Popular theater

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The term people's theater goes back to the 18th century and originally refers to theater for the people in the sense of the third estate . According to the literary scholar Jürgen Hein, there is popular theater as an “intention” (namely to make theater for the people) or as an “institution” (i.e. as a “house”, private company or public institution). Another term of the popular theater stands for amateur theater ( Greek laikós = belonging to the people), as was the majority of medieval theater .

Popular theater as a genre

Karel Dujardin : Commedia dell'Arte, 1657. - Until the 18th century, popular theater was largely improvised and took place outdoors or in show booths .


People speak of Volkstheater as a theater genre, in contrast to court theater (first by Johann Wolfgang Goethe around 1825). It encompasses forms of theater that were outside court institutions until 1918 and were mainly intended for a non-aristocratic audience. As a rule, it was the private theater as opposed to the courtly or state- subsidized theater .

  • An older term of the popular theater describes the theater of an urban bourgeoisie, which is directed against courtly forms of theater. It is based on an understanding of the people as a third estate .
  • A middle term in popular theater that emerged in the second half of the 19th century is for the time being directed against foreign, foreign language influences and thereby tries to defuse or cover up the internal social conflicts during the dissolution of the class order . The concept of the people as a nation suits him.
  • A more recent term of popular theater, which emerged around 1900, is directed against the wealthy urban bourgeoisie and opposes the concerns of workers and peasants. It equates the people roughly with the proletariat .
  • An even more recent National Socialist term for popular theater since the 1930s sees it as an expression of legitimate descent, i.e. understands the people as a race .

According to the class clause , the court theaters had a privilege to deal with tragedy . The basic social problem of the folk theater in the 18th and 19th centuries was that it featured “ grotesque ” characters in contrast to the noble ones at the court theater, that is, unfaithful, uncouth, ridiculous “types from the people” with whom it became civilized Volk could no longer necessarily identify. From this, two strategies developed in the German-speaking area to upgrade popular theater: Either one self-confidently upgraded non-courtly features such as the dialect , as was common in Great Britain, or one refined the grotesque characters to "simple" bourgeois ones, as in the comedy of the 19th century ( Eduard Bauernfeld ) and had folk singers perform in tails instead of fools' caps.

A countermovement against this refinement occurred in the peasant theater , which had an effect from the city back to the countryside: while in the countryside up into the 19th century the foreign and urban were considered and preferred as something better, rural characters were accepted as something unique and "folk" as soon as it was available in the city theater like Ludwig Anzengruber's .


“Volkstheater” was not defined in terms of content until the middle of the 19th century. It's all that resonates with the masses. The best known and oldest forms of modern European folk theater are the commedia dell'arte and puppet shows . Popular theater can be improvised (impromptu comedy ) or written down ( folk play ). Mostly it was a mixture of text and improvisation like in the main and state actions . The increasing literarization was a requirement of the censorship , which could better control what was listed.

In London there were the private patent theaters as early as the 17th century and thus not the struggle between courtly privilege and private initiative, which determines the history of continental European theater. In the 18th century, the booths of the Parisian fair theater and later the boulevard theaters on the Boulevard du Temple were models for the continental European folk theater, which was followed in the German-speaking area by the Viennese suburban theaters and later the Königsstädtische Theater Berlin.

From the 16th to the middle of the 19th century there was the tradition of parodies and travesties , in which courtly behavior was grotesquely alienated and thus mocked. Since the emancipation of popular theater in the 18th century, however, an attempt educated middle class , despite its small origins of courtly theater forms to lean ( Johann Christoph Gottsched ) and with this " mind Adel demarcate" the common people Theater.

The folk theater profited from the ideals of romanticism since around 1800, which saw a kind of cultural revelation in folk tales or in the “ folk spirit ” that is expressed in them. As a result, the traditional vulgar and satirical material of popular theater was played down or pushed back, and the touching and fairytale-like got a boost.

The popular theatrical counterpart to aristocratic comedy was the farce , while melodrama was created as a counterpart to tragedy at the end of the 18th century . In addition, the pantomime formed as a counter-genre to court ballet and the circus . Many variants of popular theater have a strong musical component, such as vaudeville , Singspiel , and Opéra comique . Vienna was the largest city in the German-speaking area, so it was a center of popular theater. The pieces that were performed here around 1800 are grouped under the term Alt-Wiener Volkstheater . In the 19th century new forms such as variety , Schwank , operetta and revue developed .

With the fall of theater privileges around 1850, many smaller popular venues emerged across Europe, such as the Music Halls and Singspielhallen , in which the majority of popular entertainment took place until the triumph of the cinemas .

In some places people only spoke of popular theater when they thought it was lost. In contrast to the urban entertainment culture, a "folk" theater emerged from the middle of the 19th century, which saw itself as maintaining tradition with rural or emphatically local themes. Since nationalism at the end of the 19th century, the term Volkstheater has often been understood ideologically, and it was used as a political platform, in the sense of a pronounced right or left political attitude (as by Adam Müller-Guttenbrunn or later Bertolt Brecht ).

A more neutral term for popular theater is "popular drama". As mass entertainment, it has shifted from theater to other media such as film and television in the 20th century .


Institutions with the name Volkstheater, which are no longer necessarily dedicated to a genre of popular theater, are today the Théâtre National Populaire in Villeurbanne (formerly in Paris), the Volkstheater in Vienna , the Munich Volkstheater and the Rostock Volkstheater . - Popular theaters (dialect stages) are the Ohnsorg Theater in Hamburg , the Millowitsch Theater in Cologne , the Volkstheater Geisler in Lübeck and the German-Sorbian Volkstheater in Bautzen , the Chiemgauer Volkstheater , the Volkstheater Frankfurt , the Theater Lindenhof in Melchingen , the Neu-Isenburg dialect ensemble , and the moon palace of Wanne-Eickel in Herne.

The genre of folk theater is promoted, among other things, by the state prize for folk theater pieces of the state of Baden-Württemberg and the Bern People's Theater Prize, which is advertised for the entire German-speaking area .

Theater name

The following institutions bear the name Volkstheater:

Individual evidence

  1. Jürgen Hein: The Vienna People's Theater. Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchges. 1997, p. 8