Maria Ley Piscator Biography

Maria Ley Piscator was born in Vienna on August 1, 1898. She began her artistic career as a dancer in Berlin and Paris and later turned to choreography. As a choreographer she was involved in various productions of Max Reinhardt, including his important production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Maria Ley studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and earned her doctorate in literature. In 1936 she met Erwin Piscator in Salzburg. They married in Paris on April 15, 1937, and emigrated to the United States on January 1, 1939. Together they founded the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, where many emigrated scientists and artists found an intellectual home.

Maria Piscator directed more than 50 productions on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and in Europe. She wrote two novels and a book of poetry and translated several plays, including Lendemain, which was performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, the same theater where her play Metamorphosis was staged in 1971. A year after her husband’s death, she published a book about Piscator’s theatrical work under the title The Piscator Experiment: The Political Theater. In 1989, her autobiography The Dance in the Mirror was published.

In the 1970s, Maria Ley taught Piscator at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale and at New York State University at Stony Brook. In the mid-1980s, she began working with the Elysium Theater Company in New York, founded by Gregorij H. von Leïtis in 1983. In 1987 she became an honorary member of Elysium and remained so until her death in 1999.

Foto: Carin Drechsler-Marx

Maria Ley Piscator died at the age of 101 on October 14, 1999 in Manhattan and was buried on December 17 at the side of her husband Erwin Piscator at the Waldfriedhof in Berlin-Zehlendorf.

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