As many of you will already know, there are few things I enjoy as much as an evening at the theatre and though we have made the acquaintance of a legendary Welsh leading lady and more than one celebrated playwright, it strikes me that this is an excellent day to meet one of the big names of the continental stage, the renowned actress, Sophie Ackermann.
Sophie was born in Berlin and the little girl developed an interest in both acting and singing, dreaming of one day living a life on the stage. However, it seemed that the dreams were to remain just that when, at the age of 20, she married organist Johann Dietrich Schröder and settled down to a domestic life. However, Sophie and Johann were far from the picture of marital bliss and as money became tight, the couple's relationship grew more tense until, in 1738, they separated for the first but not last time.
In the wake of the separation Sophie travelled to Lüneburg to launch her theatrical career, joining the acting company of Johann Friedrich Schönemann. Here she met her future husband, Konrad Ernst Ackermann, and honed her craft under the tuition of Schönemann, whose company specialised in producing German adaptations of classic French works. Sophie and Ackermann left the company in 1742 and Sophie established her own troupe, though it struggled to make an impact and lasted only two years. When the company disbanded in 1744 Sophie was already pregnant with her son, Friedrich Ludwig Schröder, whose father would die that same year.
With her acting career apparently over before it had begun the new widow supported herself by taking work as a seamstress, but the lure of the stage proved too great and before long she had become a member of another troupe, touring Germany, Poland and Russia as Sophie finally began to enjoy some success. In 1749 Sophie and Ackermann were married and formed the Ackermann troupe, with the happy couple playing the leading roles in any number of well-received productions. Although Friedrich initially appeared with his mother and stepfather on stage, his relationship with Ackermann was not a happy one and for a time the young man gave up his theatrical life, though he would return to it with no small success later. The couple also had children of their own who continued the theatrical tradition with Marie Ackermann in particular enjoying enormous success in her short life; when she died at the age of 17, thousands lined up to file past her coffin.
The company was so successful that in 1753 the Prussian government took the unprecedented step of allowing the Ackermanns to build the first private theatre in Germany, which would become their own producing house. The project was financially draining and the troupe had barely moved into their permanent home before the Seven Years' War forced them back onto the European touring circuit for several years. However, the couple and their company never looked back, enjoying success after success with both audiences and critics.
With her husband's death in 1771, Sophie finally retired from the stage and took up a second career as an acting tutor. She would continue in this capacity for a further twenty years, happy to witness the theatrical triumphs of her children as they embarked on their own illustrious careers.