Erwin Friedrich Maximilian Piscator (17 December 1893 – 30 March 1966) was a German theatre director and producer and, along with Bertolt Brecht, the foremost exponent of epic theatre, a form that emphasizes the socio-political content of drama, rather than its emotional manipulation of the audience or the production's formal beauty.
Portrait of Piscator, c. 1927
Erwin Friedrich Max Piscator
17 December 1893
|Died||30 March 1966 (aged 72)|
|Occupation||Theatre director, producer|
|Known for||Founded the Dramatic Workshop at The New School for Social Research (1940).|
|The Political Theatre (1929)|
|Style||Epic Theatre, Documentary theatre|
|Spouse(s)||Hildegard Jurczyk (m. 1919)|
Maria Ley (m. 1937)
Erwin Friedrich Max Piscator was born on 17 December 1893 in the small Prussian village of Greifenstein-Ulm, the son of Carl Piscator, a merchant, and his wife Antonia Laparose. His family was descended from Johannes Piscator, a Protestant theologian who produced an important translation of the Bible in 1600. The family moved to the university town Marburg in 1899 where Piscator attended the Gymnasium Philippinum. In the autumn of 1913, he attended a private Munich drama school and enrolled at University of Munich to study German, philosophy and art history. Piscator also took Arthur Kutscher's famous seminar in theatre history which Bertolt Brecht was also later to attend. He began his acting career in the autumn of 1914, in small unpaid roles at the Munich Court Theatre, under the directorship of Ernst von Possart. In 1896, Karl Lautenschläger had installed one of the world's first revolving stages in that theatre.
During the First World War Piscator was drafted into the German army, serving in a frontline infantry unit as a Landsturm soldier from the spring of 1915 (and later as a signaller). The experience inspired a hatred of militarism and war that lasted for the rest of his life, as well as a few bitter poems, published in 1915 and 1916 in the left-wing Expressionist literary magazine Die Aktion. In summer 1917, having participated in the battles at Ypres Salient and been in hospital once, he was assigned to a newly established army theatre unit. In November 1918, when the armistice was declared, Piscator gave a speech in Hasselt at the first meeting of a revolutionary Soldiers' Council (Soviet).
In collaboration with the writer Hans José Rehfisch, he formed a theatre company in Berlin at the Comedy-Theater on Alte Jacobsstrasse, following the Volksbühne ("people's stage") concept, where in 1922–1923 they staged works by Maxim Gorky, Romain Rolland and Leo Tolstoy. As stage director at the Volksbühne (1924–1927), and later as managing director at his own theatre (the Piscator-Bühne on Nollendorfplatz), Piscator produced social and political plays especially suited to his theories. His dramatic aims were utilitarian — to influence voters or clarify left-wing policies. He used mechanized sets, lectures, movies, and mechanical devices that appealed to his audiences. In 1926, his updated production of Friedrich Schiller's The Robbers at the distinguished Preußisches Staatstheater in Berlin provoked widespread controversy. Piscator cut the text heavily and reinterpreted it as a vehicle for his political beliefs. He presented the protagonist Karl Moor as a substantially self-absorbed insurgent. As Karl's foil, Piscator made the character of Spiegelberg, often presented as a sinister figure, the voice of the working-class revolution. Spiegelberg appeared as a Trotskyist intellectual, slightly reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin with his cane and bowler hat. As he died, the audience heard The Internationale sung.
Piscator founded the influential (though short-lived) Piscator-Bühne in Berlin in 1927. In 1928 he produced a notable adaptation of the unfinished episodic comic Czech novel The Good Soldier Schweik. The dramaturgical collective that produced this adaptation included Bertolt Brecht. Brecht later described it as a "montage from the novel". Leo Lania's play Konjunktur (Oil Boom) premiered in Berlin in 1928, directed by Erwin Piscator, with incidental music by Kurt Weill. Three oil companies fight over the rights to oil production in a primitive Balkan country, and in the process exploit the people and destroy the environment. Weill's songs from this play, like Die Muschel von Margate are still part of the modern repertoire of art music.
