Alfred Henry Nolle.

The German drama on the St. Louis stage online

. (page 2 of 8)
Online LibraryAlfred Henry NolleThe German drama on the St. Louis stage → online text (page 2 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

lichcn stabilcn deutschen Theaters denkcn konnte. Das Hochste,
das im damaligen Augenblicke erreichbar war, waren demnach
Dilettantcn-Vorstellungen ; abcr bcsserc, sorgfaltiger vorbcreitete
und kimstlerischer geleitete Dilettanten-Vorstellungen, als man
bisher zu sehen gewohnt gewescn war." 9

To the end he had in view Bornstein in 1853 organized the
Philodramatische Gesellschaft. lie found for his purpose among
his friends and acquaintances a number who showed promise,
with proper training, of developing into good actors, who enthu
siastically embraced his cause and volunteered their services.
What they lacked in innate histrionic ability had to be made up
by diligence and enthusiasm. At first Bornstein himself and his

1 Anccifjcr dcs IVestcns, October 9, 1892.
"Op. cit, II, 222.
9 Op. cit., II, 223.

German Drama on the St. Louis Stage 17

talented wife had to bear the burden of work in the new organi
zation. Bornstein acted as stage manager and acted in the roles
of bon vivant and comic character. Under stress of necessity
it even became necessary for him in several instances to depart
from his accustomed line to play the part of fool or jeune premier.
Mine. Bornstein Marie Stelzer, in her youth a danseuse trained
under the eye of the French ballet master, Beauval performed
with much success as soubrette of the organization. The first
season offered difficulties to the stage manager. To adequately
fill the role of leading lady (Salon-Liebhaberin) presented a
problem. Volunteers were not lacking. But none in the environ
ment of the unsophisticated new world had had opportunity to
acquire the necessary acquaintance with the life which they were
supposed to interpret. The male contingent of the organization
were willing workers, but the busy life of a growing Western
metropolis did not always afford the necessary leisure for mem
orizing the parts assigned them with the precision demanded by
an exacting stage manager. But the really capable dilettantes
under the professional guidance of Bornstein and his wife gained
in attainment from performance to performance. The second
season brought the acquisition of a very valuable asset in a young
Austrian physician, Rudolf Gussmann, who had emigrated to
America on account of political banishment from his native coun
try. Gussmann possessed marked histrionic talent and literary
ability. He for this season assumed the role of leading gentleman
(Salon-Liebhaber) which Bornstein had found difficult to fill to
his satisfaction. The second season also profited by the acquisi
tion of two professional actors who had become stranded in St.
Louis, Carl Stein, a character actor of repute, and his talented
wife, who later became directress of the German Theatre in San
Francisco. 10

10 Those recorded as taking part in the performances of the Philodra-
matische Gescllschaft in addition to those mentioned above were: Messrs.
Albert, Aschenbach, Assmann, A. S. Bornstein, Btichel, Gayer, Gensis, Ferdi
nand Klunder, Christian Tvribben, Lconhard, Lischer, Miiller, Nebel, Preyt-
ner, Schmidt, Hermann Schroder, Stierlin, Thomas, Warnecke, Wild ; Mmes.
Charton, Frimmel, Koser, Kroger, Miiller, Novaak, Schiller, Schlesiger,
Schroder; child parts Carl Bornstein, Kl. Fuchs, Georg Hoffmann, Kl.

