Volume 59 Issue 1, Spring 2016, pp. 49-74

This article explores the relationship between aesthetics and politics in documentary theatre. In contrast to approaches in both scholarly literature and artistic practice that assess the political significance of documentary theatre primarily in terms of content, the article discusses how the form of theatre itself can become political. I argue that Erwin Piscator’s post-war documentary theatre seeks, not only to intervene in political issues thematized in the productions, but also to claim a place for theatre as an institution uniquely capable of addressing two pressing questions of post-war politics: how to learn from the past and how to forestall future genocide. Piscator’s documentary productions relied on theatricality and aesthetic experience, offering a useful foil to current documentary theatre with its suspicion of theatricality. I base my argument on archival materials drawn from productions of plays, including The Burning Bush (New York Dramatic Workshop, 1949), The Crucible (Bühnen der Stadt Essen, 1958), The Investigation (Freie Volksbühne Berlin, 1965), and the pageant The Golden Doors (Madison Square Garden, 1943).