In 1929 Piscator published his own work on the theory of theatre, The Political Theatre. In the preface to its 1963 edition, Piscator wrote that the book was "assembled in hectic sessions during rehearsals for The Merchant of Berlin" by Walter Mehring, which had opened on 6 September 1929 at the second Piscator-Bühne. It was intended to provide "a definitive explanation and elucidation of the basic facts of epic, i.e. political theatre", which at that time "was still meeting with widespread rejection and misapprehension." Three decades later, Piscator felt that:
In 1931, after the collapse of the third Piscator-Bühne, Piscator went to Moscow in order to make the motion picture Revolt of the Fishermen with actor Aleksei Dikiy for Mezhrabpom, the Soviet film company associated with the International Workers' Relief Organisation. As John Willett put it, throughout the pre-Hitler years Piscator's "commitment to the Russian Revolution was a decisive factor in all his work." With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Piscator's stay in the Soviet Union became exile. In July 1936, Piscator left the Soviet Union for France. In 1937, he married dancer Maria Ley in Paris. Bertolt Brecht was one of the groomsmen.
During his years in Berlin, Piscator had collaborated with Lena Goldschmidt on a stage adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's bestselling novel An American Tragedy; under the title The Case of Clyde Griffiths and with Lee Strasberg as director, it had run for 19 performances on Broadway in 1936. When Piscator and Ley subsequently migrated to the United States in 1939, Piscator was invited by Alvin Johnson, the founding president of The New School, to establish a theatre workshop. Among Piscator's students at this Dramatic Workshop in New York were Bea Arthur, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Ben Gazzara, Judith Malina, Walter Matthau, Rod Steiger, Elaine Stritch, Eli Wallach, Jack Creley and Tennessee Williams.
Piscator returned to West Germany in 1951 due to McCarthy era political pressure. He was appointed manager and director of the Freie Volksbühne in West Berlin in 1962. To much international critical acclaim, in February 1963, Piscator premièred Rolf Hochhuth's The Deputy, a play "about Pope Pius XII and the allegedly neglected rescue of Italian Jews from Nazi gas chambers." Until his death in 1966, Piscator was a major exponent of contemporary and documentary theatre. Piscator's wife, Maria Ley, died in New York city in 1999.
|In lieu of private themes we had generalisation, in lieu of what was special the typical, in lieu of accident causality. Decorativeness gave way to constructedness, Reason was put on a par with Emotion, while sensuality was replaced by didacticism and fantasy by documentary reality.|
|Erwin Piscator, 1929.|
Piscator's contribution to theatre has been described by theatre historian Günther Rühle as "the boldest advance made by the German stage" during the 20th century. Piscator's theatre techniques of the 1920s — such as the extensive use of still and cinematic projections from 1925 on, as well as complex scaffold stages — had an extensive influence on European and American production methods. His dramaturgy of contrasts led to sharp political satirical effects and anticipated the commentary techniques of epic theatre.
In the Federal Republic of Germany, Piscator's interventionist theatre model experienced a late second zenith. Several productions trying to come to terms with the Germans' Nazi past and on other timely issues made Piscator the inspirer of a mnemonic and documentary theatre from 1962 on. Piscator's stage adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace has been played in some 16 countries since 1955, including three productions in New York.
In 1980 a monumental sculpture by Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi was dedicated to Piscator in central London. In the fall of 1985, an Erwin Piscator Award was inaugurated that is annually being awarded in New York, the adopted city of Piscator's second wife Maria Ley. Additionally, a Piscator Prize of Honors has been annually awarded to generous patrons of art and culture in commemoration of Maria Ley since 1996. The host of the Erwin Piscator Award is the international non-profit organisation "Elysium − between two continents" that aims at fostering artistic and academic dialogue and exchange between the United States and Europe. In 2016, a Piscator monument has been raised in his birthplace Greifenstein-Ulm.
