Unlike the municipal and state theaters, the private theaters live off the revenue from the box office and have to manage without subsidies. Hardly anyone knows it better than René Heinersdorff, who owns four such stages: in the North Rhine-Westphalia Theater an der Kö in Düsseldorf, the Theater am Dom in Cologne, the Theater im Rathaus in Essen – and in the southern part of the country, recently, the Komödie in the Bavarian court.
By agreement with the owner of Bayerischer Hof, Innegrit Volkhardt, he has been the new CEO and co-owner of the theater company Margit Bönisch GmbH since 26 October last year. Now Heinersdorff, who is also successful as a writer, director and actor, is an experienced boulevard theater man and as such also chairman of the private theater group of the German Theater Association. Nevertheless, the situation in Munich, where he took over the majority of shares with 51 percent, is also something special for him.
Because its co-owner is Thomas Pekny, who in the summer of 2021 was charged and acquitted of serious sexual abuse. Although Pekny still owns 49 percent of the shares, Heinersdorff said at a meeting of the Bayerischer Hof that he had committed to withdraw from the “operating company”. That means: no public appearances at press conferences or premieres to avoid further image damage to the traditional house. Pekny stuck to it until the recent premiere of “The Wedding Dress” in early May. Director: Heinersdorff, set design: Pekny.
“Of course it hits him hard that he has the feeling that he is no longer welcome in his house,” Heinersdorff says. At every chance encounter with artists, he considers who greeted him and who did not. Did Judith Richter, the lead actress in the “wedding dress”, say hello to him in the stairwell or not? “Legally, of course, he was acquitted, and the prosecution withdrew the appeal.” But that is only one side. On the other hand, he, Heinersdorff, found that two young actresses who recently accompanied him on tour were “frozen” when they happened to meet Pekny in Munich. “Why are you actually doing that?” He has often asked Pekny. It is incomprehensible to him why Pekny did not make a “cut” at the time and, for example, withdrew completely for half a year. It almost sounds as if he feels sorry for Pekny for not being able to let go and the consequent ghost existence.
Pekny’s bouquet to Luise Kinseher is a “breach of contract” for Heinersdorff
But only almost. For Monday night, Luise Kinseher had a guest appearance in the comedy. And Pekny finally gave her a bouquet of flowers on stage. A gallant gesture, one would think, in normal times no excitement. But in the special situation of the tabloid stage, yes. “I’m more than annoyed by this breach of trust and contract,” Heinersdorff says. “This is a breach of the notarized agreement he signed.” He does not want to accept it.
Of course, it is difficult for him to intervene immediately from afar. Heinersdorff has in recent weeks toured through Bavaria with Jochen Busse, Hugo Egon Balder and his play “Complex Fathers” – as a writer, actor and director in one. “In the meantime, I went to Munich to adapt the ‘Wedding Dress’ to the stage here,” says Heinersdorff, in this case “only” one director. Immediately, Stefan Vögel’s work employs a cheerful nothingness, which on closer inspection turns out to be a clever witty reflection on circumstances where goods (a wedding dress), budgets and partners are settled against each other and exchanged via Ebay. In “Complex Fathers,” which is coming to Munich this fall, Heinersdorff plays Björn, a middle-aged therapist with a boyfriend who is 20 years younger than him. She, in turn, has two fathers – one became her father, the other raised her. Both are now very skeptical of this Björn, who is looking for the “positive” in the complicated situation in the proven therapist manner. “After all, I’m younger than my in-laws,” Heinersdorff comforts as Björn’s girlfriend. He has the laughs on his side.
Heinersdorff tailored the two father roles to his friends Jochen Busse as Biedermann and Hugo Egon Balder as Sponti. “I can only write about what I know about myself or from my environment,” Heinersdorff says. He is 58, and thus at an age where one realizes that certain behavior patterns in men, especially in the context of the “Me-Too” debate, are no longer perceived by women as funny, naughty and charming, but “as behavior an old bag”. You need to be careful not to behave embarrassingly. It goes without saying that he does not spare the two actor war horses Busse and Balder for these embarrassments.
“Theaters will still spend some time winning back their audiences”
Heinersdorff comes from a theater dynasty. His grandfather, also named René, owned a concert hall in Düsseldorf, Ibach Hall. The parents ran a reputable concert agency. Mother Barbara founded (and bequeathed to him) the Theater am Dom in Cologne. His partner and mother of the three younger children is Tanja Schleiff, who was involved in the Bavarian State Theater for a long time. Does he dream that his four children – today between the ages of six and 17 – will one day continue the theater dynasty?
“I want to say it very clearly: I wish you did not want this job,” Heinersdorff says. “The unsupported theater management, as I practice it, is always self-exploitation; it only works for me because money is secondary to me and I have a good network.” In a way, it is “counterproductive” that he runs more theaters. “As a writer, I only make money if my game is taken over by other houses.” He succeeded with “Complex Fathers”: After the performance had been played in his own houses, it ran in Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn, Frankfurt and Neuwied. How do you do it? “Basically, I live in the Deutsche Bundesbahn,” says Heinersdorff. And finding original hotel accommodation is now his passion. “Right now I live in Amberger Fronfeste, a prison hotel with a 300-year history.”
How does the pandemic affect his home? “The theaters still have to spend some time winning back their audiences, that applies to us as well as to the city and state theaters,” says Heinersdorff. There is also a certain “lag of productions” which has been produced but which has not yet been played. Which brings you back to Pekny. He complained that he would only design two out of eight stage sets in Munich next season. “But it has to do with this very backlog of pieces,” Heinersdorff says. Regardless, he believes that greater variation in a house is advisable. “Neither stage design nor productions should always be in one hand – I too will only perform two pieces next season”.
What is characteristic of him in Munich? To whom there are also family ties, because his mother Barbara for a period was a partner in the little comedy am Max II. “The city has a theater audience that is used to quality. Although we tend to serve perishable entertainment dishes, it still needs to be well-played and handle contemporary themes with class.” A proven recipe is also to cast the pieces with prominent actors. But something else is even more important: “With us, the form must dramaturgically never dominate the content. Our audience must always have an understandable story.”