Dumont, Louise

Dumont, Louise
(Louise Maria Hubertine Heynen, 1862-1932)
   Actress, teacher. Dumont became one of the most prominent theater artists and teachers of the 20th century, though she had established her acting career in the later decades of the 19th century. Her career as a theater manager began in 1904 when she and Gustav Lindemann founded the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus, but she had already begun her unique contributions to German theater culture in 1902 when she established an actress's costume supply center called the "Zentralstelle für die weiblichen Bühnenangehörigen Deutschlands" (Clearinghouse for Female German Theater Artists). In an age when actresses were still expected to supply their own costumes, Dumont collected clothing from wealthy women and inventoried them for cost-free use. By 1906 she had launched an acting school in Düsseldorf alongside the Schauspielhaus, and students in the school began working in the theater alongside professionals as part of their curriculum. Dumont and Lindemann financed their operation on an entirely private basis, and the theater attracted positive critical notices from the beginning. In diametric opposition to many theater managers of the Wilhelmine era, Dumont believed the pursuit of profit was theater's ruin; she described her philosophy and her theater's work in a journal her theater published titled Die Masken (The Masks). With the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus and Die Masken, Dumont began a trend in the German theater that was followed by Arthur Hellmer, who cofounded the Neues Theater in Frankfurt am Main; Erich Ziegel, who founded the Munich Kammerspiele; Ziegel and Miriam Horwitz, in Hamburg and later in Dresden; and Alwin Kronacher, who founded the Altes Theater in Leipzig. All of these were private undertakings, depending on box office traffic and wealthy benefactors to support their work.
   Among Dumont's most outstanding students was Gustaf Gründgens, who claimed that Dumont and Lindemann taught him "respect for our profession and the fact that art can only prosper in the soil of truth and reality" (Heinrich Goertz, Gustaf Gründgens [Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1982], 15). One of the school's primary aims was "the complete education of the body as an obligatory field of study." Students were required to take lessons in fencing, juggling, and circus techniques, along with various kinds of dance and movement classes. It was a curriculum unmatched among German acting schools at the time, and Gründgens credited Dumont and Lindemann with training that kept him flexible and supple for the rest of his career. Sybille Schmitz was another Dumont student of note: she auditioned for Dumont as a teenager, over the strenuous objections of her parents and also those of Dumont's colleagues, who claimed Schmitz would be nearly impossible to cast. Dumont insisted on admitting Schmitz and awarded her a half-scholarship. Three months later, Schmitz was working regularly in Berlin.
   Dumont became a well-established public personality in the 1920s; her friendships with politicians such as Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau (1867-1922) attracted public attention, as did her growing reputation as a widely published writer of cookbooks. During the 1920s Dumont's principal professional focus became the acting school, as she and Lindemann were forced to close the Schauspielhaus in the wake of the devastating financial crisis of 1923-1924. A street bears her name today in Düsseldorf.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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