Issue 1: | ecibs: Communications of the International Brecht Society
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So, it was always there. I think that after I left high school is when I felt that I had to make a choice between visual art and theater. For a while I chose visual art, but theater always kept pulling at me. The visual art, that was a question I had right away because you just had four chalkboards around the large circle of chairs. There was little visual artwork in the sense of a painted set, other than the titles of the acts the actors wrote on the boards. That made me realize it had the classical five-act dramatic structure.
I am not sure I noticed that in the production I saw in Berlin. I think for me usually an idea comes really strong and clear when I read a play. And for this one, it felt like the visual for me was the actors and their bodies, creating worlds in space. I really love the challenge set down, the gauntlet set down by Brecht: It is a huge challenge of how to create a world in space with nothing other than a few sticks.
And just a couple pieces of fabric, some brown and some bright, to take us into these worlds. I noticed of course right away that there were two actors playing the child — if you count the baby in the basket as an actor. Did you know that the baby was a loaf of bread? In a talk-back with a group of students, the teacher said she loved that the baby was a loaf of bread because of its symbolism as an essence of nourishment, and that bread smells good like a baby does.
Theoretically then, the baby and the boy, that is the situation that Brecht was eager to create, the actor looking at himself playing the part. Can you tell me more about that? Yes, when I read it, I had known that some companies had used a puppet as the child or I think used a really young child, because he is obviously younger, and I wanted to explore this idea of having the child as witness.
Because the question that Brecht lays down to us is so powerful, about the question of possession, ownership. And if we always have a child on the outskirts as witness then we are held even more accountable to be objective in our decision as audience about who should be the rightful owner. Also, just this innocence of a child observing the action, when we talk about the land and the precious world that we fight over so often, he is just so symbolic for me of the future.
To have a child in the audience is a very powerful symbol for us, to always know that he is watching and taking very seriously who will be his guardian. It revolves around him. If you think about him in the future, he is watching and learning his own history.
And I said to them, we are going to test out this idea of whether we can use an eleven-year old boy. The minute we started playing in the room and added the child in to the scene — we worked on the scene when Grusha at first found him and decided to come back and look at the child — I knew, just seeing him there and the way it made me feel, I knew that it was going to work.
It was quite a delightful discovery.
He remained so poker-faced and aloof, I think Brecht would have loved to watch that. He was so intensely and objectively watching and observing, and not participating. How did you get that to happen? With this play in general, I feel that a lot of the actors needed a very light touch direction-wise. I really just wanted to bring out the natural qualities of their personalities. It is a very natural state of being for Will. And then he is a good representative of the audience.
He gets to representat our thoughts and feelings in a way. He joins us in that. Also, this lovely framing device of the family.
I really imagined that the goat farmers, the Rosa Luxemburg collective, were a family with the traditional head of household and then the other ones were this younger group, the Galinsk, these young cooperative farmers who wanted to have a commune together. I loved the conflict and the opposite feel of those two groups.
So, if you just look at him as the youngest of this very traditional patriarchal family that is going to change, that will not do the same as has been done before him, then he is also a great character. Will Sievertsen as Michael [Photo: In the story inside the frame there is a coup, an actual revolution that ends up with a redistribution of ownership, and a playground that will be built.
It is a playground for children, for the future. It is very like the Garden of Eden, right? He is trying to create this utopia. Brecht is posing the idea of utopia to us at the beginning and how it could be easy enough for two groups to talk thoughtfully about a piece of land, rather than fight over it.
And then we obviously see the battle over this child take place, and then we see it come to the utopian ideal of this Garden of Eden idea. It comes down to who is beneficial for what, what kind of relationship is good for both sides, how can something be used beneficially. It ends with the land going to the people who want the irrigated fruit trees. Not from this play, I imagine, but it fits there.
