Frank Castorf


© Marcus Lieberenz
Born in East Berlin on 17 June 1951. Studied Theatre Sciences at Humboldt University, Berlin. 1976—1979 literary manager in Senftenberg, first own productions there. 1979-1981 director at Brandenburg Theatre, from 1981-1985 own free ensemble at Anklam Theatre. This was followed by productions at various East German theatres and, in 1989, first productions in the west in Cologne and Basel.

After the Berlin Wall came dome he worked as a freelance director in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin and Basel. In 1990 he was in-house director at the Deutsches Theater, Berlin, before he became manager of the Berliner Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, which he runs to this day. Until 2000 he also regularly produced plays at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, as well as in Vienna, Salzburg, Bochum, Zurich and Stockholm.
In addition to his executive position in Berlin, he took charge of the Ruhr Festival Recklinghausen in 2004, but was sacked again after one festival due to shrinking audience numbers, a decision that became something of a cause célèbre.

In the annual critics’ survey of the “Theater heute” journal Castorf has been voted director of the year five times since 1989 and was awarded the Kortner Prize in 1994.

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Portrait: Frank Castorf

Frank Castorf’s best theatre evenings are demanding, long, complex, loud, exalted and illogical. They reject a linear narrative and conclusive interpretations. Psychological interpretation of characters is anathema to the manager of the Berliner Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and undisturbed acting is right next to the trivialisation of reality by art as an object of hate. For almost fifteen years now, this concentrated “anti” position has resulted in the most important contemporary theatre in Germany.

The tremendous energy that characterises Castorf’s productions comes from the confrontation of harmony and violence. When he was a young director in the GDR, bureaucratic socialism provided the first opposition for Castorf’s anger. Banished to Anklam in the provinces, he continued to offend against the tolerated canon of hidden criticism of the system that was established in East German theatre until he was allowed to produce in the West. After Unification his revulsion at false common features, and especially of the “all’s well” politics of victorious capitalism, exploded. Nowhere in the art of the years immediately following the fall of the Berlin Wall was the smile of the state power so fiercely confronted with the depressing reality of the system take-over as in Castorf’s theatre.

For example, in 1990 he produced Schiller’s “The Robbers” as a requiem to the GDR that both expressed uproar about the take-over and anger about the “creeping depression” of the East Germans. Ranging from pubescent, naked rebellion and offending the audience right up to montages of Schiller, Hegel and de Sade, the aggressive spectacle already unpacked the whole toolbox of Castorf's discontent. He made violating rules into a principle and developed it into a theatre that is permitted to do everything and ought to do nothing. And he transferred this principle to other social situations when the merger of the GDR into the consumer society faded historically as a subject.

Thanks to his tremendous creative energy and an ensemble of exceptional actors who could fulfil intellectual provocations as shrill satire, Castorf subjected Shakespeare and Hauptmann, Dostoyevsky and Tennessee Williams to radical reworkings. Flying potato salad and inserted theoretical texts, urinating in zinc buckets and the trials of hysterical family life were followed by improvised speeches to the audience or enacted subconscious with plenty of slapstick. Booming music and inserted films, tedious waiting that ends with the landing of a toy helicopter or nude madness with a boa around the actor’s neck – Castorf uses elements like this to assemble his snotty view of the world as theatre. Only the following agenda in the director’s words applied: “To do away with unambiguities, to cut the ground from under the feet of meanings – that’s what I always wanted to do!”

The many failed echoes of his method showed that this devaluing of harmony and meaning only works thanks to Castorf's constructive exceptional spirit. The deconstruction fashions, that were declared the trend of the nineties in his name, only led to a dissolution of the form among many emulators. But with Castorf the permanent, often cynical commenting on what is happening on the stage as part of the production resulted in a genuine challenge to intellect and humour. Even marathon evenings lasting many hours, such as “The Idiot” or “The Demons”, which transferred the Russian melancholy to a charged metropolitan atmosphere in the shabby bungalow aesthetics of his sympathetic set designer Bert Neumann, created an exciting enjoyment of excessive demands.

In recent years, the principle of “effort as purification” has been intensified by Castorf once again doubling the image and narrative levels on the stage with film teams. However, his work seems to have increasingly run out of control, with the range of venues where it is performed growing ever more diverse and the floods of images that flow through it becoming ever less coherent. Productions such as “Cocaine” (2004), which was based on the novel by Pitigrilli and had a stage set designed by the artist Jonathan Meese, or “My Snow Queen” (2005), which was based on the work of Hans Christian Andersen, dissipated their initial impetus in their incoherent deployment of provocative theatrical techniques. By 2006, when Castorf turned to Brecht and obscured “In the Jungle of the Cities” behind a chaotic jumble of contemporary slapstick and political finger-wagging, it had become evident that he was facing an artistic crisis. Maybe the world has moved on and Frank Castorf has run out of ideas. Or maybe the years of repetition have made the way he breaks the rules in his productions an example of exactly the kind of thing Castorf always wanted to struggle against: something harmonious and thoroughly predictable.

