And the same unanimity, with which the positive goals of the People’s Stage were outlined, now marked the critical attitude taken towards the existing theater, towards the extravagant stages that are ruled by one thing alone: money. One can affirm the productions of the likes of Mr. Wille and his comrades, not merely from the point of view of socialism – which abhors theatrical enterprises, just as it does other capitalistic undertakings – , but also from purely artistic considerations. These productions present the dominance of the cash register with all its consequences: the ruthless exploitation of success, retrogression into the trivial, the cult of superficiality. The commercial theaters of today are, of necessity, what they are, and this is recognized by everyone. However, the attempts that are being undertaken, here and there, at times guided by literary considerations, as with our Free Stage, at other times by social considerations, as with the People’s Free Stage, these attempts demonstrate clearly the general need for reforms, which will be realized one way or the other.
This need is an urgent one for us, Dr. Wille explained. Its fulfillment cannot wait for the general political and economic development to take its course: “Because we are human beings with needs in the present moment, we must then provide for the present moment.” And this was the significant development at the meeting: that the artistic needs of the people were recognized with a decisiveness that was not marred by a single doubt. Quite isolated from the rest, a speaker stood up, who, without himself being opposed to the cause, attempted with unclear ideas to defer the discussion; and he was taken to task with buoyant unanimity. No one, however, spoke up to say: “We don’t need this stage, what is theater supposed to do for us – we should help first to allay the more immediate needs, proletarians have no use for the luxury of art!” Instead, the “intellectual greediness” of the crowd made itself blatantly apparent, and even if only the most talented among the workers of Berlin will be able to participate in this appeal, still this assembly remains convincing proof of the people’s appetite for intellectual and artistic enjoyment. A ripple of idealism, in the best sense of the word, moved through audience, despite the realistic accents that the discussion of the repertoire had called forth. And because it is happening for the first time that broad masses of people are calling out with startling unanimity for art, and a sizeable political party is wholeheartedly supporting this appeal, it seems to me that this undertaking is a culturally and historically significant one, and those whose vision is unhampered by political blinders must recognize its far-reaching mission.
Therefore, I welcome this plan gladly, not from the stand point of a political party (because I do not belong to one and am, politically and aesthetically, a born savage); but rather because I discern in a People’s Free Stage – not in a “social democratic theater” – an undertaking of the most general artistic and social significance, and my best wishes accompany its progress.
Source: Otto Brahm, "Die freie Volksbühne“ [“The People’s Free Stage”], Freie Bühne für Modernes Leben [The Free Stage for Modern Life], Jg. 1, No. 27 (August 6, 1890), pp. 713-15.
Original German text reprinted in Jürgen Schutte and Peter Sprengel, Die Berliner Moderne 1885-1914 [Berlin Modernity, 1885-1914]. Stuttgart, 1987, pp. 408-13.
Translation: Richard Pettit