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Otto Brahm, "The People’s Free Stage" (1890)

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contempt for the lies of society, is, nevertheless, inwardly quite close to the socialist spirit. And when the character Auler in “The Pillars of Society” asks in a production on the new stage: “How can capitalism introduce the new inventions before society has educated a generation that knows how to make use of them?” – only then will some recognize, with astonishment, how a great writer whose viewpoint encompasses everything, the pathos of the individual and the suffering of all, knows how to capture the essence of the masses’ immediate interests.

But then will the battalions of workers, whose footsteps should now also be heard in the theater, be able to take from these profound works of art anything other than fragments, accidental fragments, which are just opening themselves up to their minds? I wish that everyone who asks such questions would have attended the meeting last Tuesday. I myself, I must confess, had doubts along these lines until now; and even now I am far from believing that all the mysteries of Ibsen’s craft will suddenly somehow reveal themselves to the audience of the People’s Free Stage. And I am just as far from believing that all patrons of our People’s Free Stage understand the intentions of Ibsen and the other naturalists – I say here understand, not love. But that, in any case, is what I mean: that this People’s Free Stage will attract an enviably fresh and receptive audience that is free from stubborn prejudices. The so-called understanding of art, however, and the formation of taste – both of which result from education, not inheritance – will be acquired in time by this mass audience with its “intellectual greediness.”

The skeptics should have seen how lively this congregation of two thousand people (workers, young salespeople, women) was in reacting to the speaker who wanted to spoil their taste for Ibsen. He had spoken with foolish phrases about the plays in which the main theme is supposedly “mostly about a softening of the brain,” had exclaimed emphatically: “Something like this of course does not happen with us!” and he, a non-socialist, had wanted to overwhelm the suckers on the main floor with Lassalles’ “Sickingen.” However, not only did the schooled party stalwart, Mr. Baake, disparage his con game in rough fashion, but a strong protest also came from amongst the workers. A man stood up, in his work clothes, plain, just as he had come from the factory, with an unstarched shirt, his features revealing his distress, and it was not easy for him to find the words he wanted. But it was moving to hear how this worker developed a program that any one of us naturalists could have endorsed: we don’t want to see a never-ending lie on the stage boards, he called out, we want to experience the truth about life and prefer to see what is terrible, evil and sick, rather than have someone throw dust in our eyes about noble counts and councilors of commerce, who spend one hundred mark bills like they are going out of style. And this was the phrase that sounded like a leitmotif throughout the congregation: give us truth! Not classical or romantic plays, we want realistic ones in which the urge for truthfulness and the keen sense of reality of this era are expressed. We want to see life like it is, not like it isn’t!

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