In December of 1985 Gregorij H. von Leïtis instituted the Erwin Piscator Award honoring Piscator's artistic and humanitarian legacy and his lasting influence on theatre on both sides of the Atlantic. The Honorary Erwin Piscator Award in memory of Maria Ley Piscator was instituted in 1996 to recognize outstanding supporters of the performing arts.


erwin piscator


Erwin Piscator

           Erwin Piscator was born on December 17, 1893. He began his career in the theatre in 1913 as an apprentice at the Hoftheater in Munich, Germany. As his career progressed, he founded Das Tribunal, an avant-garde theatre, and directed plays by Strindberg, Wedekind, Sternheim, and the works of Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser. He became known for his revolutionary work, his love for experimentation, his great scenic innovations, his invention of epic theatre and his vision of stage as a moral institution, a platform from which to call upon man to honor man.

           This political theatre, which Piscator envisioned and practiced, examined the function of theatre in the world. Piscator believed in theatre as an instrument to develop interpersonal relationships and to relate human beings to their societies, to their environment and to the world around them, on a conscious level. His emphasis was not merely on presenting a political ideology but rather on a continuing investigation and exploration of the individual's ability to effect change. "The purpose of theatre", said Piscator, "should not only be to teach us about the creative process, but to teach us of human relations, human behavior and capacities. It is to this task, consciously and unconsciously, suggestively and descriptively, that the theatre is best suited." In 1938, the founder of the Piscator Bühne in Berlin left Europe for the United States. Like many of his fellow exiles, Piscator found a new home for his efforts in the New School for Social Research in New York. His Dramatic Workshop, which he conducted there until 1952, influenced a generation of actors, directors, and playwrights. At the Volksbühne Berlin he was artistic director until he died on March 30, 1966, in Starnberg, Germany.

          Bertolt Brecht once said of him: "Piscator is the greatest theatre man of all time. He will leave a legacy which we should use."


Maria Ley Piscator

           Maria Ley Piscator was born on August 1, 1898 in Vienna. She began her theatrical career as a dancer in Berlin and Paris and later turned to choreography. She helped stage several productions with Max Reinhardt, including his renowned production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

           She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and finished with a doctorate in literature. In Salzburg she met Erwin Piscator, her third husband, and married him on April 15, 1937 in Paris. The two immigrated to the United States on January 1, 1939 and founded the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. Their students included Stella Adler, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Anthony Franciosa, Tony Randall, and Elaine Stritch, among others.

           Maria Piscator also directed more than 50 theatrical productions on and off Broadway and in Europe. She wrote two novels and a book of poetry, and translated many works, including Lendemain, presented at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, the same theater where her Metamorphosis was seen in 1971. Other books include The Piscator Experiment: The Political Theater, which was published by James H. Heinemann in 1967, a year after her husband’s death, and her autobiography, Mirror People, published in 1989.

           Maria Ley Piscator’s teaching included work in the 1970’s at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale and at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In the mid 1980’s she began working with the Elysium Theater Company and in 1993 became the Honorary Artistic Director of Elysium – Between Two Continents.

           She died at the age of 101 on October 14, 1999 in Manhattan.


Erwin Piscator Award Recipients

2014 Harold Pince
  Vartan Gregorian (Honorary Award)
2013 André Bishop
  Barbara Goldsmith (Honorary Award)
2012 Thomas Hampson
  Louise Hirschfeld Cullman and Lewis B. Cullman (Honorary Award)
2011 E.L. Doctorow
  Peter Gelb (Honorary Award)
2010 Martina Arroyo
  Carol Kahn Strauss (Honorary Award)
  Luise Rainer (Life Achievement Award)
  Christine Ostermayer (Piscator Jubilee Award)
2009 Marian Seldes
  Max Kade Foundation - Lya Friedrich Pfeifer (Honorary Award)
2008 Edward Albee
  Meera T. Gandhi (Honorary Award)
2007 Deborah Voigt
  Alexandra Kauka (Honorary Award)
  Marta Eggerth (Life Achievement Award)
2006 Elaine Stritch
  Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation (Honorary Award)
2005 Ben Gazzara
  Donald M. Kendall (Honorary Award)
2004 Kitty Carlisle Hart
  Dr. Johann Georg Prince of Hohenzollern (Honorary Award)
2003 Anna Moffo
  Kurt F. Viermetz (Honorary Award)
2002 Kurt Masur
  Dr. Bernd-A. von Maltzan (Honorary Award)
2001 Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach
  Drs. Ellen Hedda and Peter Landesmann (Honorary Award)
2000 Ellen Burstyn
  Anna-Maria and Stephen M. Kellen (Honorary Award)
1999 Tony Randall
  Mary Sharp Cronson (Honorary Award)
1998 Uta Hagen
  Martha W. Coigney (Honorary Award)
1997 Lanford Wilson
  Prof. Gabriele Henkel (Honorary Award)
1996 Marshall W. Mason
  Lucille Lortel (Honorary Award)
1995 Prof. Dr. Margret Herzfeld-Sander
  Prof. Dr. Volkmar Sander
1994 William M. Hoffman
1993 Klaus Dieter Wilke
1990 Robert Wilson
1989 Peter Zadek
1988 Judith Malina
1987 Giorgio Strehler
1986 Lee Grant