C O M P A S S
Austrian Theatre Edition
| RESEARCH INTRO DRAMA REVIEW INTERNET



Women and the performing arts between the wars

Women and the performing arts in Vienna between the wars. Maria Gutmann: a case for investigation?

JOHN WARREN
(Visiting Research Fellow, Oxford Brookes University)


ABSTRACT: This article draws our attention to the largely untold story of Maria Gutmann, as a spur to further research. Gutmann emerges as somewhat of a rarity in the theatre scene of Interwar Vienna, where women were under-represented even by comparison with Berlin. In addition to acting in numerous plays at the Deutsches Volkstheater, she scored noteworthy critical successes as a producer. As shown by her work with the Social Democratic Kunststelle, Gutmann held left-wing sympathies, and all but disappeared after the imposition of authoritarian rule in Austria in 1934. While others re-emerged in the underground scene, however, Gutmann’s fate remains obscure.


Note: click on the bracketed numbers to navigate between text and footnotes.

 

Ich wollte mal rhythmische Gymnastik studieren, und dann hab ich von einem eigenen Institut geträumt, aber meine Verwandtschaft hat keinen Sinn für so was. Papa sagt immer, die finanzielle Unabhängigkeit der Frau vom Mann ist der letzte Schritt zum Bolschewismus.’ (Ödön von Horvath, Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald)[1]

It is unsurprising that little Marianne from Horvath’s black comedy Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald thought of a career in modern dance; there were models enough in both Austria and Germany between the wars to stimulate the imagination. Indeed in Vienna, it was the one area where women unfettered by fathers such as Horvath’s Herr Zauberkönig seem to have been able to forge their own independent career.

However, although Viennese actresses and singers were a major force in the theatres and opera-houses, one searches almost in vain for participation other than as performing artists. It is true that one act plays by Maria Lazar and Lina Loos were performed in Vienna in 1921 (Der Henker at the Neue Wiener Bühne on 23 February and Die Mutter on 8 March at the Deutsches Volkstheater) and that pre-publicity in 1924, announced a play by the novelist Martina Wied (1882-1957) to be performed under the auspices of the Viennese Festival of Music and Theatre. For reasons unknown it never reached the stage, but a third play by a woman (albeit a German) was premiered in Vienna on 16 May 1931, Christa Winsloe’s Gestern und heute. With a fine performance from Sybille Binder, it was something of a sensation at the Deutsches Volkstheater.

The situation was slightly better in Germany. Examples of plays on the Berlin stage include Else Lasker-Schüler’s Die Wupper, and two plays each by Marie-Luise Fleisser and Ilse Langner, neither of which were performed in Vienna. There was also, of course, the initially unacknowledged work of Elisabeth Hauptmann for Bert Brecht, plus a trivial piece of work by the Viennese writer Gina Kaus (Toni. Ein Schulmädchendrama, 1927) and in fact many more works by female dramatists which made little or no impact.[2] In the burgeoning world of the cinema, Thea von Harbou made her mark as a major writer of film scenarios, Leni Riefenstahl began her climb to fame and one shouldn’t forget Leontine Sagan’s direction of Christa Winsloe’s Gestern und heute as the film Mädchen im Uniform (1931, with much support from Carl Froelich).

Modern Dance, by contrast, was an area where women made a major impact. Gertrud Bodenwieser (1890-1959) achieved great things in Vienna. Having studied at the Royal Court Opera ballet school between 1905 and 1910, Bodenwieser turned to modern dance, a craze then sweeping Central Europe. She founded her own school and ensemble in the basement of the Wiener Konzerthaus, where she choreographed a range of important works until 1938.[3] Bodenwieser trained others such as Gisa Geert, Hilde Holger and Gertud Kraus,[4] who in turn founded their own institutes. Given the publicity devoted to institutes such as that of Rudolf Laban, alongside the work of dancers like Mary Wigmann and theatrical sensations such as the drug-crazed Anita Berber’s Viennese performances, [5] it is no wonder that Horvath’s Marianne dreamt of making a career in the world of dance. That she ends up nude on the stage of a third-class Viennese nightclub is, famously, one of the wretched ironies of Horvath’s Volksstück.

The situation in drama and theatre, however, was less promising. Society hostess and journalist Bertha Zuckerkandl translated many French plays, though their importance should not be overemphasised.[6] Between 1924 and 1933 she is credited with translating ten works by minor French dramatists for the Burgtheater[7] and another thirteen for Max Reinhardt’s Theater in der Josefstadt between 1924 and 1938, [8] plus at least one for the Deutsches Volkstheater.

