Chris Dercon’s turbulent time as director of the Volksbühne Theatre in Berlin has come to an end after the former director of Tate Modern stepped down today. A statement released by Berlin’s culture senator, Klaus Lederer, says: “Both parties have agreed that the concept of Chris Dercon did not work out as hoped, and the Volksbühne needs a fresh start immediately. [Following] the amicable agreement between the culture senator [Klaus] Lederer and Dercon, there is now a chance to initiate this necessary reboot.” Klaus Dorr, the theatre’s managing director, has been appointed acting director.
Dercon was announced as the replacement for Frank Castorf—who had been in post almost 25 years—in April 2015, and took up the role early last year. But the move angered German culture professionals who published an open letter in 2016 in which they voiced “deep concerns” about Dercon’s plans for the so-called People’s Theatre.
More than 180 directors and stage designers said that the appointment was “an irreversible turning point and a break in the recent history of the theatre”, adding that the new chief would turn the historic venue into a “festival house”.
Dercon revealed his inaugural programme last May which included performances by artists such as Tino Sehgal. Last November, the artist duo Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff turned the theatre’s Grüner Salon into a “bar and stage”. The theatre is currently showing Israel-born artist Yael Bartana’s film and performance project, What If Women Ruled The World? A trio of works by Samuel Beckett—Not I/Footfalls/Eh, Joe—is also being staged.
Last autumn, the controversy intensified however when artists and activists occupied the Volksbühne Theatre for six days. The occupation was directed against Berlin’s cultural and urban development policies; the activists also expressed concerns that Dercon would make the avant-garde theatre more corporate.
The activist coalition Hands off our Movement posted an open letter to Dercon, saying: “We understand that the situation around your appointment as the new director of the Volksbühne Theatre is complicated, and that the current atmosphere in regards to this matter makes rational discourse difficult. We are appalled that during the past months this situation escalated to the point of physical attacks against your person.”
But the group also challenged why Dercon allegedly filed a criminal complaint with the local authorities which led to police blocking the venue, overseeing the end of the protest. Dercon said he could not find “common path” with the occupiers; he could not be reached for further comment.