Chris Dercon Quits As Director Of Volksbühne Theatre With Immediate Effect

Volksbühne Theatre

Chris Dercon has stepped down as director of the Volksbühne Theatre in Berlin with immediate effect. The former director of Tate Modern stated that “Both parties had agreed Dercon did not work out as hoped, and the Volksbühne needed a fresh start immediately.

Theatre management and many actors thought the appointment should have come from within the institution

The amicable agreement between the culture senator, Lederer and Dercon, presents a chance to initiate this necessary reboot.” Klaus Dorr, the theatre’s managing director, has been appointed acting director. There was always animosity from the outset of the appointment as the management of the theatre and many actors thought the appointment should have come from within the institution.

The appointment of former Director of Tate Modern Chris Dercon as Director of Berlin’s Volksbühne Theatre was not going smoothly. 172 actors, designers and theatre employees initially penned an open letter to the city senate and German culture minister Monika Grütters stating “deep concern” over the change-over at the cultural institution.

The appointment of Dercon by Berlin’s culture senator Tim Renner replaced the theatre director, Frank Castorf, who had run the theatre for 25 years. Renner has made no bones about his disapproval of Castorf’s semi-permanent reign at the Volksbühne. Like all state-funded theatres in Germany, it is funded by the Senate.

Deacon’s new role was announced in April 2015. The appointment was greeted with disapproval. Die Zeit reported that several high-profile theatre directors were concerned that Dercon’s appointment could transform the historic Volksbühne into a “festival house.”

A letter by the directors at the Volksbühne stated; “We are not afraid of the new,” the signatories stress, but point out that following a general assembly with the future management that took place in April, they felt that “there will be no new forms and artistic challenges at the Volksbühne. A conceptual line of artistic and structural development of our theatre is not apparent in the remarks Chris Dercon, and his program director Marietta Piekenbrock have made.”

“In the banality of [their] promulgation we fear the sellout of our artistic standards and a weakening of our potent drama theatre operation,” they added:

“This is not a friendly takeover. It is an irreversible turning point and a break in the recent history of the theatre. This change represents historical levelling and razing of identity. The artistic processing of social conflict is displaced in favour of a globally extended consensus culture with uniform presentation and sales patterns. We miss in the conceptual designs of the future director everything that makes this theatre unique: politically engaged art, a specific theatre concept, a steady repertoire and ensemble, and a vision for the unique potential of the house’s workshops. We fear that given these plans, our skills and capacities are not needed. We fear job cuts, up to the negation of entire trades. … a weakening of the existing potential will lead to a weakening of the Volksbühne; once these are destroyed, they will be permanently lost. This could have a devastating ripple effect on the entire German city theatre landscape”.

“The signatories state that the letter is not directed at Dercon himself, but rather at the decision makers: “Our criticism is directed at the Berlin’s cultural policy: in the name of an alleged internationalization and diversity it is working hard to destroy the originality and diversity with which the Volksbühne is associated. We see the this as a threat to the future of the theatre!”

Dercon suffered many other indignities included having excrement smeared on his door daily and protests blocking his entry to the theatre. It was suggested on Twitter that he should possibly be put forward as Director of Documenta another institution in chaos.

Top Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2018

Volksbühne Theatre