Essays in part one of Theatre History Studies, Vol. 35 address theatrical production in very specific historical contexts, among them German theatre “from the rubble of Berlin” and German nationalist mass spectacles. Essays in part two are devoted to the theme of “Rethinking the Maternal” in contemporary and historical theatre. Also included is the Robert A. Schanke Award-winning essay “Whispers from a Silent Past: Inspiration and Memory in Natasha Tretheway’s Native Guard,” a keynote essay by Irma Mayorga, and eighteen reviews of new book publications of note.
Theatre History Studies, published since 1981 by the Mid-American Theatre Conference (MATC) is a leading scholarly publication in the field of theatrical history and theory. The conference encompasses the states of Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. The purpose of the conference is to unite persons and organizations within the region with an interest in theatre and to promote the growth and development of all forms of theatre.
About the Author
Sara Freeman is an associate professor of theatre at the University of Puget Sound. Freeman is a coediter of International Dramaturgy: Translation and Transformations in the Theatre of Timberlake Wertenbaker and recently staged Spring Awakening, the musical.
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Theatre History Studies
2016 Volume 35
By Sara Freeman
The University of Alabama PressCopyright © 2016 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
Berlin's "First Responder" Artists, 1945–1946
Theatre and Politics from the Rubble
— REBECCA ROVIT
"We are alive. Our house is still standing; and I am engaged in the general theatre business again," Fritz Wisten reported from Berlin in 1946 to a fellow artist. Born Moritz Weinstein in Vienna (1890), the former director of an all-Jewish theatre in Nazi Germany (1939–1941) survived the war in Berlin. His non-Jewish wife and his position at the helm of an eight-year cultural organization and its theatre, the Jewish Kulturbund, had afforded him some protection within the Nazi regime. But Nazi law mandated that he wear the Star of David as he labored in a Berlin factory. He was not permitted to join non-Jews in his neighborhood bomb shelters during frequent air raids that occurred during the 1940s. Like other Jews left in Berlin, he waited for the Soviet military to liberate the city from the Nazis. Still reeling from the devastating events of World War II, in spring 1945 Wisten nonetheless enlisted considerable effort in reviving Berlin's cultural landscape. He was one of the "first responder" theatre artists to forge a new direction in an environment that lacked a "cultural compass." By the time Germany capitulated to the Red Army and the Allied Powers arrived in Berlin later that summer, the physical devastation and the administrative upheaval that accompanied the war had destroyed the city's infrastructure, eradicating all "familiar points of reference — of community, of social and cultural networks" for disoriented Germans caught in the transition. The vibrant reemergence of culture in the direct wake of war resulted from the way leading theatre directors and performers in Berlin coordinated their artistic endeavors even before Soviet and Anglo-American power put into policy the parameters for a new cultural life.
Theatre historians have not adequately documented this "zero hour" (Stunde Null) for theatre practice, the moment so aptly described by historian Richard Bessel as when Germans, having experienced "destruction, defeat, disease, death and destitution on an unimaginable scale ... went to hell and, in 1945, began to come back." My focus on the immediate aftermath of World War II in Berlin (1945–1946) uncovers a surprising resurgence of cultural life in Berlin as the Red Army took over, sharing governance with the Allied Western command, from April 1945 through that autumn. Cultural officers in all of the occupied zones recognized the political power of culture, which led them to subsidize theatre. Officers in the Soviet-led Magistrat and the Allied forces also knew that the theatre could be a useful conduit for bringing recent history to the public. This article adopts a microhistorical lens to highlight the cultural and sociopolitical aftermath of war in Germany's capital city. My reliance on archival research of previously unpublished documents and personal interviews reveals how a loosely connected group of seasoned theatre artists, including Wisten, directors Wolfgang Langhoff and Karl-Heinz Martin, and playwrights Friedrich Wolf, Hedda Zinner, and Günther Weisenborn, for example, began to restore cultural life as early as spring 1945. These artists — Jews, non-Jews, and German citizens of predominately leftist political leanings — had been at the forefront of the avant-garde prior to the war. Their commitment to producing socially relevant and topical dramatic work conveyed an insistent appeal for audiences to take moral responsibility for a postwar Germany in transition. Their active engagement with the theatre season of 1945–1946 discloses how an emerging cultural policy in the newly occupied East sector versus the West would shape the dramatic repertoire for years to come.
