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The Aesthetics of Disruption: German Theatre in the Age of the Media

  • Erika Fischer-Lichte


In the early 1960s, certain new developments in Western theatre occurred which in some ways seemed to complete the process of the re-definition of theatre that was initiated by the historical avant-garde movement at the beginning of this century. In a decisive move against the long established bourgeois, educational and commercial theatre, now theatre was explicitly being defined as the “detailed investigations of the actor-audience relationship”. As before, this new definition led to the search for new theatre spaces and genres and a new manner of using signs where the focus shifted from the semantic to the pragmatic level. Performances were held in a disused workshop (Richard Schechner's Performance Garage in New York), a factory (Ariane Mnouchkine's Theatre du Soleil in a former munitions factory in Vincennes), a slaughter house (Bremen), in cinemas (Bremen and Bochum), in an exhibition hall (the Schaubuehne Greek project), in a film studio (the Schaubuehne Shakespeare project at the Halleschen Ufer 1976–7), in a tram depot (Frankfurt), in the 1936 Olympic Stadium in Berlin (Gruber's Winterreise 1977).



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1 Grotowski, Jerzy, Towards a Poor Theatre (London: Methuen, 1975), 15.

2 Theater der Nationen (Hamburg, 26 April-13 May 1979): 7.

3 Handke, Peter, “Strassentheater und Theatertheater (1968)” in Ich bin ein Bewohner des Elfenbeinturms (Frankftirt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1976, 4th ed.), 5354.

4 i.e. Leslie Fielder's cry to “cross the border, close the gap” was answered. Insofar, any discussion on theatre of the last thirty years is also a discussion of postmodernism. Since this aspect cannot be discussed in this context, the relevant literature is indicated here, see among others: Hoesterey, Ingeborg (ed.) Zeitgeist in Babel. The Postmodernist Controversy, (Bloomington, IN: Indianapolis University Press, 1991); Huyssen, Andreas/Scherpe, Klaus R. (eds.), Postmoderne. Zeichen eines Kulturellen Wandels (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1986); Reihen, Dietmar Kamper/Willem von (eds.), Die unvollendere Vernunf: Moderne versus Postmoderne (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1987); Weimann, Robert/Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich (eds.) Postmoderne - Globale Different (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1991).

5 Aragon, Louis, “An open letter to Andre Breton on Robert Wilson's ‘Deafman's Glance’” in Performing Arts Journal 1 (1976): 37.

6 Compare Schwind, Erika Fischer-Lichte/Klaus (eds.), Avantgarde und Postmoderne. Prozesse strukturelle und funktionelle Veraenderungen (Tuebingen: Gunter Narr, 1991).

7 New computer technologies can apparently make up for this deficit - cyberspace should be able to provide new spatial and bodily experiences, see “Computerwelt als Erlebnisraum des Menschen: als akustische Welle durch ein Amphitheater surfen.” in DAS ERSTE. Die Zeitschrift uber Fernsehen und Radio 1 (January 1992). Even if the computer does succeed in replacing the given perspective with a gaze

that moves freely in space - it is nonetheless mostly “autistic” experiences that are created, “there is no stage, no distance, no ‘gaze’ any more: it is the end of the spectacle, of the spectacular, all that is left is total, fusionistic, tactile aesthetics and not the aesthetic environment …” Baudrillard, Jean, Der symbolische Tausch und der Tod (Munich: 1982), 113.

8 Compare Ruehle, Gunter, “Aufloesung der Grenzen. Das Happening” in Theater in unserer Zeit, (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1976), 170186, and Ruehle's three volumes, Theater in unserer Zeit (Vol. 2: Anarchie in der Regie? 1982; Vol. 3 Was soil das Theater? 1992) for an incomparable history of German theatre after the war with reference to the 1920s, both are highly recommended. Compare, moreover, talks amd discussions on this era in Theater heute. On the Happening in general compare, among others Kirby, Michael (ed.) Happenings (New York: Dutton, 1965); Noeth, WinfriedStrukturen des Happenings, (Hildesheim, New York: npi, 1972); Vostell, Wolf (ed.) Aktionen, Happenings und Demonstrationen seit 1965 (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1970).

