Maria Ley Piscator

Vienna, 1898 – 1999, New York

Porträt von Maria Ley in Schwarz Weiss

She was born on August 1, 1898 in Vienna. She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and finished with a doctorate in literature, before beginning her theatrical career as a dancer in Berlin and Paris and later turning to choreography. She helped stage several productions with Max Reinhardt, including his renowned production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Salzburg she met Erwin Piscator, her third husband. As political activists, they had reason to fear the Nazi subjection of Europe and left for the United States on December 24, 1938. Soon after their arrival on January 1, 1939 they founded the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, their students included Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Anthony Franciosa, Ben Gazzara, Walter Matthau, Tony Randall, Elaine Stritch, Tennessee Williams, and Shelley Winters, among others. 

Maria Piscator also directed more than 50 theatrical productions on and off Broadway and in Europe. In the mid 1980’s she began working with the Elysium Theater Company and in 1987 became the Honorary Artistic Director of Elysium – between two continents. She died at the age of 101 on October 14, 1999 in Manhattan.