Arthur Kutscher (July 17, 1878 in Hannover – August 29, 1960 in Munich) was a German historian of literature and researcher in drama. Together with Max Herrmann he can be seen as a founding father of theatre studies in Germany. He was a professor at Munich University, where he taught a famous seminar in theatre history. Kutscher was a friend of the iconoclastic dramatist and cabaret-star Wedekind. His work influenced many playwrights, poets, and directors. His students included Bertolt Brecht (studied in 1917), Erwin Piscator (studied in 1913), Peter Hacks, Hanns Johst, Klabund, and Erich Mühsam. Brecht's first full-length play, Baal (written 1918), was written in response to an argument in one of Kutscher's drama seminars. While Kutscher was responsible for inspiring an admiration for Wedekind in the young Brecht, he was "bitterly critical" of Brecht's own early dramatic writings.Café Stefanie
The Café Stefanie was a coffeehouse in Munich which around the 1900s till the 1920s was the leading artist's meeting place in the city, similar to the Café Größenwahn atmosphere of the Café des Westens in Berlin and the Café Griensteidl in Vienna.
The cafe was located on the corner of Amalienstraße and Theresienstraße in the Maxvorstadt not far from the Simplicissimus cabaret and de:Die Elf Scharfrichter. At the time it was one of the few establishments in Munich which stayed open till 3:00 in the morning.
Regular patrons and visitors included Johannes R. Becher, Hanns Bolz, Hans Carossa, Theodor Däubler, Kurt Eisner, Hanns Heinz Ewers, Leonhard Frank, Otto Gross, Emmy Hennings, Arthur Holitscher, Eduard von Keyserling, Paul Klee, Alfred Kubin, Gustav Landauer, Heinrich Mann, Gustav Meyrink, Erich Mühsam, Erwin Piscator, Alexander Roda Roda, Ernst Toller, B. Traven and Frank Wedekind.Dramatic Workshop
Dramatic Workshop was the name of a drama and acting school associated with the New School for Social Research in New York City. It was launched in 1940 by German expatriate stage director Erwin Piscator. Among the faculty were Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, among the students Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Walter Matthau, Tennessee Williams and Elaine Stritch. The Dramatic Workshop considerably contributed to the resurgence of the Off-Broadway theatre.Epic theatre
Epic theatre (German: episches Theater) is a theatrical movement arising in the early to mid-20th century from the theories and practice of a number of theatre practitioners who responded to the political climate of the time through the creation of a new political theatre. Epic theatre is not meant to refer to the scale or the scope of the work, but rather to the form that it takes. Epic theatre emphasizes the audience's perspective and reaction to the piece through a variety of techniques that deliberately cause them to individually engage in a different way. The purpose of epic theatre is not to encourage an audience to suspend their disbelief, but rather to force them to think introspectively about the particular moments that are occurring on stage and why they are happening a certain way.Ernst Busch (actor)
Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Busch (22 January 1900 – 8 June 1980) was a German singer and actor.
Bush originated from a Kiel worker family. He started in life as a shipyard worker before he decided to make use of his acting and singing talent.Busch first rose to prominence as an interpreter of political songs, particularly those of Kurt Tucholsky, in the Berlin Kabarett scene of the 1920s. He starred in the original 1928 production of Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, as well as the subsequent 1931 film by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. He also appeared in the movie Kuhle Wampe.
A lifelong communist, Busch fled Nazi Germany in 1933, accompanied by his wife, Eva and with the Gestapo on his heels, initially settling in the Netherlands. By 1938 they had divorced, without acrimony, as their lives diverged. Eva settled in Paris while Ernst initially made his home in the Soviet Union where he worked with Gustav von Wangenheim on the 1935 film "Kämpfer" ("Fighters"). In 1937 he joined the International Brigades to fight against the Nationalists in Spain. His wartime songs were then recorded and broadcast by Radio Barcelona and Radio Madrid. After the Spanish Republic fell to General Franco, Busch migrated to Belgium where he was interned during the German occupation and later imprisoned in Camp Gurs, France and Berlin. Freed by the Red Army in 1945, he settled in East Berlin, where he acted in the first play to be produced in the American-occupied zone, Robert Ardrey's Thunder Rock. He would go on to start his own record label and work with Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator at the "Berliner Ensemble". A beloved figure in the German Democratic Republic, he is best remembered for his performance in the title role of Brecht's Life of Galileo and his recordings of workers songs, including many written by Hanns Eisler. He also made a memorable recording of "Peat Bog Soldiers".Eva Christian
Eva Christian (born Evelyne Gutmann; 27 May 1937) is a German actress who has appeared in numerous films since her 1958 film debut. Born in Berlin, she grew up in Romania, and made her stage debut at the Bucharest Comedy Theater. In 1962, she went to Germany, where she appeared at the Freie Volksbühne Berlin, under Erwin Piscator.Grillo-Theater
Grillo-Theater is a theatre in Essen, Germany. Named after the industrialist Friedrich Grillo, who made the building possible, it opened on 16 September 1892 with Lessing's drama Minna von Barnhelm.
