Volkstheater, Altwiener (Old Vienna folk theatre): The institution came into its own in suburban Vienna in the early 18th century in the course of efforts to achieve independence from Baroque court theatre and to create a local, popular counterpart to bourgeois tragedies. Lasting for almost 150 years, the Altwiener Volkstheater was an institution which reflected the spirit of Old Vienna and was a feature inseparable from it. There were a number of formal factors common to all forms of the Altwiener Volkstheater: persons of lower middle class background, frequently craftsmen, or from the peasant milieu rose from their positions as comic minor figures into that of protagonists; use of the Viennese vernacular on the stage; plots referring to individual, every-day affairs with comic, conciliatory, often moralising outcome; numerous interludes in the form of mimes, music, dance or fairy-tale scenes, and extempore play, subjects and topics usually drawn from light and popular literature or from contemporary Italian operas. There was a close connection between the Altwiener Volkstheater and its writers and actors: J. A. Stranitzky introduced in the Haupt- und Staatsaktionen ("chief and state plays") based on librettos of Italian operas, the rustic stock figure of Hanswurst, a character drawn from the common people and standing in the tradition of the Harlequin in the Commedia dell´arte, the Fool in the medieval Fastnachtsspiele carnival plays, and Pickelherring, a character first introduced by the English Comedians. In 1711, Stranitzky found a permanent home for his troop in the Vienna Kärntnertortheater. G. Prehauser and his author of local farces and musical comedies, P. Hafner, ensured that Hanswurst continued to live on the suburban stages of Vienna. Attempts by the censoring authorities to outlaw these impromptu plays ("Hanswurst dispute", 1747-1783) may serve as an indicator of the popularity of this new form of folk theatre. Hanswurst was revived by J. F. Kurz in the character of Bernardon and was at his best in terms of comic quality as Kasperl, a figure called into life by J. J. La Roche, which typified the popular Puppet Theatre of the 19th century. The success of Kasperl, who sometimes also appeared in the variety of "Thaddädl", marked the end of the heyday of the old type of indigenous "fools´ comedy". The rise of a more bourgeois mentality in the later 19th century called for a renewal of the Altwiener Volkstheater, which was undertaken by J. A. Gleich, K. Meisl, and A. Bäuerle. The theatre moved to the 3 suburban houses of Vienna, the Leopoldstädter Theater, the Theater an der Wien, and the Theater in der Josefstadt. Typical of that period were the parody-like farces and comic local plays by Gleich, in which Kasperl was gradually replaced by other popular comic figures. The main author of Viennese local farces was K. Meisl, whose "Besserungsstücke ("improvement plays") combined qualities of a comedy with the intention to enlighten and uplift the audience. A. Bäuerle, author of more than 80 fairytale farces and comedies, anticipated a movement that relied heavily on fairy-tale magic and whose most prominent representative was F. Raimund. With the figure of Staberl, a suburban Viennese from the lower middle class, in the comedy "Die Bürger in Wien ("The Citizens of Vienna", 1813), Bäuerle created a character worthy to follow in the tradition of Kasperl. With the plays of F. Raimund and J. Nestroy, the Altwiener Volkstheater was at its very best and gained literary acclaim as well. While Raimund´s pieces were a combination of Baroque fairytale theatre and Viennese popular farce, Nestroy did not shy from political and critical writing. The socio-economic changes affecting Vienna´s population structure at the onset of industrialisation in the late 19th century deprived the Altwiener Volkstheater of both an ideological basis and an audience, and the entertainment monopoly slowly passed from popular plays to the emerging Operetta. A revival of popular plays, which is, however, not exclusively restricted to Vienna, is associated with the names of L. Anzengruber, Ö. von Horváth, W. Bauer, and P. Turrini.
Literature: O. Rommel, Die Alt-Wiener Volkskomödie, 1952; M. Dietrich, Jupiter in Wien oder Götter und Helden der Antike im Altwiener Volkstheater, 1967; J. Hein, Das Wiener Volkstheater, 1978; P. Mertz, Wo die Väter herrschten. Volkstheater - nicht nur in Tirol, 1985; J. Hein (ed.), Parodien des Wiener Volkstheaters, 1986; J.-M. Valentin (ed.), Das österreichische Volkstheater im europäischen Zusammenhang. 1830-1880, 1988; H. Aust, Volksstück. Vom Hanswurstspiel zum sozialen Drama der Gegenwart, 1989.