The Total Theater of the Bauhaus

Total Theater
Staatliches Bauhaus
Weimar, Deutschland
50° 58′ 59″ N, 11° 19′ 01″ E

Among the many Bauhaus workshops, one of them stands out for being at first glance unsuitable for the school’s teaching. The Bauhaus theater workshop is not a craft workshop and does not aim to create utilitarian objects. However, it is a perfect example of the synthesis of the arts. The workshop was first set up by Lothar Schreyer, an expressionist painter and playwright. But he let his students develop an acting based on the expression of their the feelings whereas they were expecting a teaching aiming at combining art and technique.
Nevertheless he integrated dance performance into the Bauhaus school before his resgnation. After his appointment, Oskar Schlemmer, who replaced him, was inspired by it and continued to include dance performance in his teaching process.

Walter Gropius, Total Theater for Erwin Piscator, Berlin, 1927
The coming theater: Theater of Totality

Theater is a means of exploring the formal relationship between moving bodies and space. The stage is a geometrical space, designed to be commensurate to the human body. Man is then an artistic figure. It is from this conjunction that Schlemmer’s interest in dance theater comes.

From then on, the aim is to create a new model of theater, a kind of total theatre where the synthesis of arts is expressed. This new model is theorized and obviously wished to break with the old classical model, whether by the staging, sound, acting, sets, costumes, or colors. The total theater is notably inspired by the circus and its interactions, by the proximity with the spectator, by its circle stage, and by its playful staging (in opposition to classical performances). Schlemmer is also very inspired by puppet automaton shows (The Figural Cabinet II). He attempted to reproduce their automated movements in the ballets of the theater workshop.

The total theater became the scenic translation of the Bauhaus’s turn towards industry. It expresses itself through an aestheticisation of mechanical movements in the space of the stage, a trend that the students reproduced in their own creations. From then on, theater was kind of a discipline opposed to architecture. The former is the implementation of mechanical movements in a world of illusion, while the latter is a static synthesis taking place in the real world.

The Spherical Theater, designed by Andreas Weininger

An answer to the question of the space theater, the problem of the theater of the future. -The space stage and the space theater as the home of the mechanical play. Motion: the point of departure for all primary media: space, body, line, point, color, light; sound, noise; in a new mechanical synthesis (as opposed to the static synthesis of architecture).

A sphere as architectonic structure in place of the customary theater. The spectators, on the inner wall of the sphere, find themselves in a new relationship to space. Because of their all-encompassing view, because of centripetal force, they find themselves in a new psychic, optical, acoustical relationship; they find themselves confronted with new possibilities for concentric, eccentric, multidirectional, mechanical space-stage phenomena.- In order to realize its task completely, the mechanical theater lays claim to the highest developments of functional technology. – Purpose: to educate men through the creative play of new rhythms
of motion to new modes of observation; to give elementary answers to elementary necessities. A. W.

Diagram of the Gesture Dance by Oskar Schlemmer

The diagram, giving a linear indication of the paths of motion and a proiection of forward movement on the stage surface, is meant to be an aid in establishing graphically the total course of the action. A second kind of aid is to describe this action in words (see accompanying text). Each of these representational means complements the other. Yet, in spite of the directions for tempo and sound, they are incapable of giving an exhaustive picture of the performance. Still missing are precire indications of gesture (movements of torso, legs, arms, and hands), of mimetics (motions of the head, facial expression), of voice pitch, and so on. – Our point here is to suggest the difficulty of the problem of preparing a script for dance and other stage action. The more completely such a script tries to fix the total action, the more the multitude of essential details complicates the matter and obscures the very purpose of such a score, namely, legibility.

The Theater of the Bauhaus

However, architecture is a predominant part of the new theatre. The Bauhaus theater is theorized as a combination of an active concentration of sound, light (colour), space, form and movement.
In order to achieve this, the whole theater must be considered as part of the stage. According to The Theater of the Bauhaus, a work edited by Gropius and Wensinger, the total theater must follow these prerequisites and means:

• Concerning the sound: sound effect will make use of various acoustical equipment (activated electronically or mechanicaly). The sound waves are coming from unexpected sources.

• Concerning the light: It must experiment the action of light in space by the means of illuminations, contrast, metallic mask, painting or light projection.

• Concerning the space: The traditional horizontal structure converts into vertical motion and dynamic construction. The
stage is movable with a space in construction, rotating sections, variation of levels. The form of the auditorium changed to reduce the present isolation between stage and spectator. The objective being to change the form to suit the newly organized motion.

Finally the costumes are capable of sudden transformation. Therefore the mechanized (man as a machine and the body as a mechanism) and the primordial impulses (the depths of the creative impulses) are one in spatial expression.

Abstract of the Triadic Ballet
Abstrac of the triadic Ballet Bauhaus Theatre

The last performance was given in Paris in 1932, just before the school closed. It was a performance of the Triadic Ballet (Triadisches Ballett). It is an experimental work inspired in part by Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire (1912). The ballet is based on the principle of the trinity. It has three acts, three participants (two men and one woman), twelve dances and eighteen costumes. Each act having a different colour and mood with the actors acting like marionettes.

Source: The Theater of the Bauhaus, Du cirque au théâtre, Illustrations via RNDRD

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