Volksbühne am Rudolfplatz "Schlüssel zur Kultur" and more!

Interview with Gerlando Alfeo: Press and Marketing manager at Volksbühne am Rudolfplatz Theatre, Cologne.

ETD: What’s your name?

Gilly: My real name is "Gerlando Alfeo", that's Italian, but people call me Gilly, so it's been that way since I was in school, and it's spelled with a G, which is usually a female first name!

ETD: It's a beautiful name!

Gilly: Yes, it is! As a half-Italian, I have no problem with it, because the Italians, the men, also have names like Andrea or Simone, so the gender confusion is no problem for me at all. And with the name "Gilly", because that was my nickname since childhood, it's also my stage name.

ETD: Are you from Cologne?

Gilly: Not originally, I come from the Ruhr area. I've been living in Cologne since 2000 (exactly!). My children were born here, so I feel like a Kölner. I studied here in Cologne for 4 years. I also lived in Holland, so when I was 18 I was gone, completely moved out from my family home.

ETD: And what do you do professionally?

Gilly: I'm an actor and have been for over 20 years, since 1999, and I've been a permanent member of the ensemble, Springmaus Improv Theater, and I'm still working there.

Here at the Volksbühne am Rudolfplatz, I’ve also played with Springmaus, as well as with the Impro Musical. We've also played here and that's how my relationship with the Volksbühne came about. I also did all the background work for the Impro musical, so a lot of the press work, photo editing; things like that. Last October, when Angela Krumpholz left relatively quickly and suddenly for the opera I was asked if I would be interested in joining the team and working here. As an artist this of course helped me a lot to have a steady income. I have 3 children (laughter!).

ETD: Very sensible! Good idea!

Gilly: But as it turns out, the collaboration will probably last longer, not only because of Corona, but also because I enjoy it very much! I like the people and I’ll still be involved in the theatre in the long term, on and off stage. That's at least the plan, or how I interpret the job here. I do the necessary Press and public relations (you know all about that yourselves!), but beyond that, I'm now also hired as a creative here. We're all very good at our trade but there's never been one who thinks a bit "outside the box" or approaches the whole thing from the creative side.

ETD: That is very important!

Gilly: Yes, exactly, and that’s been recognized, so that’s also my job now, and part of what I’m responsible for.

ETD: Oh, nice! Really pleased for you and the Volksbühne! And do you have an ensemble of actors here who are permanently employed?

Gilly: No, the Volksbühne am Rudolfplatz is currently a guest performance venue! In the past however, when this was the Millowitsch Theater, until about 2015, they would produce and perform their own productions. Then, there was a transition process. Peter Millowitsch himself and his productions only played half of the year, and the other half was filled with guest performances. Axel Molinski, who is responsible for scheduling and guest performances, designed the program. That was the case for a few years, but by that point it was already clear that Peter Millowitsch was slowly withdrawing. I think the closing date was even brought forward! It’s naturally a difficult process when you know the plan is to withdraw, and so at some point it was a completely organic conclusion for the Millowitch Theater to withdraw. I don't know exactly when but it was 2018 that he played here for the last time. Since then, there have only been guest performances; there’s no resident ensemble working here.

Last October, "Himmel und Kölle", the new Cologne musical, had its premiere. Of course, they also worked a lot here before the pandemic started, and the plan was that they would perform for a longer run here. But I wouldn't go so far as to call it a resident ensemble, but rather an external production company that performs here. They would have had dates into February, but they will still perform their production here when the theatre is back. Besides that, there were other shows in the pipeline, for example the "Mausefalle/The Mousetrap" from ETD would also have been coming here in March as you know, (we all laugh and cry at the same time!) ...It’s of course sad that it can no longer take place.

We’re very broadly positioned here in terms of content. With some incoming shows you don't know what you're going to get. On the other hand, there's something for everyone: concerts, cabaret, theatre and musicals.

ETD: A good mix!

Gilly: Yes, it's nice to see it that way!

ETD: You mentioned Peter Millowitch, we also know him from the Komödie, Düsseldorf, is there still any connection at all with him and the Voksbühne?

Gilly: No, in the meantime there's hardly any. There were plays like "Opa wird Verkauft" that were performed here, but the play was then treated like a usual guest performance. Other than that, he hasn't had anything to do with the theatre. It was a process that, I think, was not so easy for him, at least that how I perceive it from a distance, because the Millowitsch family clearly didn’t want the theater to continue to use the family name.

ETD: And why not? So that it's something different, something new?

