German touring stage

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Johann Chr. Vollerdt: Traveling theater on the river bank around 1750

Deutsche Wanderbühne (also: theater, actor, comedian, opera, gang, troupe, society ) is the name for a roaming German-speaking theater troupe or traveling opera made up of professional actors and musicians, although they have their own fund , but did not have a permanent venue.

Such traveling troops had developed in Germany since the 17th century as a counterpart to the court theaters of the princes and entertained the people with antics known as “ main and state actions ” , which were parodies or travesties of courtly tragedies or operas . With the emergence of the first national theaters with permanent actor ensembles in the 18th century, this form of popular theater gradually lost its importance, even if traveling troupes made guest appearances in German cities well into the 19th century.

Organization of a hiking group

Spitzweg: Traveling Comedians around 1838

The organization of the traveling troops remained roughly the same from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The traveling comedians came together in so-called acting or comedian companies, mostly family businesses, under the direction of a principal . This theater entrepreneur was the organizational and artistic director of the privately run troupe and usually had the necessary licenses , financial resources, props and costumes.

The principal decided whether to hire new or additional actors. He also ensured discipline, managed income and expenses, selected and edited the new pieces and determined the schedule and venues. For special areas, such as the stage design , the special effects , or the organization of the technical processes, a traveling troupe might have its own theater master . If this was not the case, the principal assumed these responsibilities in addition to his other duties, such as filling the roles , managing the rehearsals and supervising the game operations. Existing ensembles at the respective venues were usually committed as orchestras . There was not yet a direction in the current sense, but a ballet master was needed to arrange the so-called groups .

The acting training consisted mainly of dance training. Friedrich Ludwig Schröder began his career as an "air jumper", and Joseph Anton Christ also proudly reports that he performed ballets . Furthermore, singing training was part of the manual equipment, as the actors had to perform singing games.

It was also the principal who had the permission of the respective sovereign to perform , without which a traveling troupe was not allowed to perform in German territory at the time. The princes gave these acting privileges to the acting companies they valued. It was customary for them to appear in court theaters and also to be appointed court comedians.

Normally, the theater groups made guest appearances as part of tours in the villages of their assigned play area. In villages, the performances were mostly held as open-air theater on wooden stages in markets or squares, while in larger towns there was the possibility of appearing in taverns, barns and similar locations or, for longer stays, in specially built show booths (also known as "comedy booths"). When the troupe was playing in a permanent building, the principal was a tenant acting at his own risk. There were directors only at large court theaters, and directors appointed by cities or associations only became common in the 19th century.

Since only a few selected troops were given a performance privilege in a territory, there was stiff competition between the theater troupes. There was also a mutual poaching of well-known and popular actors. Troops that could not get a game permit had to move to other areas, which is why the travel routes of German hiking troops reached far into Russia and into the Baltic States , where German-speaking parts of the population were located.

Play operation of a traveling stage

Costume in the 18th century

The private traveling troops oriented themselves almost exclusively to the fun-loving and often uneducated audience , on whose donations and entrance fees they were dependent. In order not to lose the public's interest, the traveling troops had to regularly perform new pieces. This made it necessary to stick to the poetic models only roughly or to omit them entirely and improvise, since there was not enough time to constantly rehearse new pieces as a whole.

For the traveling troops, theater was initially purely an entertainment theater. The game plan was dominated by the so-called “ main and state actions ”, at the center of which were the comic interludes of a harlequin or buffoon , which were characterized by crude jokes and indecentities . The performances consisted of a sequence of tense or situation-comical individual appearances and became a spectacle in which the optical effect of lavish costumes, pompous stage sets and sensational effects counted more than the acting. This was partly because there was a completely different understanding of art at the time, and acting was viewed more as a craft occupation.

It was common for actors to master puppetry because cramped spaces often made it impossible to play on a large stage. Puppet shows were therefore part of the "bad weather program".

Based on the English and Italian models, the German touring theaters practiced an impromptu theater , the style of which was characterized by improvisations, standardized roles and realistic exaggerated clarity. The actors specialized in certain role subjects or even standing roles - recurring character types that most closely matched their gender, age and appearance. A particularly good actor was often the one who embodied his character most clearly through overdrawing .

