In Imperial Berlin, Jewish artists could be found in the forefront of the performing arts, from high drama to more popular forms like cabaret and revue, and eventually film. Jewish audiences patronized innovative theater, regardless of whether they approved of what they saw.

Max Reinhardt (1873-1943) transformed the theatrical experience, influencing a generation of European actors, directors, and filmmakers. Reinhardt began his theatrical career as an actor. In 1901, he cofounded the cabaret Schall und Rauch (Sound and Smoke) as a venue for experimenting with theatrical styles and genres. Renamed the Kleines Theater (Small Theater) in 1902, the troupe turned to performing contemporary drama with a new vitality derived from cabaret. Reinhardt took his new theatrical style with him as he moved to other theaters, including the Deutsches Theater as its director.

Reinhardt's focus on the actor’s expression and movement, his experimentation with new technologies like electrical lighting and the revolving stage, his sensitivity to theatrical venue -whether intimate playhouse or vast stadium - and his sense of the importance of stage and costume design were part of his desire to create a theatrical Gesamtkunstwerk, a total theatrical experience. This is evident in his collaborations with Secession artists such as Emil Orlik and Lovis Corinth, and in the sets and costumes he commissioned from Edvard Munch. In contrast to directors who were known for one distinctive style, Reinhardt adopted the theatrical and visual style he deemed most appropriate to a given play, whether contemporary drama, Greek and German classics, or Shakespeare. During the First World War, Reinhardt pioneered the performance of Expressionist drama on the Berlin stage.

Cabaret, the genre that had provided the springboard for Reinhardt's theatrical innovations, continued to evolve. Jews shaped the cabaret movement as composers and lyricists. Berlin's major composer and cabaret producer was Rudolf Nelson (1878-1960). At his Roland von Berlin and Chat Noir cabarets, Nelson presented sketches of Berlin high society, but also of the Jewish textile milieu in which he had been raised, often employing a self-deprecatory Jewish humor. By 1915, the rising anti-Semitism made his use of Jewish stereotypes more controversial.

At the Metropol Theater, the scripts of Julius Freund (1862-1914) and music of Viktor Hollaender (1866-1940) focused on the foibles and fashions of metropolitan Berlin, celebrating modern attractions such as its department stores and couture industry, businesses dominated by Jews. Satire at the Metropol aimed to further a spirit of tolerance and openness to the new.

With the advent of film, many of the actors who had worked with Max Reinhardt gravitated to the new medium as actors and directors. The First World War provided an impetus for the German film industry, since films imported from England and France could no longer be seen in Germany. A short film at the end of this gallery will introduce you to the work of a number of Jewish pioneers of German film: Ernst Lubitsch, Richard Oswald, and Max Mack.

Open-air movie theater on the Kurfürstendamm, 1913
Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin
Emil Orlik
Poster for Schall und Rauch (Sound and Smoke), 1901
51 1/4 x 34 1/4 in. (130 x 87 cm)
Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz