René Pollesch (1962-2024)

We are sad to learn of René Pollesch’s untimely passing.

His more than 200 plays are and will remain unique memories: René Pollesch did not write his texts to be staged beyond the performances he himself created together with his actors and scenographers. They were published in print, but he did not allow them to be restaged by others. They were personal, they were in the moment, precisely by being cut and pasted textual montages. Only weeks before Pollesch’s sudden and unexpected death on 26 February, his latest piece had premiered at the Volksbühne, which he led as artistic director since 2021. It was entitled Well nothing is okay, a solo evening with Fabian Hinrichs who had already starred in Pollesch’s Kill Your Darlings. The German playwright-director had studied in the legendary cohort at the Gießen Institute for Applied Theatre Studies under Andrzej Wirth and Hans-Thies Lehmann, which also produced Gob Squad, Rimini Protokoll, She She Pop and other protagonists of what Wirth and Lehmann called “post-dramatic theatre”. Pollesch in a unique way advanced the post-structuralist, post-modern (and not least post-Brechtian) collage and montage approach, playfully cutting and pasting paragraphs and references from contemporary philosophy, from films, songs, plays, social media and comic books. The actors on his stage, the foremost performers of contemporary German theatre from Birgit Minichmayr to Martin Wuttke, blurted, bellowed, shouted in Pollesch’s “discourse theatre”, as critics called it. There was no more action, no more roles, no representation – but a theatre that gained an exuberant and dynamic vitality in the very midst of the textual and congenial scenographic machinery that the late Bert Neumann and others created.

Pollesch became the darling of the 21st century theatre scene and urban intelligentsia across the German speaking countries – and while they laughed about the wit and esprit of Pollesch’s superficially banal textual outpourings, it escaped the most how his theatre exposed and ridiculed the intellectual and not least ethical vacuity of the dominant discourse and its celebrated protagonists. It was this vibrancy of engagement, this new way of thinking an epic-dialectic theatre of the present that, by refusing representation, all the more mirrored and critiqued the society within which it was embedded, that inspired and energised theatre makers across Europe – even if even they may not have understood a single word of the supercomplex montages. With Pollesch’s early death at the age of 61, the Volksbühne era that had commenced with Frank Castorf’s appointment in 1992, and where Pollesch had worked initially mainly in the satellite Prater stage, has come to its end. This is a loss for European theatre.