Theatre Companies of the World - Vol. 2

By Colby H. Kullman; William C. Young | Go to book overview
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West Germany

INTRODUCTION

Perhaps no other country spends as much money on the theatre per capita as the Federal Republic of Germany. This was true in the ninteenth century and continues to be so today. The quality of theatre is, therefore, very high.

World War II had a devastating effect on German theatre. Not only were approximately 70 percent of all German theatres destroyed, but also many of the most talented theatrical figures emigrated. Among the great actors who left were Therese Giehse, Albert Bassermann, Fritz Kortner, and Ernst Deutsch. Among those who elected to stay were Gustaf Griindgens, Käthe Gold, and Heinrich Georg. Among the regisseurs, Max Reinhardt emigrated as did Erwin Piscator, while Griindgens, Heinz Hipert, and Walter Felsenstein remained. All the major playwrights except Gerhart Hauptmann left. No major play was written in Germany from 1933 to 1944.

Today a taboo remains against staging any play written during the Nazi era in any German-speaking theatre. The acting style in this period was heavily bombastic. Part of the work of the German intendants' theatre after the war was to get rid of the bombast, with the work of the (East) Berliner Ensemble leading the way.

By 1946 most of the major theatres were open after having been closed by Hitler in 1944. It was at once clear that things could not operate as they had before, however. In West Germany censorship was dead, though there are still movements, especially by conservative town councils, to revive it. The most amazing occurrence was the rapid recovery of the theatre, both in terms of acting and types of plays performed. The most important change in the postwar era was the enormous power of the regisseur.

In all the German-speaking countries (both Germanies, Switzerland, and Austria), the regisseur is in command of the theatre company. Most actors have objected to this power and, perhaps in self-defense, many have become regisseurs themselves.

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