Piscator, Erwin

(1893-1966)
   theater* director and playwright; best known for his concept of political theater. He was born in the village of Ulm, near Wetzlar, to a local pastor; the family soon moved to Marburg. In 1913 he began studies in art history and philosophy at Munich; however, he was soon drawn to the stage. In the summer of 1914 he acted as an extra with Munich's Hoftheater. Drafted in 1915, he was politicized by the war (he was wounded in 1917). In Berlin* by 1918, he joined the Dada* group (he was fast friends with George Grosz*) and entered the KPD early in 1919. After creating Koänigsberg's Theater Tribunal in 1919, he returned to Berlin to open his Proletarian Theater; less auditorium than group, the Proletarisches Theater performed propaganda pieces in meeting rooms and small halls. Shifting to mainstream production, he assumed direction of Berlin's Central-Theater in 1923-1924 and then directed the Volksbuhne during 1924-1927. He worked in these years with Bertolt Brecht,* Max Brod, Ernst Toller,* and Walter Mehring.* With his Piscator-Buhnen (three separate companies), he devised elaborate sets; his best-known shows, mounted during 1927-1931, included Hoppla, wir leben!, Rasputin, Schweik, and Der Kaufmann von Berlin. His acclaimed book Das politische Theater (The political theater), published in 1929, is an autobiographical ren-dering of his work.
   Both Nazism and financial problems convinced Piscator to leave Germany in 1931. He went first to the Soviet Union,* where he made films* and led the International Revolutionary Theater Alliance, and then lived in Paris during 1936-1938. He sailed for New York in 1938 and began directing the drama workshop at the New School for Social Research in 1940. From 1962 until his death he was intendant at the Freie Volksbuhne in West Berlin. Above all else, Piscator aimed for "total theater," that is, an auditorium so equipped with tech-nology and sophisticated concepts that he could expose the full potential of the stage.
   REFERENCES:Edward Braun, Director and the Stage; Holderness, Schaustuäck und Lehrstuäck"; Innes, Erwin Piscator's Political Theatre; Patterson, Revolution in German Theatre; Willett, Theatre ofErwin Piscator.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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