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What Are the Rules of the Game? Some Remarks on The Yellow Jacket

  • Erika Fischer Lichte (a1)


The vast caravan out of Ceylon … arrived safely in Europe in April 1884 … There were sixty-seven people, twenty-five elephants … and a great many oxen of various kinds. The ethnographic exhibition included hundreds of different shows, and even the vegetative world was represented in numerous exhibits … My Singhalese troupe was veiled in the ancient wondrous world of India; not only had we captured the vibrant, picturesque, outward appearance of India, but also the shimmer of its mystique. The colourful, captivating sight of the caravanserai, the majestic elephants, partly bedecked in golden saddlery, partly in work harnesses, pulling gigantic loads; the slim, attractive, doe-eyed dancers with their sensuous movements and last of all the great religious Perra-Harra procession-conjured up a magic web which subjected the public entirely to it … The exhibition was opened in Hamburg… After Hamburg came Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and Vienna … From Vienna it went to Berlin … In the following years, 1885 and 1886, I traveled with the same exhibition through southern Germany, Switzerland and Vienna a second time, and finally set out for England … It was in Paris, at the height of its success, that the Ceylon exhibition finally came to an end. The average number of visitors to the Jardin d'Acclimatisation on a Sunday was 50,000-60,000. Throughout the two and a half month duration of the exhibition, the number of visitors was nearly one million.



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1 Hagenbeck, Carl, Von Tieren und Menschen (Berlin: Vita Deutsches Verlagshaus, 1909), 96101.

2 The term literally means “exhibition of the nations or peoples.”

3 These audiences also included theatre avant-gardists such as Meyerhold and Artaud. In 1910, Meyerhold visited the Samoa-exhibition in Hamburg and the dances and chants deeply impressed him. On the occasion of the Colonial Exhibition in Paris in 1931, Artaud saw a group of Balinese dancers on which he wrote quite extensively in his book on The Theatre and Its Double.

4 Cf. Koppelkamm, Stefan, “Das 19. Jahrhundert,” in Exotische Welten. Europäische Phantasien. Catalogue of the exhibition. (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen. Würtembergisher Kunstverein, 1987), 356.

5 Goldmann, Stefan, “Wilde in Europa. Aspekte und Orte ihrer Zurschaustellung,” in Theye, Thomas, ed. Wir und die Wilden. Einblicke in eine kannibalische Beziehung (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1985), 64.

6 Goldmann, , “Zur Rezeption der Völkerausstellungeen urn 1900,” in Exotische Welten. Europäische Phantasien, 8893.

7 “Verhandlungen der Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte,” Zeitschrift für Ethnologie (1898): 126.

8 Ibid., 230.

9 It is interesting to note that Harry Graf Kessler, in the foreword to his “Notes on Mexico” (1898), denies that the possibility of experiencing a foreign culture still exists. He writes:

Ours is probably the last age where travel is still possible; we barely escape our own civilization; the picture remains extraordinarily similar in one part of the world and the next… Only one whose imagination is great enough to perceive foreign meanings behind the familiar signs, or one who is inspired by strange surroundings and the loneliness of distance to see with new eyes, will regularly, rather than accidentally, experience new things in the other environment. (Kessler, Harry Graf, Gesichter und Zeiten: Erinnerungen; Notizien über Mexico [Frankfurt: fischer, 1988], 337.)

10 Hagenbeck, , 82.

11 Ibid., 95.

12 Lehmann, Alfred, “Zeitgenössische Bilder der ersten Völkerschauen,” in Lang, Werner, Lippold, Walter, Spannaus, Günther, eds., Von fremden Völkern und Kulturen. Beiträge zur Völkerkunde. Hans Plischke zum 65. Geburtstage. (Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1955), 3138, 39.