1 8 German Drama on the St. Louis Stage

The efforts of the Philodramatische Gesellschaft met with
an enthusiastic and appreciative response on the part of the Ger
man public from the start. On the opening evening of the first
season two plays from the pen of Bornstein were presented in the
Varieties-Theatre, located on Market Street between Fifth and
Sixth Streets, one of the largest theatres in the city, before an
audience which crowded the house. The first of these plays, a
five-act Lustspicl, Betrogene Betriigcr, was later performed with
distinct success more than twenty times in Vienna and became
a favorite in the repertory of many stages in Germany; the sec
ond, a "Lebensbild aus dem Deutsch-Amerikanertum" entitled
Deutsche Eimvanderung und deutsche Gesellschaft, became part
of the repertory of practically every German dilettante stage in
the United States at that time. This initial success augured well
for the future of the organization. It played weekly for four
winter seasons with growing artistic success. Houses were re
ported good, even in bad weather. During the winter of 1854-
1855 the organization suffered competition at the hands of a com
pany managed by Benrodt, which the latter recruited largely from
the ranks of a company to which he had belonged, which had
been brought to St. Louis from Louisville in the summer of 1854
by Julius Botzow for a series of performances beginning July 3.
The keen rivalry that existed made the Philodramatische Gesell
schaft more determined to put forth their efforts. In consequence
a professional stage attempting to play three times per week,
entailing the expenses of salaried players, after a short-lived
season beginning November 20, had to succumb by the middle
of February to the superior performances of their competitors,
whose popularity made it possible for them to utilize the larger
Bates Theatre after Benrodt had got possession of the Varieties.
It spelled failure for Benrodt to attempt to stage plays beyond
the possibilities of his limited ensemble. What he lacked in qual
ity he attempted to make up by use of the sensational. Flis adver
tisements for Goethe s Faust, for example, contained the com
ment, "Zum Schlusse des Stiickes Fausts Hollenfahrt! Erster
Tableau mit Brillant Feuerwerk!" The Anzeigcr dcs Wcstcns,
Bornstein s paper, echoes the rivalry between the two stages. In

German Drama on the St. Louis Stage 19

a review of a performance of the Philodramatische Gesellschaft
that is typical it says :

"Es ist interessant und fiir die Darsteller anregend, vor
einem solchen gebildeten, empfanglichen und kunstsinnigen
Publikum zu spielen, und die stets gedrangt vollen Hauser
bei der Auffuhrung einfacher Lust und Schauspiele stehen
im erfreulichen Contrast zu jenem Treiben, wo mit ellen-
langen Zetteln und Trommlern und Trompeten und Geigern
und Pfeifern auf den Ankiindigungen, Gothes und Schillers
Meisterwerke zusammengestrichen, verstiimmelt und ver-
hunzt von anderthalb Schauspielern und einem Dutzend
Statisten vor leeren Banken herabgeleiert werden. Der
Kuntsinn des hiesigen deutschen Publikums hat sich abermals
glanzend bewahrt, es hat bewiesen, dass es sich keinen Sand
in die Augen streuen und sich nicht durch grosse Annoncen
und atemlose Puffs verblitffen lasst, sondern richtiger Weise
eine gerundete, naturgetreue und von einem lebendigen
Geiste durchwehte Darstellung eines guten Lust oder
Schauspieles einer Tlollenfahrt mit Brillant-Feuerwerk oder
irgend einen grossen Banditen vorzieht. Wir kennen unser
deutsches Publikum hier und sind stolz darauf und eben
darum auch nur laden wir uns alle die Miihen und Plagen,
die Opfer und Anstrengungen auf, die die Organisation
und Aufrechthaltung einer Dilettanten-Buhne unabweisslich
mit sich bringt." n

The Philodramatische Gesellschaft during the first three
seasons of its activity donated the net proceeds of its perform
ances to charitable purposes. Its announcement states : "Das
Privat-Interesse hat mit diesen Vorstellungen gar nichts zu thun,
im Gegenteile mussen alle Darsteller, mit Vernachlassigung
ihrer eigenen Geschafte, Opfer an Zeit, Miihe und selbst Geld
bringen; aber sie thun es gern, weil es dem doppelten Zwecke
gilt ; den Geschmack und Sinn fiir deutsche Kunst hier zu heben
und gute und nutzliche Anstalten befordern zu konnen." 12 The
Deutsche Einwanderungsgesellschaft, the Deutsche Frauen-
verein organizations designed chiefly to aid newly arrived immi
grants the Freie Gemeinde in New Bremen, the German Orphan

11 Anzeiger des Westens, February 22, 1855.
13 Anzeiger des Westens, January 15, 1854.

2O German Drama on the St. Louis Stage

Home and similar institutions were the chief beneficiaries. With
the fourth season the plans of the organization and consequently
the financial obligations of the members became more preten
tious. It therefore avowedly became a professional organization,
announcing that henceforth the proceeds of the performances
would be divided among the performers on a pro rata basis
according to degree of service rendered. For the organization
was at no time to become a private enterprise, but to be conducted
on a republican basis.

