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The Red Director:
Karl Kayser and the Evolution of GDR Theater

The director Karl Kayser (1914–1995) was a major figure in East German theater, but his work has been largely overlooked—not least because he was a leading official in the SED. This paper reexamines Kayser’s career, arguing that his political commitment drove him to keep changing his creative vision. Over four decades in Weimar and Leipzig, Kayser developed four distinct types of theater, each with its own repertoire, acting style, and audience. His artistic evolution suggests that “official” culture in the GDR was more innovative, more varied, and more flexible than commonly assumed.

Karl Kayser (1914–1995) was one of the most influential figures in the history of East German theater. As a longtime member of the SED Central Committee and vice president of the GDR Theater Workers’ Union, Kayser helped create the cultural policies that governed East Germany’s stages. As an actor, director, and theater manager, he then implemented these policies on the ground, shaping theatrical life in two major cities. Kayser’s career spanned the lifetime of the GDR: he served as director general of the German National Theater in Weimar from 1950 to 1958, and then headed the Leipzig City Theaters from 1958 to 1989. Over these four decades, his productions sold some 37 million tickets—two for every resident of East Germany. For all that, Karl Kayser’s name rarely appears in studies of GDR theater, either in Germany or abroad. When he died in 1995, Germany’s leading theater journal, Theater Heute, printed a one-sentence obituary.1 As an “official” artist, Kayser has received far less attention than directors associated with the rebellious avant-garde. Yet a close study of his career reveals an impressive capacity for change and innovation, suggesting that the GDR’s “official” culture was more creative, more varied, and more flexible than commonly assumed. [End Page 103]

The few scholars who have studied Karl Kayser have been uniformly hostile to his work. Recent accounts describe his productions as “bland”2 and “conservative,”3 while painting the man himself as a “dogmatic,”4 “Stalinist theater despot.”5 More than one critic has called the director “a representative of GDR cultural policy”6 whose “attitudes accorded with the official line.”7 Some observers, in fact, barely consider him an artist at all: the East German theater critic Martin Linzer recalls that he never viewed Kayser as one of “us theater people,” since the director was a high-ranking figure in the SED.8 Notably, such assessments refer less to Kayser’s art than to his politics. By virtue of being a party functionary, they imply, Karl Kayser was less of a creative artist. This assumption runs through many studies of GDR theater, which tend to celebrate political opposition and rebellion. Orthodoxy in politics, meanwhile, is widely equated with orthodoxy in art; actors and directors who remained loyal to the SED are shown as unoriginal at best and unartistic at worst. A quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, our narratives of GDR theater remain just as incomplete as the communist accounts that sidelined all traces of nonconformity.9 By dismissing “official” artists out of hand, contemporary scholars perpetuate an unbalanced picture of East German culture.

This essay reexamines the paradigm of “official” theater through the prism of Karl Kayser’s career. Kayser was both a party-minded bureaucrat and an innovative director; what is more, he was innovative precisely because he was party minded. In his effort to convert viewers to the communist cause, Kayser subordinated acting, staging, and repertoire to one overarching political idea. The result was a theater that was not always beloved by critics but that did mark a radical departure from bourgeois conventions—as well as a distinct alternative to the Brechtian school. It was also a theater that was perpetually in flux; Kayser’s political commitment drove him to keep changing his artistic vision in order to keep up with current events. Over the course of his career, the director created four different models of theater, each with its own audience and program. Rather than simply following orders from above, however, Kayser developed these models on the ground, primarily in response to popular pressure. His creative transformation provides unique insight into the evolution of East German theater, showing how one powerful director changed his views and practices over time. It also reminds us that political conformity did not preclude artistic innovation, and that “official” artists made a substantial and lasting contribution to the culture of the GDR.

A Factor for Shaping Consciousness

Born in Leipzig on the eve of World War I, Karl Kayser grew up surrounded by politics.10 His father, a lathe operator, was a member of the German Social Democratic Party and cofounder of a local metalworkers’ union; his mother worked as a washer-woman and acted in a workers’ theater. The young Kayser joined the socialist Red [End Page 104] Falcons at age six, graduated to the Socialist Worker Youth as a teenager, and fought street battles against Nazi brownshirts in the 1920s. Though he was always drawn to acting, his parents considered it a bourgeois occupation unbecoming a worker’s son, and so Kayser trained to be a decorative painter. In his free time, however, he immersed himself in the workers’ culture movement, joining an agitprop group that performed at poll stations and trade union festivals. “Whenever someone was swinging a red flag, I was there,” Kayser remembered.11 This political activity made it difficult for him to find a regular job and ultimately drove Kayser to take acting classes at Leipzig’s Altes Theater. He received his diploma in 1932 and spent several years acting in provincial theaters, but his time on the stage was cut short when he was drafted into the Nazi army.12 After serving as a searchlight operator in Halle, Kayser was captured by American troops in 1943 and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp.

When Kayser returned to Leipzig in 1946, he found a city transformed. “Leipzig was destroyed, all its theaters in ruins,” Kayser recalled; “at the same time, there was an enormous urge for reconstruction.”13 Leipzig’s reorganized theater ensemble debuted in September 1945 in the auditorium of the local zoo—one of the few buildings left standing in the bombed-out city center. Joining the theater in the middle of its first season, Kayser worked primarily on the Soviet plays that were explicitly mandated by occupation authorities—works like Vsevolod Vishnevskii’s Optimistic Tragedy (1933), a drama of the Russian Civil War. This was a natural step for the young director, who described the USSR as “the land of hope, which … my parents and I had always supported.”14 Leipzig audiences, however, had a different reaction: Soviet works were often interrupted by whistles and catcalls, so that Optimistic Tragedy ran for just four shows.15 Finding himself sidelined from the main stage, Kayser bided his time by working with a children’s theater, which was more receptive to the didactic, ideological productions he preferred.16 This experience taught Kayser to run his own theater, and also convinced SED bosses that he was ready for a greater challenge.17 In July 1950, just months after the formation of the GDR, the thirty-six-year-old director was named head of Weimar’s German National Theater (Deutsches Nationaltheater, or DNT)—one of the new country’s leading stages.