The building was badly damaged in World War II; it was restored with a much simpler façade and re-opened in 1950 with Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Notable directors included Erwin Piscator, Jean-Louis Barrault, Heinz Dietrich Kenter, Hansgünter Heyme. Caspar Neher became head of design in 1927 and designed here eight operas and 11 plays.
In 1988, the role of the Grillo-Theater as Essen's major stage venue was taken by the newly constructed Aalto Theatre which also opened with Die Meistersinger. Following a major reconstruction by the architect Werner Ruhau and a reduction of the auditorium from 670 to 400 seats, the Grillo-Theater became a flexible smaller venue; it re-opened in September 1990 with Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.Hans Henny Jahnn
Hans Henny Jahnn (17 December 1894, Stellingen – 29 November 1959, Hamburg) was a German playwright, novelist, and organ-builder.
As a playwright, he wrote: Pastor Ephraim Magnus (1917), which The Cambridge Guide to Theatre describes as a nihilistic, Expressionist play "stuffed with perversities and sado-masochistic motifs"; Coronation of Richard III (1922; "equally lurid"); and a version of Medea (1926). Later works include the novel Perrudja, an unfinished trilogy of novels River without Banks (Fluss ohne Ufer), the drama Thomas Chatterton (1955; staged by Gustaf Gründgens in 1956), and the novella The Night of Lead. Erwin Piscator staged Jahnn's The Dusty Rainbow (Der staubige Regenbogen) in 1961.Jahnn was also a music publisher, focusing on 17th-century organ music. He was a contemporary of organ-builder Rudolf von Beckerath.Hoppla, We're Alive!
Hoppla, We're Alive! (German: Hoppla, wir leben!) is a Neue Sachlichkeit (or "New Objectivity") play by the German playwright Ernst Toller. Its second production, directed by the seminal epic theatre director Erwin Piscator in 1927, was a milestone in the history of theatre. The British playwright Mark Ravenhill based his Some Explicit Polaroids (1999) on Toller's play.Ivana Tomljenović-Meller
Ivana Tomljenović-Meller (1906 – 1988), born Ivana Tomljenović, was a graphic designer and art teacher from Zagreb who attended the Bauhaus art school in Germany.Her main interests were photography and poster design. She was also a semi-professional athlete.She studied at the Royal College for Arts and Crafts in Zagreb, now the Academy of Fine Arts, University of Zagreb, from 1924 to 1928, and after graduating went to the Kunstgewerbeschule (a college of applied arts) in Vienna, now the University of Applied Arts Vienna. However, she left Vienna in 1929 to attend the Bauhaus in Dessau. After undertaking Josef Albers' first year preliminary course she started the photography course taught by Walter Peterhans.Tomljenović-Meller took many informal photographs of everyday life at the Bauhaus, showing students in the canteen, and relaxing and socialising. These document the Neues Sehen (New Vision), an avantgarde movement of the 1920s and 1930s espoused by László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko. It encouraged photography of ordinary scenes which used unfamiliar perspectives and angles, close-up details, use of light and shadow, and experimentation with multiple exposure.Her father, Dr. Tomislav Tomljenović (1877 - 1945), was a prominent Croatian politician and lawyer, and although she came from an affluent middle class family, she joined the Communist Party of Germany and became politically active. When Hannes Meyer was dismissed from his post as Bauhaus director in August 1930, all known Communist students were also thrown out. A number of others, like Tomljenović, left in solidarity.She then went to Berlin and worked as a poster designer, and as a stage designer with the Dadaist artist John Heartfield on a theater set for Communist director Erwin Piscator. In the same period she participated in the European championship in Czech handball. Ivana then moved to Paris in 1931 to study literature at the Sorbonne. In 1932 she moved to Prague and married Alfred Meller, owner of the ROTA advertising company. After Meller’s death in 1935, Tomljenović-Meller returned to Zagreb and later moved to Belgrade, where she taught poster design. She returned to Zagreb in 1938 to teach at the Third State High School for Women. She stopped teaching during WWII, but resumed after the war was over until retiring in 1962. Tomljenović-Meller died in Zagreb in 1988.Jedermann sein eigner Fussball
