- Reinhardt, Max
- (Max Goldmann, 1873-1943)Director, actor, manager. Reinhardt is among the most significant figures in the entire history of the German theater. He was both the herald of a new era and a fulfillment of nearly everything that had gone before it. His work is among the most researched, documented, and studied of any in the modern theater; books, articles, symposia, entries, book chapters, and essays about him continue to proliferate. Among Reinhardt's numerous contributions was the recognition that the modernist sensibility demanded the reevaluation and reinterpretation of almost everything, coupled with an enthusiastic embrace of the technological. Reinhardt saw that modernism was a revolution in perception, not just a rejection of previous standards and practices.Reinhardt accomplished that perception initially in acting, because he had himself begun as an actor—playing older men's parts while still in his early 20s. Otto Brahm discovered him in Salzburg and brought him to Berlin in 1894 to play the pastor in Gerhart Haupt-mann's Die versunkene Glocke (The Sunken Bell), Engstrand in Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts, and Luka in Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths. Playing such older men at a young age taught Reinhardt that Naturalism was simply one style among many; he also learned that Brahm's devotion to Naturalism had a tendency to turn theater into a kind of flimsy pulpit. To Reinhardt, the theater was a much larger enterprise than mere literature or politics.Reinhardt began staging some plays for Brahm that later went on tour, and in 1898 Reinhardt and others formed the Sezessionbühne, or "Secession Theater," marking a stylistic break with Brahm's approach. In 1901 he, along with other Reinhardt actors, founded the Schall und Rauch (Noise and Smoke) at the Kleines Theater as a cabaret, parodying much of the work they did together under Brahm. The following year Reinhardt staged full-length plays in the Kleines Theater, and in 1903 he leased the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm (then called the Neues Theater) and ran it concurrently with the Kleines, getting rave reviews for productions of plays by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Oscar Wilde, and Frank Wedekind.When Brahm gave up his lease on the Deutsches Theater in 1904, Reinhardt wanted to take over the lease himself. He did so in the fall of 1905, agreeing to owner Adolph L'Arronge's stipulation that he give up his other theaters and dedicate himself exclusively to the Deutsches. By 1906, however, he and his brother Edmund had put together a group of "silent partners" that included Frankfurt publishers, Leipzig businessmen, Berlin physicians, some heiresses, and several others to purchases the property from L'Arronge. Reinhardt also purchased a dance hall adjoining the Deutsches Theater and converted it into a small chamber theater, which he called the Kammerspiele.In the years that followed, the Reinhardt enterprise purchased a number of additional properties, among them the Zirkus Schumann, the Berliner Theater, the Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna, and the Komödie am Kurfürstendamm in Berlin, and he leased several others. At one point, Reinhardt even ran the Berlin Volksbühne. From 1905 to 1930, Reinhardt directed 452 plays performed 23,374 times in a dozen locations, including the Salzburg Festival, which he co-founded (George E. Wellwarth and Alfred Brooks, Max Reinhardt, 1873-1973 [Binghamton, NY: Reinhardt Archive, 1973], 10). During his lifetime, Reinhardt ran 30 different theaters and companies, establishing an international reputation for innovation and daring. In the Wilhelmine period, he alone seemed capable of bypassing police censorship in dozens of plays previously thought "unstageable," while providing altogether new perceptions of Shakespeare. He put on 2,273 Shakespeare performances in Berlin alone.Reinhardt's strongest influence was in Berlin, where he dominated theater life until 1933. He was nearly always at the center of most experimental undertakings, attracting some of the most gifted young artists of two generations. Among the first were Alexander Moissi, Ernst Deutsch, Alexander Granach, and Gertrud Eysoldt, whom Reinhardt cast because of their distinct "otherness." Yet he cast the traditional Albert Bassermann numerous times as Mephisto, Lear, Wallenstein, or Shylock, and likewise in provocative plays by Carl Sternheim. Reinhardt had as early as 1900 arrived at the extraordinary conclusion that every play was different, each in most cases requiring a different directorial and scenic approach. That was true even of Shakespeare, as his stagings for A Midsummer Night's Dream repeatedly demonstrated. Reinhardt's use of the stage revolve for Midsummer productions (there were a dozen of them between 1905 and 1934) has been well documented; his use of the plaster skydome is less well understood, for it allowed him to deploy subtle, diffused light onto the stage floor. Light diffused over the skydome created an infinite sense of depth and space behind the pictorial elements. He dispensed with old-fashioned footlights and overhead light battens as well, replacing them with instruments in coves that divided the stage area into distinctive acting planes (J. L. Styan, MaxReinhardt [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982], 118); such techniques popularized a modernist lighting ethos by accentuating architectural features in the abstract. It refined, distorted, or punctuated columns, steps, arches, platforms, or other geometrical shapes to suggest "un-localization," often resulting in self-referentiality. That was especially true when Reinhardt selected a visual motif around which he created an entire production.Such efforts led critics to accuse Reinhardt of sumptuous styliza-tion, using embellishments merely for the sake of decoration. Such accusations were rarely accurate, though Reinhardt's wide-ranging eclecticism prompted him often to emphasize a unifying principle in an attempt always to provide his audiences with a satisfying experience; his was never a subsidized theater, and he was keenly aware of the need for ticket sales in everything he undertook. His entrepre-neurship is indeed one of his most remarkable attainments as a theater manager, and he was expert in delegating responsibility in many areas of production. Yet Reinhardt himself remained in full command of nearly every production staged at his theaters prior to 1914, creating a Regiebuch, or production stage book, for each. In the book was laid out in precise detail, even before any rehearsals had taken place, nearly every aspect of a planned production.Reinhardt's influence on subsequent developments in the German theater was enormous, and not only because his "reign" as its preeminent director lasted so long. The techniques he developed had a powerful influence on the numerous directors and actors who worked under him. His "inclusiveness" of material in his repertoires from the Far East, from Arabia, and from every historical period of the Western tradition exposed audiences to aesthetic dimensions previously unimagined. His embrace of myriad styles, from the realistic to the distinctly symbolic, from the modestly intimate to the exorbitantly presentational, provided audiences with new sensations, ideas, and possibilities for theater as an art form.
Historical dictionary of German Theatre. William Grange. 2006.