As far as production and direction are concerned, there were signs that women were starting to emerge from the shadows. In the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung of 4 September 1930, a headline on the arts page declares: ‘Ein weiblicher Regisseur am neuen Wiener Schauspielhaus’. Jakob Feldhammer announces Liesl Lanzer’s arrival with a strikingly double-edged compliment: ‘Sie ist unerhört tüchtig und arbeitet wie ein Mann’. We learn that she is finishing her doctorate on ‘Romantiker auf der Bühne’ (with a special interest in Tieck’s Genoveva) and has worked on rehearsals for the past year in the Schauspielhaus. She intends to produce Grillparzer’s Weh dem, der lügt!, and is set on a ‘modern production’. Unfortunately, we hear no more about her; Jakob Feldhammer and Otto Preminger’s venture at the former Volksoper was to fail before the end of the 1930/31 season. Stella Kadmon, however, was both more determined and more successful. Kadmon had started in cabaret and founded her own, Der liebe Augustin, which opened on 7 November 1931. There were early difficulties and at one point their audience was reduced to two. Luckily for Kadmon, one of the two was Dr Hans Nüchtern, head of the literary section of RAVAG (Austrian State Radio) who gave the cabaret a live broadcast, helping to make it one of Vienna’s leading ‘Kleinkunstbühnen’. Kadmon was able to return to Vienna from exile in Palestine after the Second World War to found one of Vienna’s most adventurous small theatres, the ‘Theater der Courage’.[9] Another new venture in the difficult but exciting world of the ‘Theater der 49er’ [10] was run by Elizabeth Epp, who had initially come to work in Vienna as an actress with the young Otto Preminger. Epp gives an account of her attempt to create a ‘cellar’ theatre in her recently published autobiography.[11] Yet alongside these better-known examples, there remains another story which has yet to be fully researched. Maria Gutmann was the only woman to have produced drama for a major Viennese theatre between the Wars, and whose last recorded reference (that I have so far been able to find) was to a stage performance as actress in November 1935.[12]

Maria Gutmann was first and foremost an actress, a member of the ensemble of the Deutsches Volkstheater[13] and of the Raimund Theater.[14] Her first recorded appearance at the Deutsches Volkstheater would seem to have been in June 1922 when she appeared in Tolstoy’s Der lebende Leichnam (with Alexander Moissi), and her next recorded appearance on that stage was in College Crampton (with Bassermann and Lina Loos) in October 1926. From 1926 until 1935 she appeared in twenty-eight plays on the stage of the Deutsches Volkstheater, acting with a variety of famous actors including Alfred Bassermann (in King Lear, Gutmann as Goneril), Sybille Binder (in Christa Winsloe’s Gestern und heute), Käthe Dorsch and Emil Jannings (Fuhrmann Henschel). She produced and acted in Emil und die Detektive, a matinee production for children (premiere: 5 February 1933). Maria Gutmann seems to have been a competent actress, receiving, for example, good reviews for her portrayal of the Prussian Headmistress in Christa Winsloe’s play Gestern und heute. Rudolf Lothar reviewed the play in the Neue Freie Presse under the heading ‘Weibliche Kadettenanstalt’;[15] a further review by Ludwig Ullmann appears in the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung. In the Arbeiter Zeitung, Otto Koenig noted that Maria Gutmann played the ‘Oberin sehr charakteristisch durch Maske, Sprache und Stockrequisit als verweibliche Fritz von Preußen’. She also seems to have made a good Goneril (see reviews by Otto Koenig in the Arbeiter Zeitung, 9 June 1931, by Ludwig Ullmann on the same date in the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung and by Lothar in the Neue Freie Presse).

