Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century


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The programmes of entertainment theatres in London, Berlin, Vienna and Paris in the first wartime season were full of war-related topical plays in light theatrical genres. Such operettas, comedies, farces and revues made use of a type of humor characterised by aggressive laughter and jubilant self-assertion with the inclusion of some melodramatic or serious elements. The state of war led to a highly complacent image of national power, a celebration of national identity and the exaltation of patriotic devotion and the willingness to make sacrifices. Sacrifice was demanded especially of women who were encouraged to support the war with all their might on the home front.

This was much more credible and thus more successful in France than in Germany due to the German invasion of Belgium and northern France. Here, the French nanny Iza Guignard sings about offensive German men, obviously interested in conquering her as well as her country. Theatrical performance seemed to be especially receptive to the linking of military and sexual violence , affirming and trivializing it, or as in a series of French war plays of a more melodramatic tone, using the violated woman as a representation of the nation as a whole.

A second important topic of war comedies and revues was the reinforcement of war alliances. On the other side, French war plays often included the character of a smart, well-dressed, polite and civilised British gentleman or officer. Especially in topical revues, this theme was frequently referred to in a self-reflective, comical way, as is typical for this genre.

They are finally replaced by the wrongly forgotten Viennese waltz, personified by the popular Viennese music-hall and operetta actress Fritzi Massary It was often symbolised by the family but also by a stock of characters which allegedly covered all social classes. The British all-volunteer army had to be significantly expanded at the beginning of the war without conscription.

Therefore, many volunteers and young men were exposed to high levels of social pressure in order to convince them to enlist quickly in the British Expeditionary Force fighting in Belgium and Northern France. On the popular stage, this was reflected through an aggressive targeting of conscientious objectors or pacifists like Keir Hardie , former leader of the Labour Party in the UK and an eloquent activist for women's right to vote, self rule in India and the end of race segregation in South Africa. Hardie was one of the most consistent war opponents before and after the war began and was later stigmatised as a traitor.

There were rare exceptions to these overtly jingoistic stage productions, such as E. In this play set in a typical upper-middle-class family, the imminence of war brings out everyone's negative characteristics — selfishness, chauvinism, etc.

Staging History

The critics reacted reservedly and found the play inopportune. A major criticism was that the play forced people to think about the same things they were already occupied with during the day.

World War Two: The European Theater, Every Day (Monthly Events Version)

The public was looking for some laughs at the theatre as a diversion from the troubles of wartime reality and for imaginations of other, remote and better worlds. Nostalgic atmosphere and exotic settings increasingly replaced the patriotic verve of the early war plays. In Vienna alone, more than twenty operettas had their first performance during the year Interestingly, all these operettas feature a woman in the title role, a typical phenomenon in war entertainments at the home front which was adapted to the public audience which consisted mainly of women and soldiers on leave.

Another important function of the Viennese operetta, especially needed in the face of the crisis the Habsburg monarchy went through, was its — often condescending — emphasis on the reunion of the different nationalities and cultures of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Everyone is dancing even as the whole world is sinking. In Paris, the allusions to war had a longer life on the stage but they became more and more integrated into operettas or detective and espionage stories.

Slowly the theatres in Paris returned to their specialties in the sphere of entertainment theatre, namely the elegant Boulevard comedies and popular farces. The author and actor Sacha Guitry remained productive in the most diverse genres — from comedy to revue and film — throughout the war. The intimate play deals with a furiously jealous husband who comes home a half hour late. He has just invented an excuse when finds out that his wife is not yet at home. It then opened in London on 18 April and ran for a very successful performances.

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It had premiered on Broadway on 2 November and ran successfully there until June The libretto of The Only Girl has an interesting transnational genealogy: it was based on the American play Our wives by Frank Mandel and Helen Kraft which itself was an adaptation of German playwright Ludwig Fulda's Jugendfreunde All three productions were created after the World War had begun but were not originally opened in London and had already had success elsewhere.

The plots of these three musical comedies were also similarly structured: they all tell the story of one or more high-born but irresponsible young men, reluctant to settle down and abide by their wife or girlfriend. The girls, for their part, are uncommonly active in gaining or testing their partner's commitment. Besides the romantic and nostalgic fare, there were scores of productions that escaped wartime reality by inviting the audience into exotic scenery and settings.

This was the case for one of the longest running productions of London's West-End, the orientalist, pantomime-like musical comedy Chu Chin Chow , written, produced and directed by Oscar Asche at His Majesty's Theatre which he had managed since It premiered on 3 August — at a time when the murderous battles of Verdun and the Somme were being fought — and remained on stage for the spectacular number of 2, performances until 22 July , the moment when Adolf Hitler became the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party.

Whereas the visual elements all aimed at conveying a most exotic scenery, the musical score of Chu Chin Chow remained firmly rooted in mainstream English popular music of the time. This was certainly a good start for dreams of oriental abundance and luxury in a wartime society affected by food scarcity and renouncement.


