Artist: Free People's Theater and New Free People's Theater
Confronting Bodies: The German Government
Date of Action: 1891-1892, 1895-1896, 1910-1911, 1912, 1929, 1933, 1945
Specific Location: Germany
Description of Artwork: The Free People's Theater was founded in 1980 by Bruno Willie, a naturalist writer, and some Social Democratic activists. The theater association was set up as a private theater association that gave cheap performances. The idea was to give Germany's working class access to theater. The plays that were shown were mostly modern and naturalist.
Description of Incident: The authorities were immediately concerned by the Free People's Theater and Emperor William II ordered an investigation into the association. However, because the theater was private and only offered performances for members the Berlin police told him it could not be subject to censorship. In 1891 the police invoked the Prussian associations law against the Free People's Theater, saying that since it sought to influence public affairs they must notify the police of all their meetings and members. The Theater appealed the ruling and won. The decision was then quickly overturned by the Higher Administrative Court saying that the theater must notify the police of its members and meetings since its main purpose was political. The court also said that the Free People's Theater was not a political group meaning that the group was officially recognized and the police could not legally censor them. Later that year the theater split into two factions, the New Free People's Theater, which was more artistically oriented, and the Free People's Theater, which was more politically oriented. As the membership of both groups grew the police began complaining that both were in actuality giving performances to the public. In 1893 both groups gave performances of "The Weavers" and in 1895 a government reaction against this play led the police to move against the theaters. The police then decreed that since obtaining membership to the theaters was so easy they must be subject to censorship. The theaters appealed and the Higher Administrative Court ruled with the police. The New Free People's Theater reacted by tightening their membership qualifications and the Free People's Theater decided to disband rather than be subjected to police censorship. However within a year the Free People's Theater was refounded on terms that were more agreeable to the police. In 1910 after the theaters had announced they would be offering a wider variety of entertainments to their members the police again intervened. Both theaters were again declared public and again both appealed and again the appeals were rejected. From then on the police acted as censors of the theaters but the only performance they actually banned was a 1912 production about impoverished miners called "Those Who Live in the Shadows". In 1912 the Free People's Theater put on a production of "Storm over Gotland" in which the characters were changed to represent Nazis and communists. A film interlude that amplified the politics of the performance was cut by the management of the theater after criticism from the press. This self-censorship led many famous artistic and literary figures of the time to rally in support of artistic expression. In 1929 the police closed down several plays for supposedly threatening law and order. In 1933 when the Nazis came into power the theaters became tools of the propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. In 1945 the New Free People's Theater found itself in the Soviet part of Berlin and was subject to communist censorship until the collapse of the German Democratic Republic in 1989. Meanwhile, the Free People's Theater set up a new theater with its own company. The public subsidy for the theater was withdrawn in 1989 and it no longer produced plays.
Results of Incident: In 2001 the Free People's Theater became the House of Berlin Festivals. The New Free People's Theater, now the Volksbuhne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz is still a flourishing theater under Frank Castorf, as a avant-garde, anti-capitalist, state subsidized theater.
Source: "Censorship: A World Encyclopedia"
Submitted By: NCAC