In addition, Gutmann must have had a keen interest in the work of the Sozialdemokratische Kunststelle, the largest of the party-affiliated arts events organisers in Vienna, as she was entrusted with the production of various ‘Sprechchorwerken’ on their behalf.[16] Gutmann took part in the debate initiated by Ernst Fischer over the use of ‘Sprechchöre’, and produced Ernst Fischer’s Rotes Requiem in November 1927, a work on the trial and execution of the American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. She also co-produced (with Gertrud Kraus) the Revue von Gestern bis Morgen in the Konzerthaus in May 1930, the first half of which was compiled from a range of writers, while the second was written by Robert Ehrenzweig.[18] More importantly, she produced Friedrich Wolf’s revolutionary drama Die Matrosen von Cattaro (based on Franz Blei’s account of the mutiny of the Austrian navy early in 1918), which had been a great success starring Ernst Busch at the Volksbühne in Berlin. The play’s revolutionary tone and topic made it an unlikely choice for performance on a major Viennese stage. However it ran for six days at the Renaissance-Bühne in a performance sponsored and organised by the Social Democratic party (premiere: 2 December 1930). Despite Ernst Fischer’s friendship with Ernst Toller, this play had been chosen in preference Feuer aus den Kesseln, as being the more ‘revolutionary’. [19] One must also take into account its Austrian theme and the fact that there were survivors of the mutiny still living in Vienna. These included Julius Braunthal, who happened to be serving as a lieutenant in a shore battery at Cattaro, and who alerted the Social Democratic leadership in Vienna to the events.[20] There seem to have been two productions of the play, for the November number of Kunst und Volk (the journal of the Social Democratic Kunststelle), announces under the heading ‘Republik-Feier der Arbeiterschaft Wiens’ a performance of Die Matrosen von Cattaro, directed by Maria Gutmann in the Großes Konzerthaussaal on 11 November.[21] As we have seen, Gutmann had already produced a socialist review as part of the May Day celebrations in the Konzerthaus. It seems likely that the Konzerthaus performance of Die Matrosen... was a special event,[22] followed by a fully-staged production in the Renaissance-Bühne in December with the same producer and cast, presumably as a result of the success of the Konzerthaus performance.[23]

1930 seems to have been a busy and positive year for Maria Gutmann. In addition to the to these two productions and her acting career,[24] she became the director of the ‘Studiobühne, Die junge Bühne’, a theatre group supported by the Social Democratic Kunststelle, with whom she produced Bert Brecht’s Die Mutter.[25] Gutmann’s article ‘Studiobühne – Junge Bühne’ in Kunst und Volk (September 1930)[26] gives some idea of how she saw the development of what must be seen as semi-professional drama in Vienna. She argues in favour of offering young actors, writers and stage designers the opportunity to perform new drama in the many halfway serviceable halls to be found in almost every district of the city. She comments on developments in Russia, Paris and Berlin (with reference to the ‘Gruppe junger Schauspieler’ who had been on tour to Vienna with Friedrich Wolf’s play Zyankali) and seems to be equally as interested in modern theatre developments as in the revolutionary impact of committed left-wing theatre. She urges the use of projections and film to cover deficiencies of set construction in what would have been little more than large meeting rooms. Above all, she does not want her ideas to be misunderstood:

Keine intellektuellen Literaturgelegenheiten sollen es werden! Blutvolle Stücke in lebendigen Aufführungen, zum Freude des Arbeiters, der nicht immer die Möglichkeit hat, in die großen Theater zu gehen, und der in seinem Bezirk neue Theaterkunst, Probleme, die ihn interessieren, kennenlernen soll. [-emphasis in original][27]

She also warns against ‘Dilettantismus’ and points out that ‘Junge Dichter, Maler, Schauspieler sind da, sie warten nur auf die Aufgaben.’ Her plan is not to rival conventional commercial theatre but simplly to give talent an opportunity: ‘Begabte Menschen sollen sich zusammentun, um neue und gute Arbeit zu leisten.’ How splendidly in tune with the optimism of Socialist idealism it all sounds. But this was a period of gross unemployment and economic deprivation. Pressures from the right were rising, and unfortunately, her initial work with the ‘Studiobühne —Junge Bühne’ seems to have fizzled out.

Critical reaction her work as producer was, however, positive. Her December 1930 production of Die Matrosen von Cattaro, for example, received favourable notices. The Neue Freie Presse (4 December 1930) entrusted the review to ‘P.W.’ [?], a critic who doesn’t seem to have done his homework, suggesting that Wolf was ‘ein junger Österreicher in Berlin wirkender Schauspieler’.[28] He gives the play a short notice, commenting that it had been reported on in detail from Berlin. The reviewer notes that the crowd scenes were well managed and that the play was overshadowed by memories of the Potemkin film, ‘aber milder Österreich gemütlich in Ton’ [sic]. Further, ‘Es ist durchsetzt von politischen und parteipolitischen Thesen. Aber sie verstimmen auch künstlerisch kaum, weil sie empfunden wirken.’ With reference to the production he writes, ‘Maria Gutmann hat dieses frauenlose Stück […] mit sichtbarem Verständnis für sein Eigentliches, die Massenwirkung und Abtönung seiner Schwäche, der politischen Rhetorik, inszeniert.’ He further notes Josef Dex’s set design and the young actors’ enthusiasm, and also that there was good applause. Otto Koenig reviewed the performance for the Arbeiter Zeitung (complete with picture). His review began with a mini-survey of revolutionary drama, starting with Aeschylus (!) and continuing with reference to Hauptmann’s Die Weber. He seems to indicate that Oppenheimer had introduced an Austrian note into the language spoken by the sailors, as compared to Friedrich Wolf’s bland stage German, which would hardly have reflected the multinational character of the Austro-Hungarian navy in 1918. His praises Gutmann as an effective producer of ‘revolutionary’ drama:

Besondere Anerkennung gebührt aber Frau Gutmann, deren zielbewußter Spielleitung gerade durch Glättung und Rundung durch kluge Hemmung und Bindung die revolutionäre Tendenz des Stückes zu voller sieghafter Wirkung führte.