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According to tradition, they are not allowed to see each other before the wedding, and, at their first meeting, a folding screen stands between them on stage. In the later years of the war, along with general penury, theatres were in a difficult situation. Supply problems in the cities were increasing and the heating and lighting of theatres posed a challenge.

Theatre and event : staging the European century / Adrian Kear - Details - Trove

The difficulties of everyday life which also affected the wealthier citizens reduced traditional audience size. In turn, new segments of the population, especially the soldiers on leave but also refugees , working women and children sought entertainment in the theatres. Regulations especially concerning closing hours , a lack of public transport in the evening and censorship further restricted the possibilities open to theatres. A look in the newspapers reveals, however, that nearly all theatres and entertainment venues stayed open. Official closings of theatres in some cities, due to lack of coal for example, led to protests from public and producers alike and could not be sustained.

Even though all these genres existed before , they began to attract a socially diversified mass public eager for sensational entertainment. The revue was seen — critics all over Europe agreed on this point — as the theatre form of the moment.


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In its specific flexibility and vitality, the revue was able to combine topical and escapist elements. Its characteristic self-reflexivity integrated all possible criticism from the outset. The strict separation between stage and auditorium was suspended by using gang planks through the auditorium or by simply letting dancers or actors enter the auditorium and use it as a stage. Especially the chorus girls — fearfully watched by the censors — had to bridge the gap between anonymizing modernity and erotic intimacy.

Concerning more classical narrations, most successful plays offered war related variations of genres that had become popular in the years before the war: detective or espionage plays, adventure spectacles and extravaganzas. The public was able to see a real war of military inventions. In the theatre magazine Les deux masques , the initial dramatic conflict is described:.

This leads to a wild chase which takes all characters involved from one end of the world to the other: from China to Alsace , the story progresses with incredible speed. In a remarkable show-down, the young French girl Mariette succeeds in tracking down the German colonel Von Blitz who is in possession of the formula to produce an explosive and is starting to make it in a factory in Mulhouse. By a trick of Marietta, the formula finally gets trapped in an iron flask and the whole factory is blown up together with Von Blitz.

The circus, with traditional affinities to war and the military, [52] must be included in a study of war-time entertainments. For example, the successful Dresden-based circus manager Hans Stosch-Sarrasani led a circus company with more than employees in Many of his foreign employees had to leave Germany in a rush. Sarrasani adapted his shows entirely to the topic of the war. However, in Berlin, he had some problems convincing the military command that his spectacles were an important contribution to the German war effort.

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The Berlin censors refused to authorise Europa in Flammen because of its sensational depiction of the current war which might agitate and perturb spectators. Only in , with the strengthening of German Inlandspropaganda domestic propaganda , were new possibilities opened to Sarrasani. From June to September , nearly until the bitter end of the war, he was allowed to perform his ever more monumental show Torpedo — los! On the literary stages, the prevailing tone had significantly shifted towards a darker, more disillusioned view of the times. The protagonists on stage were no longer heroes and they could not — as in the spectacular plays — be replaced by weapons and machines.

Eccentric and unconventional women were increasingly made protagonists in modern as well as classical dramas.


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Albert Lambert as Gennaro. The play begins with the following sentence, part of a conversation between young Italian lords at a carnival party in Venice:. For Victor Hugo, the epoch of 'so many horrible actions' that the opening sentence refers to, could certainly relate to recent events of the July Revolution in France. By , the heroes of — determined and happy soldiers with their waving flags — had left the stage both in the popular and the literary theatres. What followed was rather unsettling: the spectacular weapon overkill in the patriotic war plays as well as the ambivalent protagonists of modern and classical drama staged in , the sequenced logic of revue replacing traditional narrative forms and the escapist exoticism of musical theatre.

The lively and diversified theatrical culture in all big European cities was profoundly transformed by the onset of the First World War. During the first wartime season, topical and patriotic plays dominated theatre programmes, mostly integrated into the popular genres of the day, the operetta, revue, comedy and music-hall show. These often made use of an aggressive form of humor.

kinun-houju.com/wp-content/map9.php Nevertheless, a deeper analysis of these wartime productions which were supposed to keep the war at bay for the duration of the performance, shows implicit traces of war such as a carpe diem -mentality given a completely unpredictable future. The gap between the reality of technical warfare and the cozy world of make-believe on stage was often noticed by critics and the public. It was also this gap that made the theatre so attractive for new audiences such as working women as well as soldiers on leave and war refugees. Although living conditions deteriorated across Europe in the late war years, especially in the big metropolises of the Central Powers, Berlin and Vienna, [58] but also in Southern and Eastern Europe, theatres remained active and successful throughout the last months of the war.

Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century
Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century
Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century
Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century
Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century
Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century
Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century
Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century

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