German Expressionist Theatre: The Actor and the Stage
David F. Kuhns
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German Expressionist Theatre considers the powerfully stylized, antirealistic styles of symbolic acting on the German Expressionist stage from 1916 to 1921. It relates this striking departure from the dominant European acting tradition of realism to the specific cultural crises that enveloped the German nation during the course of its involvement in World War I. The examination of portions of previously untranslated Expressionist scripts and actor memoirs allows for an unprecedented focus on description and analysis of the acting itself.
be the visible expression of these desires. Teeth, throat and bowels are objectified hunger; the organs ofgeneration are objectified sexual desire . . . As the human body generally corresponds to the human will generally, so the individual bodily structure corresponds to the individually modified will, the character of the individual, [italics mine]16 That Schopenhauer's words here adumbrate a theory of Expressionist acting is suggested by comparison of them with remarks by Expressionist
beseelte und der psychologische Mensch." In this, one of Expressionism's major theoretical documents, Kornfeld draws a distinction between "psychological man," an object of external observation and analysis, and "inspired man," who is experientially defined "from within." 48 Much as the Expressionists longed to belong to the society of their fellow men, they could not avoid the sense of existential isolation which authenticated their sense of individuality. The uniquely spiritual cast of German
truth? . . . What do you believe in? . . . Do you have a soul?" - to which her repeated answer is "I don't know."24 Even in Fruhlings Erwachen, where Wedekind had celebrated the blossoming of sexual awareness, there is a clear sense of the monstrously tragic possibilities lurking within the joy of human sexuality when it is brutalized by bourgeois moral rhetoric. In Wedekind's poetics, the fact of human vitality is most compelling when the inability of language to encompass it is demonstrated.
Expressionist performance techniques. However, the rhetoric of the theatre critics, as much as that of the playwrights or theorists, reveals their own sense of cultural mission. Moreover, the reviews of the earlier Expressionist productions lack specificity. Typically, the acting is not described but rather evaluated in a general phrase or two at the end of the review after the critic has discussed the script at length. Even where descriptions of acting are most detailed, however - in the reviews
the premiere of Die Wandlung.31 There is no indication that he deprived Kortner of the time he needed to develop the role of Friedrich, only the suggestion that he was not of much help because his concerns were more scenic than textual. Left to his own devices, Kortner developed a powerful, if uneven performance. At the beginning, according to Ihering, he seemed to be feeling his way along in reserved tones and movement. As the performance progressed and his passion mounted, the strength of his