 

Interestingly, even the Christian Socialist-affiliated Reichspost provided a very short notice by B[recka], who thought the ending had been lifted from Schnitzler’s Der junge Medardus, and whose attitude, as one might expect from this right-wing critic, was dismissive: ‘Reden wir nicht davon.’ He could hardly be expected to show any enthusiasm for a play that seems to glory in the approaching end of Austria-Hugary and its navy. Appalled by its sympathetic portrayal of a mutiny, Brecka shows no interest in the production and finds no space for a mention of the producer.

 

Maria Gutmann was also given two productions at the Deutsches Volkstheater. The second was a version of Erich Kästner’s ‘Theaterstück für Kinder’ Emil und die Detektive premiered on 5 February 1932,[29] but the first, and more significant, was her production on 4 August 1929 of Peter Martin Lampel’s drama Revolte im Erziehungshaus.[30] While some of the right-wing reviewers were shocked by the subject matter and violence portrayed, they nevertheless lavished praise on the producer. For instance, the Wiener Zeitung of 6 August notes:

Frau Maria Gutmann führte eine höchst meisterliche Regie.. es gab viel sturmische Zustimmung […] Daß eine Frau solches vermochte, ist ein schönes Wunder für sich, für das man innig dankbar sein soll […] Sie gab dem Auge ein reiches und zwanglos bewegtes Bühnenbild, dem ohne wilder Vollaut machtvoll gesteigerter, anklagender Worte. Die Massenszenen waren durchwegs von eindringlichster heißen Beredsamkeit erfüllt und von einer mit sich fortreißenden Gewalt.

In the Reichspost, Rudolf Lothar wrote that the premiere, ‘stand im Zeichen eines ausgeglichenen und von Maria Gutmann vorzüglich verbreiteten Ensemblespiels.’ The Neue Freie Presse describes the scenes of corporal punishment and riot, commenting that: ‘Gerade diese durchaus männliche Aufgabe hat der weibliche Regisseur der Vorstellung Maria Gutmann in höchst anerkennungswerter Weise gelöst.’ Fritz Rosenberg, writing in the Arbeiter Zeitung, stated that Maria Gutmann gave the drama (‘mit jugendlichen Feuer durchflammt[-]’) ‘lebendigste und mitreißendste szenische Gestalt’, which resulted in much enthusiastic applause.

Thus, despite the surprise of some critics that a woman could achieve so much, there was general praise for her achievement, even from the right. The question I would like to raise is what happened to this obviously very talented director? It is clear from the above that she was fully committed to the socialist cause: one can deduce this not only from her productions, but also from the tenor of her article ‘Studiobühne –Junge Bühne’ with its references to Russian theatre.[31] Any ongoing work for the Social Democratic Kunststelle which had not already fallen victim to the Viennese workers’ wretched economic situation would certainly have been terminated by the ban on every Social Democratic organisation in February 1934 by the Dollfuss government. Nor would there have been any place in mainstream Viennese theatre for a producer whose strength lay in the production of left-wing revolutionary drama in the years leading up to Anschluss. As Gutmann did not re-appear in ‘Kellerbühne’ sub-culture where political comment was possible, the question of what happened to her remains open. We can only lament what appears to have been a real loss to the Viennese theatre scene of the 1930s. Moreover, one can sense that, as in many other areas of artistic endeavour, progress for women except in very exceptional circumstances was set back at least a decade first by the National Socialist accession to power in Germany, then by the Anschluss and the arrival of National Socialism in Austria.

If this brief article could inspire someone to establish further facts about Maria Gutmann’s life and her fate after 1935, it will not have been written in vain.


Comments and feedback relating to this piece, intended for publication as addenda or otherwise, are welcome and will be posted upon request.


© John Warren, 2002.

