1st Edition

Theatre as a Weapon Workers' Theatre in the Soviet Union, Germany and Britain, 1917–1934

By Richard Stourac, Kathleen McCreery Copyright 1986
    354 Pages
    by Routledge

    Based on theatrical research of unusual depth and enterprise, Theatre as a Weapon (1986) shows how the workers’ theatre of the 1920s and 1930s transformed the social function of theatre. Drawing largely on unpublished sources, it provides lively case studies of workers’ theatre in the USSR, Germany and the United Kingdom. They range from the Russian mass spectacles in front of the Winter Palace, through the thousands of factory and courtyard performances in Germany, to the May Day activities of the Workers’ Theatre Movement all over Britain. The authors worked for many years in political theatre in Britain, Austria and Germany, and they draw on their wide experience to focus on both major theoretical controversies and their practical ramifications. They show how workers’ theatre became an instrument, a weapon, for political change, helping to raise the consciousness of thousands of workers and encouraging them to take action. They describe how worker-actors, musicians, writers and directors formed small, flexible troupes which contributed locally to the day-to-day struggles of their class, while at the same time participating in national and international political campaigns. Developments in dramatic structure are analysed, from the simple review form to the more complex scene-and-song montage. Placing the work of Meyerhold, Eisenstein, Piscator, Brecht and Eisler in this context, the authors demonstrate how the montage principle became the significant factor in the political theatre of this period. The book is illustrated with rare photographs which reflect the atmosphere of those mass movements. Unique in its coverage, Theatre as a Weapon is above all an analysis of how the mirror of realistic theatre was transformed into a dynamic weapon for social change. It fills an important gap in the history of working-class culture.

    Part 1. We are the Blue Blouse: Workers’ Theatre in the USSR  1. The Roar of the Dynamo  2. From the Reformers to the Revolutionaries: Sources and Influences  3. Born of the Press  Part 2. Hello! – State Power!: Workers’ Theatre in Germany  4. The Origins of German Agitprop  5. Agitate! A Movement Evolves  6. Propaganda – Coping with the Crisis  7. Towards a Popular Theatre  Part 3. Theatre of Attack: Workers’ Theatre in Britain  8. From Luddite Melodrama to the Workers’ Theatre Movement  9. The Old World’s Crashing…  10. The Heyday of the WTM  11. Return to the Curtain Stage – the Decline of the WTM  12. Achievements and Weaknesses  Part 4. Conclusion  13. Three Movements


    Born and educated in Austria, Richard Stourac was an actor, director, playmaker. He worked extensively in experimental and political theatre, including (in Austria) Die Komödiantien, (in Britain) Agitprop Theatre, Red Ladder Mobile Workers’ Theatre, Broadside Mobile Workers’ Theatre, Alem Fronterias (Portuguese Migrant Workers’ Theatre) and (in West Berlin) Theatermanufaktur. At the time of this book, he was lecturer in drama at the School of Creative and Performing Rights, Polytechnic of Newcastle upon Tyne. Kathleen McCreery was born in Canada, educated in the US, and has worked as an actress, writer, director, journalist, broadcaster and teacher in the US, Austria, Britain and Germany. She helped found the Red Ladder, Broadside and Alem Fronteiras theatre groups, and was tutor/director for Vukani, an anti-apartheid women’s theatre project, and the Lambeth Under-Fives Campaign drama group. At the time of writing this book, she was associate lecturer in drama at the School of Creative and Performing Rights, Polytechnic of Newcastle upon Tyne, where she also teaches creative writing.

    Theatre as a Weapon matches the best analytical work in other languages, and is unique in the scope of its coverage. Both theatrically and politically, it is authoritative in its information and trenchant in its analysis.’ – Dr Edward Braun, University of Bristol