9 Rischbieter, Henning, “Experimenta. Theater und Publikum neu definiert” in Theater heute 7 (1966): 817, 16.

10 On the Living Theatre, compare among others Beck, Julian, The Life of the Theatre (San Francisco: City Lights, 1972); Beck, Julian and Malina, Judith, Paradise Now (New York: Random House, 1971); Neff, Renfreu, The Living Theatre: USA (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970); Silvestro, C., The Living Book of the Living Theatre. With afterword by Linger, W., (Greenwich: New York Graphic Society, 1971.) On audience participation see also Schechner, Richard, Environmental Theatre (New York: Hawthorn, 1973), where he describes the principles behind the work of his “Performance Garage” and its aims towards audience participation.

11 On this and the productions that follow compare Iden, Peter, Die Schaubuehne am Halleschen Ufer 1970–1979 (Frankfurt: 1982); and Schaubuehne am Halleschen Ufer, am Lehniner Platz 1962–1987 (Frankfurt, Berlin: 1987).

12 On this new concept of space compare among others “Der Raum des Theaters,” Theater heute Annual Volume IV (1979): 59–108.

13 Compare Ruehle, Guenther, “Die Erfindung der Bildersprache fuer das Theater. Die Herstellung neuer Sinnlichkeit” in Theater in unserer Zeit, 224233.

14 Alongside the two volumes on the Schaubuhne mentioned above (note 391), compare also Jaeger, Gerd…wie alles sich fur mich verandert hat uber das Antikenprojekt der Berliner Schaubuehne” in Theater heute 14: 3 (1974): 1220.

15 Compare Ruehle, Guenther, “Das Lehrstuck und das Lernstuck. Hans Neuenfels inszeniert Goethes ‘Iphigenie’ in Frankfurt” in Theater heute 8 (1980): 811.

16 On Heising's Stallerhof compare Michaelis, Rolf, “Tragodienstadei, Franz Xaver Kroetz ‘Stallerhof’, Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg” in Theater heute 5 (1975): 1012.

17 On Zadek's Lulu compare among others Merschmeier, Michael, “Das wahre Wede-Kind” in Theater heute, Annual Vol. (1988): 7071; Rischbieter, Henning, “Der wahre Wedekind: Lulu Furiosa” in Theater heute 4 (1988): 814; Ruf, Wolfgang, “Nicht nur ein Zugtier vor dem Pflug. Lulu und andere Frauen” in Deutsche Buehne 4 (1988): 1216; Grutzke, Peter Zadek/Johannes, Lulu – eine deutsche Frau, (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1988).

18 On Othello compare Canaris, Volker, “Was man in England wortlich darstellen kann, muss man in Deutschland gestisch wiedergeben. On Peter Hall's ‘Hamlet’ und Peter Zadek's ‘Othello’,” in Theater heute 7 (1976): 1221; on the dispute over Zadek's Othello, 21; and “Die Anarchie der Gefuhle. Benjamin Henrichs im Gesprach mit Peter Zadek”, 24–29.

19 Strauss, Botho, “Das schoene Umsonst” op. cit., 13.

20 Ruehle (1982), 263.

21 Compare Ruehle, Guenther, “Signaturen am Ende der Wege. Die Schlussbilder in Peter Steins Inszenierungen.” in Anarchie in der Regie, 261266.

22 Schlicher, Susanne, Tanz Theater. Tradition und Freiheiten. Pina Bausch, Gerhard Bohner, Reinhild Hoffman, Hans Kresnik, Susanne Linke (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1987), 129.

23 Grueber, at a rehearsal of Empedocles recounted by Rolf Michaelis in “Jeder Satz eine Katastrophe. Probenaechte mit Klaus Michael Grueber zu Hoelderlins ‘Empedocles’ 24–29 November 1975” in Carstensen, Uwe B., Klaus Michael Gruber (Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1988), 7891, 87.

24 At this rehearsal, Gruber quoted a verse from the unfinished “Vaterlandischen Gesaenge” from Mnemosyne written at the same time as Empedocles in which Holderlin wrote: “We are a sign without meaning” (“Ein Zeichen sind wir, deutungslos”). This holds true in some ways as the key to Gruber's work: he invents puzzling signs to which it is difficult to assign meaning - to which any associative meaning can be drawn.