I envisioned a shop that I would possibly call The Bohdi Tree, and it would have a large wooden tree in the center. So, I guess the original vision was a clue of what would come to be, and I guess there is an imaginary tree in the center. She lives in the underworld and she makes snow when she shakes out her bed. And after doing his work on a daily basis and helping Mother Holle in the world below, she is rewarded with this beautiful golden dress, so the story goes.
For me, that work is your deep soul work, your artistic work. If you do it diligently, you are rewarded with these golden apples. I just love that idea that the tree is always laden with fruit.
All you have to do is listen to the impulses from your soul, do the work that really matters, and the bounty will follow. What a surprising and lovely answer. It also works so well with the prologue, the conflict about the goat herders and the fruit tree farmers. I also thought about the act of shaking something up, in a critical way. Would you say your theater has a critical objective? Yes, as a woman I am always interested in taking a classical work and putting it out there in my perspective, which is not going to look the same as it has looked before, hopefully.
And I am also interested in the work of women playwrights. You have so many very young actors. Most of the actors are under contracts that are renewed if they do good work. Your ensemble for this play is so integrated, in sync, like one body moving with many different appendices on this circular stage. It breaks my heart to think that this group is not going to be together again.
Should I have a permanent ensemble or should I work with a bunch of different people? I usually have a six-week rehearsal period with a seventh week for tech. I felt for this show I would have loved an even longer one because, if this is what they accomplished under this time constraint, can you imagine what we could have done with a few more weeks? I feel like it is the strength of a piece like this. What do I need to do as a director to generate that work between them and to build that trust?
Obviously, our process had its ups and downs and it was crazy in all the ways that a process could be. I guess this is the right moment to ask what went wrong, if anything did. It was clear that if we were going to continue to go down that path we were not going to have a successful show. And you know what? It was meant to happen. I always say to myself when I am in a production that I would rather go all-out and put on a huge failure than play it safe and put on a mediocre piece of theater.
Miraculously, we found an actor to take on all his bit parts in the first act: Heath Koerschgen, who was the old man, the Governor. And then Clifton Holznagel, the Singer, took on the role of Azdak. Clifton was meant to be Azdak. Clifton said to me when he sat down that morning to start studying the script, he felt the presence of Brecht really strongly. I did too that day. Oh, we have unlocked a gate here, where Brecht finally approves of the direction we are going in, and he is being benevolent with us.
He did not want Azdak to be what I imagined a judge to be. He wanted him to be the antithesis, the mischievous coyote-like character that Clifton so beautifully portrays. Clifton was already in the show?
He was marvelous as Azdak. Clifton Holznagel as Azdak [Photo: Yes, as the Singer, Arkadi. You mean as the narrator? But he was not the narrator-singer all the time, was he? Some lines that belonged to that role were delivered by other characters.
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Yes, especially when it came to singing some of the intros to some of the acts. Some actors like Briana Ratterman Trevithick would step in with the accordion. It happened musically, when we realized, oh these voices would be lovely, we added them to help Arkadi tell the story.
When Samie Pfeifer Grusha was leaving the theater, she told me that she and the actors had written the music. What part of the music did she write?
It was exquisite and quite varied. How did it come to be?Jonathan Van Ness And Antoni Porowski Critique Dating Advice - #Swipelife - Tinder
It was the most beautiful, organic process I have ever experienced. You could have called it a musical. We took our first five rehearsals — we read through an act per rehearsal — and we sat and we shared the songs.
Briana had been thinking about a few of the songs with her accordion. It really was a group effort. Joellen Sweeney, who was our music director, listened to them, brought more voices in, and added harmony. It was just a beautiful process of a very cooperative effort.
That sounds like a thoroughly Brechtian way of working.
The structure of his rehearsals was experimental: Get your brain out of the way. But just do it so I can see. You were working as if you had a revolving stage. Everything is supposed to come to Grusha, right? All these events come to her. If we had had a million-dollar budget, we would have had a rotating stage. I guess it was always the element of surprise and ingenuity, which brings me to ask you more about the set.