With the termination of the Philodramatische Gesellschaft
the Liebhabertheater may be said to have played their role in the
history of the German stage in St. Louis. During the winter of
1857-1858 the St. Louis Turn Verein gave regular Sunday per
formances. During subsequent seasons the newspapers continue
to announce performances by one or the other Turn Verein or
other organization. But such performances in time became more
and more occasional. They did not always please the directors of
the regular professional German stage, for they kept away from
the regular theatre many who would otherwise have attended.
As late as 1909 one of the directors of the professional stage took
occasion in a brief historical sketch of the German stage in St.
Louis, submitted to the Mississippi Blatter (March 14, 1909) to
lodge such a complaint, saying, "An Liebhabertheatern war nam-
lich auch in den scchziger Jahren ebensowenig ein Mangel, wie
in dem jiingsten Jahrzehnt, in welchem sie als Anhangsel von
Gesang- und Turnvereinen den jeweiligen Theater-Unternehmern
bald grosseren, bald geringeren pekuniaren Schaden zugefitgt

The first attempt to establish a German theatre after the
cessation of activities by the Philodramatische Gesellschaft was
made by Ed. Herrmann. October 28, 1856, he instituted a Ger
man stage in the Varieties Theatre. Herrman mysteriously dis
appeared after the second performance, whereupon Robert A.
Wolff reopened the theatre November 30. His company included
six former members of the Philodramatische Gesellschaft
Assmann, Kliinder, Schmidt, Stierlin, Mine. Koser und Mine.
Novack. Other members of the company were Dardenne (a

German fir ama on the St. Louis Stage


comedian, formerly director of the Stadttheater in Augsburg),
Diiringer and Fredeking (from the Volkstheater in Chicago),
Bernhard Meissner, Steinberg (from New Orleans), Mmes,
Marie Dardenne, Meissner and Maria Wolff. Wolff played
with varying fortune till March 8, when he gave up the director
ship. The company then played under direction of a committee
appointed from its members until April 13. During the latter
period Carl Stein and Lola Montez played with the company in
starring parts, the former as Shylock in a performance of The
Merchant of Venice, the latter in four performances of Lola
Monies in Bayern. The non-success of the season was due chiefly
to an attempt to perform three times weekly in plays beyond the
capacity of a limited ensemble. Wolff made efforts to fill the
gaps in the ranks of his company. But the country offered no
supply of available actors from which to recruit them.

The performances of the Philodramatische Gesellschaft had
served the purpose they had been designed to attain namely, to
awaken an interest in the German theatre. But thru lack of a
director who would live up to standards artistically sufficiently
exacting to immediately follow up the work of the Philodra
matische Gesellschaft, the Volkstheater soon usurped the field.
The interest in German theatricals which had been aroused was
soon capitalized by the proprietors of summer gardens and beer
halls. The first of these Volkstheater to follow in the wake of
the activities of the Philodramatische Gesellschaft was opened
in Ruedi s Volksgarten, on Second Street between Mulberry and
Lombard Streets, on Sunday, August 2, 1857. During the winter
of 1857-1858 Ferdinand Kliinder attempted to rehabilitate the
German stage in the Varieties Theatre. Kliinder s company con
tained good material. In its ranks were included Robert Gilbert
(villain and character roles, from the Stadttheater in Philadel
phia), Anton Follger, Botzow, Louis Pelosi, Carl Worrett (stage
director, from Chicago), Assman and Stierlin (formerly of the
Philodramatische Gesellschaft) and Mmes. Botzow, Meissner
and Maria Pelosi. During the first part of the season Kronfeld,
from the Hoftheater in Darmstadt, and during February Schunck
and his wife, of the Deutsches Theater in Cincinnati, performed

