The director of the Vienna Burgtheater, Claus Peymann, has been named the new artistic director of the world-famous Berlin Ensemble. Peymann, who is to assume the new post at the start of the 1999-00 season, presented his plans on Friday for the legendary Theater on Schiffbauerdamm.
He intends to renew the ensemble's once-primary focus of presenting world premieres of the most important contemporary German-language drama, a calling which won the theater great renown under the leadership of the playwright/directors Bertolt Brecht and Heiner Muller.
Berlin's cultural senator Peter Radunski stated that Peymann's contract, signed after a year of negotiations, will run until year 2004. Key to Peymann's acceptance was the promise by Berlin's city senate to support the theater with subsidies of at least 15 million marks each year, and to increase this sum once again after the year 2000.
Senator Radunski has succeeded in attracting one of the most prominent personalities in German-speaking theater to Berlin. He expressed the expectation at Friday's press conference that Peymann would "lead the Berlin Ensemble again to the forefront of German theater." Additionally, he stated his hope for "a more fruitful dialogue between culture and politics" in Germany's new capitol city.
Peymann has already begun to guide the conceptional work at the Berlin Ensemble. He revealed plans to include a prominent "living author" in the ensemble's roster. He stated that the "B. E." should regain its reputation as one of the primary attractions of the city. He also emphasized his aim to help tear down the east-west division which he feels still exists in the minds of many German artists. Peymann announced that the historic Theater am Schiffbauerdamm would be extensively renovated and that a new rehearsal stage would be built. To pay for these plans, Berlin's cultural administration will draw upon state lottery profits.
The Berlin Ensemble, founded by Brecht and Helene Weigel in 1949, began floundering after the death of artistic director Heiner Muller in 1995. A crisis in leadership followed when Muller's successor, actor Martin Wuttke, resigned in the fall of 1996 to protest impending subsidy cuts. Since then, stage director Stephan Suschke and financial director Peter Sauerbaum have served as interim directors.
Peymann's work as theater director in Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Bochum in the 1970s and 80s earned much attention and praise. His leadership of Vienna's Burgtheater since 1986 has been accompanied by controversy surrounding his critical attitude towards Austrian politics and history. Nonetheless, his acclaimed productions of Shakespeare and Thomas Bernhard are consistently sold-out, and the Burgtheater under Peymann has enjoyed the reputation as one of the leading German-speaking theaters.
--By Scott Lawton