25 Riewoldt, Otto, “Herrscher ueber Raum und Zeit.” Suedfunk 23, 6, (1987): 10.

26 On Wilson's theatre aesthetic compare among others, Brecht, Stephan, The Theatre of Visions: Robert Wilson, (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp 1979); Faust, Wolfgang Max, “Tagtraum und theater. Anmerkungen zu Robert Wilsons ‘Death Destruction & Detroit” in Sprache im technischen Zeitalter (1979): 3058; Fischer-Lichte, Erika, “Der Koerper des Schauspielers im Prozess der Industrialisierung. Zur Veraenderung der Wahrnehmung im Theater des 20. Jahrhunderts”, Grossklauss, Goetz/Laemmerl, Eberhard, eds., Literatur in einer industriellen Kultur (Stuttgart: 1989), 468486; and by the same author “Auf dem Weg ins Reich der Schatten. Frankfurter, Robert Wilsons ‘King Lear’ Inszenierung” in Fischer-Lichte, Erika and Xander, Harald (eds.), Europaeisches Theater am Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts, (Tuebingen: Gunter Narr, 1992); Lehmann, Hans-ThiesRobert Wilson, Szenograph” in Merkur. Zeitschrift fur europaeisches Denken, 7: 39 (1985): 554563; Marranca, Bonnie, The Theater of Images (New York: 1977); Pfister, Manfred, “Meta-Theater und Materialitaet. Zu Robert Wilsons ‘the CIVIL wars’,” in Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich and Ludwig Pfeiffer, K. eds., Materialitaet der Kommunikation (Frankfurt: 1988), 454473; Rockwell, John ed., Robert Wilson. The Theatre of Images (New York: Harper, 1984); Smit, Peer de/Veit, Wolfgang, “Die Theatervision des Robert Wilson,” Buehnenkunst 4 (Stuttgart: 1987): 422; Willett, Ralph, “The Old and the New: Robert Wilson's Traditions,” Thomsen, Christian W. ed., Studien zur Aesthetik des Gegenwartstheater (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1985), 9198; Wirth, Andrzej, “Interculturalism and Iconophilia in the New Theatre” in Marranca, Bonnie and Dasgupta, Gautam eds., Interculturalism & Performance (New York: PAJ Press, 1991), 281291.

27 Danto, Arthur C., The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. A Philosophy of Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981).

28 Compare Rotzer, Florian, ed, Digitaler Schein. Aesthetik der elektronischen Medien (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1991).

29 Much of Helga Finter's work has been devoted to this problem. See “Die soufflierte Stimme. Klangtheatralik bei Schoenberg, Artaud, Jandl, Wilson und anderen” in Theater heute 1 (1982): 45–51; and her two-volume Der subjektive Raum, (Tuebingen: Gunter Narr, 1989/90.)

30 On Einar Schleef, see among others, Auffermann, Verena, “Das ist mein Leben - Das ist mein Blut. Das bin ich und das fuhle ich. Ich stehe da und bleibe. Beobachtungen nach dem Superdebakel ‘Die Muetter’ in Frankfurt” in Theater heute, Annual volume (1987): 116120; Eckhart, Frank, “Gewalt ist GewaltQmkeit. Frank Castorf inszeniert ‘Hamlet’ - Assoziationen in Koln, Einar Schleef den ‘Urgoetz’ in Frankfurt” in Theater heute 6 (1989): 2126; Merschmeier, Michael, “Das Phaenomen. Ueber Einer Schleefs Komoedie ‘Die Schauspieler’ in des Autors Urinszenierung am Schauspiel Frankfurt - und ueber das eintonige Schmerzgeschrei in den Feuilletons” in Theater heute 6 (1988): 1617; Merschmeier, Michael, “Faustspiel im Strafraum - Urfaust von Einar Schleef auf Wolfgang Engel” in Theater heute 8 (1990): 811; Rischbieter, Henning, “Theater ist Widerspruch. Plaedoyer fuer die umstrittenste Auffuehrung der letzten Spielzeit: Einar Schleefs Inszenierung von Gerhart Hauptmanns ‘Vor Sonnenaufgang’ am Schauspiel Frankfurt” in Theater heute Annual Volume (1987): 116120.

