Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Volksbühne Berlin and Chris Dercon

I finally un-followed whats-her-name ("I'll never forget what's her-name") on Facebook, because I couldn't stand her posts protesting Chris Dercon's impending leadership of the Volksbühne Berlin any more.

Of course, she and the people who commented agreeing with her didn't put it that way: they weren't talking about Chris Dercon coming to the Volksbühne and taking over for Frank Castorf: they were talking about the end of the Volksbühne; no, the end of serious theatre in Berlin; no, the end of serious theatre, period; no, the end of the world. Besides the Facebook posts she also has attended protests outside the Volksbühne. Did she actually organize and lead these protests? I don't know. Has she worked as an actress at the Volksbühne? I'm not sure about that either.

Just in case someone doesn't know: I've never seen a performance at the Volksbühne. I've seen lots and lots of pictures of productions, and a few videoclips, and read some reviews, and read some of the plays performed there. But I've never actually been there; ergo, by definition, I don't know what I'm talking about.

My first reaction, when She Who Has Been Unfollowed began her torrent of furious posts, was that it all seemed rather overdone for what was, ironically, a rather elite affair. I was assuming a greater similarity to a theatre culture with which I am actually familiar -- big-time commercial theatre in NYC -- than there actually is. Tickets to a Broadway or Off-Broadway or even some Off-Off-Broadway shows are expensive enough to make it quite an exclusive affair. Not to mention the comps: the many tickets given absolutely free to big shots who could afford perfectly well to pay full price, because it's ab-so-lute-ly backwards.

But I figured I'd better do some research before just wading into the middle of all of that Facebook lamentation and calling them all silly elitist drama queens. And it turned out that I was wrong: tickets for the Volksbühne are much less expensive than those for a Broadway play: no ticket costs more than 40 Euros; retirees and low-income people pay about half price; and some people who qualify on the basis of need can get several tickets per season free.

My next reaction was to say that they could've taken all of the energy they'd expending being furious about something which hasn't happened yet and might be quite different than what they expect, and used it to start their own damn theatre company. And they could. But, as I continued to research the Volksbühne, I learned that, in addition to the money taken in at the box office, the state of Berlin gave the Volksbühne 184 Euros for every ticket sold in 2009, and 141 Euros for every ticket sold in 2010 (these are the latest statistics I could find). And I imagine that they get the use of that theatre building right in the middle of Berlin rent-free, too.

Okay, so, yeah, they could start their own company, but starting one like the Volksbühne might be harder than I had imagined.

So I was wrong about all of that, and drastically under-informed about how German theatre in general works, and I've never seen a production at the Volksbühne, never seen one directed by Castorf, or by Dercon. So do I still actually have a freakin' problem with the protesters?

Yes. One word which is frequently used by them when they describe the way in which Dercon is going to destroy the the Volksbühne is "international." They foresee Volksbühne productions which will be slick, safe, aimed at garnering international prizes. And no longer the distinctly Berliner theatre they love. Dercon ain't even a gosh-dang German, he's a furriner, a Belgian.

What kind of God-damned Communist objects to internationalism? Provincial Communists. That's what kind. I've never been to the Volksbühne, but I have by gosh been to Berlin, and it's magnificent, and one of the things which makes it so is its openness to the world.

The whole world.

And, and, I do believe that while some international prizes are given to slick and safe theatre productions, others aren't. So that if the Volksbühne under Dercon's leadership does win some international prizes, it won't mean that everything the protesters said was correct. Although no doubt they will claim that it does.

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