1/23/2008

What a Brechtian Thing to Say!

A few quotes from Mr. Brecht:

"Why be a man when you can be a success?"

"War is like love; it always finds a way."

"Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes."

"The defeats and victories of the fellows at the top aren't always defeats and victories for the fellows at the bottom."

"Mixing one's wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably."

“Don't be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life.”

1/22/2008

The Mother

Mothers send their sons to war. Julie Dapper as the Mother.

Written in a dramatic form with resemblances to Brecht's radically-experimental Lehrstücke (or 'learning plays'), Brecht describes the play as "a piece of anti-metaphysical, materialistic, non-arostotelian drama." To become a good mother, the play suggests, one must do more than just complain about the price of soup. The title character, the mother Pelagea Vlassova, journeys through the play’s fourteen scenes, the death of her son, and her own impending illness, struggling against illiteracy, but filled with good humor and wily activism, until the moment in October 1917 when she becomes free to carry and raise her own Red Flag on the eve of the Czar's overthrow, which she was unable to do before. The play gains continued recognition for its forensic, witty and, some would say, humanist critique of capitalism seen through the experiences of those obliged (as Brecht himself saw the world) to live beneath the latter system's crushing weight.

Brecht wrote The Mother at a time when Hitler was gaining power in Germany. During a performance the Nazis arrested the leading actor to prevent the public from seeing the play. While Brecht’s primary purpose with this may have been to provide a dramatic handbook of action and hope for his contemporaries, the play is said by many of its advocates to contain a universality just as applicable to much of the world today, particularly in the Global South.

In the play, Brecht utilizes narrative, irony, the juxtaposition of self-proclaimed "truths" to reveal their flaws, the concretizing of complex ideas into dramatic events, an understanding and simple presentation of human behaviour, and a comedic optimism that things can be changed and that reason and common sense will overcome fear and superstition. Vlassov is Brecht's entirely positive major character, enduring a long and difficult road to liberation. The play also contains a musical score by Hans Eisler, who was a collaborator particularly sympathetic to Brecht’s Marxist perspective. It is also the most elaborate use of the Lehrstuck form.

Information from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

1/20/2008

Mother Courage

RRT's excerpt of Mother Courage and Her Children gives the audience Brecht's message in a clear and entertaining shortened version. Fran Renehan plays Courage.

Mother Courage is an example of Brecht's concepts of Epic Theatre and Verfremdungseffekt or "alienation". ("Alienation", however, is something of a misleading translation, for it suggests that the audience are actively cut off from the performance. A more accurate translation of Verfremdungseffekt is "distancing effect" or "to make strange", since Brecht's intention was to set the audience apart from familiar situations so that they may think about them objectively). Verfremdungseffekt is achieved through the use of placards which reveal the events of each scene, juxtaposition, actors changing characters and costume on stage, the use of narration, simple props and scenery. For instance, a single tree would be used to convey a whole forest, and the stage is usually flooded with bright white light whether it's a winter's night or a summer's day. Several songs are used to underscore the themes of the play.

The action of the play takes place over the course of 12 years (1624 to 1636), represented in 12 scenes. Some give a sense of Courage's career without being given enough time to develop sentimental feelings and empathize with any of the characters. Meanwhile, Mother Courage is not depicted as a noble character – here the Brechtian epic theatre sets itself apart from the ancient Greek tragedies in which the heroes are far above the average. With the same alienating effect, the ending of Brecht's play does not arouse our desire to imitate the main character, Mother Courage.

Brecht and Steffin wrote this play in only two months, and it is among his most famous plays. His work attempts to show the dreadfulness of war and the idea that virtues are not rewarded in corrupt times. He used an epic structure so that the audience focuses on the issues being displayed rather than getting involved with the characters and emotions. Epic plays are of a very distinct genre and are typical of Brecht; a strong case could be made that he invented the form.

Information is from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Baal

Among the excerpted scenes RRT will be performing from Brecht's plays, Baal is included.

Baal was the first full-length play written by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. Set in Berlin's underworld, it concerns a wastrel youth who becomes involved in several sexual affairs and at least one murder. It was written in 1918, when Brecht was a 20-year-old student at Munich University,in response to the expressionist drama The Loner (Der Einsame) by the soon-to-become-Nazi dramatist Hanns Johst. Baal did not receive a theatrical performance until 1923, when it opened on the 8th December at the Altes Theater in Leipzig (in a production directed by Alwin Kronacher in which Brecht participated for most rehearsals). Brecht wrote Baal prior to developing the dramaturgical techniques of 'epic theatre' that characterize his later work. He wrote a revised version with Elisabeth Hauptmann in 1926 for a brief production at Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater in Berlin, where he had worked recently as a dramaturg. It opened on the 14th February for a single matinée performance. It was performed by the Junge Bühne and directed by Brecht and Oskar Homolka (who also played the title role), with set-design by Caspar Neher.