Jedermann sein eigner Fussball ("Everyman His Own Football") was an illustrated bimonthly magazine published by Malik Verlag (Wieland Herzfelde's publishing house). The satirical periodical in tabloid format was published on 15 February 1919, and confiscated immediately on publication by the police. It included two photomontages by John Heartfield on the front cover and six line drawings by George Grosz. Texts by Herzfelde, Walter Mehring, Mynona; other contributors jointly credited include Richard Huelsenbeck, Erwin Piscator, Karl Nierendorf, and J.H. Kuhlemann. The cover's typeface and layout used satirise contemporary trends in conservative German newspaper design.
The issue contains photomontages such as Heartfield’s "Wer ist der Schönste? (who is the most beautiful?)," a proposed beauty contest of government leaders whose faces are playfully spread across an open fan. In spite of its absurdist amusements, this singular issue was a work of impassioned radical opinion, published only a few weeks after the communist revolt in Berlin had been quashed by Gustav Noske's Free Corps, and Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg executed. "Jedermann sein eigner Fussball" is an example of Berlin Dada in its most aggravated political phase.John Heartfield
John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfeld; 19 June 1891 – 26 April 1968) was a German visual artist who pioneered the use of art as a political weapon. Some of his most famous photomontages were anti-Nazi and anti-fascist statements. Heartfield also created book jackets for book authors, such as Upton Sinclair, as well as stage sets for contemporary playwrights, such as Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator.Kurt Hellmer
Kurt Hellmer, d 11 May 1975 was a literatus who, as a New York literary agent represented Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt, amongst others.
A widely experienced director and playwright in Germany and Austria, Hellmer, having fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, was a prominent figure in the German exile community in New York, editor of Aufbau, forcefully advocating avant garde forms and sensibilities such as the epic theatre of Brecht, the Theatre of the Absurd, advocating and advancing the work of such figures as Erwin Piscator.Hellmer became a producer and literary agent in the 1940s, representing, in addition to Frisch and Dürrenmatt, such figures as Sławomir Mrożek, Michael Noonan, Jacob Picard, and Jane Rule, and producing the work of authors such as George Bernard Shaw.Hellmer's ideals and commitments, both aesthetic and social, are illustrated by the instance of Jane Rule for whom he ultimately succeeded in securing publication of her first novel, Desert of the Heart, in 1963, at a time of considerable resistance to the publication of such work.Amongst others, Hellmer first represented the work of Alen Pol KobrynMaria Ley-Piscator
Maria Ley-Piscator (born Friederike Flora Czada, 1 August 1898 – 14 October 1999) is best known as the wife of Erwin Piscator (1893–1966), Germany's famous left-wing theater director. Born on 1 August 1898 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary (now Austria), Maria Ley sought to create a theatrical career for herself as a dancer in Paris and Berlin. Later, she turned to choreography and helped in several stage productions with Max Reinhardt, including A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Maria Ley also studied literature at the Sorbonne, where she met Erwin Piscator (her third husband) during his exile in 1936. After marrying in Paris, the couple moved to Manhattan in 1939, where they founded the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research. Their students included Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando and Tony Randall. Ley-Piscator directed several theatrical productions off Broadway.
