Transnational entertainments

Agents, branches and networks, 1880s to 1930s

Date: 1 September 2017, 01:30–06:30

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 338


Please note that there is a break from 3.30 pm - 4 pm.


This panel brings together contributions which reflect upon transnational entanglements in the entertainment industry. The accelerated development of modern mass culture, and its growing cross-border circulation, made this sector a hotspot of the wave of globalization which characterized the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, artists and performers became mobile on a global scale, as transnational and trans-imperial touring circuits were established. New formats and genres of mass culture circulated across borders and were appropriated in different places, a trend that was fueled by increasing transnational capital investments and business cooperation. These shows and offerings included exotic and cosmopolitan themes, providing spectacular images, sounds and tastes of the wider world.

Recent research has increasingly focused on the forms and mechanisms of transnational connections in the business networks, performances and imagery of modern entertainments. However, we are still lacking an overview of the various forms of transnationalization in the sector. The panel intends to reflect on the patterns and logics of cross-border interaction in different branches of the cultural economy. It addresses the following aspects: Transnational networks and connections did not develop evenly across genres, regions and branches of the entertainment industry. What channels, hubs, arenas and hierarchies of cross-border interaction were established?How was the entertainment sector affected by historical ruptures and upheavals? How did political conflicts, economic crises, social and cultural change and the emergence, transformation or end of empires or nation states influence the transnational exchanges, cosmopolitan imagery and cross-border business organization of particular branches of the industry?

Modern mass entertainments were not only cosmopolitan and transnational, but at the same time promoted local branding, nation building and regional differentiation. How did these different orientations interlink or come into conflict? Who were the actors supporting, managing or preventing transnational exchanges in the entertainment industry, and what were their motives and strategies?


Maren Möhring (Leipzig University)

Antje Dietze (Leipzig University)


Maren Möhring (Leipzig University)


Antje Dietze (Leipzig University)


Sabine Hanke (University of Sheffield)

Susann Lewerenz (University of Hamburg / Concentration Camp Memorial Neuengamme)

Juliane Scholz (Leipzig University)

María Cáceres-Piñuel (University of Bern)

Fritz Trümpi (University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna)



Sabine Hanke: The Wild West in Saxony: Dresden’s Sarrasani Circus between Empire and Cold War

The German circus outlasted the collapse of the German empire, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich. The aim of my paper is to examine with the help of which adaptive strategies it was able to do so, and why one of its key shows, the figure of the American Indian, remained so resilient throughout this time. Focusing on one performing group, I will situate the work of the Sarrasani circus in its local social, political and economic context, whilst engaging with the circus tradition in global perspective.The twentieth-century performance of American Indians at the circus in Dresden is an example for the globalization of popular entertainments. The circus and its director Hans Stosch-Sarrasani promoted a popular image of the American Indian, which has been developed during the previous centuries by colonial exhibitions (the so-called 'Völkerschau') and world fairs. In the history of Saxony, a key role in shaping the stereotype of the 'American Indian' belongs to the local writer Karl May, whose characters 'Old Shatterhand' and 'Winnetou' remain widely popular acrossGermany today.This paper will focus on the way the idea of the 'American Indian' transformed in the century of extremes. The successful Wild West shows brought performances with firearms, horses, cowboys and American Indians from the United States to Europe. The growth of nationalist ideology in Germany replaced the initial focus on the American Indians with the focus on a single hero, the cowboy. During the 1930s, the Sarrasani circus performed throughout South America and reported about the life of South American natives which was presented as the modern counterpart of thealready existing stereotype of the noble American Indian. The circus thus functioned as a cultural space in which conflicting images of different types of American Indians were presented to a changing public. The paper aims to examine what other conflicting versions of the American Indian existed and how the circus utilised them.

Susann Lewerenz: ‘It had the high speed of America and all the color of Europe and Asia’: The revues ‘Tropical Express’ and ‘Wonder Rocket’ in 1930s Germany

Revues that staged trips around the world – to Western metropolises and to ‘exotic’ non- Western regions – were a popular genre of modern mass entertainment. One prototype was “Around the World in Eighty Days”, which had first been adapted for the stage in 1874 and visualized the Western appropriation of the non-European world by means of imperialist expansion, technical innovation and global mobility.

This paper focuses on two world-tour revues of the 1930s: William Curt Doorlay’s “Tropical Express” and its successor “Wonder Rocket”. Doorlay’s revues crossed national borders in several respects: The director was a Brazilian of German origin; the company was first based in Switzerland and later in the UK; the shows toured in Europe and in non- European regions, particularly in the British Empire and Commonwealth; and the ensembles consisted of European and non-European performers, many of whom came from Asia and the Pacific region.