Back to top


Footnotes:

[1] Ödön von Horvath, Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald, ed. Traugott Krischke, (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp,1977), p.42.
[
2] For an excellent account of plays by women performed between the wars and the problems they encountered see: Anne Stürzer, Dramatikerinnen und Zeitstücken. Ein vergesssenes Kapitel der Theatergeschichte von der Weimarer Republik bis zur Nachkriegszeit (Stuttgart/Weimar: Metzler, 1993) [4] cf. Carl Toepfer, Empire of Ecstasy. Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture 1910-1935 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), pp.265-270.
[
4] She was pelted with missiles by the audience and responded in kind. Ibid pp.190-194.
[
5] Ibid pp.83-96.
[
6] Probably best known today for her volume of memoirs, Österreich Intim. Erinnerungen 1892-1942 (Salzburg: Amalthea, 1970)
[
7] See: Burgtheater 1776-1976 Published for the Österreichischer Bundestheaterverband (Vienna: Ueberreuter, 1977)
[
8] See Anton Bauer, Das Theater in der Josefstadt zu Wien, (Vienna: Manutius, 1957)
[
9] Kadmon’s biography has been written by Henriette Mandl: Cabaret und Courage. Stella Kadmon, eine Biographie (Vienna: WUV-Universitätsverlag, 1993). See my review in Austrian Exodus (Austrian Studies 6) eds. Edward Timms and Ritchie Robertson, Edinburgh 1995, pp.212-214.
[
10] The term refers to stages with fewer than 49 seats, which were not officially classed as theatres by the state and could thus avoid censorship.
[
11] Elisabeth Epp, Erinnerungen. Aufzeichnungen eines Theaterlebens (Vienna: Holzhausen, 2000)
[
12] In Ibsen’s Stützen der Gesellschaft at the Deutsches Volkstheater.
[
13] See Girid Schlögl, Der Theaterkritiker Paul Blaha als Direktor des Wiener Volkstheaters, 3 vols. (unpublished doctoral thesies, University of Vienna, 1994). The Gesamtindex contains details of every production, together with producer and casts from 1889-1993.
[
14] See Elisabeth Breslmayer, Die Geschichte des Wiener Raimundtheaters von 1893-1973, 2 vols (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Vienna, 1975). Gutmann is listed as a member of the ensemble for the seasons 1922/23, 1925/26 and 1931-33.
[
15] Neue Freie Presse, ‘Weibliche Kadettenanstalt’, 19 May 1931.
[
16] Jürgen Doll, Theater im Roten Wien. Vom sozialdemokratischen Agitprop zum dialektischen Theater Jura Soyfers (Vienna: Böhlau, 1997), p. 63.
[
17] M.Gutmann, ‘Sprechchöre’ in: Kunst und Volk, Mitteilungen des Vereines Sozialdemokratische Kunststelle, September 1928, p.14f.
[
18] Ibid., May 1930, pp.280-282.
[
19] cf. Doll, p.225. Incidentally, Doll names the Toller play as Feuer in den Kesseln, a title which negates the significance of the Kiel sailor’s mutinous cry!
[
20] Thereby helping them to put pressure on the government to avoid further executions, and indeed to bring the mutiny into the public domain. Braunthal wrote an introduction to the excerpt from the play (pp.39-43) published in Kunst und Volk, November 1930, pp.35-38.
[
21] Adapted for the Austrian stage by Friedrich Oppenheimer, to be given in six scenes with a set by Rudolf Otto Schatz. Kunst und Volk, November 1930, p.41.
[
22] This may explain why Jürgen Doll only refers to the performance at the Konzerthaus.
[
23] Josef Dex had worked for the Kunststelle before, and sketches of his set designs for a performance of Nestroy’s Freiheit in Krähwinkel by David Bach’s group ‘Das freie Theater’ were published in Kunst und Volk, September 1926.
[
24] She appeared for, example, in Die Affaire Dreyfus in April.
[
25] The group also performed Kirschon’s Rost and O’Casey’s Der Pflug und die Sterne.
[
26] Kunst und Volk, September 1930.
[
27] Ibid., p.20.
[
28] Wolf was in fact a doctor from the Rhineland living in Baden Würtemberg. He had been a dramatist since the beginning of the twenties, and was also a member of the KPD. Wolf lived to become the DDR’s ambassador to Poland and father of the East German ‘spy-master’.
[
29] These performances took place on Saturday afternoons, and I have not yet been able to find any critical responses.
[
30] Most easily found in: Zeit und Theater, ed. Günther Rühle, 6 vols (Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1973-1980), 11: Von der Republik zur Diktatur 1925-1933
[
31] Kunst und Volk, September 1930 pp.17-20


© Austrian Theatre Edition
Eds.: Dr. Deborah Holmes, Robert Pyrah (Series ed.).
| INTRO DRAMA REVIEW INTERNET