Erwin Piscator

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Related to Erwin Piscator: Vsevolod Meyerhold
Erwin Piscator
Erwin Friedrich Max Piscator
BirthplaceGreifenstein-Ulm, German Empire
Theatre director, producer
Education Gymnasium Philippinum (1907) University of Munich
Known for Founded the Dramatic Workshop at The New School for Social Research (1940).
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Piscator, Erwin


Born Dec. 17, 1893, in Ulm; died Mar. 30, 1966, in Starnberg, Bavaria. German director. Member of the Communist Party of Germany from 1919.

In 1914, Piscator was an apprentice at the Hoftheater in Munich. He organized the Tribunal Theater in Königsberg in 1919 and the People’s Theater in Berlin in 1920 and 1921. In Berlin he staged Russia’s Day (1920), a play, written jointly with his troupe, that called for support of Soviet Russia. In 1923 and 1924 he managed the Central Theater, where he staged Gorky’s Smug Citizens and Rolland’s The Time Will Come (both in 1923). The Communist Party commissioned Piscator to create the political shows Revue Roter Rummel (1924) and Despite Everything (1925). From 1924 to 1927 he was director of the Volksbühne, where he staged Gorky’s The Lower Depths (1927) and plays by progressive German dramatists, including Rehfisch’s Who Weeps for Juckenack? (1925), Zech’s The Drunken Ship (1926), and Welk’s Storm Over Gothland (1927). In Berlin he opened the Piscator Theater, which remained in operation from 1927 to 1932, with interruptions. The repertoire included anti-imperialist and antiwar plays by E. Toller, F. Wolf, and V. N. Bill’-Belotserkovskii.

During the 1930’s, Piscator was a member of the executive committee of the International Workers’ Theater Union, serving as its president in 1934. He played a significant role in the development of revolutionary theater and antifascist drama during the 1920’s and 1930’s. He was one of the first to advance and implement the idea of the political theater, which was called upon to become a combat weapon in the proletariat’s struggle. Piscator employed new directorial devices, seeking to encompass a wide range of sociohistorical phenomena in his plays, to show the scope of the labor movement, and to rouse the spectator to thought. Piscator introduced newsreels and photomontages into his productions and staged action in several areas at the same time by using new stage constructions, such as treadmills and divided stages.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Piscator emigrated from Germany. He lived in the USSR to 1935, then in France and the USA. In 1947 he began staging productions in Mannheim, Munich, and other cities, and in 1962 became artistic director of the Freie Volksbühne in West Berlin. Among his productions in Berlin were The Deputy by Hochhuth (1963), In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kipphardt (1965), The Investigation by Weiss (1965), and Night of the Generals by Kirst (1966). He scripted a stage version of L. N. Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, which he produced in a number of German theaters.


Schriften, vols. 1–2. Berlin, 1968.


Gvozdev, A.A. Teatr poslevoennoi Germanii. Leningrad-Moscow, 1933.
Lâ cis, A. E. Revoliutsionnyi teatr Germanii. Moscow, 1935. (Translated from German.)
Ihering, H. Von Reinhardt bis Brecht, vols. 1–3. Berlin, 1958–61.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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The award was named in honor of German director/producer Erwin Piscator for his legacy of political theatre.
Based on extensive reading of the relevant secondary literature and research into (often heavily redacted) FBI records--supplemented by research into relevant, accessible records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Office of Strategic Services, and the State Department--the author has written an important study of "FBI surveillance of German emigre writers" (notably, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger, Anna Seghers, Berthold Viertel, Oscar Graff, Franz Werfel, and Erwin Piscator).
Alongside the Turath trend, and sometimes fused with it, a new type of political theater, innovative and sophisticated, came to the fore, drawing upon the methods of Erwin Piscator, Peter Weiss, and especially Bertold Brecht in their documentary, political, and epic theaters.
And if the workers theaters in Europe inspired avant-garde directors like Vsevelod Meyerhold and Erwin Piscator and planted the seed for Brecht, the workers theater in America gave us Waiting for Lefty and Angels in America.
Its dramatic antecedents include the episodic structure and didactic nature of plays by Georg Buchner, the pre-Expressionist drama of Frank Wedekind, and the Expressionist theater of Erwin Piscator and Leopold Jessner, both of whom made exuberant use of the technical effects that came to characterize epic theater.
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A type of drama developed in Germany in the 1920s by Bertolt Brecht and the director Erwin Piscator (1893 - 1966), who saw theatre as a means to agitate for political change.
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