During the 1970s she worked as a teacher at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale and at Stony Brook University. Ley-Piscator died in New York in 1999 at the age of 101.Neues Schauspielhaus
The Neues Schauspielhaus (English: New Theatre) at 5 Nollendorfplatz in the Schöneberg district of Berlin was built in 1905 as a theatre and concert hall (the Mozartsaal) in the then-fashionable Art Nouveau style. In 1911 the Mozartsaal was converted into a cinema with 925 seats.From the beginning of World War I the theatre turned into an operetta stage until in 1927, Erwin Piscator and Tilla Durieux opened their Theater am Nollendorfplatz in the building. Piscator created critical performances by playwrights like Ernst Toller and Walter Mehring, with artists like Bertolt Brecht, George Grosz and John Heartfield at times working with him. Piscator's theater went bankrupt in 1929, and he emigrated in 1931. After the Nazi takeover the house became an operetta theatre once again, now under the direction of Harald Paulsen.
While the auditorium was destroyed in World War II, the facade as well as the cinema survived and in 1951 was renamed the Metropol. Since 1977 it has been used as a discothèque and became a famous music club during the 1980s heyday of West Berlin, frequented by bands like Depeche Mode, Morrissey, The Cross, The Human League and Front 242. For a short time in 2000 it was the location of the KitKatClub and in 2005 the architect Hans Kollhoff remodeled the interior as the Goya night club.Otto Mainzer
Otto Mainzer (26 November 1903 in Frankfurt am Main – 28 June 1995 in New York City) was a German-American writer. He was unconventional, and wrote about issues such as free love.
Mainzer was the son of Bertha Loeb. He graduated in Law in 1928 and received his doctorate in law. He then worked as a lawyer at the Berlin Court of Appeal. When he removed in 1933 because of his Jewish origin, he emigrated to Paris. There he made the acquaintance of André Gide, Heinrich Mann, Arnold Zweig and Erwin Piscator, who supported him financially. At the time of his Paris exile, Mainzer became acquainted with the writings of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. Under the influence of Reich's ideas about sex-economy, Mainzer produced some major works on sexual coercion. In 1941 Mainz continued his emigration, and went to the USA. There he met his girlfriend Ilse Wunsch and lived for 25 years, "unmarried, in two different apartments, but in an intimate love relationship" until they married. After his death in 1995 his wife established the Otto-Mainzer-Preis in New York for the science of love, worth 5,000 U.S. dollars. The last prize was awarded in 2015.Piscator (Paolozzi)
Piscator, also known as the Euston Head, is a large abstract sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi. It was commissioned by British Rail in 1980 for the forecourt of Euston Station in London, and is named for the German theatre director Erwin Piscator.
The sculpture is made from cast iron with an aluminium finish, and was cast by the ironfounders Robert Taylor and Co. It measures 3.1 by 4.6 by 1.85 metres (10.2 ft × 15.1 ft × 6.1 ft). In making the work, Paolozzi was assisted by Ray Watson. The sides of the sculpture have silvered bumps and hollows; viewed from above, the top surface resolves into a blocky human body and face. It is described in Pevsner as "a silvered block with curved hollows, and rectangular shapes above".
In late 2016, it was reported that the ownership of the sculpture was unclear. It was commissioned by British Rail, which was privatised in the 1990s, and the sculpture may have been inherited by Network Rail, who owns the freehold of the land on which it sits. However, Network Rail has denied ownership, saying that the land is leased to Sydney & London Properties, but the leaseholders have also denied any responsibility for the sculpture. It has since been discovered that the Arts Council of England owns the work.
A series of six 4.5 inches (110 mm) models in bronze were also cast, with one held by the Science Museum.Political theatre
Political theatre is theatre that comments on political and social issues.The Power of Darkness
The Power of Darkness (Russian: Власть тьмы, Vlast' t'my) is a five-act drama by Leo Tolstoy. Written in 1886, the play's production was forbidden in Russia until 1902, mainly through the influence of Konstantin Pobedonostsev. In spite of the ban, the play was unofficially produced and read numerous times.