Hostetter, Elisabeth Schulz
About the author: Dr. Elisabeth Schulz Hostetter holds a PhD in Theater History and Criticism (with a Minor in German Literature and Language) from the University of Missouri. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.2004 0-7734-6354-2
This study uses semiotic methodology to explain how artists and state appointed administrators at the Berliner Staatstheater created and implemented an aesthetic that fulfilled the political needs of the Nazi Party in Germany from 1933 through 1944. Three propaganda plays, two classic repertory plays, and a resistance play are analyzed to determine how stage designs, costumes, repertory, publicity, and acting choices translated or resisted Nazi cultural policy in production practice.
Analysis of the changes occurring in the Berliner Staatstheater during Hitler’s reign reveals specific production elements used by the Nazis to aesthetically translate their ideology for general, bourgeois distribution. Findings indicate that, while plays written as pure propaganda by avid party members like Hanns Jost dies quickly in repertory, avenues of propaganda remained open through carefully staged NSDAP productions of classic plays by playwrights such as Goethe and Schiller. Casting, character portrayals, thematic emphasis, design elements, and publicity for these productions displayed pointed references to Nazi cultural aims.
The study verifies that theater became a means by which a centralized power structure consciously manipulated public sentiment. Nevertheless, the study also provides a counter approach to the main argument by offering a brief look at the famous Staatstheater production of Shakespeare’s Richard III that attempted to resist and refute NSDAP policy. Conclusions regarding the destructive use of propaganda in current and future cultural endeavors close the report. An appendix includes a fully translated version Joseph Goebbel’s May 7, 1933 speech before German theater leaders. This speech represents a key statement of nazi cultural policy, which criticized the individualism of Weimar theater and proposes a united commitment to use theater as a means to promote “the virtue of community”.