Monday, 23 October 2017

Brecht and Lehrstücke

Brecht's problem with the 'great flowering' of German theatre in the aftermath of World War I was its failure 'to present on stage the great themes of our time' (Ed. Willett, 1964: 77). Of course, he continued, the contemporary environment had been presented in plays: giving the examples of the trenches and the stock exchange, he dismisses these as mere 'background for a sort of sentimental 'magazine story that could have taken place at any other time' (ibid). It is only through modern innovations in technology - such as Piscator's use of film - that contemporary themes could be properly incorporated into the narrative.

(Brecht also mentions that 'the great cartoonist George Grosz made valuable contributions for the projections'.)

Brecht's article in The New York Times (November 24, 1935) argues the cases for 'epic' theatre, and claims that 'the learning play' (Lehrstücke) was made possible by a shift in attitude and the inclusion of technological advances: moving platforms on the stage, new facilities for music that encouraged talented composers to write for theatre, as well as film and projection. But he also recognised the necessity of collaboration - historians and sociologists became part of his team, and 'the training... for the new style of acting, the epic style, took place' (1964: 79).

Brecht deliberated named his new approach 'epic' to challenge the division in Aristotle's Poetics between the tragic and the epic modes of poetry. Noting (in Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction, 1964: 70) that even Aristotle's definitions admitted of some porosity , Brecht drew a distinction between the tragic theatre, which encouraged audiences to see the events as 'essentially static: its task is to show the world as it is' (1964: 79) and the epic with a 'task to show the world as it changes ) and also how it may be changed' (ibid.). He also demands respect for the audience: the tragic treats them as 'a mob... while the latter theatre holds that the audience is a collection of individuals, capable of thinking and reasoning, of making judgments even in the theatre' (ibid.).

What Brecht doesn't mention in his article is the Marxist intentions of his Lehrstücke. 

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