There was no interaction between the individual actors in the modern sense, as the actors themselves usually took on the rehearsal of their role texts and the often pompous costumes (they received so-called costume money from the principal) and competed for the audience's favor. The principal's duties as a director were limited to assigning the actors to their roles and ensuring that they were positioned on the stage in the correct relationship to one another.

Special form of traveling opera

A special form was the traveling opera of the 18th century, an organizational form in which both German court theaters and newly opened local theaters were played. In addition to the singers, the traveling opera also had instrumentalists on board, whose instruments, sheet music and music stands had to be carried if musicians from the destination were not used. On the other hand, precisely this form of theater required intensive preparation and a musical director. There was usually no improvisation like in impromptu theater. However, entertainers such as tightrope walkers also performed during the breaks. As the emphasis on Italian opera at German courts receded from the middle of the century, a bourgeois movement with "Singspiele and easy operas" emerged. After the practice of the famous Italian traveling operas such as Girolamo Bon , German opera troupes emerged who worked on an entrepreneurial basis. These include the troops of Johann Friedrich Schönemann (1704–1782), Emanuel Schikaneder (1751–1812) and the Seylersche Drama Society (founded in 1769). These theater ensembles had both music and spoken theater in their program.

Historical development

Middle Ages and Renaissance

The theater landscape of German territory was in the Middle Ages and in the age of the Renaissance marked motivated by religious, originally listed by clerics or forwarded, and later the city civic representation serving spiritual games . The purpose of mystery and passion plays , carnival plays or the Jesuit or Protestant school theater was primarily the conversion, instruction and the moral and moral education of society. A large number of citizens, who were highly regarded, often took part in these performances as amateur actors. The German amateur theaters enjoyed great popularity and persisted long after their heyday came to an end, even if they lost their importance with the appearance of the first foreign traveling troops.

Benjamin Cuyp: traveling showman around 1645, the Netherlands

The first Italian comedians moved across the Alps at the end of the 15th century, but initially played primarily in aristocratic circles in which one could speak Italian. With the development of Italian opera into the most popular form of theater at European courts after 1600, many of the Italian comedians' troops in Germany were forced to open up a new audience, as they could not offer this new form of musical theater any competition. So they turned to the German bourgeoisie , which, however, did not understand Italian. The Commedia dell'arte performances of the Italian theater groups developed into a kind of pantomime , the comic plot of which was conveyed through masks and exaggerated gestures and signs.

Towards the end of the 16th and 17th centuries, the English comedians of the Elizabethan Theater immigrated to the German-speaking area via Denmark and the Netherlands . As a result, there was a tough struggle between these and the Italian theater troupes for the German audience, which was also joined by French traveling troops in the 18th century.

Approaches to independence

In the 17th century, as a reaction to the foreign theater groups, a separate German professional theater based on the model of foreign touring theaters emerged in the German-speaking area. This development began with the inclusion of German actors in the ensemble of English troops, which gradually led to purely German-speaking traveling troops.

From the English models, it was less the texts than the game form, into which elements of the Commedia dell'arte were incorporated. This is how a separate form of comedy was created on the German touring stage . The German-language counterpart to pickled herring or Arlecchino was the comic figure of the Viennese Hanswurst created by Stranitzky , who appeared as an added servant figure in translated and highly coarse French or Italian tragedies that served as a template for his jokes.

In addition to the troops, which offered the broad public teasing and adventure stories, theater groups also formed that played at royal courts and in front of an educated audience. An example of this were the High German court comedians and their successor groups, who brought significant innovations to the traveling theater landscape: longer and literary plays, dramas and female actors for female roles. In addition to adaptations of English, Italian and French subjects (e.g. Shakespeare , Molière ), German models for theater plays were also used.


At the beginning of the 18th century, as part of the literary enlightenment and based on the Leipzig circle around the literary theorist Johann Christoph Gottsched , a reform of the German theater based on the model of French classical music . As a result, the German touring theaters, above all the Neubersche troupe of the principal and stage reformer Caroline Neuber , began to adhere more strictly to the poetic models of the mostly French drama texts and to implement them through the French-pathetic theater style (see regular drama ).

This demanded higher skills from the actors and helped the German theater to gain artistic recognition. However, this led to criticism in France as well as in Germany at a time that was already breaking away from the classic guidelines. The French style of representation, with its courtly costumes and gestures, designed for typification and representation, was not understood by the less educated German public and was therefore unsuccessful.