This exploration of an under-researched but significant turning point in twentieth-century history allows us to consider the reappearance of a cultural conscience in Berlin in the direct aftermath of war before the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic were officially founded, in 1949. Why has the artistic work achieved in the twilight years of regime transition received so little attention in theatre scholarship? By focusing on a group of theatre makers and their early collaboration we may readdress historiographical questions about the prevalent notion, particularly in the United States, that Bertolt Brecht, Helene Weigel, and their Berliner Ensemble predominately steered the direction of postwar German theatre, especially in the East. I suggest that we reevaluate the cultural significance of the immediate postwar period by crediting the contributions of those first-responder artists who began to restore theatre in Berlin three years before Brecht emerged from exile (1948) to manage the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm (1954) that Wisten had led for seven years. To this end, this article highlights the interrelated web of artistic cooperation that existed among directors, playwrights, and performers, particularly Wisten, Weisenborn, Wolf, and Langhoff, whose collaborative work significantly influenced the programming of the repertoire at the Hebbel Theater and Deutsches Theater. If we agree with Peter Davis that a microfocus on individual artists may reveal the larger structures of cultural and sociopolitical power, thereby correcting "grand historical narratives," as noted by Filippo de Vivo, then a microhistorical gaze within the "gaps" of theatre history in the immediate aftermath of World War II may expose an extraordinary interplay of forces that defined cultural policy for the ensuing decades.
Germany's division into four occupied zones affected the development of culture in the summer of 1945. The three major military victors considered Berlin a special case: each of them, the Soviet military, American-Anglo forces, and the French, would govern separate city sectors and manage cultural output. Cultural activities resumed more quickly in Berlin than in other occupied zones in Germany, where 86 percent of all theatres had been destroyed or badly damaged. Between June and December 1945 in Berlin alone, 121 theatre premieres took place outdoors, in half-ruined theatres, or in taverns, district halls, and school auditoriums. Long before it was clear what kind of society would emerge from the rubble of war in the "fifth zone" of Berlin, the newly installed Soviet Military Administration (SMAD) under General Nikolai Bersarin made it a priority to enlist intellectuals, theatre and opera directors, and performers to fill the cultural vacuum. How did SMAD and the Allied Western Command broker cultural policies to shape early postwar theatre in what by autumn 1948 would be an increasingly divisive city? This question is essential to my exploration into the continuity of theatremaking, including repertoire, by artists like Wisten who, while advancing the artistic avant-garde in the Weimar Republic, had been pushed into exile or incarcerated in the Third Reich, yet returned to aid in rebuilding Berlin's cultural life after 1945.
The theatre season of 1945–1946 represents a transitional period in Germany's theatre history. During this year, Wisten reengaged himself in theatre, while Langhoff and playwrights Wolf, Zinner, and Weisenborn returned from exile and from Nazi prison camps to resume their theatre careers in Berlin, the former epicenter of culture. I will consider two play productions staged two months apart at one theatre in Berlin's West sector, the Hebbel Theater, marking the start of 1946 in Germany's capital: Friedrich Wolf's Professor Mamlock: A Tragedy of a Western Democracy (1933), directed by Wisten, and Günther Weisenborn's world premiere of The Illegals (1942–1945), directed by Franz Reichert. Both plays draw directly on the experience of ordinary Germans during the Third Reich, highlighting anti-Semitism, opportunism, and complicity with — versus resistance to — the Nazi state tyranny. Even while Soviet and Anglo-American sector administrators were at odds in defining a new German theatre culture, the playwrights promoted their activist belief that theatre could be used as a "weapon" to jolt audiences into an awareness of their recent history. Did their plays provide directors like Wisten with a paradigm for politically engaged theatre that would characterize the repertoire in the East and West zones? Or were these staged productions exceptions in a repertoire given to featuring classics rather than new work and to emphasizing freedom of spirit rather than the reality that citizens colluded with the Nazis? Wolf and Weisenborn chose different ideological alliances — and district zones in which to work — but their shared vision of humanity for their country's future necessitated a communal reckoning about Germany's difficult past.