By the time Kayser arrived in Weimar, the DNT was in a crisis. Like Leipzig’s theater, it had focused on Western entertainment plays and classical comedies in the wake of war, but even this light repertoire had failed to attract viewers.18 To make matters worse, the theater’s ensemble was perpetually short-staffed. Several actors left Weimar when Kayser was appointed, fleeing the man who had already earned a reputation as the “red director.”19 Kayser thus had to rebuild his theater from the ground up, developing a new repertoire, audience, and acting style. His first address to the theater’s staff in August 1950 laid out his vision for the changes ahead. “It is art’s great task to lead people into reality through the power of realistic expression,” Kayser argued; therefore, all artists had to “show the way for our society and [become] [End Page 105] fighters for a new social order.” Only through fervent political engagement could they “make the theater into what it must be—a factor for shaping people’s consciousness.”20

The first step in this process was to choose what plays the DNT performed. Unsurprisingly, Kayser placed an emphasis on Soviet drama, which he saw as “the starting point and foundation” of the theater’s activity.21 Over his eight seasons in Weimar, the director put on sixteen plays from countries in the Soviet Bloc, accounting for nearly a fifth of all DNT productions.22 In Kayser’s view, these works held particular “contemporary relevance” for East German viewers because they showcased the building of socialism, something that the GDR was just beginning.23 No less importantly, Soviet plays were meant to be a “source of strength” for the theater’s ensemble, teaching and inspiring the performers themselves.24 Rehearsals always included lectures on party history, screenings of Soviet films, and discussions of current events. “Only when artists study life will they be able to represent it truthfully and realistically,” Kayser explained; “in this way, the personal becomes universal and the universal personal, and the artwork turns into real life—into a forum—into a battleground.”25 By showing the revolutionary past, Kayser believed, Soviet plays would build the East German future.

To do so, however, Soviet plays needed to reach an audience, and this proved a major challenge. Kayser’s first productions played to a nearly empty theater: even on opening night, some shows sold just ten to twenty percent of available seats.26 Since Weimar’s cultural elites had little interest in socialist plays, many longstanding theater-goers gave up their season tickets, and the number of annual subscriptions plummeted to just 1,000.27 Instead of trying to woo these viewers, though, Kayser chose to develop a new audience drawn from workers and peasants.28 As a self-proclaimed “workers’ and peasants’ state,” the new GDR provided the resources to make this happen: a 1949 law required all trade unions to allocate 15 percent of member dues to cultural expenses.29 By reaching out to local unions, Kayser was able to sign up 1,500 new subscribers within his first month at the DNT.30 He recruited even more viewers in the towns and villages around Weimar: during the 1955/56 season, 176 theater busses and three to four special trains arrived in the city each month, ferrying nearly 30,000 season ticket holders.31 Such efforts not only increased the DNT’s attendance by two thirds but also transformed the composition of its audience. Kayser’s staff estimated that 70 percent of all viewers were first-time visitors to the DNT.32

To reach its new public, the German National Theater had to develop a new style of acting—one suited to “people who were prejudiced against art, who had been spiritually crippled for generations,” as Kayser put it.33 Working within the Stanislavsky system promoted by party officials, DNT actors were taught to express their psychological state through clear physical signals. A 1952 production of Lyubov Yarovaya, set in the Russian Civil War, showed White troops running aimlessly around the stage while portraying the Reds as an organized, disciplined fighting [End Page 106] force. Kayser also edited plays to remove any nuance or confusion, creating simple, “typified” characters that were easier for viewers to understand. In a 1951 staging of Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell—a play that premiered in Weimar in 1804—Kayser excised all signs of Tell’s respect for authority and made him into an unambiguous fighter for democracy. The show’s playbill hammered the point home, pointing out that “the [characters’] behavior is exemplary for our time.”34 In this way, a classical play acquired a contemporary meaning that no audience could miss.

Kayser’s production of Optimistic Tragedy from early 1952 exemplifies the kind of theater he had created. Set on a Russian naval base soon after the revolution, Vishnevskii’s play describes the conversion of imperial sailors to the Bolshevik cause. To help the actors prepare, the entire ensemble watched Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin alongside newsreels of the ongoing war in Korea.35 All DNT employees—including technicians and administrative staff—then took part in the performance as extras, using what they had learned to portray revolutionary sailors. To transport viewers into an alternate reality, the production ran without an intermission or scene changes. It also included documentary film clips of the Russian Revolution, which were projected onto the stage and mixed in with the action. Even as it emphasized total immersion, though, Kayser’s production aimed to link the subject matter to the present day. Two sailors stood at the front of the stage and sometimes addressed the audience directly, for instance to draw parallels to the Second World War. This time around—and thanks in no small part to bus groups from the local countryside—Optimistic Tragedy was a major success, running for forty sold-out performances. It established Kayser as a rising star of GDR theater and garnered him a coveted National Prize.

Not everyone was enthused about Kayser’s productions. One theater critic found DNT shows crude and simplistic, “overemphasizing mass scenes” at the expense of “necessary details” and “historical understanding.”36 Others accused Kayser of using “cheap symbolism”37 and excessive visual effects that turned classic plays into “a kind of fairy tale on stage.”38 Kayser’s response to such complaints says a great deal about his aims and ambitions. “The DNT is committed to satisfying the population’s desires, provided that they are correct,” he wrote to a local newspaper in 1954.39 Being popular or well-liked was not Kayser’s primary goal. Rather, he argued, theater had an essential social responsibility: “to help in transforming the consciousness of our people, so that we can carry out the construction of socialism quickly and resolutely.”40 This entailed adopting a socialist repertoire, teaching actors to be clear and party minded, and bringing shows to millions of new viewers. Such an approach differed considerably from Brecht’s notion of epic theater, which Kayser viewed with some suspicion—especially after Brecht was charged with “formalism” in 1951. Though both men were heavily influenced by Erwin Piscator’s Volksbühne, Kayser felt that the Berliner Ensemble was too opaque for a mass audience and insufficiently engaged [End Page 107] in socialist construction.41 Yet the director was equally critical of the conventional highbrow stages that featured elite viewers and politically uncommitted productions. What he created at the DNT was neither Brechtian nor bourgeois but something quite distinct: “theater as a politically and socially effective instrument.”42

For all that he accomplished, though, Kayser still felt that his vision for the DNT was constrained by outside factors. As the home of Schiller and Goethe, Weimar was expected to put on a large number of Romantic plays, forcing the director to moderate his repertoire. Audiences also tempered Kayser’s penchant for contemporary works: since classical plays were much more profitable than postwar productions, they made up nearly two thirds of all DNT performances. The director flatly admitted that “the repertoire does not yet look like what we want,” blaming this fact on “the environment that surrounds us.”43 The theater he created in Weimar was thus fully in line with the political climate of the early 1950s: it aimed to introduce socialist works to a mass audience while making concessions to established elites and Western observers. By the end of the decade, however, SED leaders announced a new stage in East Germany’s development, tasking theater with new goals—and giving Kayser a promotion.

