Stein, Peter

Stein, Peter
(1937- )
   Director. Stein emerged as one of the most significant directors in the 1970s, amid several others who were likewise innovative; his many detractors accused him of abandoning the whole idea of the playwright's text in favor of concentrating on himself as an artist coequal with the playwright and interlarding his stagings with Marxist ideology. Stein began working professionally in the 1960s under Fritz Kortner at the Munich Kammerspiele. His first hit production there was the German-language premiere of Edward Bond's Saved in 1967. The following year, he attracted even wider attention with his stagings of Bertolt Brecht's Im Dickicht der Städte (In the Jungle of Cities) and Peter Weiss's Diskurs über Vietnam (Vietnam Discourse).
   Many critics praised Stein's Bremen productions of Friedrich Schiller's Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love) and particularly of Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Tarquato Tasso as the opening scenes of a new era in the German theater. In Tasso, Stein and dramaturg Dieter Sturm rearranged the play's events to reflect more accurately, they believed, a Marxist conviction of "social forces" at work on the title character and his eventual exile from the ducal court. The setting by Wilfried Minks had little to do with Goethe's original script but was intended to represent an ideological milieu in which Tasso was to subsist until called upon to perform at court. Equally innovative productions of Bond's Early Morning, Sean O'Casey's Cock-a-Doo-dle-Dandy, and Thomas Middleton and William Rowley's The Changeling at the Zurich Schauspielhaus convinced the Berlin Senate to offer Stein the Theater am Halleschen Ufer along with a generous subsidy to run it. He accepted their offer and moved to Berlin in 1970, taking with him fellow director Claus Peymann, dramaturg Sturm, and several performers with whom he had been working, including Bruno Ganz, Edith Clever, Jutta Lampe, and Michael König. Among the notable productions he staged in the early 1970s at the Schaubühne (which had been founded in 1962 with neither subsidy nor full-time staff) were Brecht's The Mother with Therese Giehse, Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt(on two successive evenings), and the German premiere of Vsevolod Vishnevsky's The Optimistic Tragedy.
   Through the 1970s Stein continued to restructure scripts as part of his political agenda, "revealing" what he considered to be their hidden ideologies in an optimistic search for relevancy. One such effort was Shakespeare's Memory in 1978, cobbled together from several snippets of William Shakespeare's plays. Stein began to abandon an overt political approach in the 1980s when the Berlin Senate provided him with new quarters, a former movie theater remodeled to his specifications. This facility was called the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz and there Stein staged plays like Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters in a "text-true" fashion. It was so realistically detailed that it became the most popular production Stein had ever staged. When he and the company took the production to Moscow in 1989 and staged it at the Moscow Art Theater, Russian critics were so astonished by it that many claimed the production was "probably" much like the one Konstantin Stanislavsky had done for the play's world premiere in 1901. The production was a clear indication that he had retreated from his Marxist convictions.
   Stein resigned as director of the Schaubühne in 1985 and turned his attention increasingly to directing opera. From 1991 to 1997 he directed the Salzburg Festival. Stein has received several awards and prizes for his body of work, including the Erasmus Prize in 1993.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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