The current production of the play directed by Michael Thalheimer at the Berlin Ensemble has no set, and you practically had no set at all, but you created everything you needed with the bare minimum of bamboo poles, fabric, a couple of tables, a marvelous chair on wheels, and a little table on wheels.
You took us to all sorts of places. And the bridge suddenly evolved before our eyes. How did you make that work? I think for me, and this is throughout my work, the audience is a huge partner in the imaginative realm. If I can suggest something and then have your imagination do the rest, it is better than anything I can create because we just know how to go there with our imagination.
The second thing is the bridge.
We had played with all sorts of materials in our initial workshop. I brought out sticks, I brought out fabric. I wanted to know what are the building blocks of these worlds that we want to create. The actors grabbed the fabric and we were testing it out in all sorts of ways. I remembered one thing they did from the workshop is that they had hooked the fabric over each other to make a net. One actor would run at it and would bounce back.
I want to know all its capabilities. I wanted to capture the essence of what it feels like to be teetering above a chasm. How does the audience come with us in feeling that precariousness? Bridge with Samie Pfeifer as Grusha [Photo: It was a dance across the bridge, the way she moved her feet.
We did it as a warmup for a whole number of rehearsals, and in the warmup and in their play, they discovered their boundaries within that structure. We have all these parameters that we set and I am just not interested in that at all because if we never burst through that thinking, we never realize what is on the other side and we just get to see mediocrity. When you talk about going beyond parameters, a special moment comes to mind now with the marvelous actress who played the peasant woman in the trial about the cow and the ham Luisa Sermol.
How did you come up with the dance between Azdak and the peasant woman? Azdak follows the woman in a circle, trying to position his chair on wheels so that she will sit on it.
But she leans on her table, wheeling it in the same direction and at the same speed as Azdak moves, so nothing happens. She does not sit down.
In the spirit of clowning, we had to go to the clowning place, especially in act four. It feels to me like a lot of deep clown work. Clifton and Luisa discovered that, obviously, because she moved so slowly. Actually, in the performance yesterday it went even longer, and it is just a beautiful moment because we are near to the end of the play, and we acknowledge that it is a long play, but yet we revel in this glorious clowning moment of trying to get Granny to sit.
You have such a knack for Brecht, [both] the instructional and the entertain[ing] [aspects]. Would you consider doing another of his plays? You could even do part of it outside as street theater and some inside your theater.
It would be a very big challenge. It is really a musical and it would involve getting the rights to the music. Maybe there is a grant for that? You have the singing, acting, and comic material. I would like to see you do more Brecht. Brecht has been a great teacher for me. Then I do it. And I feel like I learned so much from him. Now that I understand what I am dealing with, it would be really interesting to take on another Brecht piece, knowing what I know and capitalizing on it and seeing how I can listen to his voice and express his thoughts even more.
There is a reason why he is one of the greats in theater. He makes us think, he wakes us up, he presents us with raw theatricality. He really brings us down to the essence and the bones of storytelling, and at my heart, no matter how I am going to express myself in my life, I am a storyteller.
I understand him, but I also feel like I am at the very tip of the iceberg. I will be a lifelong student of Brecht. Yes, because it is misleading to say alienation. We as the audience realize that we can make changes in our familiar world, as unchangeable as it seems to us, just as the unfamiliar situation in the play has been changed, estranged. In your play, the concept of ownership changes into something else, a relationship of nurturing.
You bring this across in so many ways in your production. Your actors also constantly break the fourth wall and establish ties with the audience. And the doubling of the baby and the young boy is a prime instance of estrangement.
You are doing this so well. Some of the action also happened in the corners, at the table of the peasant couple. Every inch of space was used. Comments from the cast and music came from the corners and the edges, also the marvelous long bed appears from nowhere. You brought much more comedy into the play than I had expected.