Till Briegleb

Productions - A selection

  • Henrik Ibsen "The Master Builder"
    2014, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • After Honoré de Balzac "La cousine Bette"
    2013, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • Louis-Ferdinand Céline "Journey to the Ende of the Night"
    2013, Residenztheater, München
  • Nach Fjodor M. Dostojewskij "Die Wirtin" (i.e. "The Innkeeper Woman")
    2012, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • After Franz Kafka "America"
    2012, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
  • After Heinrich von Kleist "The Marquise of O..."
    2012, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • After Alexandre Dumas "La Dame aux Camélias" ("The Lady of the Camellias")
    2012, Théâtre de l'Odéon, Paris
  • Ödön von Horvath "Kasimir and Karoline"
    2011, Residenztheater, Munich
  • Fjodor Dostojewski "Der Spieler"
    2011, Vienna Festival, Coproduktion with the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • After Jeremias Gotthelf/Michail Bulgakov "Die schwarze Spinne. Pilatus' Traum" (i.e. "The Black Spider. Pilatus' Dream")
    2011, Schauspielhaus Zürich (Pfauen)
  • Walter Mehring "The Merchant of Berlin"
    2010, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz "Die Soldaten"
    2010, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • Nach Friedrich von Gagern "Ozean"
    2009, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • After Seneca "Medea"
    2009, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • Nach Franz Arnold und Ernst Bach "Amanullah Amanullah"
    2009, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • After Alexandre Dumas and Heiner Müller "Kean ou désordre et génie comédie en cinq actes par Alexandre Dumas et Die Hamletmaschine par Heiner Müller"
    2008, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-PLatz, Berlin
  • Frank Castorf "Hunde - Reichtum ist die Kotze des Glücks" (i.e. "Fortune is the Puke of Luck")
    2008, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • Wolfgang Rihm "Jakob Lenz"
    2008, Vienna Festival
  • After Alfred Döblin "Berlin Alexanderplatz"
    2007, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • After Erich Kästner "Emil and the Detectives"
    2007, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • After Louis-Ferdinand Céline (dramatization by Frank Castorf) "Nord" (i.e. "North")
    2007, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin, Coproduktion with the Vienna Festival
  • After Richard Wagner and Ernst Toller "Mastersingers"
    2006, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-PLatz, Berlin, Coproduktion with the Grand Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg, the Théâtre National de Chaillot, Paris and Det Kongelige Teater, Kopenhagen
  • Bertolt Brecht „Jungle of the Cities“
    2006, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • Richard Wagner „Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg“
    2005, Grand Théâtre, Luxemburg
  • Frank Castorf nach Alfred Döblin „Berlin Alexanderplatz“
    2001, Schauspiel Zürich, 2005, Palast der Republik, Berlin
  • Frank Castorf nach Dostojewski „Crime and Punishment“
    2005, Wiener Festwochen
  • Botho Strauß „Big and Small“
    2
    005, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburf- Platz, Berlin
  • Friedrich von Gagern/Heiner Müller/Frank Castorf „Der Marterpfahl“ (i.e., "The Stake")
    2005, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • After the novel by Pitigrilli „Kokain“
    2004, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • Frank Castorf after Hans Christian Andersen "My Snow Queen"
    2004, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Frank Castorf after Frank Norris "Greediness of Gold"
    2004, Ruhr Festival
  • Frank Castorf after Tennessee Williams “Forever Young”
    2003, Vienna Festival
  • Mikhail Bulgakov “The Master and Margarita”
    2002, Volksbühne Berlin, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Frank Castorf after Fyodor Dostoyevsky “The Idiot”
    2002, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Frank Castorf after Fyodor Dostoyevsky “The Insulted and the Injured”
    2001, Volksbühne Berlin, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Frank Castorf after Tennessee Williams “Streetcar Named Desire”
    2000, Volksbühne Berlin, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Frank Castorf after Fyodor Dostoyevsky “The Demons”
    1999, Volksbühne Berlin, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Jean-Paul Sartre “Dirty Hands”
    1998, Volksbühne Berlin, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Gerhart Hauptmann “The Weavers”
    1997, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Carl Zuckmayer “The Devil’s General”
    1996, Volksbühne Berlin, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Bertolt Brecht “Herr Puntila and his Man Matti”
    1996, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Elfriede Jelinek “Services”
    1995, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, invited to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Carl Laufs/Wilhelm Jacoby “Boarding House Schöller/The Battle”
    1994 Volksbühne Berlin
  • Henrik Ibsen “The Lady from the Sea”
    1993, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Anthony Burgess “Clockwork Orange”
    1993, Volksbühne Berlin
  • William Shakespeare “King Lear”
    1992, Volksbühne Berlin, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Frank Castorf after Friedrich Schiller “Wilhelm Teller” ”
    1991, Theater Basel
  • Henrik Ibsen “John Gabriel Borkmann”
    1991, Deutsches Theater Berlin, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Frank Castorf after Friedrich Schiller “The Robbers”
    1990, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Frank Castorf after Gotthold Ephraim Lessing “Miss Sara Sampson”
    1989, Bayrisches Staatsschauspiel Munich, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Frank Castorf after William Shakespeare “Hamlet”
    1989, Cologne Theatre
  • Paul Zech “The Drunken Ship”
    1988, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Heiner Müller “The Building”
    1986, Theater Karl-Marx-Stadt
  • Henrik Ibsen “A Doll’s House”
    1985, Theater Anklam
  • Heiner Müller “The Commission”
    1984, Theater Anklam