Theatre and Film, Johnny Carson School of


Date of this Version



Published in Essays in Theatre, Vol. 6 No. 2, May 1988, pp. 137-146.


When Heinz Hilpert died in Gottingen on 25 November 1967 at the age of seventy-seven, obituary notices throughout the German-speaking world hailed him as the last of the great theatre directors, a group that had included Otto Brahm, Max Reinhardt, Leopold Jessner, Jurgen Fehling, Erich Engel, and Gustaf Griindgens. As early as 1931, numerous critics considered him perhaps the best director in Berlin, second only to Reinhardt himself. Hilpert had indeed succeeded Reinhardt as Intendant of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin in 1933; when he did so he pledged himself to the task of preserving the Deutsches Theater as an institution dedicated to artistic excellence. Skeptics have since doubted Hilpert's sincerity in making that pledge, and many have sometimes assumed that opportunism was the principal motive behind Hilpert's agreement with Nazi authorities to manage Berlin's most prestigious ensemble.

Hilpert remained at the helm of the Deutsches Theater until 1944, and concurrently ran both the Theater in der Josefstadt and the Deutsches Theater after 1938. He accepted directorial assignments in Zurich, Frankfurt am Main, and Konstanz during the immediate postwar period and became Intendant of the "Deutsches Theater in Göttingen" in 1950; he remained at this post until his retirement in 1966. He continued, however, to direct in Austria, Switzerland, and the Federal Republic to the end of his life. During his lifetime he was the recipient of numerous awards, citations, and prizes given by various cultural and governmental organizations in both the Federal and Democratic Republics; since his death little attention has been paid to him or to the substantial contributions he made both as a theoretician and as a director. This paper examines both his theory and his practice and attempts to evaluate his place in German theatre history.