Theatre: As is the case with theatre throughout Europe, staged performances in Austria have their roots in the Middle Ages. The origin of Christian drama was the Easter mass liturgy: members of the clergy celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ by means of symbolic gestures and alternate singing (tropes) on the church premises. In the course of time, the plays became more realistic and included an increasing number of scenes, up to the point when plays lasted several days (e.g. Bozener Passion). The Passion Plays of the late Middle Ages, particularly popular in Vienna and Tirol (Brixen/Bressanone, Bozen/Bolzano, Sterzing/Vipiteno, Hall, Lienz), were performed on church grounds or the market square. Respected townspeople also acted in these plays, and the vernacular gradually superseded Latin. Important artists were commissioned to design the settings of the plays: the wood-carver W. Rollinger in Vienna, the painter V. Raber in Tirol. In Bozen/Bolzano and Sterzing/Vipiteno, first efforts in the German-speaking area were made to cast female actors to play women in the early 16th century.
After the suppression of the medieval tradition of Passion Plays during the Reformation, the tradition was revived in the Baroque period by the Catholic orders, and in particular the Jesuits, who would employ impressive Corpus Christi Processions and Passion Plays as a means of Counter-Reformation. But the more popular the plays became with the rural population, the coarser became their content, which eventually led to repeated bans on theatrical performances in the 18th century. Nevertheless, some of these plays have survived to this day. Along with passion plays, several other forms of Religious Drama evolved in Austria, including various types of nativity play (including "Hirtenspiele" or "shepherds´ plays"), mystery plays and procession plays.
Earliest evidence of secular drama dates back to the 14th century, when the Neidhartspiel emerged. In the 15th century, this originally simple spring play evolved into the "Great Neidhartspiel" with 2,200 verses. These plays too grew more and more elaborate in the course of time, by making increased use of music, dance and singing. In the 15th century, various forms of the Fastnachtspiele (carnival plays) evolved in Austria and throughout the German-speaking lands. They originated from pre-Christian ritual celebrated at particular times of the year ("Winteraustreiben", i.e. driving out the winter, carnival parades, "Perchtenlauf", or local farcical court trials).
As Passion and Carnival Plays reached the height of their popularity, humanist scholars at royal courts made endeavours to revive Greek and Roman drama. In Vienna, K. Celtis studied Terence at a suggestion of E. S. Piccolomini (who was to become Pope Pius II) some years earlier and staged comedies by Plautus and Terence in the university hall with his students in 1502/1503. The epigrams in Latin, which served as invitations to the plays, are considered the first theatre programmes in the German-speaking area. The tradition of homage plays ("Ludi Caesarei"), started also by Celtis, was continued by the Abbot of the monastery of the Virgin Mary (Schottenstift) in Vienna, B. Chelidonius. The performances staged by the Schottenstift monastery, and in particular the popular didactic drama by W. Schmeltzl, set an example followed by many monastic and cathedral schools in the Austrian lands. While the Catholic drama was highly evolved and culminated in the Latin Jesuit plays, Protestant didactic drama in Austria was rather short-lived and came to an end during the Counter-Reformation. Its centre was the Latin grammar school at Steyr (today Upper Austria) under the rectors T. Brunner and G. Mauritius; the Protestant Linz School of Estates had in G. Calaminus one of the most influential neo-Latin playwrights among its ranks.
The beginning of the Baroque Age in Austria is marked by the first performance of "Speculum vitae humanae", a play in the tradition of "Everyman", at the royal court in Innsbruck in 1584; this was the first comedy in German prose, written by Archduke Ferdinand II of Tirol. It reiterated many of the Renaissance elements contained in earlier didactic drama, but was also influenced by Jesuit drama and the Commedia dell´arte of Italian Itinerant Theatre Troupes, who toured the Austrian lands together with English troupes ( English Comedians) and started the development of independent professional theatre in Austria.
