Volker Lösch

Volker Lösch was born in Worms in 1963 and grew up in Montevideo, Uruguay. From 1986 to 1989, he studied drama in Kiel and Hamburg, going on to work as an actor from 1989 to 1995 at the Deutsches Theater in Göttingen, the Deutsches Nationaltheater Weimar and the Theater am Neumarkt in Zurich. Since 1995, he has been employed exclusively as a director. His first production, Saved by Edward Bond, was created on the fringe scene in Zurich (1995, Theater Rote Fabrik). He has worked at numerous municipal and state theatres: in Bern, Bonn, St. Gallen, Berlin, Tübingen, Saarbrücken, Essen, Wuppertal, Graz, Freiburg, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Oberhausen and Stuttgart.

He caused a stir in 2004 with his production of Die Weber (The Weavers), based on Gerhart Hauptmann's play, at the Staatsschauspiel Dresden, which was initially banned by Berlin Regional Court due to controversial passages of text spoken by a chorus of local Dresden residents. The new version put together by Lösch in response to this under the title Die Dresdner Weber (The Dresden Weavers) was chosen by Die deutsche Bühne magazine in 2005 as its "production of the year". Since the 2005/06 season, Lösch has been a director in residence and member of the management team at the Schauspiel Stuttgart under its artistic director Hasko Weber. He has further pursued and perfected his choral theatre in Stuttgart, while continuing to work as a guest director in Dresden, as well as at the Schauspiel Leipzig and the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus and at the Schaubühne in Berlin.
2012 he receives the Lessing-Prize of the Free State of Saxony.

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Portrait: Volker Lösch

Volker Lösch is a determinedly political director who intends his work to have an impact on the citizen and homo politicus in the watcher. He sees drama as a forum for social debate - not just a place of enlightenment, but also a place of confusion, rage and rebellion. "We theatre people do all suffer from our working conditions and lack of experience," he said once in an interview. "It is already there in the opposition between 'us in the theatre' and 'society out there'. As if the theatre were not part of society..."

It is this gulf that Lösch seeks to overcome by plugging his productions firmly into reality. Indeed, what is more: he builds them directly from the social reality around him. These days, the method he applies in order to do this is not just his own trademark, but has almost become a distinct new form of political theatre: the use of citizens' choruses, amateurs who articulate their political views, their fears, their concerns and their experiences of life on the stage. Since the death of Einar Schleef in 2001, no one has deployed the chorus as a narrative technique in the theatre in such an explicit, consistent and powerful fashion as Volker Lösch. However, in contrast to Schleef - and the dance theatre of Johann Kresnik -, it is not national myths, not the suppressed and distorted elements of German history that march, ghostly and martial, onto the stage with the mass chorus. Rather, it is truly the voice of the people that unburdens itself in Lösch's productions, describing the experiences of social reality the director gathers and integrates into the frame of reference provided by classic plays.

Lösch's choral theatre is a barometer of social shifts and concerns, a theatre of protest and discomfort. It opposes and rebels. It denounces, uncovers, rages and fumes. Just as Bertolt Brecht once did, Volker Lösch too seems to call out to the public: "Don't gawp so romantically!" - instead, our gaze is firmly directed towards the sore points and weak points of our democracy and its market economy, as well as the social incarnations they take on at particular times in particular places. For Lösch's theatre always relates to a specific locality - it is urban theatre with a lively, critical sense of purpose.

Lösch deployed his first chorus of amateurs in 2003 in his production of The Oresteia at the Staatsschauspiel Dresden: During the conflicts of Clytamnestra, Orestes, Electra and Apollo, 33 Dresden citizens functioned as representatives of the audience - and therefore as agents of the public -, acting collectively, chanting, mediating and commenting. The rehearsals had lasted five months, with the chorus scenes being supervised by Bernd Freytag, who once performed in choruses for Einar Schleef. This successful collaboration was continued a year later: In Gerhart Hauptmann's social drama Die Weber (The Weavers), which tells of the misery of the Silesian weavers and their uprising in 1844, the 33 amateurs formed an authentic "chorus of the unemployed", who declaimed vociferously and full of rage, airing their fears and feelings of impotence in the face of high levels of unemployment and the German Federal Government's Hartz IV programme of welfare reforms. In preparation for this project, Volker Lösch and his dramaturg, Stefan Schnabel, had interviewed people from Dresden about their political views and visions, using this material to assemble an uncomfortable script that translated Hauptmann's play immediately into the here and now, to a city like Dresden. The production - which was certainly methodologically simplistic and caricatured - struck home like a bolt of lightning, and the potentially violent threat it implied caused a tremendous uproar.