22 German Drama on the St. Lrt * Stage

with the company in starring parts. Mme. Bdrnstein appeared
with the company from time to time. She played without com
pensation, solely in the interest of art. But Kliinder s venture,
due to various causes, was not a success. Occasionally the per
formances, especially those given with the aid of the visiting
players, reached a plane which won words of commendation
from the pen of the critic. Lack of cooperation on the part of
the players, however, and the attendant insufficient rehearsals
the critic ofttimes had occasion to find fault on the score of poorly
memorized or poorly interpreted parts caused the performances
in many instances to suffer by comparison with those of the Philo-
dramatische Gesellschaf t, to which the newspapers constantly refer
as the high -water mark in German theatricals in the city up to
that time. Kliinder s stage therefore did not attract the patron
age of those who could afford a good theatre. Moreover, the
season was one of financial depression generally. "Shinplaster"
was accepted far below par. The great mass of the people flocked
to the inexpensive Volkstheater, where the price of admission
was usually advertised as "10 cents, wofiir ein Glass Bier verab-
reicht wird," or where admission was free as an inducement to
the public to come spend their money with the proprietor of the
beer hall or garden with which the stage was connected, and
where a dance usually followed the performance. During the
summer of 1857 and the ensuing winter, in competition to Kliin
der s enterprise, the theatre in Ruedi s Volksgarten usually played
three times weekly. The level of performances of the Volks
theater which the economic situation of the people had helped
make popular soon shaped popular taste and created a demand for
such performances. During the summer of 1858 the theatre in
Ruedi s Volksgarten played daily, and three other German stages
the Deutsches National Theater, established in Flora Garten,
on South Seventh Street, May 22, by Gilbert and Schunck, the
one in the Tyroler Halle, at 2 Carondolet Avenue, and the St.
Georges Theater, on DeKalb Street between Barton and Victor
less frequently, the first two usually three times per week, the lat
ter on Sundays. During the winter of 1858-1859 the Volksthea
ter brought the number of German stages in St. Louis up to eight.

Germacn^rama on the St. Louis Stage 23

Of these one, representing an attempt by Jules Bonent to estab
lish a first-class stage in the Varieties Theatre, with prices at fifty,
thirty-five and fifteen cents, proved short-lived. Of the Volks-
theater those in Ruedi s Volksgarten, in Flora Garten, and in the
St. Louis Stadt Theater (formerly Bechner s Varieties), on Fifth
Street between Morgan Street and Franklin Avenue, usually
announced daily performances. The others advertised irregu
larly or not at all, but usually played several times weekly or
daily. The theatre in Flora Garten, admission to which was usu
ally twenty-five cents, was the only one which received occasional
recognition from the newspapers outside the advertising columns.
A contributor to the Anseiger des West ens for December 24,

1858, appraises it as ranking first among the eight stages playing
at that time. During the summer of 1859 the number of German
theatres in St. Louis reached fifteen. Most of these were ephe
meral. Changes in management and personnel were frequent in
all. Notice of them disappears entirely with the establishment of
the first permanent German theatre in St. Louis, in September,

1859, with the exception of a series of performances in Flora
Garten from November 21, 1860, to March 31, 1861, under the
management of Emil Hochster and O. Schadt. 13 The theatres
in Ruedi s Volksgarten and in Flora Garten, and the one con
ducted by Alexander Pfeiffer in Apollo Garten, on Fourth Street
between Poplar and Plum, from May 23 to September 5, 1859,
were resuscitated after the disturbances attending the Civil War
had terminated the permanent German theatre established in Sep
tember, 1859, but only the Apollo Garten Theater was destined
to flourish. It played winter and summer with but slight inter
ruption under frequent change of management thru the winter
season 1890-1891.