A Theater of Answers

In the spring of 1958, Karl Kayser returned to his hometown as director general of the Leipzig City Theaters (Städtische Theater Leipzig, or STL). His appointment was part of the so-called Socialist Cultural Revolution, proclaimed in October 1957, which was designed to reassert the SED’s authority in the wake of Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” and subsequent uprisings across the Soviet Bloc.44 Amid trials of “revisionist” thinkers like Wolfgang Harich and Walter Janka, Leipzig officials dismissed the STL’s previous director for ideological “softening” and appointed Kayser to restore order.45 The Leipzig City Theaters presented a special challenge for any director, even one intimately familiar with Leipzig theater. The conglomerate was made up of five stages: the main Schauspielhaus, the smaller Kammerspiele, an opera house, an operetta stage, and the Theater of the Young World, the children’s troupe that Kayser had helped found. Taken together, the theaters had 1,400 employees, more than 4,000 seats, and around 1,600 performances per year.46 “The STL is a factory, which can be described as a large factory in the theater sector,” Kayser told the Leipzig City Council in 1962; “it is the biggest theater factory ever created.”47 For a man who liked to compare his job to a factory manager’s, the STL offered an opportunity to realize his vision of theater on an unprecedented scale.

Like any good manager, Kayser began by increasing his factory’s output. Attendance at the Leipzig City Theaters had long averaged close to one million viewers per year, an impressive total for a city of 600,000 residents but still lower than the DNT on a per capita basis. To raise this figure, the new director spearheaded a push to sell season tickets to Leipzig factories. STL staff made some two thousand workplace [End Page 108] visits each year, performing excerpts from the repertoire and encouraging factories to compete for purchases.48 By 1962, the number of annual subscriptions had nearly doubled, driving attendance beyond 1.4 million viewers. Leipzig officials boasted that this was the highest rate of theater viewership of any city in the two Germanys: one in six city residents was a season ticket holder, while the average worker visited the STL between four and five times a year.49 Organized attendance not only improved the theaters’ finances but also freed Kayser from the pressures of the box office. “The possibility of deciding for oneself can in no way determine the basis of theater,” the director wrote in a 1964 essay; “[only] a stable, organized community of viewers … will allow the breadth of the repertoire to act on them.”50 Having made strides towards such a community in Weimar, Kayser finally achieved it at the STL, which sold 96 percent of all seats.

The new viewership was more than a product of opportunity: it also reflected Kayser’s changing notion of what theater was and did. In Weimar, his DNT had functioned as a harbinger of revolution, introducing backward peasants to a progressive, political art. His STL, by contrast, was aimed at a developed society actively engaged in socialist construction. “All our productions must be feats for socialism,” Kayser wrote in his first Leipzig program.51 There was no more room for the noncommittal plays and international festivals that had shaped the repertoire in Weimar: “whatever does not help us, hurts us,” Kayser insisted.52 Under the Socialist Cultural Revolution, theater’s only goal was to shape the New Socialist Man. As the director explained in 1964, “our aim is … to help individuals acquire the great, capacious thoughts and feelings that are useful for them in their daily life.”53 The STL was to be a handmaiden to socialist development, providing practical solutions to everyday problems. It had become “a theater of answers.”54

The new philosophy brought new plays to the Leipzig City Theaters. The “heart” of Kayser’s repertoire was not Soviet works but contemporary plays from the GDR, which showcased “the New Man on stage.”55 Over his first ten seasons in Leipzig, Kayser premiered nineteen works of East German drama, as compared to just two such premieres during his whole time at the DNT.56 Many of these plays were set in factories or on collective farms, highlighting the ongoing transformation of the GDR. Others lampooned criminality and militarism in the West, or glorified figures from the history of the German labor movement. Several works were written specifically for the STL by dramatists on staff; overall, plays by living authors made up the majority of Kayser’s Leipzig productions, up from barely 30 percent at the DNT. Missing entirely, however, were new plays from the capitalist West, which Kayser saw as “covert maneuvers … to liquidate our way of life.”57 The result was a repertoire that was contemporary, politically relevant, and firmly integrated into the Soviet Bloc. It showed viewers how to act both at home and at work, turning theater into a school for socialism. [End Page 109]

If theater was to be a school, its actors had to serve as teachers. Kayser instructed his staff to “become models, and realize in ourselves that which we want to develop in others.”58 Beyond the ideological training he had introduced in Weimar, the director asked all STL employees to go out into the factories—whether to lead a theater club or to join a production brigade. Both on stage and off, artists were meant to become part of a larger collective and subordinate their individuality to the common good. Insisting that “actors’ private conceptions fundamentally disrupt the process of staging,” Kayser asked his ensemble to deliver their lines as plainly and clearly as possible—an approach that one GDR theater critic termed the Leipzig Style.59 “Contemporaneity and variety, understandability, the potency of expression, and the ability to work as an ensemble: these seem to be the preeminent features of Leipzig theater,” he wrote.60 The critic noted that productions sometimes seemed “simplified,” “gaudy,” and “sententious,” but admitted that this was an unavoidable consequence of a worthy goal. “In Leipzig,” he concluded, “not only the repertoire but the means of staging are chosen solely with the public in mind.”

No production exemplifies this stage of Kayser’s career better than Horst Kleineidam’s Millionenschmidt from 1962. Kleineidam was not a professional writer but a carpenter at a local construction site; his play, which arose in close collaboration with staff writers at the STL, dramatized the daily life and ideological development of a construction brigade. Millionenschmidt—literally, “Schmidt of the Millions,” after the main character Walter Schmidt—grew out of the so-called Bitterfeld Way, a policy initiative that encouraged workers to “storm the heights of culture” by creating art themselves.61 This was the first time that a worker’s play was staged in the GDR, and it represented the STL’s effort to “bring artists to the heights of the working class”—as a staff member put it in 1961.62 Many actors, however, found the work “unplayable,” complaining that the main characters were crude and underdeveloped.63 The STL was forced to organize a series of discussions; “we explained that the characters in Millionenschmidt showed traits of the New Man and therefore required a new way of acting and a deeper connection to our socialist life,” one report declared.64 Despite enduring hostility, rehearsals went ahead, and the play premiered in November 1962 to a full house of East German dignitaries. It ran for 58 performances and brought in 57,498 viewers—nearly 100 percent of capacity.

A Collective of Personalities

Throughout this career, Kayser continued to insist that his “main concern” was “the theatergoing public and its artistic needs.”65 Determining those needs, however, was far from simple, and here the director’s approach varied over time. In Weimar, Kayser had privileged “objective needs” over audience desires: since most DNT viewers were peasants who had no experience with art, he reasoned, it was “objectively” good for them to see progressive Soviet plays, whether they liked these or not. In his [End Page 110] first seasons at the STL, Kayser geared all productions to factory workers, addressing problems that they faced in daily life. His theater aimed to be useful rather than popular, but its usefulness waned if it answered questions that no one asked. This became clear in the mid-1960s, as attendance dipped from an all-time high in 1963. To understand the cause of the decline, Kayser tried a new approach: he sent out some 38,000 questionnaires to Leipzig theatergoers, asking them to describe their own needs and wants. The resulting study was one of the first major opinion surveys in the GDR and a turning point for the Leipzig City Theaters.

