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Ernst Dronke on Popular Theater, Bourgeois Theater, and Court Theater in Berlin (1846)

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Concerning the theater, to be fair we must admit that the dearth of competent actors in Germany is a general one. The reason for this is the lack of drama schools. There is a great deal of acting talent in Germany, found even in traveling companies and on provincial stages. But circumstances do not allow these actors the possibility of serious study, and if they do have a bit of security they often fall prey to their pride. The end of the song is a typical one: they seek to please the crowd with crass effects. They substitute understanding of character with hollow declamation, replace warm feeling with curtain-tearing gestures. If a genius happens to turn up suddenly – a raw, natural power – even this will be destroyed because it is given over to its manners and must degenerate into mere mannerism. Only education, schooling, and consciousness can bring an actor to maturity. If an example is called for here, let's look at the case of one considered to be a well-rounded actor. Döring is certainly a great talent, he has above all the means and a rare gift. Only his high tragic presentations are without character and unity, a soul is lacking in them. The few great moments, which he recently demonstrated as Lear, Richelieu, and Shylock, are proof of this. These are isolated instances, as a whole, his performance lacks psychology and consciousness.

A glance at the repertory is sufficient to show the scorn offered to the Berlin audiences. The dregs of our own shallow everyday productions are not bad enough, one rushes to every pale French triviality. The plays of Madame Birch-Pfeiffer, decrepit old Kotzebue miseries, and useless one-act comedies alternate with the Marquis von Letorrières and Voltaires Ferien. For a long time, the repertory consisted of Thomas Thyrnau and Er muß aufs Land, and Er muß aufs Land and Thomas Thyrnau. As with the submission of the best original works, here is just an example. Friedrich Hebbel had Madame Krelinger deliver his Maria Magdalena – a drama torn from real life, with well-developed characters – to the examination commission. He was given back a printed form declaring the play "not usable," despite the fact – and this we know from Herr von Küstner’s own mouth – that the general manager had not even read it. If new productions are ever introduced, it usually happens as a result of public acclaim and loud applause that the play earned elsewhere. The sudden forced rehearsals usually result in a poor production. Vienna, Stuttgart, Dresden, Leipzig, Hamburg, and even tiny Oldenburg are ahead of Berlin. And only six years ago, the Berlin stage counted as the first in Germany.

Source: Ernst Dronke, Berlin (1846). East Berlin: Rütten & Loening, 1953, pp. 342-49.

Translation: Jonathan Skolnik

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