Abel Seyler , main supporter of the Hamburgische Entreprise and principal of the Seylerschen Schauspiel-Gesellschaft

It was only with Conrad Ekhof and other well-known traveling actors of the time, in the middle and towards the end of the 18th century, that an own art of acting gradually developed, characterized by moderate realism and the beginning of ensemble play. In addition, the first national theaters with permanent theater ensembles were built in the same period , and most of the German traveling troupes were absorbed over time. With “ national ” one meant a cultural, linguistic commonality in the German-speaking area, which is still fragmented by small states. The privately financed Hamburg company , in which Gotthold Ephraim Lessing worked as a dramaturge, could only last from 1767 to 1769, but by the end of the 1820s there were already more than 65 regular theaters in the German-speaking area.

19th century

The demarcation between drama, opera and ballet troupes was fluid in the 19th century. The composer Albert Lortzing started out as an actor and singer in Josef Derossi's troupe . The theater composer Adolf Müller senior began his career as a traveling actor. Richard Wagner no longer worked as an actor like his siblings (although in his first contract as a choir conductor in Würzburg he was obliged to dance in ballet), but he was still employed by a traveling troupe in Bad Lauchstädt in the 1830s .

With the expansion of the cities in the 19th century, the need for entertainment increased, but the traveling troops were pushed back. Standing theaters modeled on the Parisian boulevard theaters were founded, such as the Königsstädtisches Theater Berlin. In the transition period there is the poet and actor Karl von Holtei , who in his novel The Last Comedian (1863) describes the sinking time of the traveling troops. When people laughed at the Schönthan brothers' comedy Raub der Sabineinnen in the German-speaking area in 1884 , the traveling troops satirized in it had already disappeared.

20th century

With the emergence of theatrical cabaret in music halls or singspielhallen and with the spread of boulevard plays and operettas , a new type of actor, mostly individually wandering but often networked with one another, emerged from the end of the 19th century. Helmut Qualtinger portrayed this type of actor with his cabaret scene Der Menschheit is dignity is given in your hand (based on Friedrich Schiller's poem Die Künstler ), in which two small actors talk about their stage roles during the period of National Socialism in German-speaking theaters in the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe.

Social status


The traveling troops were made up of actors who, in contrast to the previous amateur actors, made the theater their profession. This was suspected in society at the time, as Kindermann put it in 1956

Every acting performance is an artistic self-disclosure […].
Self-abandonment out of the instinct to play or out of an ideological, even religious
or educational vocation seemed permitted and even
desirable in many respects . Self-surrender as a profession, however, self-surrender in return for payment
- to the amusement or tragic sensational effects before a day
other viewers sake - appeared first as so questionable, as so
beyond allerseelisch moral standards, that nationals of that
early actors stand often not the most important sacraments
allowed nor allowed them a Christian burial.

In addition, the wandering existence of the traveling comedians was contrary to the bourgeois ideal of sedentariness , which is why actors enjoyed a bad reputation. In the tradition of the land-driver and play people, actors were generally seen as jokers and as failed existences with a dissolute lifestyle. Usually they had to be buried outside the cemetery walls.

Conrad Ekhof (1720–1778)

This only changed with the theater reform in the first half of the 18th century. She endeavored to respect the theater actors as artists and thereby raise the demands on the educational level of the actor's class. The actors came to a large extent from families of actors, but increasingly also from circles with a certain level of education, for example students , since being able to read had become a basic requirement of the profession. In addition, efforts were made to counteract the bad reputation by adopting a more decent and moral way of life. The actors, however, succeeded later than the musicians in becoming highly esteemed as "artists".

So it was also the traveling actors who tried to improve the artistic and social reputation of the theater and their status and thus decisively contributed to the development of German theater and a "German" culture, which after the wars of liberation led to an increase in the number of cities and towns National Theater led.

It was also the acting troupes who, in the middle of the 18th century, helped the young German " dramaturges " (such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing ) and thus German-language drama to make a breakthrough as the first client . Ultimately, the first professional actors emerged from the traveling troops , which laid the foundation for today's theater culture.


