Pollesch is dead.

Pollesch ist tot.
René Pollesch is dead.
The German author and theatre director leading the Volksbühne in Berlin, is dead. Dick Laurent is dead (Lost Highway). Ed is dead (Pixies). Bela Lugosi‘s dead (Bauhaus). All of them are Pollesch and none.

We live in an era of silent technofeudalism corroding our democracies, and all we usually hear is the beat of (their) progress, 15min of fame due to some curated mediocrity and posting stuff to each other, making the platforms rich – so why shall we take notice that a German (!) theatre director passed away yesterday, reaching only the age of 61? Because he dissected all of that playfully already 15 years ago…

Like a murmuring rumour the message of his death today is lingering in the folds of social media like the ghost of Polonius, which never appeared to Hamlet. Pollesch might be unknown to those who shun theatre and rather watch Marvel movies and bingewatching dubious Netflix series than sitting still for 5 hours in a stuffy theatre getting monologue catered (Kean, 2008, Frank Castorf) Who is willing to get exposed to dense texts in times of Twitter/X, a lot of thinking while acting and the occasional shouting or bath, followed by video cameras, until the dawn of a choir – a Greek dramatic vehicle still used often (to the max of its impact) by Rene Pollesch? The „Bühnenarbeiter“ (stage worker, he wrote 200 plays) made me like and respect German theatre again, a genre which I considered dull and a bit covered with dust – until I sat in a Pollesch piece once in Vienna and was mesmerised by the pace and intensity as well as the lighthearted dance of theory and down-to earth tactics rebutting and repeating neocapitalist tropes and our (possible) reactions in a swirl of correlations of delusions (Verblendungszusammenhängen). When I was living in Berlin for more than a decade, seeing a Pollesch piece (at the Prater stage, e.g.) was common treat, nothing less than the casual thrill to go to Berghain once in a while, only more condensed. More to the point, more fraying and less of a queue. Pollesch gave me back the belief that thinking on stage is possible and that a relevant discourse can be consummated in a house which worships the spectacle, but has less production power than cinema and therefore less allure in comparison. It was often a raw and refined experience at the same time.

A giant of German theatre and master mise-en-scene, effective dompteur/animal tamer of beasts like Sophie Rois and Martin Wuttke, is no more, and the repercussions will be as soft and dampened as the end of an era. Schlingensief, Gosch, Gotscheff, the (still very alive) larger than life Castorf, texts and stagings by Heiner Müller (is dead), George Tabori (is dead) or plays by Rainald Goetz (is still very alive)…all feel like the protagonists of an intellectual soap opera from an obscure but popular cable tv, before streaming, a bit out of style, hailed by the critics but forgotten by the masses. With Pollesch‘s early passing it appears as if a whole era becomes history, ripe for a museum, an archive, a VHS cassette collection, a Blue Ray assortment, an endless thread of what is dead (now). Pollesch somehow found a red line between philosophy, clownerie and thinking on and for the stage, only to cross it often and disregard the lines drawn in his own sand of words.

A remarkable achievement for a German director, in a country wrangling with the international prejudice that Germany is not funny. Pollesch was clever and funny, squeezing his dialogues out of himself with the help of his ensemble, writing while working to stage a piece. He offered a rare menu of multilayered (dis)courses of present day analysis cloaked as a social theatre event, often dramatised as a brain tempest enacted and impersonated by his favourite actors, usually the strongest acting forces in the German theatre world. Live Cameras, settings and decor dwarfing the actors, TV screens, actors sitting on the sides, never leaving the stage or taking a seat in the audience. In Kill your darlings he did advise us, he and his postdramatic co-anti-magicians like the actor Fabian Hinrichs, that sometimes it is not enough to eat pizza together, and that this is dangerous, when that happens. What is dangerous in times which feel themselves dangerous and the citizens helpless, overwhelmed and overworked? Also Pollesch did not have an answer in his repetitions and regurgitations.

Sometimes you have to kill your darlings, sometimes the darlings get killed in front of you, for no appearant reason. RIP René Pollesch, and – thank you!

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