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Piscator, Erwin (1893-1966) | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Piscator, Erwin (1893-1966)

Historical Note:

Erwin Friedrich Maximilian Piscator (17 December 1893 in Greifenstein-Ulm - 30 March 1966) was a German theatrical director and producer who, with Bertolt Brecht, was the foremost exponent of epic theater, a genre that emphasizes the socio-political context rather than the emotional content or aesthetics of the play.

Piscator worked experimentally in Berlin as a stage director and later as managing director at his own theater (on Nollendorfplatz), he produced social and political plays especially suited to his theories. In 1931 Piscator went to Moscow to make a motion picture for Mezhrabpom, the Soviet film company associated with the International Workers' Relief Organization, but with Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Piscator's stay in the Soviet Union became political asylum. He left the Soviet Union three years later, with the firm belief that he never wanted to work under a communist dictatorship again. In 1937 he married dancer Marie Ley in Paris. Piscator and Ley subsequently emigrated to the United States in 1939. In New York City Piscator became director of the Dramatic Workshop which he founded at the New School for Social Research in 1940. Among Piscator's students at the Dramatic Workshop were Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Judith Malina, Walter Matthau, Harry Belafonte, Elaine Stritch and Tennessee Williams. Piscator had to return to West Germany during the McCarthy era in 1951. He was appointed manager and director of the Freie Volksbühne in West-Berlin in 1962. To much international critical acclaim, Piscator premiered the controversial play The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth "about Pope Pius XII and the allegedly neglected rescue of Italian Jews from Nazi gas chambers" in 1963. Until his death in 1966, Piscator became a major exponent of contemporary and Documentary theatre. Piscator's wife, Maria Ley, died in New York city in 1999.

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