Lutz Pehnert/ Matthias Ehlert/Adama Ulrich, Germany
When Frank Castorf was unceremoniously retired from his position as the artistic director of the Volksbühne in Berlin, the theater community was uproarious in their disapproval. After the fall of the wall, the Volksbühne was on the verge of being shut down and Castorf was given the chance to either make it a success or else the whole thing was finished. As a revolutionary and controversial director, he took up this challenge and defied the status quo of German theater bringing a new avant-garde element to the stage. Over the years he built a community of actors and professionals who were passionate about radical theater and happy to push boundaries leading to international accolades and success.
Upon his exit in 2017, he removed the iconic symbol of the theater, the “Räuberrad” sculpture, from Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and had a crane take away the huge “OST” sign from the top of the building. They were both commissioned and owned by Castorf and as it was no longer his theater, he didn’t want his art marking it any longer. It wasn’t just the symbolic art which left, of the twenty-seven permanent actors of the theater, all but two left in solidarity with the artistic director, leaving the future of the theater up-in-the-air.
Partisan uses interviews with various actors and stage hands as well as clips of his most iconic productions, to create a rounded understanding of the man as a director and to emphasize the importance and originality of his work. Castorf is not a saint. He comes off arrogant and mean and patronizing at times, but watching the clips of his shows and hearing the reverence his colleagues have for him makes it clear that he was the heart and soul of the theater. Some may argue that twenty-five years is long enough, and that it is time for some fresh blood at the Volksbühne. However, when presented with the outrage of some of Germany’s foremost creative talents it makes one wonder if there was not a better way of bringing about change. Regardless, Partisan is a fascinating look at some of the most controversial and innovative productions in Germany of the last twenty-five years and a wonderful experience for anyone interested in Berlin or German theater.