Suddenly everything is over again. On February 1, Carl Philip von Maldeghem announced by press release that he would not take up the directorship of the Schauspiel Köln, for which he had been chosen by the city administration 1. What remains is the discrediting of the city administration of Cologne, in particular of its head of cultural affairs, Susanne Laugwitz-Aulbach, who had still defended the election of Maldeghem on 31. 1. with the argument that he stood “for a free and innovative concept of culture”. 2. Maldeghem summarizes the way his plans were criticized in Cologne as follows: “A ‘theatre of participation’, which caters ‘without aesthetic and artistic scissors in mind to the widest possible audience’ does not seem to have been wanted in Cologne.” 3. The following commentary was essentially written before Maldeghem’s withdrawal.
The decision to establish Carl Philip von Maldeghem, previously artistic director of the Landestheater Salzburg, as future artistic director of Schauspiel Köln from the season 2021/22 on is not as surprising as most commentators think. It joins a series of decisions by the city administration to appoint directors from smaller theatres to Cologne, like Klaus Pierwoß (1985-1990 who came from Tübingen) and Marc Günther (2001-2006 who came from Bolzano). Pierwoß had an outstanding team of dramaturgs (including Joachim Lux, later to become head of Thalia Theater Hamburg), he managed to keep the audience stable, but he achieved little national attention. The employment of Frank Castorf for his first production in the West was an achievement only in retrospect. Although Marc Günther could come up with a bunch of interesting young directors, they all delivered their worst work in Cologne and disappeared again. And in directing his own productions, Günther failed catastrophically.
Probably the interest of the city administration, which after all was advised by the well-experienced Rolf Bolwin (former director of Deutscher Bühnenverein, the association of all German theatres), was less directed to the director than to the solid organizer and administrator Maldeghem. The examples of his predecessors in Cologne show that a non-directing theatre manager must be able to promote a creative and cooperative atmosphere in his house and to achieve this, he must pursue artistic goals himself. As a director, Maldeghem seems above all to have experience in entertainment theatre (Schauspielbühnen in Stuttgart, musical productions in Salzburg). This will be of little use to him in Cologne, where Schauspiel Köln has a more demanding audience.
Maybe Maldeghem would be in better hands in Bonn, where the city is trying to shrink its theatre so that they can – after the model of Salzburg – finance a sumptuous Beethoven festival. From Mozart to Beethoven, that would at least be a chronologically obvious development.
OB Reker’s justification of the election Maldeghem
What is amazing about the choice of Maldeghem above all is the reasoning of the city administration. Mayoress Reker justified her decision for Maldeghem by saying that “the theatre does not belong to politics, and certainly not to the city leaders, but to the people of Cologne.” 4. What kind of criterion for choosing a director is that? Does that mean there are directors who think theatre is owned by politicians? Or rather, are there directors who think the theatre is theirs? What idea of politics is this? What kind of understanding of local self-government? How could politics own something? Or how could a local institution belong to the city’s top politicians? Is not the Mayoress elected by the people of Cologne to act for them?
Negating the populist criticism of representative democracy only promotes its affirmation. The pattern of thinking that politicians own the state is also confirmed in its negation because no other pattern is offered. No one dares to say that the city’s theatre serves the good of all the citizens of the city, even if not everyone goes there. The “belonging”, the concept of property, is completely wrong for determining the relationship between citizen and state. One needs the concepts of representation and delegation of power to characterize this relationship.
A citizens’ stage for Cologne
One of Maldeghem’s few statements about his future plans for Schauspiel Köln is that he wants to set up a citizens’ stage. With such a stage Cologne would only catch up with a development which has evolved in many theatres since Volker Lösch’s staging of Hauptmann’s “Die Weber” in Dresden in 2001. Wilfried Schulz has also established such a citizens’ stage in the neighbouring city of Düsseldorf. Understandably, the theatres want to create audience loyalty with such an opportunity for everyone to play a role in professional theatre, because the Stadttheater is in a crisis of legitimacy and suffers from loss of viewership (which is masked only by overproduction, the increase of projects of the “Fifth Division”) [2nd see. Thomas Schmidt, Theater, Krise und Reform. Eine Kritik des deutschen Theatersystems. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2017, p. 40], but this format also fits in with the social development which leads to populism in politics.
In a society in which the theatre competes with a variety of entertainment and educational media, each of which develops its own marketing strategies, the theatre must also do marketing. Of course, the Stadtheater can use the appeal of playing a role on a professional stage (but then it should also go beyond a therapy for vitalizing pensioners). The fact that there is always an oversupply of actors in the theatre in the face of a lack of viewers is probably due to the deep anthropological roots of the need to play a role before others. Acting was never an understaffed profession. But the justification of these citizens’ stage projects often goes beyond satisfying this need, which originally was catered to by the many amateur theatre groups, and disparages the spectator. In the presentation of the citizens’ stage of Volkstheater Rostock e.g., it states: “The aim is to regard the citizens of a city not only as spectators, but to include them as co-designers and discussion partners at eye level in the artistic work.” The “not only” obviously carries a derogatory meaning, because the “co-designer” of the Bürgerbühne will be honoured as a partner at “eye level”. The spectator does not really look the actor in the eye. The spectator squints, as is insinuated by this formulation, from a frog’s perspective to the stage as a submissive subject.
The emancipated spectators of Cologne
The justification of such concepts of participatory theatre often refers to Jacques Rancière’s essay “The Emancipated Spectator,” because emancipation of the spectator is described there as “the blurring of the boundary between those who act and those who watch” 5. It is overlooked that Rancière does not mean that the audience should become actors. He describes three tendencies of contemporary theatre: 1. the total work of art, 2. the hybridization of the means of art, both lead to “stupidity”. Rancière advocates 3. : the spectator as an “active interpreter”. He wants to equate the theatre stage with “telling a story, reading a book or looking at a picture”. “It takes viewers to play the role of active performers who work out their own translation to appropriate the ‘story’ and make it their own story.” 6. This is perhaps a justification of the theatre of Laurent Chétouane, but not of a civil stage 7.
During the artistic directories of Karin Beier and Stefan Bachmann, the audience of Schauspiel Köln had many opportunities to emancipate themselves in this sense. Hopefully, it will stay that way.
- see Nachtkritik, the commentary by Dorothea Marcus, Kölner Stadt Anzeiger, Press Release Salzburg ↵
- Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger 1.2.2019 ↵
- KStA 1.2. 2019 ↵
- quoted by Andreas Rossmann, in: FAZ, 25.1.2019, p.9; Andreas Wilink quotes Reker with the even flatter version “The theatre belongs to the people”. see nachtkritik.de ↵
- Jacques Rancière, Der emanzipierte Zuschauer. Wien: Passagen, 2nd edition 2015, p. 30 ↵
- p.33 ↵
- Even Juliane Rebentisch’s statement that Rancière does not want to rehabilitate the “aesthetic fiction” or the “traditional box set” does not change the fact that Rancière’s theory cannot be used as a justification for the concept of the citizens’ stage. Rebentisch believes that aesthetic experience can emerge above all “where participation becomes reflexively thematic through artistic intervention.” (Juliane Rebentisch, Theorien der Gegenwartskunst, Hamburg: Junius, 2013, p. 89) Rebentisch refers to performative practices in which the audience observes the performance while at the same time being part and medium of the performance. But that is not the case with the usual concepts of the Bürgerbühne. Citizens’ stages cannot be justified aesthetically, but only socially, either as therapeutic social work or as a marketing measure of audience building. ↵