Schröder, Friedrich Ludwig

(1744-1816)
   Actor, manager. Schröder's theatrical pedigree was outstanding as the son of actress Sophie Schröder and stepson of Konrad Ernst Ackermann. He spent his childhood with his parents touring North German towns, cities, and courts, but the troupe lost track of him in 1756 in the midst of Königsberg's evacuation when Russian armies besieged the city during the Seven Years' War. Reunited with the troupe and his parents two years later, he regularly played minor comedic parts as a singer and acrobat. Schröder remained with the company until it moved into the Hamburg Komödienhaus in 1767. He then joined the Austrian troupe of Felix Kurz and toured with them for two years.
   Schröder took over his parents' troupe in 1771 when Ackermann died, and in 1774 he reestablished the company in Hamburg. With his mother and sisters Dorothea and Charlotte, he raised the stature of the troupe in Hamburg to unprecedented levels of competence and permanence. Schröder instituted William Shakespeare as a playwright fixed in the company's repertoire, though he always performed Shakespeare in bowdlerized or abridged versions. Schroder's performances as Hamlet, Lear, and Macbeth were thought to be particularly distinctive, despite his own physical limitations as a performer. His productions of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) playwrights were crucial to their acceptance, and his premiere of Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen and CJavigo in 1774 marked the beginning of Goethe's playwriting career. His subsequent premieres of plays by Friedrich Klinger and Jakob Lenz were likewise popular.
   Schröder left Hamburg in 1778 and appeared in several German theaters as a guest artist. His reception on tour was enthusiastic almost everywhere he went, which led to an invitation in 1781 to join Vienna's Burgtheater, where he remained for four years. Schröder returned to Hamburg in 1786 and staged numerous premieres of August von Kotzebue, August Wilhelm Iffland, English middle-class tragedies, and other popular fare that proved far more financially attractive to the theater than had Shakespeare or Goethe.
   In many ways, Schröder was a precursor to the modern director, rehearsing productions and coaching actors more extensively than others had previously attempted. He insisted on disciplined rehearsals and usually approached each production as an entity unto itself rather than using the "stock" approach in casting, scenery, and costuming. The Hamburg company by 1790 had more than 120 sets in stock, far more than any other German theater. He also insisted that in performance, the actor was more important than the playwright. "The actor must overcome the playwright," he said. "Woe betide the actor if an audience leaves the theater and says, 'That play was beautifully written.' It is a literary society the audience has just left." (Schröder, Denkwürdigkeiten des Schauspielers, ed. Hermann Uhde [Hamburg: Mauke, 1875], 2:136).

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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