The “Tropical Express” was characterized by a duplication of the world-tour motif. The global tours of the ensemble were not only re-enacted on stage, but also verified by touristic and ethnographic snapshots from Doorlay’s travels in the advertising material and by the presence of performers of colour in the show, who had (allegedly) been engaged during the world tours.

Between 1933 and 1938, the “Tropical Express” successfully played in Germany at least eighteen times. What impact did the establishment of the Nazi regime have on the show, its marketing strategies and the composition of the ensemble? The paper argues that the show’s success in Nazi Germany was accomplished by enclosing its Western universalistic, imperialistic and cosmopolitan imagery with a nationalistic frame. When Doorlay’s “Wonder Rocket” toured Germany in the summer of 1939, however, this concept shipwrecked due to the lack of performers of colour and the increasingly nationalistic and, in particular, anti-British propaganda of the Nazi regime.

Juliane Scholz: German filmmakers as transnational actors in the US-film industry until 1930

The project examines the role and impact of German film immigrants (directors, producers, actors, screenwriters, film agents) in the United States during in the early 20th century. It starts by examining the various impacts of migrants of the late 19th century to the US East coast and highlights protagonists like Siegmund Lubin and Marcus Loew, who both played a crucial part in the founding of the US film industry and submitting innovative potential to the early productions. The method mix contains of migration and exile studies, production history as well as biography studies. The study questions normative terms and concepts like assimilation or integration by reflecting on postcolonial categories. It centers on underexplored protagonists and also highlights female filmmakers. The overall goal is to show the multifaceted roles of German émigrés within production, technical innovation, and organization and also on cinematic style and aesthetic in order to retell the story of US-cinematography as interconnected global history.

María Cáceres-Piñuel: Overlapping management trends of performing arts: The Viennese Music and Theatre International Exhibition 1892

The International Exhibition of Music and Theatre held in Vienna in 1892 was the first and unique music- and theatre-themed exhibition within the series of International Exhibitions held from 1851 onwards, based on the creation of new economic relations between countries within the framework of free trade policies. This Viennese Exhibition was designed as a response to the republican aims of the Exposition Universelle de Paris celebrated only three years before, in 1889. The promoter of this initiative was the Princess Pauline Clémentine von Metternich-Winneburg, a renowned salonnière married to an Austrian diplomat and member of one of the most powerful families of the Hungarian aristocracy. The involvement of a group of cosmopolitan female aristocrats of her acquaintance in this event highlights how music patronage related with social networks of elites goes beyond the analytical categories of nationalism. Moreover, during this exhibition was displayed the unstable balance between the musical patronage typical of the Ancient Régime (in a huge crisis at that time), the State commission for cultural manifestations developed by specialists and professionals, and the model of an emerging globalised musical industry rooted on the economical framework of the electric revolution and the colonial expansion of capitalism. The goal of this presentation is to analyse the coexistence of old and new patterns of performing arts management in the context of World Fairs and International Exhibitions at the turn of 20th Century. Furthermore, I aim to explore the crucial role of the Western classical music, as cosmopolitan aesthetic object and leisure marketing product, on the transnational imaginaries of the elites.

Fritz Trümpi: National opera – international company: Nationalized music policies vs. transnational cultural practice in the early post-imperial Transylvania

With the transformation of Transylvania from a Hungarian into a Romanian governed region after 1918, cultural institutions got strongly involved in this change; so was the main opera house of Cluj/Kolozsvar/Klausenburg. Formerly under Hungarian direction, it got nationalized according to the new Romanian policies. On the first sight, one could therefore speak of an intended “Romanization”; in 1919, the opera was labeled Opera Română and was the first national opera in Romania. However, a look through a “conceptual microscope“ (Giovanni Levi) reveals a much more multifaceted, complex, and even complicated scenery: paradoxically enough, this alleged nationalization did not homogenize the institution, but, in many aspects, it worked rather as a cultural (as well as social and ‘ethnical‘) multiplicator (mainly concerning the organization itself, but also with regard to the re-framed audience and new conceptions of programming – f.e. with the addition of cinematic performances).This paper will particularly focus on the newly founded orchestra of the opera. This orchestra was formed nearly exclusively by international musicians, most of them from countries of the former Habsburg monarchy, but not at all by Romanians. Moreover, after the national re-coding of the opera house in 1919, the opening concerts were led by a Czech conductor, and what they performed was a mainly Czech and German repertoire. The Romanian nationalization therefore led to transnationalized and virtually multiplied cultural habits as well as practices in the phase of transformation after 1918. The paper will discuss the implications, conditions and consequences of these various forms of transfers – of specific interest are in this context most notably the associations/unions of musicians, which where organized nationally, but acted markedly in a transnational way. Based on the empirical results, the paper will conclude with theoretical reflections on the correlation between nationalism/ nationalization and transnationalism/ transnationalization.

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