13 Ibid., 36.

14 In spring 1993, I had an experience which gave me a sense of how these colonial exhibitions must have worked. During my stay at the University of Washington, Seattle, I booked a package tour to Tillicum Village on Blake Island which included a boat trip, salmon dinner, and a show by Native Americans of the region. The show started after the visitors had feasted on an opulent salmon meal and were still seated before the remains of that meal. A voice announced through a loudspeaker that the Native Americans would present some of their traditional rituals and dances. They were duly performed on an illusionistic stage of the 19th century erected in front of the dinner tables. The voice had requested respect for the performance because it was traditional and “authentic.” To me, this seemed to be an unbearably disrespectful attitude toward the Native Americans, their traditions, and their culture. Exactly as at the colonial exhibitions, all of the elements presented here were taken out of the context of the culture in which they had once functioned as particular meaning-generating elements. Here, they were selected and combined in order to be performed on an illusionistic stage as kind of a dessert before an audience that wanted nothing else than to be entertained and who, accordingly, responded especially enthusiastically to the lighting effects of the illusionistic stage! I had thought that the colonial exhibitions belonged to the past, yet here was one still doing the rounds.

15 Hagenbeck, , 84.

16 “Verhandlungen” (1891), 66.

17 Ekstein, Modris, Tanz über Gräben (Reinbeck: Rowohlt, 1990).

18 Material on the London production is available in the archive of the Theatre Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; material on Lindemann's production, including his guest tour to Munich (6 September-7 December 1914), and on Reinhardt's production can be found in the archives of the Theatre Museum of Cologne and Reinhardt's “Regiebuch” in the archives of the Vienna Theatre Museum.

19 Hazelton, George C. and Benrimo, , The Yellow Jacket: A Chinese Play Done in a Chinese Manner in Three Acts. Illustrated and with photographs by Arnold Genthe. (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, 1913), 1.

20 Ibid., 4.

21 Ibid., 7.

22 Ibid., 23.

23 Ibid., 175.

24 Ibid., 177.

25 Chorus, for example, is a dramatic figure not found on any of the traditional Chinese stages. This “convention” was inserted by the authors.

26 Hazelton, and Benrimo, , 188.

27 Ibid., 190.

28 (Monocle), E. F. S., “The Yellow Jacket in an English Dress,” The Sketch, 9 04 1913; 10.

29 , E. K., Frankfurter Zeitung, 11 07 1914.

30 Elchinger, Richard, “Die gelbe Jacke. Chinesisches Schauspiel bearbeitet von Hazelton und Benrimo. Erste Aufführung im Münchner Künstlertheater am 9. Juli,” Neueste Nachrichten (Munich), 11 07 1914.

31 Koonen, Alisa, Strantsy zhizni (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1975), 185.

32 , E. F. S., 10.

33 Turzinsky, Walter, Breslauer Zeitung, 1 04 1914.

34 Hazelton, and Benrimo, , 4.

30 Koonen, , 185.

37 Badische Presse, 1 04 1914.

38 Hazelton, and Benrimo, , 81.

39 Ibid., 83.

40 , E. F. S., 10.

41 Hazelton, and Benrimo, , 161 f.

42 , E. F. S., 10.

43 Turzinsky.

44 , E. F. S., 10.

45 E. K.

46 Elchinger.

47 Cf. Schramm, Helmar, “Taking Hell's Measure. On the Connection Between Theatricality and Style of Thinking,” Theatre Research International (Spring 1995).

48 This seems surprising, insofar as at least in the cinema, people were used to enjoying the rupture and to allowing meaning to emerge as a result of montage. In the twenties, however, in many cultural fields, people became used to exploiting the rupture between perception and meaning for pleasure and to producing new discourses by establishing unexpected relations between perception and meaning. That which before World War I had been restricted to the theatre or—to be precise—to the performances of The Yellow Jacket, a handful of other such performances, and cinema, became common cultural practice after World War I.

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What Are the Rules of the Game? Some Remarks on The Yellow Jacket

  • Erika Fischer Lichte (a1)


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