say that dance is oh so political. So there is a lot of dance, a lot of experimenting, also at the spectacular new venue, Hangar 5 at the city’s former Tempelhof airport.

Yes, it is open-heart surgery at the Volksbühne. The outcome is uncertain. Some ideas sound simply crazy.

But I don’t care about the good old days. Sure, Castorf’s theater work was sassy. It was grand and influential. The Stadttheater as we know it today, with all its branches and art forms – Castorf once invented that. But for a while now, the Great Inquisitor has only been preaching to his supporters, for people who already believe his holy words. In the end, much was the same as always, like the weekly Schnitzel lunch at the Volksbühne cafeteria.

Castorf always called for change and revolution in his productions. After heading the theater for 25 years, how about not bedeviling the theater’s desire for change at the top as an affront to the ruler?

With all due respect, however, Castorf that was yesterday. Today’s motto is: The Volksbühne is dead! Long live the Volksbühne!

There is one consolation for traditionalists: the man who runs the cafeteria won’t be leaving.

Topics: Berlin 24/7

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