The Magical Reality of Theatre: Celebrating Max Reinhardt’s 150th Birthday

In the autumn of 2023, the theatrical world celebrates the 150th birthday and the 80th anniversary of the death of Max Reinhardt. He is often called the first modern stage director, revered as a theatrical magician and described as the quintessence of an impresario of international renown, whose work radiated from Berlin and Vienna to Salzburg to the United States of America.

Gerfried Stocker, Markus Hinterhäuser, Margarethe Lasinger, Peter Freudling, photo SF/Neumayr/Leopold

The Salzburg Festival commemorates the theatrical magician and co-founder of the Festival
by reconstructing his last work in Salzburg: the celebrated 1933 production of Faust at the
Felsenreitschule. Further events – a symposium and a three-part exhibition – also focus on
Reinhardt’s Faust (1933-1937), and thus also on the historical caesuras of 1933 and

Faust 2023

A very special project is Faust 2023, which brings together analogue, stage and virtual
realities in a performative guided tour. This project is made possible by cooperation between the Salzburg Festival and the Ars Electronica Futurelab. The Ars Electronica Futurelab helps bring Reinhard’s production of Faust to new life through a Virtual Reality application: using a VR headset, visitors enter The Magical Reality of Theatre – a reconstruction of the Faust town at the Felsenreitschule, directly on stage. There, they occupy unique positions: amidst the stage setting, they are guided through the Faust town designed by Clemens Holzmeister during a 10-minute virtual interpretation of the play. Lighting and music play a decisive role – as they did in Reinhardt’s open-air production 90 years ago. Visitors enter Faust’s study and witness the Walpurgis Night and the dance under the linden tree.

Faust 1933

The reconstruction of the Faust town has been accomplished on the basis of construction
plans, recordings and other documents from the archive of the Salzburg Festival. In addition, the stage model held by the Austrian Theatre Museum in Vienna has become the object of photogrammetry. Together with a 3D laser scan of the Felsenreitschule, these form the basis of the VR reconstruction. A multitude of photographs has been de-skewed for perspective and improved in quality, partially with the help of AI. Thus, original photographs from the Festival’s archive have provided the textures projected onto the manually constructed geometry. This process allowed the details of the original stage sets and the technical limitations of VR headsets to be reconciled.

The VR experience is embedded within a multi-perspective guided tour led by acting
students from the Mozarteum University Salzburg: Ben Engelgeer, Victoria Kraft and Joseph Lang. Many different media are used in this context: storytelling, photographs, film clips, exhibits, manuscripts and audio recordings, a Faust score, three-dimensional stage elements and the virtual simulation described above. Thus, visitors move between various levels of perception, delving into this VR world at the scene of the original production. Analogous, stage and virtual realities intermingle in a wonderous way.

“The Salzburg Festival is a feast of the arts, whose enchantment unfolds through shared
experience in the here-and-now. Max Reinhardt invoked this experience in his productions
and the idea of holding a festival in Salzburg. ‘The passion for theatre-going and theatreplaying,’ he wrote, ‘is a fundamental human drive. This drive will bring actors and audiences together again and again, creating the highest form of theatre which is its only true embodiment.’ On the occasion of his 150th birthday, we are presenting a project – together with Ars Electronica – eliminating the boundaries between stage and audience. Entirely in Max Reinhardt’s spirit, the performing arts merge with the digital ones – including virtual worlds.” (Markus Hinterhäuser –  Artistic Director, Salzburg Festival)

“For us, collaborating with the Salzburg Festival team is an extraordinarily good opportunity to explore the possibilities of new technologies and develop them further. The goal is to grasp and use ‘virtual reality’ as a means of design, enhancing the comprehension of historically relevant scenarios in an audience of our own times. I am sure that the aura of the real space combined with the possibilities of representation offered by virtual reality will ensure a highly impressive and effective experience for all visitors.” (Gerfried Stocker – Artistic Managing Director, Ars Electronica)

Max Reinhardt in Salzburg, 1936

Faust 2023

Projects during the 2023

Reinhardt Year

Symposium · 24/25 May

On 24 and 25 May, a two-day symposium in Leopoldskron is devoted to Reinhardt’s prompt book for Goethe’s Faust – whose publication in a facsimile edition with comments we are preparing, in cooperation with the publishing house Hollitzer Verlag and the Austrian Theatre Museum in Vienna – as well as the reception and characteristics of his Faust productions, scientific research on classic texts and questions of canon development.
Presented by the Salzburg Festival in cooperation with the Wienbibliothek im Rathaus,
the Stefan Zweig Centre Salzburg, the publisher Hollitzer Verlag and the Salzburg Global Seminar.