31 Compare among others Hentschel, Anke E., “Das Kameraauge im Theater Robert Wilsons Hamletmaschine, eine Bewegung in Zeit und Raum. Analytische Gedanken zur Inszenierung am Thalia Theater Hamburg 1986” in Wissenschaftliche Beitraege der Theaterhochschule Leipzig 2 (1991): 85142; Rischbieter, Henning, “Deutschland, Ein Wilsonmarchen” in Theater heute 12 (1986): 516.

32 On the production of Mauser compare Wille, Franz, “Das Rad der Geschichte dreht durch. Heiner Mueller inszenierte Heiner Mueller - ‘Mauser’ und manches mehr am Deutschen Theater in Berlin” in Theater heute 10 (1991): 27.

33 On the group “Angelus Novus” compare Lehmann, Hans-Thies and Schulz, Genia, “Die Spur des dunklen Engels” in Theater heute 4 (1988): 3637.

34 Compare Helga Finter's comments on trends in Italian contemporary theatre “Ein Raum fur das Wort. Zum ‘Teatro di Parola’ des neuen Theaters in Italien” in Lili. Zeitschrift filr Literaturwisserschaft und Linguistic 81 (1991): Theater im 20. Jahrhundert, 53–69.

35 Virilio, Paul, “Geschwindigkeit - Unfall - Krieg. Gesprach mit Virilio” in TAZ 2: 3.5 (1986): 1213. Compare also Barck, Karlheinz, “Materilitaet, Materialismus, Performance” in Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich/Ludwig, K. (eds.), Materialitaet der Kornrnunikation, 121138.

36 Mueller, Heiner, “Bildbeschreibung” in Shakespeare Factory 1 (Berlin: Henschel, 1985), 714, 13, 14.

37 Compare Barba, Eugenio/Savarese, Nicola, The Secret Art of the Performer. Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology (London and New York: Routledge, 1991); Fiebach, Joachim, lnseln der Unordnung. Funf Versuche zu Heiner Mullers Theatertexten (Berlin: Henschel, 1990); Scheduler, Richard, Between Theater and Anthropology, (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 1985); and, by the same author, The End of Humanism: Writings on Performance (New York: PAJ, 1982). Just as the marking of the materiality of theatrical communication is directly bound to an anthropological interest, both stand in direct relation to the intercultural trend in contemporary theatre. Compare Fischer-Lichte, Erika, “Das eigene und das fremde Theater. Interkulturelle Tendenzen auf dem Theater der Gegenwart” in Floeck, Wilfried (ed.), Tendenzen des Gegenwartslheaters (Tuebingen: Gunter Narr, 1988), 227240; and Fischer-Lichte, Erika, Riley, Josephine, Gissenwehrer, Michael (eds.), The Dramatic Touch of Difference. Theatre, Own and Foreign (Tuebingen: Gunter Narr, 1990).

38 Boehme, Gernot, “Fur eine okologische Naturasthetik. Ein Gesprach” in Florian Rotzer, op.cit. 475490, 493; See also in the same volume Johannes Birringer's article “Erschopfter Raum – Verschwindende Korper,” 491–518.

39 Boehme, ibid.

40 In the context of this development it is understandable that dance theatre has increasingly come to the fore. See Schlicher, Tenz Theater op. cit. and Bergelt, Martin and Voelkers, Hortensia (eds.), Zeit-Raume. Zeitraume-Raumzeiten-Zeittreume (Munich: 1991).

41 See Finther, “Ein Raum fuer das Wort..”

42 Mueller, Heiner/Weimann, Robert, “Gleichzeitigkeit und Representation. Ein Gespraech.” in Weimann/Gumbrecht Postmoderne - Globale Differenz, 182210, 199.

43 Ibid., p. 200.

The Aesthetics of Disruption: German Theatre in the Age of the Media

  • Erika Fischer-Lichte


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