Such an analysis inevitably points to the intricate planning initiatives of the competing occupying powers responsible for reestablishing a national and local infrastructure in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Wolf and Weisenborn's plays came to the stage amid the disjunction between the Soviet push for a "hasty normalization of cultural life" in Berlin based on New Socialism and the Anglo-Saxon forces' more cautious efforts to "de-Nazify" the German populace and guide a broken nation toward a Western-style democracy. As Josef Foschepoth reminds us, although the Americans wanted to oversee "structural changes" within the conquered nation, the aim of American Occupation policy was primarily to make sure that Germany would not endanger international security. This objective had ramifications for cultural policy. David Monod has made clear, for example, that cultural officers in the American occupation zone had to reestablish the arts in an environment tainted by the fact that many performing artists, especially in the music sector, had collaborated with the Nazi regime. Officers thus focused their reeducation efforts on a denazification program. This caused a conflict, however, between core American goals for formulating cultural policy under a military occupation: how to both control and democratize the arts and punish those artists who had worked with the Nazis yet still allow for some freedom of the arts.
Berlin 1945: Recircuiting the Theatre Infrastructure
It is vital to understand the complexity of Berlin's situation in 1945. By many accounts, the first three years of foreign occupation appear to have been marked by an openness that, according to Wolfgang Schivelbusch, embodied "a relative cultural independence, and power," even on the part of the Soviets. Manfred Uhlitz points to the speedy implementation of cultural life by the Magistrat. This included the publication and posting of a spate of newspapers as early as June, even while 1.5 million refugees roamed Berlin, public transportation was nonexistent in the city's core, and one-third of the urban street grid would still need repair as late as October. About the surprising reemergence of cultural life during the spring of 1945 Günther Rühle refers to an extraordinary "will" among artists to create theatre, which showed that respect for the power of art remained intact despite the "burdensome situation" in Germany. Hermann Glaser writes about the aftermath of World War II as a time of cultural euphoria and celebration by citizens yearning for "cultural riches." Indeed, eyewitness accounts by theatremakers attest to the postwar demand for cultural events: Late in 1945, Friedrich Wolf reports from Berlin on the high attendance at theatres despite such hindrances to theatregoing as steep prices, early curtain times, and difficult evening traffic jams so soon after the war's end. "It is ever clearer," he writes to his friend Langhoff, "what a decisive function a goal-conscious theatre serves especially these days."
Retrospective reports by eyewitnesses about the "theatre fever" that pervaded the devastated city refer to what Bärbel Schrader calls "an almost nostalgic awe at the unimaginable enthusiastic spirit" that allowed theatre to take place at all. Fritz Wisten's daughters corroborated this when they spoke about the extraordinary sense of opportunity that existed in Berlin after the oppressive years of the Nazi regime. Their father took advantage of this freedom and used it to make a difference in postwar theatre. In considering the response of citizens — particularly theatre artists — to a new postwar freedom under foreign military rule, it is useful to recall Schivelbusch's description of the historiography of victors and those vanquished, which he has described in terms of a "defeat empathy." Such a postwar dynamic involves the occupying military force and those conquered at the "home front." Detailing the psychological phases that civilians undergo, Schivelbusch notes the initial "elation" at having survived. However, this "Dreamland period" is jolted by an "Awakening," wherein people seek to remove the "victor who freed us" and sense a betrayal when the occupying forces do not leave. According to Foschepoth, the Germans resisted the occupation forces, though the "first year under Soviet policy was better than expected," especially as the Americans behaved more like occupiers than liberators. The paradigm of how civilians respond to military occupation in the wake of war offers a provocative way to think about the reaction of cultural leaders in post–World War II Berlin to the control of their country by international forces. During the first months and year, the liberating "Dreamland" of opportunity appeared to outweigh the very real impediments to life under a recent dictatorship, subsequent war zone, and government takeover by multinational forces.