What kept you from making your production into an allegory of American politics today? A lot of directors want to set the play in a particular time and really drive home that we are dealing with a historical or current political situation. Certainly, in the prologue they like to tell us exactly where we are in place and time. And we are in troubled times right now in the United States. Most of us know what it feels like to have an unstable government. We can understand the universal nature of civil war or strife or corrupt politicians, no matter where we set the play.
It feels nice to have a hodge-podge of people. We could have picked from hundreds of different people in history. And as I said, my grandmother was from Latvia.
She and my grandfather became atheists right after the Holocaust. I love that the place that Brecht picked was a real place, but it was also an imaginary place. And that to me — as a storyteller and lover of folk tales and fairy tales — is where he really hooked me. The violin music playing from the top of the wall structure around the stage and Grusha was up on a stand or pedestal before the bridge scene below.
Your design situated us easily and abstractly into an imaginary location. And there is always this fear, especially because we are a small company, there is this fear, is it enough? Are we doing enough to show place and time? The beautiful thing about Brecht is that he lets you off the hook a little bit because he wants you to embrace the bones of the place that you are in. He wants the audience to see everything. But I loved that you could see the shadow of Natasha Stockem, the Stage Manager, up there working the lights, because I think that that is what he wanted.
It is a wonderful invitation to use the space. With other actors in other shows, I am always talking about the warehouse. Brecht really allowed me to do that, without apology. He wanted me to do that. You also worked with such simple things, like the long piece of blue fabric. First I thought it was a metaphor for the passage of time, or a symbol of time, as the actors carried across the stage in a bold diagonal. And suddenly this expanse of blue became the stream.
It is the linen, and it is the stream. It is three things. And they are singing [that] as time went by, he faded. She could not see his image so clearly in the water. That is really stunning, to see one piece of cloth serve so many purposes so close together.
Right, and then she seemed to be washing the cloth, as the linen. I think that might be your trademark. There was no time for any major costume changes. That transported me to a different context. You used very subdued lighting, practically no make-up, and the costumes were muted browns and black. The few spots of color were all the more memorable because they stood out so intensely.
The blue cloth of the stream and also the big blue-green bed. And of course, the bright dresses. And there are only some times in some plays, there are few places where you can make that statement. If you have too much of it, if it is everywhere, then that blue stream would have meant nothing to you. Originally, the fabric came out from under the bed which is a beautiful turquoise colorand I wanted it to match the bed exactly, but once we decided to move the bed, which was a great decision, I realized the fabric had to come from somewhere else.
Even in the dress scene, the women are sitting in a circle. Retitled The Threepenny Opera Die Dreigroschenoper it was the biggest hit in Berlin of the s and a renewing influence on the musical worldwide. One of its most famous lines underscored the hypocrisy of conventional morality imposed by the Church, working in conjunction with the established order, in the face of working-class hunger and deprivation: Erst kommt das Fressen First the grub lit.
It was a personal and a commercial failure. At the time the book was purported to be by the mysterious Dorothy Lane now known to be Elisabeth Hauptmann, Brecht's secretary and close collaborator. Brecht only claimed authorship of the song texts. Brecht would later use elements of Happy End as the germ for his Saint Joan of the Stockyards, a play that would never see the stage in Brecht's lifetime.
The Mahagonny opera would premier later in Berlin in as a triumphant sensation. These were a group of plays driven by morals, music and Brecht's budding epic theatre. In addition, Brecht worked on a script for a semi-documentary feature film about the human impact of mass unemployment, Kuhle Wampewhich was directed by Slatan Dudow. It still provides a vivid insight into Berlin during the last years of the Weimar Republic.
They later bought their own house in Svendborg on Funen. This house located at Skovsbo Strand 8 in Svendborg became the residence of the Brecht family for the next six years, where they often received guests including Walter BenjaminHanns Eisler and Ruth Berlau. During this period Brecht also travelled frequently to Copenhagen, Paris, Moscow, New York and London for various projects and collaborations. When war seemed imminent in Aprilhe moved to StockholmSweden, where he remained for a year.
