Frank Castorf’s bold staging and experimental casting have transformed theater in Germany. Mr. Castorf, the son of a Berlin ironware merchant, grew up in former East Germany and has led one of Germany’s most avantgarde theaters since 1992. He recently made headlines for producing what was widely derided as an incomprehensible version of Wagner’s Ring opera cycle in Bayreuth, the home of the late composer and a pilgrimage destination for his fans. He is leaving Berlin’s Volksbühne and described his future plans.
DIE ZEIT: Mr. Castorf, your staging of Bertolt Brecht’s “Baal” at the Munich Residenz theater was banned after a suit by one of Brecht’s heirs, Ms. Barbara Brecht-Schall. You were accused of unlawfully changing Brecht’s original text. How much did that bother you?
Frank Castorf: At long last – I wanted one of my productions to be banned for ages, that happened last in the GDR. It’s laughable really, you wouldn’t think this would happen in the 21st century. Brecht himself wrote five different versions of the text up until the 1950s because he wasn’t happy with it. He was generally very lax about questions of intellectual property, I don’t think he would have wanted his work to be kept under a bell jar.
Didn’t you expect there would be problems with Brecht’s heirs? Ms. Brecht-Schall is famous for her insistence that people stick to his texts.
I did have concerns and I let the theater know about them. The theater was optimistic about how tolerant Brecht’s heir would be, but unfortunately, that tolerance was lacking.
You’re now staging a production in Hamburg of a piece by another author that Brecht changed just the way you did – Brecht and Arnolt Bronnen created “Pastor Ephraim Magnus” in 1923, by Hans Henny Jahnn.
When Brecht staged the piece in Berlin, he only kept 20 percent of the original text. The author Mr. Jahnn wasn’t happy about that but he accepted it, he was more easy going than many people know. The fact that he didn’t sue Brecht and Bronnen shows he didn’t take himself too seriously.
In your production of “Baal” which can be shown for the last time at Berlin’s theater festival in the summer, there’s a reference to Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Apocalypse Now.” The film tells the story of the search for a mad and unpredictable Colonel who has created his own kingdom in the jungle. When I watched the show, I had the sense that the Colonel is actually you, who has gone into the headwaters of the river and is shouting “the horror, the horror.”
That’s a very flattering comparison but I’ll say this: Yes. Kurtz’s existence has a lot to do with art: he goes out to experience loneliness.
Is Berlin’s Volksbühne theater your version of the jungle?
The Volksbühne was a cultic home that protected me. When I leave and have to go back to my roots as a poor, Jewish relative, I’ll see how things go. The Volksbühne was a place I was glad to come back to, but things are changing.