Berliner Ensemble

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Berliner Ensemble


German (GDR) theater company founded in 1949 in Berlin by the writer B. Brecht and his wife, the actress H. Weigel. Included in the company were actors from the Berlin German Theater and the Zurich Drama Theater. Brecht was head of the Berliner Ensemble until 1956.

Following his theory of “epic theater,” Brecht strove to create a theater of the “epoch of science and social revolutions,” which would address itself to the thought and intellect of the spectator through its art. The productions of the Berliner Ensemble are profoundly social and are characterized by the sharpness and expressiveness of their direction. The Berliner Ensemble is a theater company with an antifascist and antimilitarist tendency (its emblem is P. Picasso’s Dove of Peace).

Almost all of Brecht’s plays are included in the repertoire of the Berliner Ensemble. The theater opened with a production of Mother Courage and Her Children (National Prize of the GDR). Subsequently, the following were presented: Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti (1949), Mother (1951, based on motifs from Gorky’s novel of that name), The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1954), The Life of Galileo (1956), Fear and Despair in the Third Reich (1957), The Good Woman of Setzuan (1957), The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1959), The Threepenny Opera (1960), Buying Up the Copper Coin (1964), Coriolanus (1965, based on Shakespeare’s work of that name), Now This Soldier, Now That One (1967), The Bakery Shop, (1968), and Saint Joan of the Stockyards (1968). The Berliner Ensemble presents contemporary and classical plays—for example, Gorky’s Vassa Zheleznova (1949), Hauptmann’s The Beaver Coat (1951), Kleist’s The Broken Pitcher (1951), Pogodin’s The Kremlin Chimes (1952), Urfaust, based on Goethe’s work (1952), Moliè re’s Don Juan (1953), Ostrovskii’s The Ward (1955), Vishnevskii’s Optimistic Tragedy (1958), Kipphardt’s In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1967), O’Casey’s Purple Dust (1967), and Weiss’ Vietnam Investigation (1968). The theater company has gone on tour in the GDR, the FRG, Austria, and Poland and has taken part in the first and second International Festivals of Theatrical Art and in the first and fourth seasons of the Theater of Nations in Paris. It has also been to Great Britain, the USSR (1957 and 1968), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Sweden, Finland, and Italy. The Berliner Ensemble has had an important influence on contemporary theater.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s the following actors worked with the Beliner Ensemble: E. Busch, E. Geschonneck, A. Hurwicz, and W. Kayser. From 1949 to 1967 the leading director was E. Engel. In 1968 the theater company included the following actors: H. Weigel (also the theater’s artistic director), E. Schall, G. May, H. Thate, N. Christian, E. Hausmann, F. Rietsch, and B. Berg. The Berliner Ensemble has been directed by M. Wekwerth, J. Tenschert, and others.


Brecht, B. O teatre: Sb. statei. Moscow, 1960.
Etkind, E. “Teatr Bertol’da Brekhta.” Neva, 1957, no. 8.
Zakhava, E. “Sila i slabost’ teatra Brekhta.” Znamia, 1957, no. 8.
Zingerman, B. “O teatre Brekhta.” In his bookZhan Vilar i drugie. Moscow, 1964.
Zingerman, B. “O teatre Brekhta.” Teatr, 1961, nos. 1–2.
Brecht, B. Aufbau einer Rolle. Berlin, 1956–58.
Theaterarbeit: 6 Aufführungen des Berliner Ensembles. Dresden, [1952].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
| The Conquest of the South Pole Playwright Manfred Karge's work, which runs from March 24 to April 8 and will be directed by Nick Bagnall, was originally penned for the Berlin Ensemble.
The ensemble performing it includes pianist Peter Tiefenbach, mezzo Kimberly Barber, accordionist and musicologist Mary-Lou Vetere and the New Berlin Ensemble: violinist Julie Baumgartel, cellist Paul Pulford and percussionist Carol Baumann.
In any case, it's Abbado's conducting and the magnificence of the Berlin ensemble that are probably most at issue here, and they're so good I wouldn't let a little matter like ordinary sonics interfere with a good time.
By the time his Berlin Ensemble visited Paris - the mid-'50s - this meant he had attained a Big Reputation indeed.
And his daughter did fall - from her position as head of the Berlin Ensemble, the Winifred Wagner of East Berlin's Bayreuth (as I had called her).
Along with statements of this sort, one might place the contention, often repeated over the years, that Marxism allowed Brecht to grow from the young decadent the poetry and drama of his early twenties to the Stalin Prize-winner of the big plays, carried across the world by the Berlin Ensemble.
Brecht's return to East Berlin in 1948 and the establishment of the Berlin Ensemble were celebrated by the East German government as a major public relations coup, since he represented a strong ideological line of continuity with left intellectuals of the Weimar Republic; nonetheless, in the course of the fifties until he died in 1956, Brecht's politics and aesthetics were treated by the government's cultural functionaries with great suspicion because his "formalism" did not fit the dogmatic image of Socialist Realism.
in the theatre Peter Hacks, Heiner Muller, Volker Braun); in West Germany the initial enthusiasm for the classical Brecht of the Berlin Ensemble in the meantime had paled and during the seventies it was the early Brecht and his learning plays - largely repressed in the East - which dominated the attention of progressive theatres and scholars.
In his theoretical writings of the forties Brecht characterized this collectivity as living together (das Zusammenleben), and after the war his endeavors at the Berlin Ensemble comprised the practical model in the theatre for such a collective, at least in a rough, imperfect form.(14.)
Frank Castorf's production of Schiller's The Robbers (Berlin Volksbuhne, 1990) and Christoph Schroth's production of Kleist's The Schroffenstein Family (Berlin Ensemble, 1991), for example, both actualize family conflicts against the background of social upheaval as an allegory for the difficult process of German-German integration.
Then there remains Brecht's own theatre, the Berlin Ensemble on Schiffbauerdamm.

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