Is wealth through exploitation common in communism
SZ: Mr. Peymann, let's talk about money. Why are you the only Berlin theater maker to publish your audience figures every month?
Claus Peymann: I would love to take stock every day. (laughs) I feel a tremendous pressure to justify the taxpayers, from whom our theater receives a lot of money - and most of whom never go to the theater themselves. Other directors don't care, they gild their bums with subsidies and if they fail, they get huge severance payments.
SZ: Who for example?
Peymann: I do not say! In their performances they preach decency and behave like piglets themselves. I find that disgusting. Everyone should be clear: the theater is no longer the focus, so we have to justify ourselves more strongly. Otto Rehhagel says: Good football is when you win. I say: good theater is sold out theater. And I am the Berlin "king of the odds".
SZ: Maybe because you no longer provoke like you used to. The tourists love your classic productions. One critic writes about you: yesterday a must for the nation, today a coach.
Peymann: I am happy about every theater goer! Our game plan is risky and not commercial. Half of the authors are contemporaries: Handke, Strauss, Tabori, Bernhard - and of course Brecht. Our game plan is committed to enlightenment. Many theater people are not interested in that today. Is that old fashioned? Theater critics are so irrelevant! I've been panned for 20 years and I'm still here. Apparently I'm doing something right.
SZ: Why does the quota king need 10.5 million subsidies a year?
Peymann: Without it was only possible in the time of Sophocles and Aeschylus. The theater had 30,000 seats and was also used during the day. Today it only pays off when Harald Schmidt appears. In addition, with the subsidies we are only just outside the Gorki Theater, the poor house of the city. The Schaubühne, on the other hand, or the Deutsches Theater and the Volksbühne are swimming in money. I demand balance sheet figures from everyone!
SZ: Perhaps the occidental theater is a medium of yesterday.
Peymann: As long as there are people, there will be theater! Theatrical crises are repeatedly invoked from the outside, but: Theater is a crisis. Of course we make mistakes. Today the big stories that people crave are missing. You also run into exhibitions by the old masters and into the big films.
SZ: Why not to the theater?
Peymann: Today the theater has revealed its real strengths through an absurd exaggeration of the director. The critics cheer every director fart at the expense of the actors, who can only enchant an audience to turn a performance into a feast. And there is another problem: television steals our actors without participating in their training.
SZ: How do they steal?
Peymann: On television, even young actors get 2000 euros a day to play this unspeakable TV shit. Beginners earn 1,800 euros a month at the theater.
Continued on the next page: Who cares about the problems of the young directors?
SZ: It all sounds a bit like excuses for the weakness of the theater.
Peymann: Today theater sometimes turns into an egomaniacal navel gazing. Who cares about the problems young directors have with their cocks or mothers? In many places the theater has degenerated from a moral institution to a dirty shack. Of course, I have nothing against the nude on stage if it is convincing.
SZ: Why is globalization not an issue for you?
Peymann: We don't have the pieces to depict this globalization. Brecht could still do that. Contemporary drama is not interested in the threat posed by this extreme system of world capitalism. Exploitation is now finally possible on a global scale. Sometimes the grimace of capitalism becomes visible during this dance on the volcano. Take the crazy fees of the responsible manager. Europe has long been building a wall against which the Berlin Wall was a joke: against the Third World! And Africa rebels. Boat people in Tenerife and everywhere. Our wealth is stolen.
SZ: This thesis is completely out of date.
Peymann: You have to say yes otherwise you wouldn't have your job in the business section of the South German.
SZ: That does not release you from providing evidence for your thesis.
Peymann: I really have to explain that to you? In my opinion, globalization is the ultimate perfection of predatory capitalism. Where have the billions gone that were gambled away in American investment papers? Where? That is why I am staging "Heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe" here at BE Brechts. The story of a butcher who monopolizes the Chicago markets - and goes over dead bodies with the methods that are still common today: restructuring through mass layoffs, profit through price gouging. That's how capitalism works.
SZ: Brecht's solution was communism.
Peymann: Oh yes? Then I am a communist too, because I believe, like Brecht, that this world can be improved and must become more just.
SZ: In which country did your model ever work?
Peymann: That really is the stupidest question! (laughs)
SZ: We just want to learn from you. (laugh)
Peymann: You don't expect me to save the world. Am i jesus christ And even his dream of redeeming the world never came true. We cry out over human pain and the injustice of the world. Theater is a dream factory, utopia, laboratory of the future.
SZ: You revile the market economy that you like to use for your art. You love the competition or you wouldn't be posting audience numbers. And you organize the Berliner Ensemble as a GmbH - with you as boss and owner in personal union.