The foremost influence on Austrian Baroque drama was the Italian Opera. The first documented performance of an opera in the German-speaking area was at Salzburg under Archbishop Marcus Sitticus, Count of Hohenems. Under his direction, a grotto in Hellbrunn was turned into a rock theatre and the stage at his residence was modelled after grand Italian stages. The second centre of early Baroque opera in Austria, with theatres of unparalleled splendour in the Italian tradition, was Innsbruck. At the court in Vienna, the Baroque opera enjoyed its particular popularity during the reigns of the Emperors Ferdinand III, Leopold I, Joseph I and Karl VI. Musical drama festivals had already been held in Austria since the beginning of the Baroque Age, but was it was not until the end of the Thirty Years´ War, when the most influential Italian artists gathered at Vienna, that the Vienna Baroque theatre achieved fame throughout Europe. 3 artists in particular exerted massive influence on the prestigious opera festivals at the court of Leopold I: the set and costume designer L. O. Burnacini, the librettist N. Minato and the composer A. Draghi, mostly supported by the ballet composer J. H. Schmeltzer and the choreographer Santo Ventura. After Leopold´s death, theatrical life grew more colourful and diverse on account of the large number of artists who worked side by side: the foremost librettists were P. Pariati, A. Zeno and, particularly, P. Metastasio, who left his imprint on theatrical production at the Vienna court for over half a century; composers included F. Conti, J. J. Fux, M. A. Ziani and A. Caldara; members of the Galli-Bibiena family were successful set designers, costumes were designed by A. D. Bertoli.
The era in which theatre festivals at court were a display of imperial power and a manifestation of the rivalry with France over the predominance in Europe came to an end after the reign of Emperor Karl VI. Under Empress Maria Theresia, the old court stage was only once the venue for an opera production (in 1744), and in 1748 it was transformed into the Redoutensaal ballrooms by A. Galli-Bibiena. The opera festivals at court were thus deprived of their glorious setting and increasingly reduced to "family events" held in the intimacy of the imperial summer residences. This development gained further momentum in 1747, when Maria Theresia commissioned the construction of the still existing Schlosstheater at Schoenbrunn Palace. On the other hand, the grand opera ceased to be reserved for aristocratic patrons, because as early as 1741, Maria Theresia had the empty festival and banquet hall on Michaelerplatz square turned into a theatre ( Burgtheater), rented it out and opened it to the townspeople of Vienna. It was on this stage that C. W. Gluck produced his first "reform operas" in co-operation with the choreographer and ballet reformer J. G. Noverre.
While the grand opera festivals of the Baroque had addressed an exclusively aristocratic audience, the religious drama of the Catholic orders was intended to appeal to all classes. The most outstanding productions were those of the Jesuits and the Benedictines with the significant playwright S. Rettenbacher (Lambach, Salzburg, Kremsmuenster), but other orders such as Cistercians (at Heiligenkreuz), Piarists (Vienna, Horn, Krems), Augustinian Canons Regular and Capuchins also cultivated the theatre.
Alongside court and religious drama, a significant contribution to Austrian theatre in the Baroque Age was made by strolling troupes. From the travelling comedians emerged the first great actor of the Volkstheater, Altwiener, J. A. Stranitzky, the creator and first impersonator of the Viennese Hanswurst character, who performed at the Kaerntnertortheater after 1709. After Stranitzky, the part of Hanswurst was played and further developed by G. Prehauser, who saw J. F. v. Kurz, in the role of Bernardon, as his rival. The old Viennese extempore theatre resisted the animosity of the Leipzig-based high priest of literature, J. C. Gottsched, and his educated followers considerably longer than similar theatrical performances in other German-speaking areas. Well aware of the ban on extempore comedies which had also been passed in Austria, P. Hafner wrote dramas which skilfully avoided any passages liable to attract criticism by the reformers. Thus, popular drama evolved as a literary form per se and managed to withstand the attacks by its adversaries, headed by J. v. Sonnenfels.