The survey’s primary finding was that “the public demands more funny works in the theater.”66 All of the STL’s best-liked productions were comedies, such as Ring Three Times (1960), a sendup of East Germany’s housing shortages, or Gripsholm Castle (1964), an adaptation of a Kurt Tucholsky love story. The majority of respondents called for more plays of this nature, demanding “lively, clever entertainment.” By contrast, didactic works like Millionenschmidt were almost universally reviled. “The public doesn’t want us to ‘explain’ to them things that they already know—often better than we do,” the survey concluded.67 Even as they dismissed Kayser’s “theater of answers,” though, many viewers called for “a confrontation with real life questions.” As the study summed up, “the public wants socialist drama to provide a deep and universal treatment of their problems, [exploring] the interaction between individuals and their society.” The use of the word “individual” here is telling: for the first time, the STL acknowledged that its audience was not homogenous but diverse, with differentiated tastes and unique personalities. One size would no longer fit all.

Released in November 1965, the STL’s opinion survey coincided with the Eleventh Plenum of the SED Central Committee, a major congress on cultural policy that became known as the Kahlschlag Plenum.68 The party’s second-in-command, Erich Honecker, condemned the growing influence of the West on East German culture, setting off a wave of attacks against GDR artists. Scholars often argue that “SED cultural policy entered a new ‘ice age’” in the aftermath of the plenum and returned to “rigid Stalinist positions.”69 Yet some of the same scholars also describe the late sixties as a time of greater openness, both in the theater and in the cultural sphere more broadly.70 The tension between greater creative diversity and greater state control runs though most studies of East German culture during this period. Karl Kayser’s response to the Kahlschlag Plenum may help to both explain and reconcile this tension.

Kayser fully shared Honecker’s concern for the purity of East German culture. Five months before the plenum, the director sent a note to the head of Leipzig’s SED to protest the “sudden” rise of politically “uncommitted” works in theaters around the country.71 The plenum drove Kayser to carry out a further reassessment of his plays and led one production to be pulled from the repertoire—one of just three times that happened during his whole tenure. At the same time, Kayser and his colleagues drew a [End Page 111] very different conclusion from the Kahlschlag Plenum. “Its most important lesson … is to improve the organization of people’s free time,” Leipzig’s Culture Councilor reported to the city council.72 To keep dangerous cultural influences at bay, officials set out to offer something better, giving viewers more of what they wanted in a safe and supervised environment.73 Just weeks after the plenum, the STL premiered works by Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Peter Weiss, two popular Western playwrights who had never been staged in Leipzig. Over the next five years, the theaters performed some twenty plays by authors living in the capitalist West—four times as many as in the previous five seasons. This new breadth also extended to East German drama: in the late 1960s, the STL made room for sometimes provocative young playwrights such as Ulrich Plenzdorf, Rudi Strahl, and Armin Müller. The morality tales of Kayser’s early years gave way to stories about everyday life, or Alltag, many of which showcased the so-called “new subjectivity” of GDR literature.74 At least for the STL, the tension between state control and creative diversity was hardly a tension at all. While keeping a tight grip on repertoire planning, Kayser adopted viewer suggestions that made the STL more varied, more inclusive, and ultimately more popular.

The new approach was sometimes challenging for Kayser, who looked back wistfully to the “golden fifties” in Weimar.75 “It was easier back then, since the public’s sensibilities, its theater needs were not as differentiated as they are today,” he told an interviewer in 1974.76 Already by the late 1960s, however, the director acknowledged that the STL had to change with the times. As living standards and education levels rose, he argued, theatergoers had become increasingly complex. “We can no longer develop theater solely with an eye to its mass impact, since we have to account for the fact that the public needs and experiences art in different ways,” Kayser admitted in 1969.77 Besides introducing a more diverse repertoire, this meant revising the STL’s long-held Leipzig Style, which had valorized clarity over originality. Just five years after telling his actors to suppress their “private conceptions,” Kayser promised to embrace “artists’ individual styles in their full creative fantasy.”78 The new-look STL encouraged a broad range of artistic expression, aiming to find unity in diversity. As Kayser told East Germany’s leading theater journal, it was to become “a collective of personalities.”79

One such personality was the controversial playwright Volker Braun, whose play Die Kipper premiered at the STL in 1972. Braun wrote the play in the early sixties as a student at Leipzig University; the Berliner Ensemble rehearsed the work in 1965 before putting it aside in the wake of the Kahlschlag Plenum. Named for “the dumpers” who dispose of slag at a coal mine, Die Kipper revolves around an idealistic young worker who struggles to integrate into a rigid collective. The play touched on many sensitive issues in East German society, from individualism to stagnation and industrial inefficiency. It languished for years before Kayser gave Braun a contract to rewrite the play—“covering my work with his broad back,” as the playwright recalled.80 [End Page 112] When Die Kipper debuted at the Schauspielhaus in March 1972, Kayser’s program notes helped to set it apart from previous East German plays. “There is no conflict with the past, there is no class enemy that disrupts socialist production,” Kayser wrote; “rather, it is a play about people, about their productivity, their fantasies, their creativity, their self-realization.”81 This statement effectively disowned the first twenty years of Kayser’s career while touting the start of a new era. From then on, the director implied, not just Die Kipper but all of the STL would treat viewers as subjects rather than objects.

Though Die Kipper was geared to popular taste, it was not particularly popular: over its three-year run in Leipzig, the play filled just 73 percent of available seats.82 Such low figures were increasingly common for the STL, which saw overall attendance dip by a third between 1964 and 1979.83 Part of the decline was attributable to the rise of television, but it also reflected a conscious effort to transform the STL’s audience. In 1968, Kayser introduced a new kind of subscription that allowed viewers to buy three to four tickets per season rather than the usual ten. The new packages were not only cheaper, but more flexible: subscribers could choose when they went to the theater and what plays they wanted to see, regaining the very “possibility of deciding for oneself” that Kayser had condemned just four years before. While the STL sold fewer total seats, it gained a more diverse and dedicated audience, composed mostly of students, office workers, and the intelligentsia. To appeal to this new public, Kayser opened a new stage in the bowels of the STL’s Opera House in April 1969. The Basement Theater was modeled on the intimate chamber theaters that the director had visited in Poland, and put on plays that were considered too controversial or avant-garde for the STL’s main stage—for instance works by J.M. Synge and Arthur Miller.84 As its first program explained, the theater was dedicated to experimentation, “not for experiment’s sake but in order to place new contents and forms under discussion.”85 The Basement Theater seated one hundred viewers and performed ten sold-out shows each month. With its committed audience, controversial repertoire, and innovative staging, it became the face of Kayser’s theater by the early 1970s.