During the war years, Brecht became a prominent writer of the Exilliteratur. In Brecht's reluctance to help Carola Neherwho died in a gulag death camp in the USSR after being arrested during the purgescaused much controversy among Russian emigrants in the West.
Although he was one of 19 witnesses who declared that they would refuse to appear, Brecht eventually decided to testify. He later explained that he had followed the advice of attorneys and had not wanted to delay a planned trip to Europe. On 30 October Brecht testified that he had never been a member of the Communist Party. The remaining witnesses, the so-called Hollywood Tenrefused to testify and were cited for contempt. Brecht's decision to appear before the committee led to criticism, including accusations of betrayal.
The day after his testimony, on 31 October, Brecht returned to Europe. He lived Zurich in Switzerland for a year. It was published under the title Antigonemodellaccompanied by an essay on the importance of creating a " non-Aristotelian " form of theatre.
In he moved to East Berlin and established his theatre company there, the Berliner Ensemble.
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He retained his Austrian nationality granted in and overseas bank accounts from which he received valuable hard currency remittances. The copyrights on his writings were held by a Swiss company. Though he was never a member of the Communist Party, Brecht had been schooled in Marxism by the dissident communist Karl Korsch.
Korsch's version of the Marxist dialectic influenced Brecht greatly, both his aesthetic theory and theatrical practice. Brecht received the Stalin Peace Prize in He dedicated himself to directing plays and developing the talents of the next generation of young directors and dramaturgs, such as Manfred Wekwerth, Benno Besson and Carl Weber.
At this time he wrote some of his most famous poems, including the "Buckow Elegies". At first Brecht apparently supported the measures taken by the East German government against the uprising of in East Germanywhich included the use of Soviet military force.
The great discussion [exchange] with the masses about the speed of socialist construction will lead to a viewing and safeguarding of the socialist achievements. After the uprising of the 17th of June The Secretary of the Writers Union Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee Stating that the people Had forfeited the confidence of the government And could win it back only By redoubled efforts.
Would it not be easier In that case for the government To dissolve the people Death[ edit ] Brecht died on 14 August  of a heart attack at the age of According to Stephen Parker, who reviewed Brecht's writings and unpublished medical records, Brecht contracted rheumatic fever as a child, which led to an enlarged heart, followed by lifelong chronic heart failure and Sydenham's chorea. A report of a radiograph taken of Brecht in describes a badly diseased heart, enlarged to the left with a protruding aortic knob and with seriously impaired pumping.
Brecht's colleagues described him as being very nervous, and sometimes shaking his head or moving his hands erratically. This can be reasonably attributed to Sydenham's chorea, which is also associated with emotional labilitypersonality changes, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and hyperactivity, which matched Brecht's behavior.
Statue of Brecht outside the Berliner Ensemble's theatre in Berlin Epic Theatre proposed that a play should not cause the spectator to identify emotionally with the characters or action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the action on the stage. Brecht thought that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left an audience complacent.
Instead, he wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognise social injustice and exploitation and to be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change in the world outside. By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable.
Brecht's modernist concern with drama-as-a- medium led to his refinement of the " epic form " of the drama. This dramatic form is related to similar modernist innovations in other artsincluding the strategy of divergent chapters in James Joyce 's novel UlyssesSergei Eisenstein 's evolution of a constructivist " montage " in the cinema, and Picasso 's introduction of cubist "collage" in the visual arts. 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 believed, "Traditional Chinese acting also knows the alienation [sic] effect, and applies it most subtly. The [Chinese] performer portrays incidents of utmost passion, but without his delivery becoming heated. He recognized that the Chinese style was not a "transportable piece of technique,"  and that Epic theatre sought to historicize and address social and political issues. Brecht's poetry is marked by the effects of the First and Second World Wars. Many of the poems take a Marxist [ citation needed ] outlook.
Throughout his theatric production, poems are incorporated into this plays with music.