Using new archive material, this essay examines how East German theatre audiences were deployed rhetorically in censorship debates, how officials sought to influence reception processes, and how nonprofessional spectators reacted to productions. While the ruling Socialist Unity Party was committed to opening up theatre to all sections of the population, its attitude toward actual audiences was ambivalent. Functionaries used the alleged political immaturity of the audience to persuade theatre directors and managers to exercise “responsibility” and censor their work. But the selfsame functionaries presented audiences as a source of superior wisdom to theatre practitioners, using them to test reactions to new scripts and invoking their opinions in press campaigns against productions. Attempts to mobilize public opinion against stagings were most common during the 1950s and ’60s, and such attempts frequently produced the subversive effect they had been designed to prevent. From the 1970s on, the Ministry of Culture and Central Committee advocated less public-censorship strategies and encouraged officials to calibrate post-performance censorship according to the responses of actual audiences. The essay uses examples from productions in East Berlin to show how theatre practitioners and officials dealt with inopportune reactions from spectators, and to explore how far theatre was, on occasion, able to function as a limited forum for public debate.


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pp. 39-56
Launched on MUSE
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