William Hoarth: Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn
The Neuberin (New Theater Almanach, 1898)

Up until the 18th century, women's roles were still partly played by men. The first actresses in Germany appeared under “Magister Velthen ”. To show that they were suitable as actors, the women also appeared in male roles . The costumes of the ladies were among the most expensive that a traveling group needed. Therefore, some actresses were hired because of the clothes they had brought with them.

Individual actresses succeeded in 18./19. Century a remarkable social rise, be it that they married admirers from higher ranks, be it that they became principals and playwrights in their profession. Catharina Elisabeth Velten became the first principal after the death of her husband. The principal Friederike Caroline Neuber has a reputation for banning the Hanswurst from the German stage (although she only pushed him back and could not do without him even in her own troupe for economic reasons). It thus gave the prelude to a reform of German theater, in whose further development Conrad Ekhof also participated, who founded the first German academy of actors in 1753 and was involved in the attempt at the Hamburg National Theater (1767–1769).

Even Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer had as an actress, director, and playwright Prinzipalin a formative influence on the German-language theater scene in the first half of the 19th century.

Principals and their acting companies in the 17th and 18th centuries

  • Konrad Ernst Ackermann (1712–1771), first in Schönemann's troop, joined forces with colleague Sophie Charlotte Schröder (Schröder's troop, 1742 to 1744) to form the Ackermann troop around 1747/1751 , after his death by his stepson Friedrich Ludwig Schröder continued (Schröder's troop, 1770 to 1798)
  • Johann Heinrich Böhm (1740–1792), started in Schaumburg society, Böhm troupe from 1770 to 1792
  • Pasquale Bondini († 1789), led the Bondinische Gesellschaft in Leipzig, Dresden and Prague
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Bossann (1756–1813), headed the Neuhausische Theatergesellschaft from 1786 and gave it his name (Mainz / Rhineland; commitment of the troupe to Anhalt 1794 founded today's Anhalt Theater )
  • Leonhard Andreas Denner , first in the Veltenschen Gesellschaft, then his own troupe (1708 to 1731)
  • Josef Derossi : (1768–1841), head of the Düsseldorfer Theatergesellschaft
  • Karl Theophil Döbbelin (1727–1793), first in the Ackermann and Koch forces, own troops around 1757 and 1767–1787
  • Eberweinische Troop Gotha
  • Conrad Ekhof (1720–1778), started in Schönemann's troupe, between 1775 and 1778 co-director at the Gotha court theater
  • Andreas Elenson (around 1645 – around 1706), first in Veltenscher troop, then founder of the Viennese company (or Elenson's troop, 1672 to 1706)
  • Johann Georg Förster , started in Spiegelberg's troupe, then independent puppet and comedian gang (1725 to 1737)
  • Kaspar Haack, Carl Ludwig Hoffmann, first with Elenson (Haack marries Sophie Julie Elenson), after Elenson's death takeover as (Elenson) Haack-Hoffmann troupe (1708 to 1725)
  • Simon Friedrich Koberwein (1733 – after 1803)
  • Heinrich Gottfried Koch (1703–1775), started in the first Schröder group, founded the Koch group in 1749 (existed until 1775)
  • Johann Joseph Felix von Kurz (1717–1784)
  • Langesche Gesellschaft Naumburg
  • Theobald Marchand (1741–1800), founder of the Marchand Theater Society (Mainz / Mannheim)
  • Friederike Caroline Neuber ("Neuberin", 1697–1760), first in the Spiegelbergschen and Haack-Hoffmannschen Gesellschaft, head of the Neubersch Komödiantengesellschaft (1725 to 1750)
  • Filippo Nicolini († around 1775), leader of a pantomime group
  • Carl Andreas Paulsen (1620–1678), head of the High German court comedians (first traveling stage with only German actors from around 1650 to 1678)
  • Herrmann Reinhard Richter and Balthasar Brambacher: first in the Veltenschen Gesellschaft, then independently as Merseburg court comedians (1695 to 1702)
  • Johann Friedrich Schönemann (1704–1782), started in Ackermann and Försterscher troops; Schönemann Society (1740 to 1757)
  • Abel Seyler (1730–1800), started in Koch's troupe, founded the Seylersche Drama Society in 1769
  • Johann Christian Spiegelberg (1682–1732), first in the Veltenschen and Dennerschen Society, then own troop (1712 to 1725)
  • Johann Carl Tilly, founder of the Tilly Troop (Mecklenburg / Western Pomerania)
  • Johannes Velten (1640–1691 / 91), took over Paulsen's troupe between 1670 and 1680 and made it the first German drama company of importance; continued after his death by Catharina Velten (successor troops of former colleagues including: Brambacher, Denner, Elenson, Förster, Müller, Sasse, Spiegelberg)
  • Johann Christian Wäser , Maria Barbara Wäser , head of the Wäser Society in Silesia and Prussia