A Forum for Self-Understanding

By the 1980s, however, even the Basement Theater was struggling to attract viewers. As subscription packages became more flexible, fewer theatergoers bothered to sign up, preferring to buy single tickets at the box office. Trade unions, meanwhile, relaxed the rules that had mandated organized theater attendance, allowing workers to spend their “culture funds” on holiday parties and social services.86 As a result, season ticket holders made up just a third of all viewers in 1987, down from a high of 75 percent in the mid-1960s.87 This decline had a direct financial impact on the STL, which was forced to lay off hundreds of employees and eventually stopped performing on Mondays.88 Lower incomes also meant that the STL could not pay for [End Page 113] urgently needed repairs. A report from 1975 estimated that 80 percent of the STL’s facilities needed urgent renovations, and the 400-seat Kammerspiele was indeed shut down one year later as a public safety hazard.89 By 1980, the STL was saddled with shrinking attendance, mounting debts, and a decaying infrastructure. It was quite literally falling apart.

Instead of resorting to old tactics, Kayser again tried a new approach. In a 1980 article, he admitted that the STL could “no longer organize trust between the theater and the public,” the way it had done for decades by organizing attendance. Rather, he argued, “the public wants to be won over by the theater each night, … to become bonded to the theater anew.”90 Focusing on singular performances was a departure for Kayser, who had long stressed the need for a cohesive repertoire. For all their differences, both the didactic “theater of answers” and the more varied “theater of everyday life” revolved around annual programs chosen for viewers by the STL. In 1980, however, Kayser willingly relinquished these curatorial duties: “the theater makes artistic offerings, and it is up to society to use them as it sees fit,” he asserted.91 Rather than making allowances for viewers—as the STL had started to do in the 1970s—the theaters made viewers into the focal point of their work. As the director put it in 1981, “we’re anxious to stay hot on the trail of our public’s wants.”92

To understand what audiences wanted, the STL set out to investigate who they were. A study from 1985 revealed that viewers under age twenty-five made up the majority of all theatergoers, up from 24 percent just fifteen years before.93 This new viewership presented a special challenge, since Kayser found their tastes to be not only “diverse” but “contradictory.”94 On the one hand, younger viewers were drawn “towards so-called ‘pure entertainment,’ towards a ‘shutting off’ of the everyday, towards pure diversion.”95 Though Kayser lamented this tendency, he did his best to make the STL more attractive, resolving “to convey fun to the viewer, to entertain him, … to find the highest joy through playing.”96 On the other hand, he argued, young people expected theater to comment on pressing issues in East German society. In his last public interview in 1989, Kayser claimed that “the viewer … wants the truth and nothing but the truth; [he wants] us to discover it in the contradictory processes of our life and to display it for public judgment.”97 The need to balance these two tasks placed the STL in a difficult position. The theaters had to enable “playful contact with the world” while serving as “a forum for open and public self-understanding.”98

Kayser’s solution was to increase the number of theater stages at the STL, allowing him to put on more works for small, specialized audiences. During the 1980/81 season, the STL performed dramatic works in five different venues, including an eighteenth-century castle, the opera’s foyer, and the Schauspielhaus cloakroom. These small forums allowed the STL to become more daring, freeing it from the obligation to play “mainstream” theater for the masses. Over the course of the 1980s, the STL [End Page 114] performed twenty-seven world premieres, almost as many as during Kayser’s previous three decades put together. It also staged forty plays from the capitalist West, including several—such as Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros—that had long been banned in the GDR. Above all, the late STL became renowned for playing Soviet playwrights like Chinghiz Aitmatov and Mikhail Shatrov, whose perestroika-era works became immensely popular in Leipzig. With such a range of productions, the STL turned into a kind of shopping mall.99 It not only enabled viewers to choose the theater that suited them best, but also provided a place for meetings and discussions.

The STL’s new role was put on full display in August 1982, when it performed both parts of Goethe’s Faust in one seven-hour-long show. Kayser had already staged the complete Faust in 1965, winning a National Prize for his efforts, and the differences between the two productions illuminate just how much his theater had changed. In 1965, Faust was shown as a harbinger of socialism and a model socialist personality.100 Pointing to the hero’s dying wish—“to stand with a free people on a free soil”—Kayser had argued that the GDR was “bringing into reality that which Faust, as a representative of the bourgeois world, could only sense prophetically.”101 As the program notes explained, the production aimed “to capture the inherent ideas of the work, which treat the great problems of mankind, … and convey them to the viewers through their eyes and ears.”102 Seventeen years later, all this didacticism was gone. “Whoever has eyes to see and ears to hear will grasp for himself what the poem aims to convey,” Kayser wrote in his introduction. Instead of treating “the great problems of mankind,” the new production sought to address “the basic questions of man today: How do my ideals relate to society’s? … Which social boundaries must I accept? Which can I never accept for the sake of my personal integrity?”103 Goethe’s hero turned into a conscientious young man, consumed with issues of moral truth and individual responsibility. Kayser had created a new Faust for a new East Germany.

The production itself was equally innovative, reflecting Kayser’s pledge to “introduce aesthetic openness.”104 There was no stage set, just a monochrome backdrop that alternated between white for day and black for night. Once the audience was seated, the actors walked down the aisles, put on their costumes, greeted each other, and started to play.105 They also changed roles over the course of the performance: all in all, 32 people portrayed 138 different parts, demonstrating “man’s adaptability to different social formations”—as Kayser put it in his program notes. Only Mephisto stayed in character, as an ironic master of ceremonies who narrated the action and joked with the audience. Arguing that Goethe “understood his work as a theatrical act, as play, also as fun,” the director emphasized comic relief at the expense of plot development.106 “Seldom have I laughed so much, or thought so little,” one critic observed.107 In fact, Kayser seemed to question the very notion of narrative cohesion, ending the play with an enigmatic afterword: [End Page 115]

Perhaps we could’ve found something better.Human life is a similar story:It has a beginning and an end,But it is not a whole.Now, gentlemen, be good and clap your hands.

Delivered by a resurrected Faust, these words were taken from Goethe’s comments about his own work. They not only summed up the STL’s philosophy in the last years of the East German regime but served as a fitting comment on Kayser’s whole career.


On November 10, 1989, as crowds of East Germans flowed across the Berlin Wall, Karl Kayser was called to Berlin to attend an emergency session of the SED Central Committee. An audio recording captures his voice, raspy and hoarse, screaming at the East German elite:

We’ve been lied to this whole time! It’s not my fault, it really isn’t. And I refuse to accept this and go home and say, you are guilty. I am shocked at what I’ve heard here today. Everything in me is broken! My life is destroyed! I believed in the Party, I received it with my mother’s milk. I believed in my comrades!108

Kayser never returned to the STL but retreated into a quiet retirement in Leipzig. Harkening back to his roots as a decorative painter, he spent much of his time drawing seascapes and still lifes, always signed with a small “KK” in the right corner. The retirement was brief: Kayser died of cancer in January 1995, shortly before his eighty-first birthday. Three months later, the German journal Theater Heute published a one-sentence obituary on page 58. “Karl Kayser, one of the pillars of GDR theater policy, member of the Volkskammer and the Central Committee, director general in Leipzig and, before this party-faithful theater rule, in Weimar, has died of cancer.”109 Five years after the fall of the GDR, both Kayser’s life and death had come to seem irrelevant—outdated and out of place.

