On Experimental Theatre
Bertold Brecht (born 10 February 1898–14 August 1956) was a German poet, playwright, and influencial theatre director.
His contribution to (not only) theatre is enormous. He operated the Berliner Ensemble, a post-war theatre company, together with his wife and long-time collaborator , the actress Helene Weigel with internationally acclaimed productions.
In the twentieth century, he made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production. His Ensembles tours made a the seismic impact in the post-war period.
From his late twenties Brecht remained a life-long committed Marxist. He explored the theatre as a forum for political ideas. In his search Brecht looked for the creation of a critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism. Brecht Combined the theory and practice of his ‘epic theatre’, synthesizing and extending the experiments of Erwin Piscator and Vsevolod Meyerhold.
His quest for 'drama as a medium' led to his refinement of the ‘epic form’ of the drama.
In 1936 were by a range of experimentation and innovation the parameters of the contemporary theatre established. Even now, with a few schools that do not acknowledge the work of Stanislavsky in their training, towering above all others (save perhaps Stanislavsky) is Bertold Brecht. It is reasonable to argue that he influenced more than any other individual in the modern theatre. His essay "On Experimental Theatre" (1940), in which he reviews the work of Vakhtangov, Meyerhold, Antoine, Reinhardt, Okhlopkov, Stanislavsky, Jessner, and other Expressionists on esthablishing that argument.
Bertold Brecht's Marxist political convictions led him to propose an alternative direction for the theatre that would fuse the two functions of instruction and entertainment. He wanted to make the social structure visible and show that it is not immutable.
The main concept of Brecht's program was that of Verfremdungseffekt ("alienation"). In order to induce a critical frame of mind in the spectator, Brecht considered it necessary that the audience must be reminded that it is watching a play. The audience was there to be entertained but also to think scientifically.
Many of the techniques of Brecht's staging were developments of earlier work:The use of three-dimensional set pieces in a large volume of space - Jessner, The use of machinery and in particular the revolving stage - Piscator. The insistence on the actors' demonstrating through the physical disposition of the body their gestus ("attitude") toward what is happening - Meyerhold. The clearest of his alienation devices is the projection of captions preceding the scene; the audience knows in advance what will happen and therefore can concentrate on how it happens - Piscator
Read the visions of Bertold Brecht, and understand his choice for alianation. Click on the book to learn more.
Bertold Brecht acknowledged the need for the actor to undergo a process of identification with the part. He paid tribute to Stanislavsky as the first person to produce a systematic account of the actor's technique. Beyond Stanislavsky his actors had to incorporate a social attitude or judgment into their portrayal. He used mixed means and styles to expose the contradictions, inconsistencies, and dialectics of situations and characters. Brecht's strongest theatrical effects were created through the juxtaposition of inconsistent attitudes in a character. Although the settings in Brecht's productions were clearly theatrical, the costumes and properties were not. Costumes had to make clear the social class of the persons wearing them. This places Brecht directly in the line with the Meiningen Players, though again the gestus is particularly social rather than historical.
In Brecht's theatre, the director, dramaturge, designer, and composer had equal authority in the production. All the elements of production were synthesized for telling this story in public. At some points the music conveyed the meaning, at other times the setting, or the actors, or the words did.
Brecht's influence on the contemporary theatre has been both considerable and problematic. Being a Marxist ment a real stumbling block to his assimilation in the West, His use of formalist techniques in the service of entertainment presented difficulties in the socialist countries. Still there is no doubt that the settings and costumes of his productions are the features that have most influenced the contemporary theatre.
For the development of the epic theater was the cooperation with the composer Kurt Weill of great importance. Both share the same opinion: Theatre can and must play a role in society, it can be more than entertainment.
Because Brecht does not want his audience to become very emotional in his theater, he creates the theory of alienation (Verfremdungseffekt).
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) is acknowledged as one of the great dramatists whose plays, work with the Berliner Ensemble and critical writings have had a considerable influence on the theatre. His landmark plays include The Threepenny... Read more
Marc Silberman is Professor of German at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, USA. He is the co-editor of the completely revised and updated third edition of Brecht on Theatre and of Brecht on Performance... Read more
Steve Giles is Professor Emeritus of German Studies and Critical Theory at the University of Nottingham, UK. He has contributed to Brecht on Art and Politics (Methuen Drama, 2003) as well as authoring books on... Read more
Tom Kuhn is Professor of 20th century German Literature at St Hugh's College, University of Oxford, UK, and General Editor of Bloomsbury Methuen Drama's Brecht publications.