Carl Weber, 1925-2016

A theatre director who worked as an assistant to Bertolt Brecht before becoming professor of drama at Stanford University has died

February 2, 2017
Carl Weber
Source: L. A. Cicero

Carl Weber was born in Dortmund, Germany on 7 August 1925 and had his first experiences in the theatre while a prisoner of war at a camp in Colchester, England.

He returned to Germany in 1946 and completed a degree in chemistry at the University of Heidelberg, but then decided to move to Berlin to seek work as an actor and director.

Deeply impressed by theatre director Bertolt Brecht’s pioneering production of Mother Courage, which he later described as “the most impressive theatre I have seen in my life”, Professor Weber applied to join Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble.

His “audition” required him to sit in on some rehearsals and give a detailed account of exactly what he had witnessed on stage – the test reflected Brecht’s obsession with absolute visual clarity.

Appointed Brecht’s assistant director in 1952, Professor Weber took over as company director after Brecht died in 1956. This gave him an opportunity to tour his productions across the world, although Brecht’s political sympathies attracted criticism in East Germany and also led to controversy in the West in the charged atmosphere of the Cold War.

It was while Professor Weber was on tour in 1961 that he was forced into exile for the rest of his life after the East German government closed its borders and began the construction of the Berlin Wall.

While continuing his work as a director, often bringing experimental German theatre to the West, he also began to develop links with universities. He served as a visiting director at Stanford University (1963-64), worked at New York University and then returned to Stanford as professor of drama in 1985.

There he played a major role in setting up the acclaimed dual-track doctoral drama programme, combining directing with critical theory. Although Professor Weber eventually became emeritus, he continued teaching until 2013, when he was already in his late eighties.

“I was completely transformed by working with him. It was like discovering life on another planet,” recalled Gregory Freidin, professor emeritus of Slavic languages and literatures at Stanford, who worked on the American premiere of Isaac Babel’s Maria under Professor Weber’s direction.

“He had that kind of energy and grasp and unbelievable precision. You couldn’t make a false note without him noticing it.”

Professor Weber died on 25 December 2016 and is survived by his partner Inge Heym, a son, a daughter and three grandchildren.

matthew.reisz@tesglobal.com

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