Piscator, Erwin

Piscator, Erwin

Piscator, Erwin (pĭskäˈtôr), 1893–1966, German theatrical director and producer who, with Bertolt Brecht, was the foremost exponent of epic theater, a genre that emphasizes the sociopolitical context rather than the emotional content or aesthetics of the play. He worked experimentally in Berlin after 1919. As director of the Volksbühne (1924–27), and later at his own theater (on Nollendorfplatz), he produced social and political plays especially suited to his theories. His dramatic aims were utilitarian—to influence voters or clarify Communist policies. He used mechanized sets, lectures, movies, and mechanical devices that appealed to his audiences. In 1927 he produced a notable adaptation of a Czech novel (tr. The Good Soldier Schweik). Piscator went to the United States in 1939 and became director of the Dramatic Workshop and the Studio Theater, which he founded in New York City. He returned to Germany c.1958; he was appointed manager and director of the Volksbühne in West Berlin and received honors from the West German government for his contribution to the arts. His influence on European and American production methods was extensive.


See C. D. Innes, Erwin Piscator's Political Theatre (1974).

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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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.