The story traces the decline of a drunken and dissolute poet, Baal, an anti-hero who rejects the conventions and trappings of polite society. This honors the German Sturm und Drang tradition which celebrates the cult of the genius living outside the conventions of society that would later destroy him. "The outcast, the disillusioned tough becomes the hero; he may be criminal, he may be semi-human," argues John Willett, "but in plays like Baal he can be romanticized into an inverted idealist, blindly striking out at the society in which he lives." Baal roams the countryside, womanizing and brawling. He seduces Johanna, who subsequently drowns herself. He spurns his pregnant mistress Sophie and abandons her. He murders his friend Ekart, becoming a fugitive from the police. Defiantly aloof from the consequences of his actions, Baal is nonetheless brought low by his debauchery, dying alone in a forest hut, hunted and deserted, and leaving in his wake the corpses of deflowered maidens and murdered friends.

The play is written in a form of heightened prose and includes four songs and an introductory choral hymn ("Hymn of Baal the Great"), set to melodies composed by Brecht himself.

Information from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Who Is Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director. A seminal theatre practitioner of the twentieth century, Brecht's achievement is equally significant in dramaturgy and in theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the Berliner Ensemble—the post-war theatre company operated by Brecht and his wife and long-time collaborator, the actress Helene Weigel—with its internationally acclaimed productions.
From his late twenties Brecht remained a life-long committed Marxist
who, in developing the combined theory and practice of his 'epic theatre', synthesized and extended the experiments of Piscator and Meyerhold to explore the theatre as a forum for political ideas and the creation of a critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism. Brecht's modernist concern with drama-as-a-medium led to his refinement of the 'epic form' of the drama (which constitutes that medium's rendering of 'autonomization' or the 'non-organic work of art'—related in kind to the strategy of divergent chapters in Joyce's novel Ulysses to Einstein's evolution of a constructivist 'montage' the cinema and to Picasso's introduction of cubist 'collage' in the visual arts). In contrast to many other avant-garde approaches, however, Brecht had no desire to destroy art as an institution; rather, he hoped to 're-function' the apparatus of theatrical production to a new social use. In this regard he was a vital participant in the aesthetic debates of his era—particularly over the 'high art/popular culture' dichotomy—vying with the likes of Adorno, Lukacs, Bloch, and developing a close friendship with Benjamin. Brechtian theatre articulated popular themes and forms with avant-garde formal experimentation to create a modernist realism that stood in sharp contrast both to its psychological and socialist varieties. "Brecht's work is the most important and original in European drama since Ibsen and Strindberg," Raymond Williams argues, while Peter Burger insists that he is "the most important materialist writer of our time."
As Jameson among others has stressed, "Brecht is also ‘Brecht’"—collective and collaborative working methods were inherent to his approach. This 'Brecht' was a collective subject that "certainly seemed to have a distinctive style (the one we now call 'Brechtian') but was no longer personal in the bourgeois or individualistic sense." During the course of his career, Brecht sustained many long-lasting creative relationships with other writers, composers, scenographers, directors, dramaturgs and actors; the list includes: Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, Ruth Berlau, Slatan Dudow, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau, Caspar Neher, Teo Otto, Karl von Appen, Ernst Busch, Lotte Lenya, Peter Lorre, Therese Giehse, Angelika Hurwicz, and Helene Weigel herself. This is "theatre as collective experiment [...] as something radically different from theatre as expression or as experience."
There are few areas of modern theatrical culture that have not felt the impact or influence of Brecht's ideas and practices; dramatists and directors in whom one may trace a clear Brechtian legacy include: Dario Fo, Augusto Boal, Joan Littlewood, Peter Brook, Peter Weiss, Heiner Müller, Pina Bausch, Tony Kushner and Caryl Churchill. In addition to the theatre, Brechtian theories and techniques have exerted considerable sway over certain strands of film theory and cinematic practice; Brecht's influence may be detected in the films of Joseph Losey, Jean-Luc Godard, Lindsay Anderson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Nagisa Oshima, Ritwik Ghatak, Lars von Trier, Jan Bucquoy and Hal Hartley.