Exhibitions · from 19 July

From the beginning of the Festival, a three-part exhibition on Reinhardt’s Faust will illuminate its political, historical and social context as well as its status in the history of theatre. In cooperation with two of the most important Reinhardt archives – the Austrian Theatre Museum in Vienna and the Wienbibliothek in Vienna – we trace Reinhardt’s production via rehearsal notes, models, sketches, plans, letters, newspaper articles, caricatures, photographs and memorabilia. The exhibition Annäherungen an Faust (Approaches to Faust) will take place at the Karl-Böhm-Saal, at the Stefan Zweig Centre at the Edmundsburg and at Leopoldskron Palace. A cooperation of the Salzburg Festival with the Austrian Theatre Museum in Vienna, the Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, the Stefan Zweig Centre Salzburg and the Salzburg Global Seminar.

Festival Opening Party – A Feast for Max Reinhardt – 23 July

The detailed programme for the festivities in Leopoldskron will be announced at a press
conference on 23 June. FAUST 2023 · A Performative Tour, Preview 25 August 2023 (Press tours), 31 August, 8, 9, 26 and 27 September, (further dates will be announced as and when they become available).

Max Reinhardt & Goethe’s Faust

Why are we studying Reinhardt’s last production in Salzburg?

Since Max Reinhardt’s work in the early and founding period of the Salzburg Festival has
been explored extensively during the past years (2020/21), i.e. on the occasion of the
Salzburg Festival’s centenary, in 2023 we focus on his last Salzburg production: Goethe’s
Faust (1933-1937) – including the historical caesuras of 1933 and 1937/38.

What was the point of departure?

The events of 1933 – the rise of the National Socialist Party NSDAP in Germany, where
Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich, the elimination of the Austrian Parliament and the
appointment of the authoritarian “Ständestaat” regime under Engelbert Dollfuß, the passing of the 1000-mark limit, etc. – form the important political background for studying Reinhardt’s Faust production, which was shown at the Salzburg Festival through 1937. In 1938, after Austria had been annexed by Nazi Germany in the “Anschluss”, Reinhardt’s Faust was replaced by a production of Egmont directed by Heinz Hilpert.

In the autumn of 1937, Reinhardt departed for Hollywood. In March 1938, Austria was
annexed to Germany, causing widespread jubilation among the Austrian population.
Reinhardt would never return from his American exile. In October 1943, he died in a hotel in New York, impoverished and robbed of his artistic homeland. At the same time, we were interested to see how the summer riding school was unlocked for theatre, given Max Reinhardt’s weakness for it even during the Salzburg Festival’s earliest days.

How did Reinhardt unlock the Felsenreitschule for theatre?

330 years ago, Archbishop Johann Ernst Thun had the striking 96 arcades carved from the
Mönchsberg, in three layers on top of each other – presumably according to plans by the
baroque master builder Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach – in order to create an
auditorium for his riding displays and animal fights. Max Reinhardt opened this special space for theatre and the Salzburg Festival – as he had opened Cathedral Square for his
Jedermann or the Kollegienkirche, also designed by Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723), where
Reinhardt staged the world premiere of Hofmannsthal’s Das Salzburger große Welttheater.
As early as 1926, Reinhardt directed Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters on an open-air
wooden stage construction at the Felsenreitschule (revived in 1930 and 1931). As a
theatrical space, however, Reinhardt unlocked the summer riding school with its iconic
arcades only with his last production in Salzburg: for Goethe’s Faust (1933-1937), he had
Clemens Holzmeister erect an entire town, in which the entire piece could be performed
without any breaks for resetting, and where all sets were placed alongside and on top of one
another: the purest form of a “simultaneous stage setting”, achieving a magical effect.

Why is the Faust town being recreated?

