Manfred Wekwerth was born in Köthen, Saxony, on December 3, 1928. At the beginning of the 1950s, he took classes to become a teacher. In his free time, he headed an amateur theater, where he directed Bertolt Brecht’s one-act play Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar (Señora Carrar’s Rifles). Brecht saw the performance and was so impressed that he invited Wekwerth to become his master student and assistant director at the Berliner Ensemble (BE). From 1953-55, he worked as Brecht’s assistant director on Katzgraben (1953), Der kaukasische Kreidekreis (The Caucasion Chalk Circle, 1954) and Winterschlacht (Winter Battle, 1955).
In 1953, Wekwerth directed Die Mutter (Mother), his first own theater production, which premiered at the Neues Theater at the Scala in Vienna. From 1960 to 1969, he was the senior director at the BE and collaborated with other directors, including Jochen Tenschert and Peter Palitzsch. Wekwerth’s and Palitzsch’s production of Der unaufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui) with Ekkehard Schall in the leading role premiered in 1959 and remained in the BE repertoire for many decades. Wekwerth’s most famous production, on which he collaborated with Tenschert, was Brecht’s adaptation of Coriolan (1964, Coriolanus), which toured internationally. He re-staged this production at the National Theatre in London in 1971 with an English cast that included the young Anthony Hopkins in the lead.
In the late 1960s, Wekwerth left the BE and worked at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin and as a guest director at the National Theatre London and Schauspielhaus Zurich, before he returned in 1977 as theater manager to the BE, a position he held until 1991. In 1974, he co-founded the Institut für Schauspielregie in Berlin and became the institute’s first director. Wekwerth also continued working as a director at the BE and toured with his production all over Europe. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Wekwerth was a guest director at various theaters, including the Burgtheater in Vienna and Neues Theater in Halle.
Parallel to his theater work, he was credited as a director in many films. He co-directed with Peter Palitzsch the 1960 legendary DEFA adaption of Brecht’s play Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children). Although the film was modeled on the 1949 BE production, the two directors applied cinematic elements and successfully adapted the play for the screen. Throughout his career, Wekwerth also worked for television and was involved in many TV recordings of theater productions, as well as film productions, including the 2-part post-WWII story Die unheilige Sophia (The Unholy Sophia).
From 1982 to 1990, Manfred Werkwerth was the president of the East German Academy of Arts and from 1986 to 1989, a member of the Central Committee of the ruling Socialist Unity Party. In East Germany, Wekwerth was an establishment official figure, and when accusations emerged that he had been a Stasi informant, there was a public outcry, especially because he denied any wrongdoing.
Beginning in 2005, he worked with the rock band EMMA on scoring early Brecht poems. The results of this collaboration were released on the 2011 CD EMMA rockt Brecht. In addition to books on theater and Bertolt Brecht, Wekwerth published his autobiography, Erinnern ist Leben: Eine dramatische Autobiografie [Remembering Is Life: A Dramatic Autobiograhy], in 2015.
Wekwerth, who died on July 16, 2014, had a distinguished career as a theater director in East Germany and was recognized internationally as a key figure in the continued development of Bertolt Brecht’s work with the BE, even after Brecht’s death.
|1989||Grosser Frieden (Great Peace, TV version of BE production)|
|1986||Der Mittelstürmer starb im Morgengrauen (The Center-Forward Died at Dawn, TV)|
|1985||Schau auf die Erde (Look at the World, TV)|
Wenn sie morgen kommen (When They Come Tomorrow, TV)
|1981||Jegor Bulytschow und die Anderen (Jegor Bulytshov and the Others, TV version of BE production)|
Happy End (TV recording of Volkstheater Rostock production)
|1976||Richard der Dritte (Richard the Third, TV version of Deutsches Theater production)|
|1975||Die unheilige Sophia (The Unholy Sophia, TV mini-series)|
|1974||Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, TV version of BE production)|
|1962||Frau Flinz (Miss Flinz, TV version of BE production)|
|1960||Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children)|
|1958||Die Mutter (Mother, archival recording of BE production, co-dir.)|
|1957||Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti (Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti, TV version of BE production)|
Katzgraben (TV version of BE production, co-dir.)