The Weavers actually did go on to become the "scandal of the year" as which Bild-Zeitung had reported it straight after its premiere in October 2004. In November 2004, at the request of the theatrical publishers Felix Bloch Erben and the author's granddaughter, Anja Hauptmann, Berlin Regional Court issued an interim injunction that banned the Staatsschauspiel Dresden from putting the production on - a decision confirmed by the court in January 2005. The insertion of the choral passages, it was argued, contravened the German Copyright Act and should been approved by the publishers in advance. In parallel to this, the television presenter Sabine Christiansen had sued the theatre because she believed her personal rights were infringed by one of the passages spoken by the chorus ("The person I'd shoot straight off would be that Christiansen woman..."). However, her case was rejected.

Nevertheless, the Dresden "Weavers" were not prepared to be silenced. Volker Lösch collaborated with the cast to create a new, legally watertight version presented in February 2005 under the title Die Dresdner Weber. Eine Hommage an Gerhart Hauptmann (The Dresden Weavers: A Tribute to Gerhart Hauptmann) that was completely free of text by Hauptmann, but in the spirit of his work. It retained the controversial choral passages unabbreviated in all their rage and pungency, framed by texts from other authors, such as Goethe, Karl Marx and the Brothers Grimm. This too was an evening of resistance: explosive, socially relevant political protest theatre. After Berlin Higher Regional Court finally found that the ban on the original production was not tenable and overturned the ruling of the Regional Court in May 2005, the "old" version was performed in Dresden again. In the mean time, it had gone down in the history of public debate and theatrical scandal in Germany.

Having been director in residence at the Staatstheater Stuttgart since 2005, Lösch returned to Dresden once again in 2007 with a staging of Büchner's Woyzeck in similar style. In this case, his intention was to "drill deep down into the East German soul". What he brought to the surface in his forceful, disquieting images was not just the right-wing extremism of the middle classes at the centre of society, but also a feeling of fear: fear of the future, fear of losing social status, fear of being cheated, fear of foreigners, fear of the global market. The script was based on a written questionnaire answered by 529 theatregoers and was only loosely connected with the scenes of Büchner's play. Lösch merely kept the figures of Woyzeck, Marie and the Drum Major; the rest of the piece was made up of choral passages performed by a chorus that - divided into old and young - also told stories about the alienation and absence of communication between the generations.

At the Staatstheater Stuttgart, where he has been one of the key members of artistic director Hasko Weber's team over the last few years, Volker Lösch has perfected and varied the techniques he applies to anchor his drama in local politics, working with authentic voices and sensibilities from among the population. He made it abundantly clear in April 2005 that the people of Stuttgart should not expect any feel-good theatre from him when he staged Gogol's The Government Inspector, a Russian comedy of corruption written in 1835. He impudently tailored the action to circumstances in Stuttgart and transformed it into an angry social and political farce: an agonisingly funny turbo satire on the turbo capitalism sweeping through local government in Germany. In 2007, he went to Düsseldorf as a guest director, staging Dürrenmatt's Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit) in a similarly drastic, over-the-top cabaret style - but with less success.

His debut production as director in residence at Stuttgart in October 2005 was Dogville, based on the film of the same title by Lars von Trier. Lösch set the story of the Christ-like sufferings endured by the lovely Grace in south German Swabia. He got his actors to sing local folk songs and hymns and mash up kilos of apples from the Remstal valley to make apple puree as they first integrated the outsider Grace into their community, then humiliated and abused her appallingly. The scenes of violence prompted furious booing on the first night. Lösch's impressively rhythmic theatre of startling, emotionally clear images, with its choral group dynamic, got right under the audience's skin. In Lösch's version, Grace's father, who appeared in the stalls at the end, was not a Mafia boss as in the film, but the former head of the Mercedes central office in Stuttgart, who conducted a dispute about business, capitalism and responsibility with the naively arguing Grace (played by Dorothea Arnold). The next instalment followed in June 2008 with Manderlay, the second part of Lars von Trier's America trilogy, a discussion of the modern slavery suffered by exploited, low-paid workers.

In 2006, Lösch put a citizens' chorus on the stage in Stuttgart for the first time in Faust 21, an exploration of the gigantomania involved in major economic projects based on Goethe's Faust II. He linked Faust's desire for omnipotence and immortality with the responses of Stuttgart residents to questions like "What are you afraid of?" and "Why are wars necessary?" The chorus's staccato rage again had the potential to be enormously exiting and impressive, but as a whole the evening amounted to little more than rather simplistic, loosely associative criticism of globalisation. Lösch recruited a chorus of 16 women from Turkish backgrounds for a version of Medea based on the play by Euripides, and when he turned to Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe (St. Joan of the Stockyards), Brecht's didactic play about mass unemployment and capitalist wheeling and dealing, he persuaded exemplary representatives of Stuttgart society - from the City Mayor and the chairman of Stuttgart VfB football club to people living on benefits and a priest who works with the poor - to speak in recorded video clips while a chaotic food fight raged on the stage, the actors pelting each other with Leberkäse, a type of meatloaf well known as a speciality of the region. The stench of the meat drifted almost unbearably into the stalls. Lösch's Johanna did not die of her naivety at the end, but slit the throats of the rich, for: "Only violence helps where violence rules."

