Totaltheater design (1927) for Erwin Piscator by Walter Gropius
© VBK, Vienna, 2010, courtesy Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin

The idea for a total theater emerged in 1927 within the scope of a collaboration between Walter Gropius and Erwin Piscator. The aims of this joint project were to develop a concept for a theater that overcame the traditional fixed stage arrangement and to produce a building that would unite all previous stage forms: deep stage, proscenium stage, and central stage. Gropius’s suggestion for realizing this undertaking was a mobile and rotatable parquet panel that could be shifted during a performance to create the different stage situations required. Besides this mobility of the playing levels and the auditorium, it was very important to Gropius that the machine for producing theater spaces would also be extended by light projection equipment. This not only meant innovative theater lighting, but above all film projections to enhance the scenic space of the stage.

Gropius’s like-minded partner for this project, Erwin Piscator, had already dealt intensively with the combination of theater and film in earlier theater productions. For him, film was the perfect means to open up additional spaces on the stage. Gropius therefore envisioned not only the option of film projection for the three deep stages onto the entire cyclorama with the aid of a system of movable film projectors, he also planned to project films onto the walls and ceilings of the entire auditorium.[1] However, the audience was not meant to be consumed by an abundance of technical tricks. On the contrary: the viewers were to be drawn into the events and rendered, as it were, no longer capable of avoiding the social issues being addressed by the theater. It is precisely in this pursuit to overwhelm the viewers while at the same time compelling them to reflect in a critical way that the principal idea behind the total theater presents itself most clearly. The theater machine designed by Gropius can therefore certainly be considered the precursor to those more recent media environments that, however, often give precedence to one thing: the process of immersion.



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