If we stop to view in perspective the development of the stage
during this period of the beginnings, the performances of the
Philodramatische Gesellschaft, from the standpoint of dramatur-

13 The Flora Garten ensemble for this season consisted of Messrs. Schone.
Mahl, Hafner, Beekier, Werber, Petersen, Weber, Seifert, Eugen ; Mmes.
Schadt-Meaubert, Taraskiewicz, Miihl ; Mile. Weber, and Lina Burgk (child

24 German Drama on the St. L^^f Stage

gical excellency, stand out as the hif h-water mark. The Prrilo-
dramatische Gesellschaft wisely limited its efforts to the class of
plays commensurate with the capacity of its ensemble. Under
the guidance of Bornstein, a man of indefatigable energy, who in
business circles had the reputation of getting the maximum of
work out of his employees, 14 the performances of the society
gained unstinted praise in press reports. Most of the comment
on the stage of this period must be gleaned from the columns of
Bornstein s paper. Its relative validity is in a measure attested,
however, by the fact that subsequent critics ofttimes take the per
formances of the Philodramatische Gesellschaft as the basis for
comparative judgment in estimating later performances. Other
stages statistically show a larger per cent of plays of literary
worth presented, but such plays were usually given with limited
ensemble, or by amateurs who lacked the guidance of the experi
enced artist. Press comment upon the plays of the Liebhaber-
theater preceding the activity of the Philodramatische Gesell
schaft was usually favorable, but it was avowedly so "mit Beriick-
sichtigung der Verhaltnisse." 15

II. 1859-1861.


When Bornstein, due to the pressure of business activities
which demanded his time and attention, reliquished his interest

14 Cf. William ITycle, Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis (New
York, Louisville, St. Louis: The Southern History Co., 1899), .1, 44.

15 A statistical survey of the plays produced on the several stages during
the various periods in the history of the German drama on the St. Louis
stage will indicate the relative character and literary value of the several
stages. For comparative purposes the statistical survey of the several stages
for the period of the beginnings and for subsequent periods is arranged in
tabulated form in the appendix following the narrative portion of this work.
For the period of the beginnings the repertoires of the various amateur
theatres, including the Turnverein performances, are included in the statistical
survey; for the period after 1859, only performances on the several profes
sional stages. Opera performances are included where they form a part of
the repertory of a regular German stage.

German Drama on the St. Louis Stage 25

in the Philodramatische Gesellschaft, he announced that it was
his intention to relinquish permanently his professional interest
in the stage. But opportunity needed but present itself to induce
the actor and impressario of eighteen years experience on the
European stage to change his mind. The Varieties Theatre prop
erty had not been a paying investment to its owners. It was
accordingly sold at a bargain to two public-spirited citizens of
St. Louis, Captain Eads and Mr. Dickson, whose purpose it was
not to make money out of the new investment, but to save the
property to St. Louis for the purpose for which it had been built.
They had the building renovated and approached Bornstein with
the proposal to take over the management thereof. Bornstein
acquiesced. He placed the editorial columns of his paper in the
hands of his friend, Dr. Charles L. Bernays, an experienced
journalist who had emigrated to America with him, and the man
agement of the technical details of the paper in the hands of his
eldest son. He was thus enabled to devote the major part of his
time to the new venture, which, tho destined to be short-lived,
was to give St. Louis the best permanent theatre it had yet had,
and after its suspension, was to have for some years to follow.
The St. Louis Opernhaus represents the first Bluteseit of German
theatricals in St. Louis.