At the same time, evidence exists to suggest that well before an eventual German defeat seemed inevitable, Soviet leaders planned how to "Sovietize" local populations in their zone of occupation; and in 1943 and early 1945, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill met to discuss how they would lead as victors over the Nazis. More specific to cultural policy, a group of German Communists in Moscow exile (including Friedrich Wolf) gathered in late September 1944 to discuss the guidelines for a cultural policy modeled on the Soviet Union for the new Germany they envisaged after a Red Army victory.
The Ulbricht Group centered around members dedicated to the German Communist Party (KPD) who would become political leaders of the German Democratic Republic: Wilhelm Pieck, Walter Ulbricht, and Otto Grotewohl. Besides the playwrights Wolf and Hedda Zinner, the group included theatre directors, actors, and literary critics with Communist sympathies: Maxim Vallentin, Gustav von Wangenheim, Fritz Erpenbeck, and Johannes R. Becher (the future Minister of Culture for the GDR), all of whom a year later would head theatres and promote through their plays and publications a politicized concept of theatre. Their idea of a "unified and continuous production of literature and criticism" would initiate a "new German national theatre culture" whereby plays and staged productions could be used as an "antifascist action" to "re-educate the German soul of the people" (Volksseele). The guidelines emphasized a commitment by the Communists to "antifascist programmatic goals" through propaganda and artistic means, repertoire, cadre (elite activists), and organization. With the Nazis' capitulation in May 1945 and the concurrent return to Berlin of the Ulbricht Group, the literary and performing arts featured prominently in the "master plan" for Berlin's political future. By looking at the relationship that artists like Wisten, Wolf, and Weisenborn, for example, developed with authorities in the East and West sectors, a link may be made between the early cultural agenda in Berlin and the repertoire in the first theatre seasons. This, in turn, points to the potentially significant role of theatre to extend beyond mere entertainment, to create dialogue, and thereby to enlighten people (Volksbildung).
The Cultural Chamber (Kammer der Kunstchaffenden)
General Commander Bersarin, a former ambassador to Berlin in the 1920s, entered the capital city with the Red Army during the Battle for Berlin in late April 1945. Days before Hitler committed suicide, and amid battles in the streets of Berlin, Bersarin swiftly set rules for public life under the new occupation. It is noteworthy that in establishing evening curfews for citizens, he specifically permitted the attendance of theatre, circus, and cinema in events in Berlin until nine o'clock in the evening. One of his first appointments in late April was to delegate Clemens Herzberg as the Magistrat's managing representative for Cultural Affairs, an office that became the Chamber of Creative Artists (Kammer der Kunstschaffenden) in the ensuing Soviet Military Administration (SMAD), located — and not by chance — at the former site of the Nazi Reich Chamber of Culture in what would be the British-occupied district. The Jewish-born Herzberg assembled Berlin's artistic directors of opera and theatre and reconvened acting ensembles so that cultural life could resume quickly. Former artistic directors on site were best situated to restart their cultural undertakings. Heinz Tietjen (State Opera), Gustaf Gründgens (National Theatre), Ernst Legal (Schiller Theater), and Paul Wegener were among those directors who led theatres under Nazism. Wegener was the only one of the group who openly had espoused an antifascist stance during Hitler's regime. Within two weeks, he replaced Herzberg at the helm of the cultural chamber. For the sake of expediency, SMAD officials tried to reestablish a cultural infrastructure right away.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
