CULTURE: THEATER. FROM THE MIDDLE AGES TO THE END OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Religious theater (in the forms of the Osterspiel, the Weihnachtsspiel, the Prophetenspiel and, above all, the Passionsspiel), managed first by the clergy and then by the guilds, and profane theater (with forms such as the Fastnachtsspiel and the Neidhartspiel) characterized the exceptional flowering of medieval dramatic literature. In the sec. XV there were examples of humanist theater (almost always in Latin), the gradual transformation of the Passionsspiel from religious drama to a pretext for a great show and the decline of comic theater, which became more and more crude and coarse. In the following century the Reformation again brought religious problems to the center of interest: the Passionsspiele became vehicles of Protestant propaganda, while the Catholic reaction was manifested above all in the Jesuit spectacles. In Nuremberg in 1550 H. Sachs opened the first permanent theater in an abandoned church; a few decades later, towards the end of the century, the first foreign companies came on tour, including above all the Englische Komödianten, who brought the lesson of the Elizabethan drama and gradually inserted themselves into the German context by also adopting its language, and the formations of comedians of the ‘Art, which were very welcome to the courts and helped to restore vitality to the popular comic theater. In the seventeenth century the professional companies led a poor life, acting in the courtyards of taverns, public halls or fairs, for an audience that often preferred puppets to them; in the courts the opera house triumphed, with marvelous machines designed by Italian scenographers; in schools or academies, Jesuits and Lutherans performed uplifting dramas. But the theater was still a phenomenon outside of culture: the baroque tragedy was destined more for the book than for the scene, where instead the farce dominated, with stereotyped characters and situations.
The first important reaction took place around 1730 on the initiative of the critic JC Gottsched, an inexhaustible champion of French classicism, who for a few years collaborated with the best professional company of the moment, that of FC Neuber, active with a repertoire of commitment and an unusual care in staging and acting. Neuber’s success did not last long and Gottsched’s ideas were soon the subject of harsh criticism, but the qualitative leap had now taken place. In 1767 a Deutsches National theater opened in Hamburg which he employed for a couple of years as Dramaturg G. E. Lessing. The example was soon followed elsewhere: each capital, small or large (Gotha, Mannheim, Weimar and Dresden were the most important) wanted to have its own theater, to be managed with artistic criteria. Shakespeare was introduced into the repertoireand the generation of Sturm und Drang took center stage. The eighteenth century ended with Goethe in charge of the Weimar Hoftheater and with his enlightening observations on the art of the stage. In the sec. XIX the trend already indicated towards a culturally relevant theater in every center of some importance extended and consolidated, often on the initiative of the courts, then of the cities or the Länder, in a process that continued without interruption, through wars and regime changes, until till today. The renewal of the scene according to modern concepts, advocated by Wagner, began with the small company of Duke George II Meiningen, who meticulously took care of the scenes and costumes and also gave prominence to the extras; he then continued in Berlin, where O. Brahm from 1889 paved the way for naturalistic theater with the performances of Freie Bühne and, five years later, he took over the direction of the Deutsches Theater, inaugurated in 1883. Here he was succeeded in 1905 by M. Reinhardt, which began a long series of directives, eclectic in taste but almost always suggestive in results.
CULTURE: THEATER. FROM THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC TO THE CONTEMPORARY AGE
At the beginning of the twentieth century the German theater was, along with the Russian one, according to Pharmacylib, the most prestigious in Europe; it confirmed and strengthened this position in the Weimar years, with the expressionistic staging of L. Jessner, with the forms of political theater of E. Piscator, B. Brecht and numerous amateur groups, with the experiments of O. Schlemmer at the Bauhaus. The work on the stage was accompanied by that on the public: an association, the Volksbühne (or Freie Volksbühne), which had existed since 1890 and reached 130,000 members, offered the workers’ organizations shows at very low prices, even produced directly. The Nazis forced many prominent artists into exile and gave space to propaganda texts, while the most talented directors took refuge in the formalistic recovery of the classical repertoire. In the ruin that followed the Second World War almost all the theaters suffered destruction; the stasis that ensued, however, was short-lived and theatrical life resumed with unchanged fervor. Very prestigious artists returned from exile in the United States, such as B. Brecht, who in 1949 founded his own company, the Berliner Ensemble with his wife H. Weigel., in East Berlin; E. Piscator, who took over the direction of Freie Volksbühne in West Berlin in 1962 and started the short season of the “document theater”; F. Kortner, who worked as a director in several cities. In West Germany, Berlin ceased to be the only capital and public theaters in centers such as Hamburg, Munich, Düsseldorf, Bochum, Frankfurt and Bremen, all with their own offices and all subsidized by the city or the Land, gained importance.. These bodies operate according to the repertoire system (i.e. alternating multiple shows, rather than exploiting them continuously until the potential audience is exhausted) and have solid organizational structures, long-term actors and technicians, and funding that allow periods of rehearsals. length unthinkable in any other Western country.
Over time, a generation of spectators sensitive to novelties has formed and this has allowed, together with the rich economic endowments and favorable working conditions, the formation and affirmation of directors such as P. Stein, RP Grüber, Claus Peymann, Zadek etc., and by playwrights such as P. Hacks, H. Müller, T. Dorst, Kreutz and Sperr, which allowed the German theater to regain the position of dominance it already had in the 1920s. In the German Democratic Republic, the theater instead became an instrument of political, social and ethical education, according to criteria – codified in 1954 with the creation of a Ministry of Culture – which nevertheless left room for different interpretations of the rules and also for a certain artistic autonomy. Furthermore, these norms were subject to changes, now in the sense of rigor, now in that of a certain laxity, according to the internal and international political situation. The most important theaters were, with the Berliner Ensemble, the Deutsches and the Volksbühne, conducted by B. Besson. However, except in the harshest years of the Cold War, there were very frequent exchanges between the two Germanys: authors and directors who lived in the East also worked in the West, and vice versa. Reunification has obviously posed reorganization problems which are gradually being resolved. However, there is no doubt that the German theater is today the most important in Europe due to the quality of its performances. An almost unbridgeable void left the premature death of H. Müller (1929-95), who also deprived the Berliner Ensemble, the legendary Brechtian theater, of which he was superintendent, of a guide. After the departure of his successor M. Wuttke, acclaimed interpreter-protagonist of the irresistible rise of Arturo U, in the latest Müllerian staging, the theater has regained vigor since 2000, in a Berlin that has fully returned to being the cultural capital of greater Germany, as well as a meeting point for different cultures. The puppet theater has always had great popular success in Germany, presented at fairs since the Middle Ages and then also in permanent venues, and circus shows, nomadic or permanent, staged since the nineteenth century by national companies (Renz, Busch, Schumann, Strassburger, Krone, Hagenbek, Gleich, Sarrasani etc.), which in the century XX have come to excel throughout Europe.