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Jonathan Munby’s setting for Measure for Measure is inspired by the period between World Wars I and II, which was dominated by grotesque extremes. Soldiers returning shellshocked from the war found women forced into the sex trade, and one of the results was the growth and glorification of the pleasure industry. A culture of exploring and liberating oneself was born. All of these tensions are reflected in the art of the period.
“War Cripples”: Otto Dix’s 1920 painting, made just after WWI, leaves little to the imagination. Inspired by the industrial aesthetics of Dadaism, Dix depicts machine-like soldiers, dependent on false appendages, returning from the war. They have lost their human aspect. In this period, thousands of soldiers returned to Vienna and Berlin, often maimed and dismembered in a fashion similar to the men in Dix’s print. This is an early example of the new cultural trend known as Neue Sachlichkeit, or the “New Objectivity.” In the words of Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, Dix and his fellows were “neither impressionistically relaxed or expressionistically abstract.” Instead, artists such as Dix portrayed their changing world, in which reality was more grotesque than art. Despite the grim subject matter, Dix embeds satirical humor into the work by drawing the men passing by a Schuhmacherei or shoemaker, for which they have little use.
“The Salon I”: Despite their cartoonish appearance, the women in Otto Dix’s 1921 painting bear a close resemblance to those in Berlin during the Weimar period. Sallow and saggy, Dix’s prostitutes nevertheless remain remarkably human. In the streets of Berlin and Vienna (which experienced severe housing shortages after the war), prostitution ran rampant. For many women, it was the only way to find a bed to sleep in at night. In contrast to War Cripples, this style of portraiture, also known as “Verism,” portrayed its subjects without distortion, “warts and all.” Dix’s portraits were anticipated by the work of the Viennese artist Egon Schiele, who died in 1918.
Kabarett: Alongside the avant-garde theatre of Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Erwin Piscator and others in interwar Germany, most of the entertainment onstage was to be found in the cabaret, or “kabarett.” Cabaret in its traditional “Moulin Rouge” style was born in Paris, a variety form containing music acts, slapstick comedy, monologues from plays and snatches of poetry, all in an intimate setting. In early 1920s Berlin, however, only 12 of the 150 clubs advertised as cabarets featured all of these amusements. Most of the others revolved around the erotic sensibilities. Among the many forms spawned from cabaret was the erotic revue, in which a loose plot strung together titillating dances, and the “pleasure palaces,” or luxury nightclubs where the upper class could indulge their carnal desires in privacy.
Garrett Anderson is STC’s 2013-2014 Artistic Fellow. He has interned with Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago and Bret Adams Talent Agency in New York. Garrett holds a B.A. in Theatre Arts from The University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.