Introduction Sara Freeman x
Part I Studies in Theatre History
Berlins "First Responder" Artists, 1945-1946: Theatre and Politics from the Rubble Rebecca Rovit 7
"Would You Die for the Fatherland?": Disciplining the German Commemorative Body Scott Venters 39
Shocking the System: The Arts Council, the British Council, and the Paradox of Cherub Theatre Company Brian E. G. Cook 73
The Long View of World Theatre History Steve Tillis 95
Part II Special Section: Rethinking the Maternal
Introduction to Part II Karen Bamford Sheila Rabillard 125
Poisoning the Mother/Land: An Ecofeminist Dramaturgy in José Riveras Marisol and Cherríe Moraga's Heroes and Saints Arden Elizabeth Thomas 143
Making a Spectacle: Motherhood in Contemporary British Theatre and Performance Jozefina Komporaly 161
Un/Natural Motherhood in Marina Carr's The Portia Couglan, and By the Bog of Cats… Karin Maresh 179
Flying Babies and Pregnant Men: Staging Motherhood in Marina Carr's Low in the Dark Jennifer Douglas 197
Mothers, Daughters, Identity, and Impossibilities Rhona Justice-Malloy 219
"She Was Always Sad": Remembering Mother in Caryl Churchill's Not Enough Oxygen and A Number Margaret Savilonis 233
"Who Let in One of Them Mothers?": Maternal Perversity on the American Musical Stage Jennifer Worth 255
Decolonizing Motherhood: Images of Mothering in First Nations Theatre Ann Haugo 269
Part III Essays from the Conference
The Robert A. Schanke Award? Winning Essay Whispers from a Silent Past: Inspiration and Memory in Natasha Trethewey's Native Guard Chandra Owenby Hopkins 287
Keynote Address: On Being Inspired En Ser Inspirad Irma Mayorga 301
Part IV Book Reviews
John Fletcher, Preaching to Convert: Evangelical Outreach and Performance Activism in a Secular Age Jay Ball 323
Florian N. Becker, Paola S. Hernandez, and Brenda Werth, eds., Imagining Human Rights in Twenty-First-Century Theater: Global Perspectives Amanda Boyle 325
Gary Wills, Making Make-Believe Real: Politics as Theater in Shakespeare's Time Alex Cahill 328
Kim Solga, Violence Against Women in Early Modern Performance: Invisible Acts Rachel Price Cooper 331
Rosemarie K. Bank and Michal Kobialka, eds., Theatre/Performance Historiography Time, Space, Matter Danny Devlin 333
Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva and Scott Proudfit, eds., A History of Collective Creation and Collective Creation in Contemporary Performance Sara Freeman 336
Leslie Atkins Durham, Women's Voices on American Stages in the Early Twenty-First Century: Sarah Ruhl and Her Contemporaries Jennifer Goff 341
Chris Jones, Bigger, Brighter, Louder: 150 Years of Chicago Theater As Seen By "Chicago Tribune" Critics Stuart J. Hecht 343
Jade Rosina McCutcheon and Barbara Sellers-Young, eds., Embodied Consciousness: Performance Technologies Scott C. Knowles 346
Gareth White, Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation Patrick M. Konesko 348
Robert M. Dowling, Eugene O'Neill: A Life in Four Acts, and Jackson R. Bryer and Robert M. Dowling, eds., Eugene O'Neill: The Contemporary Reviews Felicia Hardison Londré 351
Suraiya Faroqhi and Arzu Ozturkmen, eds., Celebration, Entertainment, and Theatre in the Ottoman World Duygu Erdogan Monson 354
Thomas L. Berger and Sonia Massai, eds., Paratexts in English Printed Drama to 1642 Patrick J. Murray 357
John S. Bale, Tennessee Williams: A Literary Life Wes D. Pearce 359
Bernth Lindfors, Ira Aldridge: The Early Years, 1807-1833, Ira Aldridge: The Vagabond Years, 1833-1852, and Ira Aldridge: Performing Shakespeare in Europe, 1852-1855 Kate Roark 362
Anne Fliotsos and Wendy Vierow, eds., International Women Stage Directors Reviewed by Emily A. Rollie 366
Lucy Nevitt, Theatre & Violence Michelle Salerno 369
Kurt A. Schreyer, Shakespeare's Medieval Craft: Remnants of the Mysteries on the London Stage Claire Syler 371
Books Received 375