Aesthetically, one can certainly have reservations about some of Lösch's productions. Often - as in the case of Jelinek's Ein Sportstück (A Sport Play) in Leipzig -, the results are too cartoonish, rely on rough-and-ready agitprop methods, show a lack of polish and fail to offer psychological insights. "His choral theatre sometimes comes close to slipping over the line into sloganeering. Instead of polyphony, monosyllabic inarticulacy imposes itself," judged Stefan Kister in Die Welt. But no one could deny that Lösch's work is forceful and dynamic, sets a furious pace and possesses an amazing explosive power. His productions are unruly and oppositional. They take our collective pulse and sound out social structures. They represent popular theatre at its best, its most political and, yes, its most radical.

Christine Dössel

Productions - A selection

  • Giuseppe Verdi "The Robbers (I Masnadieri)"
    2015, Nationaltheater Weimar
  • Giuseppe Verdi "Macbeth"
    2013, Theater Magdeburg
  • Wolfgang Borchert "Outside the Door"
    with texts from »Soldaten. Protokolle vom Kämpfen, Töten und Sterben« (i.e. "Soldiers. Journals of Fighting, Killing and Dying") by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer

    2013, Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin
  • Robert Harris "The Fear"
    2013, Theater Basel
  • Beate Seidel/Volker Lösch after Peter Stripp "Rote Erde" (i.e. "Red Earth")
    2012, Schauspiel Essen
  • Albert Camus "The Just Assassins"
    2012, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • Volker Lösch/Beate Seidel "AltArmArbeitslos. Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten" (i.e. "OldPoorOutofwork. The Musicians of Bremen")
    2012, Bremer Theater
  • Volker Lösch/Beate Seidel "Metropolis/The Monkey Wrench Gang" (i.e. "Metropolis/The Monkey Wrench Gang")
    With Texts by Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou, Edward Abbey and Citizens of Stuttgart
    2011, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • After Frank Wedekind "Lulu - Die Nuttenrepublik" (i.e. "Lulu - Republic of Bitches")
    2010, Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin
  • After the Brothers Grimm, children of Hamburg and their parents
    "Hänsel und Gretel gehn Mümmelmannsberg" (i.e. "Hänsel and Gretel go Mümmelmannsberg")

    2010, Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg
  • William Shakespare "Titus Andronicus"
    2010, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • After Maxim Gorki "Night Asylum Stuttgart"
    2009, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • Alfred Döblin "Berlin Alexanderplatz"
    2009, Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz
  • Max Eipp "Wut" (i.e. Anger")
    2009, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • William Shakespeare "Hamlet"
    2009, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • free after Marat/Sade von Peter Weiss "Marat, what has happened to our revolution ?"
    2008, Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg, Invitation to the Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Lars von Trier, Manderlay
    German premiere: 2008, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • Matias Faldbakken, The Cocka Hola Company
    2008, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • Georg Büchner, Woyzeck
    2007, Staatsschauspiel Dresden
  • Medea - a project based on Euripides
    2007, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • After Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit)
    2007, Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf
  • Bertolt Brecht, Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe (St. Joan of the Stockyards)
    2006, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • Elfriede Jelinek, Ein Sportstück (A Sport Play)
    2006, Schauspiel Leipzig
  • Faust 21, based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust II
    2006, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • Lars von Trier, Dogville
    German premiere: 2005, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • Nikolai Gogol, The Government Inspector
    2005, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • Volker Lösch/The Cast, Die Dresdner Weber. Eine Hommage an Gerhart Hauptmann (The Dresden Weavers: A Tribute to Gerhart Hauptmann)
    2005, Staatsschauspiel Dresden
  • Gerhart Hauptmann, Die Weber (The Weavers)
    2004, Staatsschauspiel Dresden
  • Carl Sternheim, Die Hose/Der Snob/1913 (The Bloomers/The Snob/1913)
    2004, Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People
    2003/04, Theater Oberhausen
  • Aeschylus, The Oresteia
    2003, Staatsschauspiel Dresden
  • Sarah Kane, Blasted
    2001, Schauspiel Bon
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  • Federico García Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba
    2000, Schauspielhaus Graz
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Dirty Hands
    1999, Schillertheater NRW/Wuppertal
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris (Iphigenia on Tauris)
    1998, Schauspiel Essen
  • Bertolt Brecht, Im Dickicht der Städte (In the Jungle of the Cities)
    1997, Landestheater Tübingen