The Crucifixion: Lothar Schreyer's Multisensory Playscript

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From 1921 to 1923, German artist Lothar Schreyer established the Bauhaus’s theater program, which Gropius saw as parallel to the school’s ambitions in architecture. Controversial among students, the theatrician and editor of the expressionist magazine Der Sturm was one of the contingent of artists who brought mystical, esoteric sensibilities to the Weimar curriculum. Shortly before his appointment, he printed the play Crucifixion (Kreuzigung), which dramatizes a modern struggle for spiritual transcendence, in a limited edition.

More than a simple playscript, Schreyer's book attempts to translate the multisensory experience of the stage performance to the printed page. Its three characters and their actions are represented by stylized symbols.

Each hand-colored leaf (printed only on the recto pages) is structured like a three-tiered musical staff, with the top line representing the actors’ lines, the middle line their tone and volume, and the bottom line their movement.

Schreyer did not intend the scheme to be technical but rather intuitive and expressive, and—as prefatory notes insist—“anyone can read the play who can hear word-tones within himself and see the movement of color-forms,” and “only those who are not professional actors” can perform it.

In this light, the variable, organic woodcut symbols and letterforms—sharp and angular, reminiscent of the Viennese Secessionist or German expressionist styles that preceded it—stretch and condense as required by the rhythm of the performance and the duration of each measure, naturally guiding the eye of the reader just as the movements and speech of the actors would guide the audience in a live rendition.