Bornstein announced his aims and intentions with reference
to the new undertaking in a series of articles in the columns of
his paper. They are contained essentially in an excerpt from the
first of them :

"Es ist uns dabei vor Allem darum zu thun, den richti-
gen Standpunkt festzustellen, den eine deutsche Buhne in
St. Louis einnehmen kann und soil und zugleich das Ver-
haltniss dieser Buhne zum Publicum und umgekehrt, naher
zu beleuchten. Wir wollen hier nicht in die vielbesprochene
Frage eingehen, ob die Biihne eine Notwendigkeit fur den
Bildungsgang und das gesellige Leben eines Volkes sei, wir
wollen hier nicht den Einfluss derselben auf Pflege und
Entwickelung der nationalen Literatur und Kunst hervor-
heben, wir wollen uns einfach mit der praktischen Frage
beschaftigen : Tst ein deutsches Theater in St. Louis ein

26 German Drama on the St. Louis Stage

Bediirfniss und kann es daher bestehen? Die eigentliche
Losung dieser Frage kann nur clurch ein Experiment, durch
die Erfahrung gebracht werden und wir konnen nur von
anderen, namentlich von europaischen, Theater- Verhalt-
nissen, ziemlich unsichere Schliisse ziehen. In Deutschland
hat eine Stadt, die 12-15,000 Einwohner zahlt, ein Theater,
das tiber der Mittelmassigkeit steht und Stadte von 30-50,000
Einwohnern haben eine gute, stabile Biihne mit Oper and
Schanspiel. St. Louis hat eine deutsche Bevolkerung von
60,000 Kopfen, und diese Bevolkerung ist durchschnittlich
wohlhabender und zugleich lebenslustiger, als die gleiche
Bevolkerungszahl irgend einer grossen Stadt in Deutschland.
In Deutschland haben Stadte wie Hamburg, Bremen und
Wien vier bis fiinf grosse Theater, die Sommertheater in
den Umgebungen gar nicht gerechnet. Nun unser St. Louis
hat in diesem Sommer an fiinfzehn Sommertheater des ver-
schiedensten Calibers gehabt und wenn die Unternehmer,
ihrer grossen Unkosten halber, auch keine Schatze sammel-
ten, so zeigte sich doch von Seite des Publicums ein lebhafter
Besuch und eine grosse Theaterlust. Alles ware sehr
ermuthigend, wenn die Erfahrung vergangener Jahre nicht
ware. Ausser der philodramatischen Gesellschaft, die stets
voile Hauser hatte, die aber auch nur 10 bis 20 Vorstel-
lungen in einem ganzen Winter gab, haben alle folgenden
regularen Theater-Directionen theils hochst mittelmassige,
theils absolut schlechte Geschafte gemacht. . . .

"Bei einer Bevolkerung von 60,000 Menschen sollte
man doch, selbst bei ganz bescheidener Stiitzung, fiinf Pro-
cent als Theater- Publicum anschlagen konnen ; das gabe von
60,000 Deutschen drei tausend Theaterbesucher. Nun denn,
wenn von diesen drei tausand jeder Einzelne nur einmal in
der Woche das Theater besucht, so kann eine gute deutsche
Biihne hier bestehen; wenigstens ist ihr dann ein Stamm-
publicum gesichert und die Fremden und Durchreisenden
und jene unregelaren Theaterbesucher, die nur bei beson-
deren Gelegenheiten ins Theater gehn, miissen dann den
etwaigen Ausfall decken. Unsere Leser werden gestehen,
dass wir sehr bescheidene Anforderungen an die Unter-
stiitzung des Theater-Publicums machen und dass man

German Drama on the St. Louis Stage 27

glauben sollte, diese Wiinsche und ihre Erfiillung lagen im
Bereiche der Moglichkeit und wiirden sich wohl verwirk-
lichen. Wir wiinschen und hoffen es, denn sonst hatten wir
die Aufgabe nicht unternommen, mit deren Losung wir uns
jetzt beschaftigen, wir haben von Anfang an das feste Ver-
trausen gehabt, dass die deutsche Bevolkerung von St. Louis
ihr eigenes deutsches Theater haben und erhalten konne, und
in diesem Vertrauen haben wir gehandelt.

"An abrathenden und warnenden Stimmen hat es nicht
gefehlt; Manner, die wir zu unseren wahren Freunden
zahlen, widerrieten uns ein deutsches Theaterunternehmeii

2 4 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryAlfred Henry NolleThe German drama on the St. Louis stage → online text (page 2 of 8)