Peymann: The structure of the Berliner Ensemble is ideal! We have many freedoms that state theaters and state theaters never have. The advantage is that we can structure our budget in a targeted manner. We have to build up reserves - and have actually accumulated three million euros in profit in recent years. Such a profit is unique in the subsidized theater scene.
SZ: Time for a subsidy cut.
Peymann: To my chagrin, the mayor Klaus Wowereit thinks so too. But this cushion enables us to risk one-off major projects such as Peter Stein's "Wallenstein" - the highlight of the last theater season - and to continue working with Stein and Brandauer, or to bring out a "Threepenny Opera" with Bob Wilson.
SZ: You extend your director's contract yourself. If the Senate wants to get rid of you after the contract expires in 2009, it would have to pay a hefty severance payment. It's like your enemies, the US CEOs, who go with $ 70 million in severance pay.
Peymann: That would be great! (laughs) But unfortunately that's not the case.
SZ: You would like to have the money.
Peymann: No, I've had enough. I don't need a dacha, a yacht or a house in Tuscany! Nothing for eternity! Theater people shouldn't be sedentary.
SZ: What does your villa cost here?
Peymann: 3272 euros rent, plus heating. Dreadfully. But I really wanted to live in a house with a garden for once in my life.
Continued on the next page: "You money freaks expose me to nothing."
SZ: They earn a fee of 200,000 euros a year, it is said.
Peymann: If you say it, it will be true. I have no idea. I don't open the gray envelope.
SZ: How does your fee get along with the announcement that you are "a fang in the ass of the mighty"?
Peymann: Should I starve because I am for a different society? You money freaks from the SZ expose me to nothing. When I came to Berlin, I said to the Senator for Culture: I would like to earn 10,000 marks a year more than the best-paid director. That was Frank Castorf from the Volksbühne at the time. The fee has been approved. Afterwards I found out that I was earning 150,000 marks less a year than before in Vienna. I bit my butt.
SZ: Badly negotiated.
Peymann: Castorf has already renewed his contract twice and will definitely get more than me now. Unfortunately the senators don't tell me how much. (laughs)
SZ: We are sorry for you. At 70 you also receive a pension, right?
Peymann: Three even. 900 euros normal pension from Germany, for which I have paid for decades. 1100 from the Bavarian Insurance Company and 2100 Euro Wiener Burgtheaterpension, which are very Austrian called "rest time pleasures".
SZ: Relationships with playwrights were important to you. After George Tabori’s death, you wrote: Since Thomas Bernhard’s death I’m only half a person, now maybe not at all.
Peymann: You write it down like that. In truth, I am incapable of friendships. The theater swallows all of my sensual energy.
SZ: And your role as a father?
Peymann: I became a father when my marriage fell apart. Basically, I was a wicked father. Only now has the relationship with my son improved. I tended to take on the role of father - slowly, with skepticism - at the theater. It was asked of me. But that doesn't mean that I've ever shirked responsibility. I was always ready to make painful decisions. For example, to say to an actor: You cannot play this role, someone else is playing it.
SZ: The utopian Peymann is not a grassroots democrat in the theater.
Peymann: No. Artistic questions cannot be answered collectively. In this respect, art is a dictatorship. But that does not apply to the theater. The Berliner Ensemble is led in all areas by a wonderful and highly qualified team. Everything is transparent and is supported by everyone, almost always.
Peymann: I recently played the dictator and rented the house for a casting show by Dieter Bohlen. Everyone else thought that was terrible. But we got a lot of dough - enough to finance a production on the rehearsal stage with a young director.
SZ: Are you not inhibited at all?
Peymann: If it suits me, I'll have a Daimler put in the foyer if they'll give us 100,000 euros for it. We can then afford Brandauer, Wilson - or something else. Shakespeare was also paid by his queen and was nonetheless subversive.
SZ: Do you find it subversive to offer an internship to RAF terrorists like Christian Klar?
Peymann: In Klar you can find something of the tragic failure of our generation: Our desire for a better society, our anger at the war in Vietnam. How and with what can we defend ourselves? Where is the limit? If you are ridden down by a police horse like me during a demonstration in Frankfurt, it is only a small step towards illegality.
SZ: What was stopping you?
Peymann: I am not suitable for Robin Hood. My work in the theater is my political work.
SZ: No matter how much you grumble about the critics, you can tell that the lack of popularity in recent years pains you, this accusation that your performances are museum-like.
Peymann: Sometimes the museum is the better world: A place for new beginnings and a place to preserve the good and not to forget. I don't want to become a cynic to survive. Hope remains my principle. People recognize that. Solidarity with the weak and the powerful, pulling off the mask, that is the starting point. The artists shape the face of a country. Otherwise there would only be Angela Merkel and Roland Koch in this country. If I didn't have this hope, I would have better become a bank director. I would certainly have done that very well!
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