Meiningen Players

Late 19th century influence

The Meiningen Players were organized by Duke George 11 of Saxe-Meiningen. Many historicans credit him for being the first director. He had organized his theatre company, which he served as producer, director, financial backer, and costume and scenery designer.

He was the first to recognize the importance of central artistic control, which anticipated the function of the director in the production. He strove to perfect ensemble acting and as a designer used historically accurate costumes and settings. This German theatrical company that toured Europe from 1874 to 1890. The group, inspiring theatrical reforms wherever it performed, was a major influence in the movement toward modern theater.

The company’s first public performance took place in 1874 at Berlin. In 1881 the Meiningen Company went to London, where it presented three plays by Shakespeare and a number of German and non-German classics. Thereafter, the ensemble performed in more than 35 European cities, including Moscow and Brussels. Their repertory was not particularly unusual, but their methods were higly innovative and became influencial.

In Moscow the young Stanislavski witnessed the performance. Its realistic productions profoundly affected the thinking of this Russian director and the French director Andre Antoine, the two major proponents of stage realism, and provided the impetus for the further exploration and development of naturalistic theatre, which found its greatest expression and perfection in the work of the Moscow Academic Art Theatre. In the light of acting history their concept is the base of a whole new way of making theatre.

1874--German--Antony's oration in Julius Caesar, by Kleinmichel, after a sketch by Duke Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen. Julius Caesar was the big breakthrough for the Saxe-Meiningen players, when they played it in Berlin.

The duke instituted many reforms, among which were an emphasis upon historical accuracy and authenticity in costumes and sets. He abolished the starsystem, fired the old company and hired new, young actors. He made sure that all actors played both mayor as minor roles. In his plays he introduced the use of steps and platforms to keep the action moving fluidly on many different levels. Also the division of groups in crowd scenes into organic yet distinct vocal entities. He introduced long, carefully planned rehearsals (anticipating Konstantin Stanislavsky’s method), and the displacement of stage scenery (paintings) by settings in which the actor became a natural part of his environment. It would change and influence acting history. Meiningen became the synonym for directed theatre and realism.

About 50 years thereafter Brecht's alianation, can be seen directly in the line with the Meiningen Players, though the gestus is particularly social rather than historical.

The “Theatre Duke” sought to create a production style that unified the conception, interpretation, and execution of dramatic works

John Osbornes book on the Meininger Players, we highly recommend this! Get more information by clicking on the book.

In the development of acting history Meiningen Players Theatre was changed in Europe because of the Meiningen Players performances. In England William Merchant proclaimed in 1881: "It transformed our conceptions of disciplined corporate playing, the handling of crowds, the realistic use of substantial scenery."

In 1890, feeling that the company had accomplished its objectives, the duke closed it.