Kayser’s legacy, however, lived on in Leipzig’s theaters. While the STL was dismantled at the end of 1989, the newly independent Schauspielhaus continued to show the influence of its former director. In their season preview from October 1990, Kayser’s successors, Wolfgang Hauswald and Wolfgang Kröplin, used language that could have been taken verbatim from GDR-era programs. The new directors resolved to “open up the theater to the diverse wishes and needs of the city’s viewers,” promising to create “new and more flexible forms of season subscriptions.”110 Theater’s ultimate goal, they asserted, was to “cultivate diversity, breadth, and greater expression of different personalities,” so as to “give space to different perspectives [End Page 116] and serve contradictory needs.”111 The postunification theater of the 1990s was firmly rooted in Kayser’s STL of the 1980s. This fact, more than anything, illustrates just how much Karl Kayser had changed. Originally designed as an antithesis to bourgeois stages, his theater became a perfect fit for a capitalist society.

Kayser’s creative transformation was not driven by decrees, even if it kept pace with broader trends in GDR cultural policy.112 Rather, this transformation reflected Kayser’s changing understanding of theater’s social role. In rough chronological terms, his stages developed from “a factor for shaping consciousness” in the 1950s to a “theater of answers” in the 1960s, “a collective of personalities” in the 1970s, and “a forum for self-understanding” in the 1980s. Each of these phases was intended for a particular kind of audience; each subordinated repertoire, staging, and acting to a particular conception of socialist politics. Such explicit politicization was not always popular, either with critics or with theatergoers. Kayser was repeatedly attacked by both traditionalists and avant-gardists, two groups which have sometimes wielded the same arguments: that the director elevated politics above art, mass audiences above connoisseurs, and didacticism above popularity. Yet however we judge Kayser’s art—and whatever we make of his politics—there is little question that the director produced an original and varied brand of theater. Kayser’s stages were neither Brechtian nor bourgeois, nor do they fit any of the standard dichotomies used to describe East German art: ideological or oppositional, conventional or avant-garde, captive or free. Rather, they suggest that “official” artists like Kayser were surprisingly diverse and innovative, and therefore deserving of greater consideration in the annals of GDR theater.

Kyrill Kunakhovich

kyrill kunakhovich (kunakhovich@virginia.edu) is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He was previously a Mellon Faculty Fellow in Global Studies at the College of William & Mary. He is completing a book manuscript entitled Culture for the People: Art and Politics in Communist Poland and East Germany.


1. Theater Heute 36, no. 3 (1995): 58.

2. Günter Hoffman, “Unangreifbar und belächt zugleich,” Leipziger Volkszeitung, January 31, 1995, 8. All translations are my own unless otherwise noted.

3. Christoph Funke, “The Activist Legacy of Theater in the German Democratic Republic,” Contemporary Theatre Review 4, no. 2 (1995): 9.

4. Bernd Stübner, “Dialog.” Theater in der Übergangsgesellschaft: Schauspiel Leipzig, 1957–2007, ed. Wolfgang Engel and Erika Stephan (Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2007), 104.

5. Thomas Irmer, “Ein letzter Kayser: Theater in Leipzig zwischen 1957 und 1989,” in Theater in der Übergangsgesellschaft: Schauspiel Leipzig, 1957–2007, ed. Wolfgang Engel and Erika Stephan (Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2007), 82.

6. Manfred Pauli, Ein Theaterimperium an der Pleiße: Studien über Leipziger Theater zu DDRZeiten (Schkeuditz: Schkeuditzer Buchverlag, 2004), 32.

7. Friedhelm Eberle, “Dialog,” in Theater in der Übergangsgesellschaft, Schauspiel Leipzig, 1957–2007, ed. Wolfgang Engel and Erika Stephan (Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2007), 101.

8. Martin Linzer, “Ich war immer ein Opportunist …” (Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2001), 239.

9. For an “official” account of GDR theater, see Werner Mittenzwei, ed., Theater in der Zeitwende. Zur Geschichte des Dramas und des Schauspieltheaters in der DDR, 1945–1968 ([East] Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1972).

10. This biographical sketch is based primarily on Kayser’s personnel file (Stadtarchiv Leipzig, [End Page 117] Stadtverordnetenversammlung und Rat der Stadt Leipzig, 1971–1990 [StVuR(2)] 3720) as well as various published texts: Hans Michael Richter, “Zwanzig Jahre Intendanz Karl Kayser. Versuch über eine Persönlichkeit,” Theater der Zeit 25, no. 10 (1970): 7–11; Hans-Rainer John, “Garderobengespräch mit Karl Kayser,” Theater der Zeit 38, no. 5 (1983): 30–34; Karl Kayser, “Ich bin immer noch auf dem Wege …” Theater der Zeit 44, no. 9 (1989): 28–30.

11. John, “Garderobengespräch,” 31.

12. As a stage actor, Kayser belonged to two National Socialist trade unions, the Deutsche Arbeitsfront and the Reichstheaterkammer (see Kayser’s personnel file in SAPMO-BArch DY 30/IV 2/11 v.5357). On the basis of these affiliations, Harry Waibel has claimed that Kayser was a member of the NSDAP. Waibel, Diener vieler Herren. Ehemalige NS-Funktionäre in der SBZ/DDR (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2011). While the DAF was subordinated to the NSDAP, membership in the trade union did not imply membership in the party, and Waibel has provided no evidence that Kayser ever had a party card (author’s personal correspondence with Waibel, May 23, 2014). NSDAP membership lists held at the Berlin Document Center contain no record of Karl Kayser.

13. Kayser, “Ich bin immer noch auf dem Wege,” 28.

14. Kayser, “Ich bin immer noch auf dem Wege,” 28.

15. On the reception of Soviet culture in early postwar Leipzig, see Pavel Skopal, “‘It Is Not Enough That We Have Lost the War—Now We Have To Watch It!’ Cinemagoers’s Attitudes in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany (A Case Study from Leipzig)” Participations 3, no. 2 (2011): 497–521.

16. Many of Leipzig’s cultural officials shared the public’s distaste for Soviet plays. See Thomas Höpel, “Die Kunst dem Volke.” Städtische Kulturpolitik in Leipzig und Lyon 1945–1989 (Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2011).

