The Expressionist theatre movement developed in Germany around 1905. It was characterised by attempts to dramatise of set, which held a strong symbolic meaning. Expressionist playwrights tried to convey the dehumanising aspects of 20th century German theatre of which Georg Kaiser and Ernst Toller were the most famous playwrights. They looked back to Swedish playwright, August Strindberg and German actor and dramatist, Frank Wedekind as ancestors of their dramaturgical experiments. Other early expressionist playwrights include Elmer Rice, Karel Capek, Eugene O'Neill and Hans Henry Jahnn.
The traditional audiences for this kind of theatre were, to put it bluntly, socialist hippies. They were home in Germany during wartime and expressed their political ideals by attending and performing in these somewhat underground playhouses.
After WW1, materials became once more available to the arts and expressionist directors used large and elaborate sets which added extra dimensions to the genre, like screening images onto the stage or having moving sets.
Oskar Kokaschkas 1909 playlet 'Murder, The Hope of Women' is often called the first expressionist play. In it an un-named man and woman struggle for control. The man brands the woman; she stabs and imprisons him. He frees himself and she falls dead at his touch. A the play ends, he slaughter everything and everyone around him. The extreme simplification to mythic types, harmonic effects and heightened intensity all would become characteristics of later expressionist plays.
Expressionism is a protest, on the one hand, against the...