Towards the end of the 18th century, several efforts were made to set up permanent theatres in the Vienna suburbs, three of which succeeded in establishing themselves permanently in Vienna theatrical life: the Leopoldstaedter Theater (in the 2nd district of Vienna, 1781), the Freihaustheater in Wieden, the 4th district (established 1787, moved to the Theater an der Wien in 1801) and the Theater in der Josefstadt (in the 8th district, 1788). The most celebrated stage of the Old Viennese popular theatre was the Leopoldstaedter Theater, popularly called "Kasperltheater" after its foremost actor, J. J. La Roche, who created and played the comic character of Kasperl. The last endeavours to continue the old tradition of strictly defined character comedy were made by the actor A. Hasenhut with his "Thaddaedl" character. In "Staberl", played by I. Schuster, A. Baeuerle created the first buffoon character from among the common people and ranks, along with J. A. Gleich and K. Meisl among the three most celebrated personalities of the old Viennese popular theatre of the time before Raimund and Nestroy. Most of F. Raimund´s magical plays were also produced at the Leopoldstaedter Theater, his last work, "Der Verschwender" (1834), was first performed at the Theater in der Josefstadt. The last representative of the popular comedy in the old tradition was J. Nestroy, who first performed at the Theater an der Wien, and later at the Carltheater. He played 410 parts altogether, of which every 6th was written by himself. In his function as managing director of the Carltheater (1854-1860) he adapted Offenbach to the Austrian stage, thus paving the way for the Operetta. With the premiere of "Die Schoene Helena" (1865), the Theater an der Wien became the leading operetta stage in Vienna and thus the birthplace of the Viennese operetta. Subsequently, two other renowned operetta houses were established: the Volksoper (formerly Kaiser-Jubilaeums-Stadttheater) and the Raimundtheater.
A historical event of enormous consequence for the development of theatre in the German-speaking lands and the Austrian provincial capitals of Graz and Innsbruck in particular took place in 1776, when Emperor Joseph II elevated the "theatre next to the Burg", adapted in 1741, to the status of "k. k. Hof- und Nationaltheater" and promoted acting and singing in the German language rather than Italian operas and ballets. In 1789, Joseph made J. F. H. Brockmann, who engaged actors from all over the German-speaking lands, first managing director of the Burgtheater. During the reign of Joseph´s successor Leopold II, who, being also Grand Duke of Tuscany, was educated in the Italian tradition and taste, the opera reached new heights. This was especially due to A. Salieri having begun staging operas at the prestigious Burgtheater. The Burgtheater finally achieved a leading position among drama stages under the artistic direction of J. Schreyvogel (1814-1832). He adopted a repertoire centred around the main works of European literature and discovered the plays of F. Grillparzer for the stage. H. Laube (1849-1867) was the first regisseur, or director, in the modern sense of the word and placed particular emphasis on language and pronunciation, while F. v. Dingelstedt (1870-1881) concentrated rather on stage arrangement. Those years saw keen competition between Dingelstedt and Laube in his function as manager of the newly founded bourgeois Stadttheater, Wiener. The primary achievement of A. v. Wilbrandt as Burgtheater manager (1881-1887) was the production of classical tragedies.
In 1888, under the management of A. v. Sonnenthal, the new Burgtheater buildings on Ringstrasse street were opened; Sonnenthal´s successor, M. Burckhard (1890-1898), introduced naturalist drama to the Burgtheater and presented the premiere of A. Schnitzler´s "Liebelei" (1895), along with several other plays. After the end of the monarchy, the "k. k. Hofburgtheater", as it was still called, gradually came to be officially called the "Burgtheater" - and thus the prestigious state theatre of the Austrian Republic. In 1922, the Akademietheater became the studio theatre of the Burgtheater, following previously failed efforts to set up studio theatres at the Schoenbrunner Schlosstheater or the Redoutensaal ballrooms.
In its function as official court theatre during the monarchy and state theatre thereafter, the Burgtheater was subject to various restrictions; the resulting lacunae in the theatre scene were filled by several private initiatives, which also led to the establishment of Laube´s Wiener Stadttheater: the Deutsche Volkstheater (today Volkstheater) in 1889, the Raimund-Theater in 1893, the Kaiser-Jubilaeums-Stadttheater in 1898 (today Volksoper). Under J. Jarno, the Theater in der Josefstadt became a leading, if commercially oriented, stage committed to literary works in 1899, and in 1908 the Buehne, Neue Wiener was permanently set up on the premises on the former Harmonietheater. The most interesting private stage in Vienna in the early 20th century was the Theater in der Josefstadt, on whose style and fashion M. Reinhardt had a lasting and formative influence after 1924. He was also greatly involved in founding the Salzburg Festival and set up the celebrated drama school, the Reinhardt-Seminar, which was later combined with the state academy, where he instructed young actors who continued his style.