17. Pauli, Theaterimperium, 30.

18. See Manfred Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik des Deutschen Nationaltheaters Weimar 1948 bis 1958” (PhD diss., Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, 1966), 122.

19. Martina Lohse, introduction to “… Besessen sein von der Idee des Theaters.” Briefe und Rede von Karl Kayser 1950–8, Deutsches Nationaltheater Weimar, ed. Martina Lohse (Berlin: Verband der Theaterschaffenden, 1989), 4.

20. Kayser’s speech to the DNT, August 1950, in Lohse, “Besessen sein,” 11–14.

21. Kayser in Sonntag, no. 20 (1995): 6. Reprinted in Lohse, “Besessen sein,” 57.

22. Full repertoires are compiled in Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik.”

23. Kayser in a letter to Seidowsky, 1965. Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik,” 119.

24. Karl Kayser, “Arbeit am Sowjetdrama: Ein Bewusstseinbildender Faktor.” Theater der Zeit 7, no. 8 (1952): 29.

25. Kayser, qtd. in Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik,” 123.

26. Kayser’s letter to Weimar newspapers, November 22, 1954. Reprinted in Lohse, “Besessen sein,” 54.

27. Kayser’s letter to the Ministerium für Volksbildung, October 10, 1950. Reprinted in Lohse, “Besessen sein,” 16.

28. Kayser was not unique in this approach: in the early 1950s, most cultural institutions made concerted efforts to recruit a new working-class audience. See Annette Schuhmann, Kulturarbeit im Sozialistischen Betrieb. Gewerkschaftliche Erziehungspraxis in der SBZ-DDR 1946 bis 1970 (Köln: Böhlau, 2006). For a case study of attendance policies in Leipzig, see Höpel, “Die Kunst dem Volke.”

29. Schuhmann, Kulturarbeit, 60.

30. Kayser’s letter to the Ministerium für Volksbildung, September 5, 1950. Reprinted in Lohse, “Besessen sein,” 15.

31. Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik,” 68.

32. Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik,” 62. [End Page 118]

33. Kayser in a letter to Seidowsky, 1965. Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik,” 119.

34. Kayser in the program for Wilhelm Tell, 1951/52 season. Qtd. in Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik,” 153.

35. For more on this production, see Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik,” 125–132; and Kayser, “Arbeit am Sowjetdrama,” 30.

36. H.-D. Sander, review of Der Untergang des Geschwaders by Aleksandr Korneichuk at the DNT, Theater der Zeit 9, no. 2 (1954): 50–52.

37. Martin Linzer, review of Wallenstein by Friedrich Schiller at the DNT, Theater der Zeit 10, no. 6 (1955): 51.

38. Ilse Gabbert, review of Jungfrau von Orleans by Friedrich Schiller at the DNT, Theater der Zeit 10, no. 6 (1955): 55.

39. Gabbert review, 55. Emphasis added.

40. Season preview for the DNT’s 1957/58 season. Reprinted in Lohse, “Besessen sein,” 73.

41. The misgivings were certainly mutual; see Helene Weigel’s correspondence with Kayser in Lohse, “Besessen sein.”

42. Kayser speaking about his time in Weimar. Ingeborg Pietzsch, “Regisseure antworten,” Theater der Zeit 25, no. 4 (1970): 18–20.

43. Kayser, “Bericht zur Situation am Weimarer Nationaltheater,” 1950. Qtd. in Seidowsky, “Die Spielplanpolitik,” 71.

44. On the Socialist Cultural Revolution, see Alexander Abusch, Im ideologischen Kampf für eine sozialistische Kultur ([East] Berlin: Dietz, 1957); and Hans Koch, Kultur in den Kämpfen unserer Tage ([East] Berlin: Dietz, 1959).

45. Report by the Cultural Policy Department of the Leipzig City SED Committee, January 30, 1958, Sächsisches Staatsarchiv Leipzig (SStAL) SED-Stadtleitung IV/5/01/407/77.

46. These statistics come from issues of the Statistisches Jahrbuch der Stadt Leipzig.

47. Kayser speaking to the Leipzig City Council, June 7, 1962, Stadtverordnetenversammlung und Rat der Stadt Leipzig, 1945–1971 (StVuR[1]) 230: 288.

48. Report by Leipzig City Councilor for Culture Rudolf Gehrke, October 1966, Stadtarchiv Leipzig, StVuR(1) 255: 44.

49. See, e.g., a report by the SED leadership in Leipzig dated December 12, 1966, SStAL SED-Bezirksleitung IV/A/2/9/2/366/226.

50. Karl Kayser, “Theater und Publikum,” Theater der Zeit 19, no. 3 (1964): 4–6.

51. STL season preview for 1958/59, available in the Programmhefte collection of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Leipzig.

52. Karl Kayser, “Zum Spielplan der STL, Spielzeit 1958/59,” Stadtarchiv Leipzig, StVuR(1) 17277: 107.

53. Kayser, “Theater und Publikum,” 6.

54. Karl Kayser, “Rückschau und Ausblick,” in Leipziger Theater 1965 (Leipzig: Seemann, 1965): 8.

55. Kayser’s address to the Leipzig City Council, June 7, 1962, Stadtarchiv Leipzig, StVuR(1) 230: 296.

56. STL repertoires from 1957 to 1989 are compiled in Engel and Stephan, Theater. These statistics include performance totals for the Schauspielhaus and the Kammerspiele.

57. Kayser in a letter to SED District Committee head Paul Fröhlich on June 5, 1965, SStAL SEDBezirksleitung IV/A/2/9/359.

58. Karl Kayser, “Das Alte überwinden: Mit dem Neuen beginnen,” Theater der Zeit 25, no. 4 (1960): 33–35.

59. Kayser speaking at an STL meeting of December 12, 1966, SStAL SED-Bezirksleitung IV/A/2/9/2/366/122.

60. Manfred Nössig, “Schauspiel in Klein-Paris. Zur Arbeit des Schauspielensembles der Leipziger Bühnen,” Theater der Zeit 18, no. 12 (1963): 15–16. [End Page 119]

61. On the Bitterfeld Way, see Greif zur Feder, Kumpel! (Halle: Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 1959).

62. Helmut Lipfert speaking at an STL meeting on January 31, 1961, SStAL SED-Bezirksleitung IV/2/9/2/533/183.

63. Lipfert’s report of May 5, 1963, SStAL SED-Stadtleitung IV/A/5/1/219.

64. Lipfert’s report of May 5, 1963, SStAL SED-Stadtleitung IV/A/5/1/219.

65. Kayser, “Theater und Publikum,” 4.

66. Christoph Hamm, “Publikum 2,” Theater der Zeit 20, no. 12 (1965), 22.

67. Hamm, “Publikum 2,” 22.

68. On the Kahlschlag Plenum, see Günter Agde, ed., Kahlschlag. Das 11. Plenum des ZK der SED 1965. Studien und Dokumente (Berlin: Aufbau Taschenbuch, 2000).

