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Volksbühne Theater in Berlin Names Artistic Director, Ending Leadership Crisis

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René Pollesch, an acclaimed playwright and director, is to be the new artistic head of the Volksbühne, one of the most influential theaters in the German-speaking world, Berlin’s Department of Culture announced on Wednesday.

Mr. Pollesch, 56, will not take up the role until 2021, but his appointment ends a tumultuous few years for the theater.

In 2018, Chris Dercon, who previously ran the Tate Modern gallery in London, quit after just six months in the role following protests about his appointment. Those included personal attacks — feces were left in front of Mr. Dercon’s office at one point — and an occupation of the theater by left-wing activists.

The activists — and many members of the theater’s staff — saw Mr. Dercon’s appointment as a betrayal of the Volksbühne’s experimental and political roots, as well as a proxy for debates about gentrification in Berlin. Mr. Dercon, who now heads the Grand Palais in Paris, was seen as an archetype of outsiders who move into the city and then try to change its character.

Mr. Pollesch should meet a better reception. He staged many productions at the Volksbühne during the 25-year tenure of Frank Castorf, its much-loved former artistic director. He also ran the theater’s smaller venue, the Prater, in the 2000s.

Sarah Waterfeld, a spokeswoman for the left-wing group called Staub zu Glitzer, or Dust to Glitter, that occupied the theater in 2017, said in a telephone interview that she welcomed Mr. Pollesch’s appointment. “There’s a 100-year tradition — a political and artist tradition — and René’s a good person to find new ways to take that into the future,” she said.

Mr. Pollesch is known for his experimental productions that “often don’t look like theater at all,” wrote the critic A. J. Goldmann in The New York Times last year. His “high-energy performances” feature actors reciting texts that swing from philosophy to pop lyrics, Mr. Goldmann added. They also often have no characters, plot or conventional dramatic arc, he said, “and yet the result is fun, accessible and engaging: many of Mr. Pollesch’s works have become cult classics.”

Until Mr. Pollesch takes up the role, the theater will be run by Klauss Dörr, who was appointed on an interim basis after Mr. Dercon’s departure.


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