Max Reinhardt

Definition

Theater

  • (Max Goldmann; 1873 - 1943) Austrian director, actor, andmanager. The first modern director to gain an international reputation,Reinhardt was regarded as either a genius or a vulgar showman. Hedominated the European stage for more than 25 years, directing morethan 600 productions, and was a major influence on drama in Britainand America. His innovations in staging and the use of colour andmovement (especially in crowd scenes) are considered particularlyimportant. It was largely owing to Reinhardt's fame and influencethat productions began to be attributed to the director rather thanto author or the leading actor.

    After studying drama in Vienna, Reinhardt spent a year withthe resident theater company in Salzburg. He subsequently became aleading performer under Otto Brahm at the Deutsches Theater, Berlin.In 1903 he founded the Neues Theater in Berlin, where in one yearhe produced and directed 42 works by such varied dramatists as Wilde,Schiller, and Gorki. In these productions he reacted against naturalismand he adopted many of the ideas of the British designer Gordon Craig,using steps, runways, and rostrums to divide the stage horizontallyand vertically. With the Swiss designer Adolf Appia, he pioneerednew lighting effects and the use of theater-in-the-round.

    Reinhardt initiated a revival of classical Greek drama andalso made an impact with his striking productions of Ibsen, Strindberg,Wedekind, and Shakespeare. His inventive and much revived stagingof A Midsummer Night's Dream was first seen in 1905.

    Reinhardt was famous for his lavish spectacles. In 1920 hefounded the Salzburg Festival and thereafter directed the moralityplay Jedermann (Hugo von Hofmannstal's adaptation of Everyman)in front of the cathedral every year until 1934. He was equally comfortablewith intimate work, founding Berlin's Kammerspiele (chamber theater)in 1906 and the avant-garde Das Junge Deutschland theater in 1917.

    When the Nazis took power in 1933 Reinhardt was abroad. Heleft his theaters to the German people, having sent a bitterly ironicletter to the Nazi government. He settled in America, where he directedand produced a successful film version of his famous A MidsummerNight's Dream starring James Cagney as Bottom and Mickey Rooneyas Puck. His final production was Franz Werfel's The Eternal Road(1937), an interminable biblical pageant with music by Kurt Weill.The performances, at the Manhattan Opera house in New York, lastedfrom 8 p.m. until 3 a.m. The play drew full houses for 153 performancesbut lost $5000 a week owing to high production costs.

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