69. Judith Kretzschmar, “Zwischen Schein und Sein. Die Kulturpolitik der DDR in den Jahren 1958 bis 1963,” in Zwischen Experiment und Etablierung. Die Programmentwicklung des DDR-Fernsehens 1958 bis 1963, ed. Claudia Dittmar and Susanne Vollberg (Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2007), 156; Michael Rauhut, Rock in der Grauzone. DDR-Rock 1964 bis 1972—Politik und Alltag (Berlin: Basis-Druck, 1993), 155.

70. See, e.g., Petra Stuber, Spielräume und Grenzen. Studien zur DDR-Theater (Berlin: Links, 1998), 222; or Thomas Irmer and Matthias Schmidt, Die Bühnenrepublik. Theater in der DDR (Berlin: Alexander, 2003), 139.

71. Kayser’s letter to Paul Fröhlich, June 5, 1965, SStAL SED-Bezirksleitung IV/A/2/9/359.

72. Rudolf Gehrke, “Die Entwicklung des geistes-kulturellen Lebens im Zeitraum des Volkswirtschaftsplans 1966,” Stadtarchiv Leipzig StVuR(1) 2160: 46.

73. Elements of this policy were already on display at the Second Bitterfeld Conference in April 1964, which concluded that culture was a form of “social consumption.” See Zweiter Bitterfelder Konferenz 1964 ([East] Berlin: Dietz, 1964).

74. This phenomenon was not limited to theater. See, e.g., Joshua Feinstein, The Triumph of the Ordinary: Depictions of Daily Life in the East German Cinema, 1949–1989 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

75. Karl Kayser, “Die Attraktivität unserer Theater. Erfahrungen 30-jähriger Theaterarbeit und neue Aufgaben,” Theater der Zeit 30, no. 1 (1975): 4–6.

76. Kayser speaking to Ingeborg Pietzsch, in “Regisseure antworten,” 18.

77. Horst Gebhardt, “Profil-Programm-Prognose. Gespräch mit Karl Kayser,” Theater der Zeit 24, no. 3 (1969): 15–21.

78. Kayser speaking at the Second Congress of the East German Theater Workers’ Union, February 1971. Qtd. in “Streiflichter auf eine zwanzigjährige Arbeit,” Theater der Zeit 41, no. 12 (1986): 15.

79. Kayser in Gebhardt, “Profil-Programm-Prognose,” 21.

80. Braun’s diary entry of January 17, 1984. Qtd. in Matthias Caffier, “Tiefenschürfung mit Volker Braun,” in Theater in der Übergangsgesellschaft. Schauspiel Leipzig, 1957–2007, ed. Wolfgang Engel and Erika Stephan (Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2007), 120.

81. STL’s playbill for Die Kipper, available in the Programmhefte collection of the Deutsche Nation-albibliothek Leipzig.

82. Rat des Bezirkes Leipzig, “Einschätzung der Theaterarbeit im Bezirk Leipzig 1973,” March 20, 1974, SStAL SED-Bezirksleitung IV/C/2/9/2/691.

83. See STL attendance statistics as in Stadtarchiv Leipzig, Kulturinformation und Dokumentation 38.

84. Engel and Stephan, Theater, 128; John, “Garderobengespräch,” 34.

85. STL season preview for 1968/69, Available in the Programmhefte collection of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Leipzig.

86. See Schuhmann, Kulturarbeit, 108.

87. Statistics available in the Stadtarchiv Leipzig, Kulturinformation und Dokumentation 38.

88. STL’s budget plan for 1982, Stadtarchiv Leipzig, StVuR(1) 18228: 96. [End Page 120]

89. See the STL’s “Problemenkatalog” from February 14, 1975, Stadtarchiv Leipzig, StVuR(1) 18228: 190.

90. Karl Kayser, “Partnerschaft muß functionieren. Zum Verhältnis Leiter—Darsteller—Autor—Territorium,” Theater der Zeit 35, no. 12 (1980): 6–8.

91. Kayser, “Partnerschaft,” 7.

92. Karl Kayser, “Forderung des Tages—Forderung des Epoche. Theater auf dem Kurs des X. Parteitags der SED,” Theater der Zeit 36, no. 11 (1981): 4–6.

93. Dietmar Fritzsche, “Aktivitäten weiterentwickeln,” Theater der Zeit 40, no. 9 (1985): 7.

94. Karl Kayser, “Gute Leistungsarbeit,” Theater der Zeit 40, no. 8 (1985): 7–8.

95. Kayser, “Forderung des Tages,” 5.

96. Kayser, “Forderung des Tages,” 6.

97. Kayser, “Ich bin immer noch auf dem Wege,” 30.

98. Kayser, “Gute Leistungsarbeit,” 7–8.

99. On the growing diversity of East German theater, see Laura Bradley, Cooperation and Conflict: GDR Theatre Censorship, 1961–1989 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). On GDR cultural policy more broadly, see Manfred Jäger, Kultur und Politik in der DDR, 1945–1990 (Köln: Deutschland Archiv, 1995).

100. For more on the STL’s Faust productions, see Pauli, Theaterkombinat, ch. 5.

101. Playbill for Faust, 1965/66, available in the Programmhefte collection of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Leipzig.

102. Karl Kayser, “Ein Regisseur an einen Schauspieler,” Theater der Zeit 20, no. 22 (1965): 17–18.

103. Playbill for Faust, 1982/83, available in the Programmhefte collection of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Leipzig.

104. STL discussion on February 5, 1987, published as “Erben—aber wie? Ein Leipziger Gespräch,” Theater der Zeit 42, no. 5 (1987): 34–39.

105. See Pauli, Theaterkombinat, 156–166; and Erika Stephan, “‘Von allem Wissensqualm entladen.’ Goethes ‘Faust I’ wider im Schauspielhaus Leipzig,” Theater der Zeit 36, no. 7 (1981): 19–21.

106. Kayser qtd. in Stephan, “Von allem Weissensqualm,” 19.

107. G. Antosch, qtd. in Pauli, Theaterkombinat, 157.

108. Kayser qtd. in Gerd-Rüdiger Stephan and Hans-Hermann Hertle, eds., Das Ende der SED. Die letzten Tage des Zentralkomitees (Berlin: Links, 2013), 422.

109. Theater heute 36, no. 3 (1995): 58.

110. Wolfgang Hauswald and Wolfgang Kröplin, “Leipziger Schauspiel—Reflexionen und Thesen,” Theater der Zeit 45, no. 10 (1990): 5–7.

111. Hauswald and Kröplin, “Leipziger Schauspiel,” 6.

112. Kayser enjoyed considerable latitude from officials in East Berlin. See Bradley, Cooperation and Conflict, ch. 5. [End Page 121]