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  1. 1. Vienna’s dramatists have a long, brilliant and turbulent history. But no year was quite so momentous as 1929, the year modernity was born BY BRIAN HATFIELD COVER STORY Reimagining The Self12 july | august 2016 july | august 2016 13 H edwigKieslerwasde- termined to act. She had traveled all the way to Berlin to studyunderthegreat Viennese director Max Reinhardt. But it seemed impossible to get an audition. So during a rehearsal, she slipped into the emp- ty theater and sat in the back to watch. Then he spotted her, irritated, and called her up onto the stage. She was very young – only 17 – with raven hair and penetrating green eyes.“Ijustwantedtoseeyoudirect,”shelat- er remembered saying. “Do you speak English?” he barked. “Y... yes,” she managed, thus winning herself the partof“2ndAmericangirl”inReinhardt’sDas schwächereGeschlecht(TheWeakerSex). The young actress’s only notion of Ameri- ca then was of a flotilla of states encircling an island of magic called Hollywood. But then, she came from Vienna, a city where theater was part of life – a glasshouse of di- rectors, actors, writers, teachers and psy- chologists,spinningtalesofthehumanexpe- rience out of logic, myth and madness. Act- ing was almost second nature. “I acted all the time,” she told an interview- er in 1938. She copied the gestures and man- nerisms of her mother, their dinner guests, theservantsandpeopleonthestreet.“Iwasa livingcopybook;Iwrotepeopledownonme.” Still agonizing over the loss of an empire, recovering from the upheavals of the war, and torn apart by increasing hostility be- tween the Socialists and Christian-Demo- crats, Vienna was also the place where the- atercouldanddidblossom,wildlyandvigor- ously. Theatrical creativity, inspiration and innovationseemedtosweepawayallthesor- rows of the present. At least for some. In this hotchpotch of misery and ambi- tion, the ingenue Hedwig Kiesler was on her way to Hollywood to become Hedy Lamarr, her trajectory set, navigating the zeitgeist that would carry the German-speaking worldoutofonewarandintoanother,where she herself would play an important role. The young Viennese actress Hedwig Kiesler was groomed by Max Reinhardt to eventually become the Hollywood superstar known as Hedy Lamarr.
  2. 2. july | august 2016 15 FREUD AND THE THEATER But perhaps they were not so far apart. “What’s important to understand about Freud is his classical, humanistic educa- tion,” says Prof. Monika Meister of the University of Vienna, “including the im- portance of ancient Greek tragedy.” Mid- way through The Interpretation of Dreams, for example, he brings in Oedi- pus, and refers to Sophocles’ recognition of the unconscious back in the 5th centu- ry B.C. “And Hofmannsthal’s Elektra was seen as a study of Hysteria,” she con- cludes. But theater in ancient times was more than just diagnosis and observa- tion; it was also medicine and therapy. “Sophocles and Aristotle had discovered theaterforcatharsis,purgingthecommu- nity,”shesays,playingthesamepurifying role as medicine. After the Great War, Hofmannsthal’s world fell apart. Unable to overcome the dissolution of the monarchy, he became more conservative, and while his produc- tivity never slowed, he felt increasingly out of step with his time. Still, he was adored by the public. At the time of his death in 1929, his most famous play, Jedermann (Everyman), had just played in the Salzburg Festival for its ninth con- secutive year. Schnitzler, on the other hand, was at home in the new age, delving ever deeper into psychology that was already basic to his work. His most famous play, Reigen, premiered in both Vienna and Berlin in 1920,unravelingaseriesofsexualencoun- ters that shocked even liberal Vienna. The ensuing scandal, including a lawsuit in Berlin, culminated in Schnitzler with- drawing the play for some eight years. THE END OFAN ERA But by then, Schnitzler, like Hofmanns- thal, had lost a child to suicide, his be- loved daughter Lilli. “On that July day,” he wrote in his diary, “my life, too, came to an end.” In hindsight, Hofmannstal’s and Schnitzler’s deaths so close together ap- pear like an omen for the horrors that fol- lowed, for a society whose creative glue was coming unstuck, unhinging the city, propelling artists and psychologists out into the diaspora. By the end of World War II, says Meister, “Jewish theater was tabula rasa.” It’s unlikely that Lamarr, at the age of 15, would have seen Reigen, but she was no stranger to censorship. At 19, she made love to her then boyfriend in the Czech film Extase, the director had stuck a safety pin into her buttocks to make the love scenes look more passionate. The film ruffled some feathers in both Europe and America; but at least everyone knew her name. “I went to Prague because I was in love withsomebody,”shetoldareporterin1970. Sheneverregrettedit. WhilethereisnorecordthatLamarrmet either Hofmannsthal or Richard Strauss, she did know the other of the Salzburg greats – director Max Reinhardt, who pio- neeredathirdpathofelaboratestagingand setdesign,influencedbyRichardWagner’s idea of a Gesamtkunstwerk. The doyen of Austrian theater, he launched his still re- nownedMaxReinhardtSeminarinVienna in 1929, furthering a vision that found its fullest expression in the director’s film workinHollywood. Reinhardt