Gilly: Yes, exactly. I mean, it has its’ advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand it's good to know there's now something new, something different happening. On the other hand, the name is of course so well-known and established that it certainly would have had economic advantages if it had been allowed to continue using the name. But the family signified that they didn't want that.

Because the Volksbühne e.V., is an association that arose at the beginning of the twentieth century out of a social democracy, to produce theatre for the people, the theatre kept the name of the association, and gave the theatre the name, "die Volksbühne". "Am Rudolfplatz" was added so that it’s not confused with the Volksbühne in Berlin, for example.

ETD: For us as English Theatre Düsseldorf, we naturally want to know if something new and exciting to bring English theatre to the stage here? What does that mean for the Volksbühne?

Gilly: I think what's special for us is that this play was/is to be performed in two languages ("The Mousetrap / Die Mausefalle"). I’d thought about the advertising already, that we could record a few amusing clips, where we see each cast performing but speaking the other cast’s language. So, you would see the German production speaking in the English language and vice-versa; that could be great advertising! That is now my job here, to create interesting advertising ideas. Maybe we can still do that with ETD in the summer!

ETD: We'd love to, what a great idea!

Gilly: Apart from that, "The Mousetrap" was already here once in English, in 1987. So apparently the Volksbühne has already had a production in English, but I think it was an exception at the time.

ETD: We now to the Corona situation; how are things currently for the Volksbühne?

Gilly: It's like this, we don't have so many permanent employees here. “Kurzarbeit” (reduced hours) gives us financial support to make it possible to keep our employees on here. We've received some subsidies, and there are a few applications on the way, so we can’t complain too much right now. We feel that we’ve been well supported and taken care of. We’ve actually used this opportunity for renovating and modernizing the theatre. We’ve been able to compensate some of this by renting the theatre out for filming. Just before Christmas for example, some shows were filmed here, which were later streamed online. We’ll soon have Kasalla back again for a visit, who traditionally bring such a huge show to the stage here once a year. This year they’ll do it as a stream which will be filmed here. [...] In addition, we’re all trying to do our bit to support the theatre here by giving a part of our salary to the preservation of the theatre.

ETD: And what about the audience? Is your audience aware of what's going on here with the corona situation?

Gilly: Partly ... that ties in very nicely with our padlock campaign. So far, we've had a very positive response. We didn't start this campaign for the sake of money. The idea that a donation could be used to hang up a lock only came to us later. Actually, the idea was that everyone who comes by simply hangs up a lock, out of affection. Then we noticed that (naturally, during lockdown!) people aren’t really out and about at the moment! (Laughter!!!) It was a naïve assumption perhaps… 😊

ETD: But just now, when we were outside, we saw 2 people walking by and they stopped, looked, and took photos! It really is a great, eye-catching idea!

Gilly: It's well received because it's immediately understood. Firstly, for locals I think it’s this connotation and association with these love locks that one knows from the bridge. And secondly, I think there's no "pity" in it, but just a sign of affection. Because people find the idea so wonderful and so recognizable, they like to participate.

ETD: And the future... What's next for the Volksbühne?

Gilly: When the situation is over at some point, the Cologne City Museum will actually use the fence as an exhibit for an exhibition about Corona. That's nice, of course, if it's perceived positively in that way! We’ve already discussed here that it's necessary and in our best interest if other theatres follow suit. This is not an exclusive trademark of ours, but if others put up a fence as well, it has the same symbolism. That applies to ETD too! Go ahead and do it! Join us!

ETD: Unfortunately, we don't have our own theatre yet, but we also think that the fence is a great idea as a sign of solidarity! You started it, so hopefully it will spread!

Gilly: Some things need a little time. The city of Cologne communicated on its website today (28.01.21) that a ban on performing remains in place until 31.03.21. It’s therefore clear to us that the fence will remain here for a while. In fact I’ve had to order new metal bars for the fence because we need more interfaces! Let’s hope there’s enough space for your padlock!!!

ETD: (Luckily we found just right the spot for us 😊)

Gilly: I must say, through the donations, a good amount of money has already come in! It's great! Of course, we've had many small donations, but there have also been others who've said, "I’d like to donate 100 €". Another company said "we’ll donate 200 €" for a padlock, and so in the end, a good sum has come in. And at the moment, truly every euro helps!

ETD: Thank you Gilly for this interview! We wish the Volksbühne am Rudolfplatz all the best and we look forward to seeing you again, on stage, very soon!

If you would like to find out more about the campaign and how you can support the Volksbühne, go to their homepage: http://volksbuehne-rudolfplatz.de/

If you would like to support English Theatre Düsseldorf in their upcoming projects, go to our "support us" page here.