See also


  • Carl Heine: The play of the German touring stage in front of Gottsched. Halle, p. 1889.
  • Hermann Maas: External history of the English theater troupes in the period from 1559 to 1642. Louvain, Leipzig 1907.
  • Rudolf Schirmer (Ed.): Actor life in the 18th century. Memories of Joseph Anton Christ. Langewiesche-Brandt, Munich and Leipzig 1912.
  • Konrad Schiffmann (ed.): Jakob Neukäufler (1754–1835). From the life of a traveling actor. Jos. Feichtinger's heirs , Linz 1930.
  • Herbert Junkers: Dutch Actors and Dutch Drama in the 17th and 18th Centuries in Germany. Nijhoff, Haag 1938.
  • Haide Marie Brandt: The Holtorf Troop - the essence and work of a traveling stage. Berlin 1960.
  • Bärbel Rudin (Ed.): Traveling stage - theater art as a traveling trade. Berlin 1988.
  • Peter Schmitt: Actors and Theater Operations - Studies on the Social History of the Acting Status 1700–1900. Tubingen 1990.
  • Wolfgang Bender (Hrsg.): The art of acting in the 18th century. Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-515-05990-3 .
  • Simon Williams: German Actors of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Idealism, Romanticism and Realism. Greenwood, Westport 1985, ISBN 0-313-24365-4 .
  • Roland Dreßler: From the Schaubühne to the moral school - the theater audience in front of the fourth wall. Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-89487-181-4 .
  • Michael Rueppel: Only two years of theater and everything is in ruins - Bremen's theater history from the beginning to the end of the 18th century. Winter, Heidelberg 1996 ( ).
  • Wilhelm Herrmann: Hoftheater - Volkstheater - National Theater - the traveling stages in Mannheim in the 18th century and their contribution to the foundation of the National Theater. Frankfurt a. M. 1999, ISBN 3-631-34645-X .
  • Renate Möhrmann [Hrsg.]: The actress - a cultural history. Frankfurt a. M. 2000, ISBN 3-458-34365-2 .
  • Claudia Puschmann: Traveling women - On the history of women on German traveling theaters (1670–1760). Herbolzheim 2000, ISBN 3-8255-0272-4 .
  • Eduard Devrient : History of German Drama . tape 1 . Henschelverlag Kunst und Gesellschaft (License Verlag Langen Müller), Berlin 1967, section The regular art of acting under principals , p. 279-476 .
  • Eike Pies : Principals - for Genealogy d. German-speaking professional theater from the 17th to the 19th century . A. Henn Verlag, Düsseldorf 1973, ISBN 3-450-01061-1 .
  • Albrecht: You can waste the stars - actor memories of the 18th and 19th centuries . Book publisher Der Morgen, Berlin 1980.
  • Ludwig Wollrabe: The French miller. (Biography of the actor Carl Theodor Müller) . Druck und Commissions-Verlag by JB Klein, Crefeld 1842 ( ).
  • Petra Oelker : The Neuberin. The life story of the first great German actress . Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-499-23740-7 ( [PDF] reading sample).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilhelm Pfannkuch: Organizations of Music . In: Music in the past and present. 1, Volume 10, Bärenreiter-Verlag, Kassel 1962, Sp. 206.
  2. Simon Williams: German Actors of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Idealism, Romanticism and Realism. London 1985, p. 5.
  3. ^ Heinz Kindermann: Conrad Ekhofs Actor Academy. in: Austrian Academy of Sciences: Meeting reports. Volume 230, 2nd treatise, Vienna 1956, pp. 47/8.
  4. ^ Hermann Schwedes: Musicians and comedians - one thing is pack like the other. The way of life of the theater people and the problem of their bourgeois acceptance. Vlg. F. system. Musikwiss., Bonn 1993. ISBN 3-922626-65-3 .