My monograph investigates how theatre censorship developed between 1961 and 1989 in the German Democratic Republic, how it was practised in different regions, and how it affected genres ranging from classical tragedy to contemporary drama. It provides major new insights into famous censorship disputes, and it also draws attention to many cases for the first time.
The fact that a play had been published in the GDR did not mean that any theatre could stage it, or even that it could be staged at all. Even if a play had already been staged in the GDR, local officials could still block new productions of it in their area. This explains why dramatists, who had first-hand experience of the censorship of both literature and theatre, agree that the controls on theatre were more formidable. The effects of censorship on theatre performance were also more permanent than those on literature or film: whilst a ban on a text or film might one day be lifted, a banned production could not be revived years later in the same form.
When we think of theatre censorship, we often think in terms of production bans or the deletion of controversial lines or scenes. In the GDR, these forms of intervention actually represented a breakdown in the system. From the authorities’ viewpoint, they indicated that the producers had acted 'irresponsibly' and that the usual checks had failed. So my book examines cases with different outcomes, ranging from production bans, through uneasy compromises, to official approval. I explore how theatre practitioners were involved in censorship and show that conflicts ran along multiple lines, within and between Party and state institutions, and within theatres themselves. This approach enables me to show how censorship became embedded in theatre politics and rehearsals, influencing the ways in which practitioners interpreted texts and shaped productions. The pressures towards internal and self-censorship were considerable, not least because pre-performance censorship did not offer theatre practitioners immunity from subsequent attacks. As the regime denied that it practised censorship, it could hold theatre practitioners accountable for productions, even though they had been filtered through pre-performance controls. This lack of security explains why GDR dramatists (unlike novelists and poets) campaigned in 1987 for censorship to be legalized: they hoped that an open, legally accountable system of censorship would offer them a means of challenging the authorities’ decisions.