“The idea of the city as a stage [which is quoted time and again in the context of Jedermann] was turned around: now the stage was the city” (Pia Janke). “The intention was that of a total illusion, towards which all theatrical means were employed. Optical and acoustical elements, lighting, colours, noises and music were to work together, creating a new form of the ‘total work of art’.”
This concept went down in theatrical history. As contemporary reports and reviews
demonstrate, this production was the highlight of the 1933 Festival summer for most
When planning the centenary festivities, the idea of recreating the Faust town was already
floated, but it proved impossible, for planning and logistical reasons. Now cutting-edge
technology enables us to recreate it in the virtual space. Using a virtual recreation of this
Faust town (by the Ars Electronica Futurelab) in its original location and through a multiperspective guided tour given by acting students at the Mozarteum University Salzburg, we bring Holzmeister’s unique stage set and Reinhardt’s production back to life.

Why are we virtually recreating the Faust town?

Rebuilding an analogue version would be extremely expensive – and the Felsenreitschule
stage is needed for our Festival productions. Moreover, simple recreations of old productions make little sense, as they lose their original power in today’s world.
Even though the Salzburg Festival considers itself a festival whose enchantment unfolds
within the present, through shared live experiences, we are now implementing our first
project using virtual worlds – inspired by the notion of a living Festival archive.
We make use of new technology in those areas where conventional means fail, namely when
reconstructing historical material. Thus, in this project, we are not recreating a historical
production, but a historical stage set, and are thereby enabling the public to experience the
historical staging without re-enacting it. Furthermore, the VR experience is anchored to the
original location, where a stage reality is also created, namely by rebuilding individual
elements of the stage sets. We are moving between very different levels of perception:
analogue, stage and virtual realities.

We invited our colleagues from Linz to help us with their expertise in virtual worlds. The
result is the confluence between a performing arts festival performed live – the Salzburg
Festival – and the fascinating worlds of a festival of digital arts – the Ars Electronica Festival.

What is a performative tour like?

“Reinhardt took up anything which heightened and increased effect on stage; anything that increased illusion; that intensified reality; that illustrated the flow, the incessant movement on stage, and most of all, anything that created contact with the audience, increasing the viewers’ involvement in the action.”
(Arthur Kahane)

Every hour, the guides take groups of no more than 15 visitors through the exhibition at the
Karl-Böhm-Saal, across the stage of the Felsenreitschule, through virtual worlds and back to the Toscaninihof, at the foot of the Holzmeister-Stiege stairway.

Feature I · Karl-Böhm-Saal · Historical Background

On the gallery of the Karl-Böhm-Saal, guests are introduced to the subject. The guides offer
insights into how the riding school was unlocked for theatre. The focus of the guided tour of
the analogue exhibition is on the stage sets as well as the props and costumes of the production.

Feature II · Felsenreitschule · The Stage & Sets

The guides lead the visitors into the Felsenreitschule. They walk on stage and get a feeling
for the atmosphere of the original location. Elements of Clemens Holzmeister’s Faust town
are arranged on stage; they mark three scenes of the impressive simultaneous stage:
Faust’s study, the garden scene and the dance scene under the linden tree. The stage set elements were reconstructed on a smaller scale in the Salzburg Festival’s workshops, based on photos and sketches, and outfitted with props. They enable the audience to pass through the three scenarios.

FAUST 2023
A cooperation of the Salzburg Festival with the Ars Electronica Futurelab and the Ars
Electronica Festival
Team and Credits
Margarethe Lasinger, Martin Kern Salzburg Festival (SF)
Roland Haring, Peter Freudling Ars Electronica Futurelab (AE)
Production Coordinator SF
Martin Kern
Production Coordinator AE
Peter Freudling
Dramaturgy, Script & Cast SF
Margarethe Lasinger
VR Application AE
Raphael Schaumburg-Lippe
Patrick Berger
Friedrich Bachinger
Johannes Pöll
Arno Deutschbauer
Hannes Löschel

Research SF
Susanne Anders, Victoria Morino
Head of Sets and Costumes SF
Michael Veits
Technical Implementation for the Stage SF
Sven Gfrerer
Props SF
Anita Aichinger
Lighting SF
Johannes Grünauer
Ben Engelgeer
Victoria Kraft
Joseph Lang

(After Press Materials)

Marijan Zlobec

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