In the National Socialist era, artists loyal to the new regime were installed as managers and actors in nearly all the theatres from 1938, leaving a specifically Austrian theatrical development to the Kleinkunst (cabaret and revue) stages. By the early 1930s, the Kabarett had already started showing an awareness of contemporary issues, particularly the Augustin, Lieber" and the "Literatur am Naschmarkt" cabarets. These left-wing political cabarets came to an end after the Anschluss (union with Germany) in 1938; their place was taken by the "Wiener Werkel", which managed to resist the Nazi authorities.
The Burgtheater and the Staatsoper (state opera) buildings were heavily damaged by air raids in World War II, but performances were taken up again as early as 1945, with the Ronacher, the Theater an der Wien and the Volksoper serving as temporary premises. The Austrian Federal Theatres were re-opened in 1955, the year in which State Treaty was concluded. The Theater in der Josefstadt and the Volkstheater had only suffered slight damage during the war, so plays could be performed on their stages soon after the war, in the spring of 1945. Since 1954, productions of the Volkstheater have also been staged in the Vienna suburbs.
The Vienna Festival was established in 1951 and has since marked, in May/June, the annual beginning of the festival season in Austria. The summer festivals are still dominated by the Salzburg Festival, despite increased theatrical production in other cities: since 1945 Bregenz (Vorarlberg) has become the second festival centre in Austria ( Bregenz Festival), and Graz has had its own theatre festival since 1954 ( steirischer herbst festival). However, festivals are not only held in the provincial capitals, but also in numerous other towns and cities.
The post-war years saw the foundation of a large number of theatres which chose new ways of theatrical expression. This marked the beginning of the era of the cellar theatres, which continued the tradition of literary-political cabaret of the 1930s. In the 1960s avant-garde theatre groups emerged, some of which have survived to this day, such as the Experiment am Lichtenwerd and the Ateliertheater am Naschmarkt. In the 1970s and 80s, theatrical life was enriched by many medium-sized and small theatre groups, particularly in Vienna, (including the Komoedianten, the Ensembletheater, the Schauspielhaus, Serapions Theater, the Gruppe 80), the freie Gruppen and the flourishing cabaret and revue scene.
The Austrian provinces, too, stage their own theatrical productions throughout the year; the Provincial and Municipal Theatres at Linz, Salzburg, Graz, Klagenfurt, Innsbruck, St. Poelten and Baden all cover a wide variety of genres; stages which host guest performances are located at Wiener Neustadt, Steyr and Leoben. The provinces of Vorarlberg and Burgenland occupy a somewhat special position: the "Theater fuer Vorlarlberg" is based at Bregenz, but stages guest performances in all major towns in the area as well as in the neighbouring provinces. In 1997 Burgenland developed an individual "theatre concept" in co-operation with the "Burgenlaendischen Kulturzentren" at Eisenstadt, Mattersburg, Oberschuetzen, Guessing and Jennersdorf.
Institutes, collections, societies: Institut fuer Theaterwissenschaft (Institute of Theatre Studies) at the University of Vienna, Austrian Centre of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) of the UNESCO, Kommission fuer Theatergeschichte (up to 1993 Kommission fuer Theater Oesterreichs) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austrian Theatre Museum, Gesellschaft fuer Musiktheater, Internationales Opernarchiv, Gesellschaft der Freunde des Burgtheaters, Max-Reinhardt-Forschungs- und Gedenkstaette (Vienna and Salzburg), Wiener Buehnenverein, Wiener Dramaturgie, Oesterreichische Theatergemeinde.
Literature#Kommission fuer Theatergeschichte Oe. of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ed.), Theatergeschichte Oesterreich, 10 vols., 1964ff.; F. Hadamowsky, Wien. Theatergeschichte. Von den Anfaengen bis zum Ende des Ersten Weltkriegs, 1988.