Theater

   In no other cultural field was change in form and expression so closely related to sociopolitical currents as in Weimar theater; the Zeitgeist was mirrored by the theater. Expressionism* ruled in the immediate postwar years— that is, during the era when optimists envisioned a utopian future. Neue Sach-lichkeit,* with its pragmatic approach to reality, marked the Republic s goldene zwanziger Jahre (1924-1929) of apparent prosperity. Finally, a strident political theater exemplified the depression* years, when both electoral results and street violence underscored the polarization of society. Moreover, theater was at the core of public consciousness. Focused on Berlin,* Germany possessed an undue share of the best directors and producers, and these enjoyed the largest and most committed audiences. The extremes embodied on the stage—from the extro-verted passion of Expressionism to the militant stridency of political theater— paralleled the Republic s collective experience.
   Weimar theater was marked by a wealth of talent and creative energy. The work and ideas of Max Reinhardt,* Leopold Jessner,* Erwin Piscator,* and Bertolt Brecht* are seminal to twentieth-century theater. Yet it was neither the superb acting (e.g., Gustaf Gruändgens, Fritz Kortner,* and Werner Krauss*) nor the subject matter associated with these directors that made their work important. Although fascinating plays were written in the Weimar years—for example, Walter Hasenclever's* Der Sohn, Georg Kaiser's* Von Morgens bis Mitter-nachts (From morning to midnight), Ernst Toller's* Masse-Mensch (Masses and man), Brecht's Dreigroschenoper (Threepenny Opera), or Carl Zuckmayer's* Frohliche Weinberg (Merry Vineyard)—the crowds also flocked to Shakespeare, and the critics (e.g., Herbert Ihering* and Alfred Kerr*) attached equal weight to a staging of Schiller's Wilhelm Tell as to Fritz von Unruh's* Ein Geschlecht (One family). The era s renown is based largely on design and presentation. Reinhardt s use of a revolving stage, his theater-in-the-round, and his handling of crowds; Jessner s application of color and three-dimensional steps; Piscator s sophisticated technology (e.g., film* projected on the side of the stage) and political polemics; and Brecht s blend of music* and drama, his varied use of visual and acting techniques, and his "epic theater": all revolutionized the stage.
   Experimentation was not restricted to theater directors, or even to roles tra-ditionally associated with theater. While serious writers and directors embraced cabaret,* classically trained composers such as Paul Hindemith* and Kurt Weill* experimented with popular music, the architects Walter Gropius* and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy* designed theaters and stage sets, and the artist John Heartfield* made set designs while George Grosz* produced drawings for pro-jection in Piscator s plays. What resulted was an enriching of an already-excellent theater experience—one accessible to popular audiences.
   For many reasons, Weimar s best theater ended by 1930. Creative exhaustion and economic depression induced the curtailment of grants and cultural polari-zation. But as damaging as these factors were, competition from talking films had a greater impact. While many theaters closed in 1930-1932, and numerous actors and musicians lost their jobs, cinema houses flourished. With Hitler's* triumph, the era of theatrical experimentation—always a left-wing phenome-non—came to an end.
   REFERENCES:Laqueur, Weimar; Patterson, Revolution in German Theatre; Willett, The-atre ofthe Weimar Republic.

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

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