was against realism and the declamatory style of the past, cultivating inhisstudentsathoroughknowledgeand deep respect for all aspects of stagecraft. His innovations included special lighting effects, revolving stages and sky-domed ceilings, which he exploited to the hilt and earned him the reputation as a mas- ter of stage direction. After Lamarr ap- peared in the lead as Sybil in Reinhardt’s 1931 production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives at Theater in der Josefstadt, he pro- claimed her “the most beautiful woman in Europe.” FINDING STANISLAVSKI The year 1929 was also a seminal one in philosophy, with the publication of the manifestooftheViennaCircle.Theselog- ical positivists were the antithesis of the JungWienartists:Schnitzler,Hofmanns- thal,ZweigandKarlKraus,“themasterof venomous ridicule.” Theater’s strongest new impulse, how- ever, may have come from refugee Mi- chael Chekhov, nephew of the Russian playwright and former star of the famous Moscow Arts Theatre. Chekhov had sought out Reinhardt, hoping to play Hamlet, but was instead offered a charac- ter role in Artisten, at Theater in der Jo- sefstadt in 1928. During the play, Chek- hov had an experience of “double con- sciousness” – of acting and watching one- selfactatthesametime,leadinghismen- tor Konstantin Stanislavski to fear for his sanity – and reconsider his technique for drawing out his actors. Artistic success, he believed, could be found by working from the insideout, or alternatively, from the outside in, echoing Carl Jung’s theo- ries on introverts and extroverts. Stan- islavski’s insight led to his “Method of PhysicalAction”,hisrelianceonthe“mag- ic if” of reimagining the self. Vienna’s passion for theater also touched the young Adolf Hitler, who took lessons from the stage hypnotist Erik Jan Hanussen, a “clairvoyant” and charlatan. Hitler’s talent was oratory, which he used 14 july | august 2016 ALLTHE WORLD’S A STAGE The great names of that time have long sincemadetheirexitsfromViennastreets. But theater itself, suspending disbelief, continues to lift the stories of our age, the facts, figures and maps of our world, off the page into reincarnate life. “We’ve always had broad support,” says RobertDressler,directorofthetheaterpro- gram at the Deparment of Culture for the City of Vienna. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Vienna’s theaters were pri- vately sponsored by the nobility and the newindustrialfortunesaspiringtobecome a part of high society. Before that, Dressler explained, theater was mostly confined to the court and, to some extent, the church. After three decades working in support of the arts here, most notably at Vienna’s venerableEnglishTheatre,hecaresdeeply about keeping the tradition alive. “In the late 1920s, along the Praterstraße, there were quite a number of theaters,” he says, “many for operetta, including Jewish the- aters,” that had just begun to prosper by 1929. They would only have their brief but- terfly day in the sun. ECCE HOMO The year 1929 also brought heavylossesandunlikelyrec- onciliations. Just two days af- ter his son’s suicide, drama- tist Hugo von Hofmannstal, giant of the German-lan- guage fin-de-siècle poetry and the Wiener Moderne, himself succumbed, dying of a broken heart. And it was the irrepressible Stefan Zweig who, despite years of petty jealou- sies,deliveredtheeulogyatHofmannstal’s funeral, before joining a procession that led from the Burgtheater, past the Volks- garten, and over Rudolf Geschwind’s fa- mous roses, now petals strewn yellow, damask and red. Hofmannsthalhadbeenaphenomenon, a prodigy already published by the age of 17,andfamousby25,oneofagroupofbohe- mians who called themselves Jung Wien, communing at around writer Hermann BahratCaféGriensteidl.Outof“multiplic- ity and indeterminacy [where] everything fell into parts,” Hofmannsthal evolved his theatrical “ceremony of the whole.” His plays were brimming with choruses, musicians, dancers andevenanimals,unitingthe audience in a “mystical union” with the performers onstage,principlesheusedin his many librettos to the op- eras of Richard Strauss. Among Hofmannsthal’s Jung Wien co- hortswasthegreatnovelistandplaywright Arthur Schnitzler, who had about-faced from medicine to literature. Medicine had “sharpenedmyeyeandenlightenedmyin- tellect,” he wrote in 1920, equipping him brilliantly for diagnosing society and hu- man relationships. A pioneer of the tech- nique of the inner monologue long before James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), his novella Lieutenant Gustl (1900) was written the same year as Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. Freud himself was in awe of Schnitzler,whomhewasreluctanttomeet for fear of encountering a doppelgänger. “I have often wondered,” Freud wrote Schnitzler in 1906, “how it is you possess this or that piece of secret knowledge, that for me has come only with years of study?” COVER STORY Max Reinhardt launched his Seminar in Vienna in 1929, furthering a vision that found its fullest expression in his Hollywood films. PHOTOS,APAPICTUREDESK:PREVIOUSPAGE:RONALDGRANTARCHIVE/MARYEVANS;LEFT:FOTOWILHELM/INTERFOTO; RIGHT:FRIEDRICH/INTERFOTO Before his death in 1929, Hugo von Hoffmansthal's most famous work, Jedermann, played for nine years at the Salzburg Festival and annually ever since.
