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René Pollesch to head Berlin's inconic Volksbühne

June 12, 2019

The 56-year-old playwright and director will be the new director of Berlin's Volksbühne, Culture Senator Klaus Lederer confirmed on Wednesday. It's hoped that Pollesch will end years of turbulence at the theater.

Deutschland Berlin Polizei in besetzter Volksbühne
Image: picture-alliance /dpa/M. Gambarini

The appointment of René Pollesch as director of one of Berlin's most revered theater institutions is to take effect for the 2021-22 season, Berlin Culture Senator Klaus Lederer confirmed on Wednesday, following much speculation. 

The appointment will likely mark the end of a tempestuous time at Berlin's renowned Volksbühne theater after the Belgian curator and former head of London's Tate Modern Chris Dercon was picked in 2015 to replace longtime Volksbühne director Frank Castorf.

Theaterpreis Berlin 2012 - Rene Pollesch
René Pollesch, here receiving the Theaterpreis Berlin in 2012, has the chance to return the Volksbühne to its roots Image: Imago Images/Drama-Berlin

Intensive protests against the decision to install Dercon included a sit-in at the theater lasting six days, with supporters of Berlin's iconic "people's" theater believing that the new director would corporatize the institution — and gentrify the city. Personal abuse was also leveled at Dercon, who resigned less than a year into his tenure in April 2018.

After Castorf revolutionized the theater in his own radical image across 25 years, Dercon's offerings were also considered bland and failed to enthuse the public.

"Both parties have agreed that Chris Dercon's appointment has not worked out as hoped, and the Volksbühne promptly needs a fresh start," stated Berlin public radio station, RBB, last April.

Frank Castorf
Hard act to follow: The shadow of Volksbühne legend Frank Castorf loomed large over Chris Dercon's short reign Image: picture alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

New beginnings?

But the appointment of René Pollesch to the directorship is not quite a new start. A highly experienced dramaturge who served part of his apprenticeship at London's Royal Court Theatre in the 1990s, Pollesch worked extensively at the Volksbühne under Castorf as director of the theater's side venue, Prater, from 2001 to 2007.

Pollesch was born in Friedberg in the state of Hesse in 1962, and has worked in major theater houses in Stuttgart, Hamburg, Vienna and Frankfurt, in addition to Berlin, where he recently staged Cry Baby and Black Maria at the Deutsches Theater. Among his many awards, Pollesch received Germany's top theater award, the Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis, in 2002 for his work at Prater.

The Volksbühne remains one of the most important theaters in Berlin. But its cult status diminished under Dercon's controversial reign, with costly in-house productions, declining viewer numbers and lack of sponsorship funds putting the institution at risk.

Volksbühne's former managing director, Klaus Dörr, will remain the temporary director until 2021, when Pollesch will assume his new role.

sb/eg (with dpa)

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