  3. 3. 16 july | august 2016 tooptimumeffect.Herequired a long warm-up, practicing his gestures to perfection in a mir- ror. He had a sonorous voice, not always evident in the hys- terical tone of his public re- cordings. And like Reinhardt, his knowl- edgeofstagingwasthoroughandconvinc- ing–aconsummateperformer. THEWORLD,ANIGHTMARE By the spring of 1932 the young republics in Germany and Austria were both fall- ing apart. On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, and five years later, annexed Austria. Overnight,halfofVienna’stheaterswere closed; the cabarets and the Jews were gone, most never to return. The exodus gutted Viennese theater. Hedy Lamarr herself was saved by Max Reinhardt, with an introduction to Louis B.MayerofMGM,escapingasuffocating marriage to a wealthy armaments manu- facturer and getting her out of Austria. Vienna’s theatrical genius blossomed anew in the lush garden of Hollywood, the new medium, cinema. Directors Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Fred Zinneman, Fritz Lang and Michael Curtiz, actors Peter Lorre, Paul Henried and of course Hedy Lamarr, as well as nearly 400 others who left their stamp on Hol- lywood, winning no fewer than33AcademyAwardsin thedecadesthatfollowed. PSYCHOLOGY IS BACK Today in 2016, times are uncertain; the economyisturningaspopulationsareon the move and technology is reshuffling the cards. We are again in a time of ideas, disturbing but also challenging. This is, on the whole, good for theater. In Vienna, says Dressler, new work is again tackling political and social themes,oftenwithpost-modern,concep- tualapproachesthataremutable,thatre- fusetomakefixedclaims,andwithmany new aesthetics, often crossing or mixing disciplines, materials and settings. It mightbemultilingual,withouttradition- al storytelling, with little text or none. Playwrights are turning back to psy- chology, terrain where Vienna has a long tradition. “There’s very interesting work being done on catharsis and theater as therapy,” says Meister, particularly through“thepsycho-physicalconnection, as in dance, in movement that digs deep into the psyche.” Theater, now as ever, is a child of change; it thrives on experiment, but it also needs continuity and context as a frame for meaning. Both are essential. “Funding is split,” Dressler confirms, “between an aging, more literary audi- ence and a younger one [at home] with new technology, who certainly won’t watch Hamlet for five hours and aren’t studying classical literature.” To serve them, “there are new forms emerging.” Launched in 1929, it was Hedy Lamarr fromViennawhoanticipatedthedirection oftheaterinthe21stcentury:themarriage of art and technology. In 1942, in partner- shipwithmodernistcomposerGeorgeAn- theil,sheinventedaradioguidancesystem for Allied torpedoes, using a frequency hoppingprinciplethatlaterbecametheba- sis for modern wireless and broadband communicationstechnologies. Thus the “most beautiful woman in Eu- rope” made it to the big stage, the big screen and the universe of big ideas – a bridge from of the artists’ world of Jung Wien, to that of the scientists, the Vienna Circle–andhelpedlaythefoundationsfor the modern world. PHOTOS:LEFT:ARTURANDRZEJ/WIKIPEDIA;RIGHT:ROGERVIOLLET/PICTUREDESK.COM COVER STORY Billy Wilder (here with Gloria Swanson ca. 1950) was part of the mass exodus of Viennese talent to Hollywood. Otto Preminger fled to Hollywood, here he directs John Wayne during the shooting of In Harm’s Way in 1965. “Funding is split between an aging, more literary audience and a younger one with new technology, who certainly won’t watch Hamlet for five hours.” Robert Dressler, Director of the theater program at the Department of Culture for the City of Vienna