~ Bertold Brecht ~ Peter France ~ John Stevenson ~ Phillip B. Zarrelli et el ~

Brecht On Theatre (Book Cover) by Bertold BrechtBrecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: 1918-1932 : On Form and Subject-Matter. Trans. John Willett. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, Ed. 1966. 29-31.

Brecht calls for a shift in the processes and presentation aims of theatre practitioners, in order to be more relevant to the character of the society he lives in. In stating that art follows reality, he rejects suggestions that theatre should provide escape and release from daily life. His notes describe a non-linear, episodic, and pedagogical theatre which assigns new purpose in the task of exploring the pure phenomena of human behaviour.

Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: 1918-1932: The Literarization of the Theatre. Trans. John Willett. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, Ed. 1966. 43-47.

Brecht describes the subject/object relationship in dramatic works as limiting and formulaic. His call for the ‘literarization’ of theatre reflects more a desire to employ a broader scope of media and art processes, than to add further weight to the hierarchy of the script. In fact Brecht wanted to emphasize gesture and signified corporeal communications, on the part of the performers. Importantly, Brecht views a degree of disinterestedness among audience members as contributing positively to the purpose of epic theatre, permitting distancing, and cultivating a less formal atmosphere for spectators.

However, the populist approach alone is not enough, in the writer’s view, to promote a less expectant nature of engagement. His call for constant experimentation is intended to expand the methods and occasions in which audiences might relate and contemplate their own habits of existence in the world. His notes compare European methods of performance to that he has witnessed in traditional Chinese theatre. Attributes of the latter serves as examples of what Brecht refers to as the Alienation Technique. He describes the use of imperfect costuming, symbols, and masks, as well as performers whom exhibit awareness of being watched. The audience is periodically addressed as present and involved, the furnishings can be carried on and moved around by performers, the gestured acting reflects various motivations that are unique to the character but does not attempt to explain them. There is less pretense toward illusions, both spectator and performer share awareness of the events that take place, and discord or reactionary dynamics are permitted (even encouraged).

In these ways Brecht describes the experience of alienation similarly to that of a ‘double consciousness’ elsewhere reported in the sharing of an artwork. In his example of a painted set piece that is more symbolic than realistic, and that would be associated to another environment in another era (eg is old public fairground), he is referring to alienation as a betrayal of expectations. Significant emphasis is also placed upon the need to ‘historize’ the remounting of works; to espouse a social point of view that reflects the attitudes of it’s own historical epoch.

Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: 1948-1956: Does the use of a model restrict the Artist’s Freedom? Trans. John Willett. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, Ed. 1966. 222-226.

This brief interview by E.A. Winds in West Germany provides insight on Brecht’s attitude toward his proposals for reform in the theatre. The playwright does not appear to consider himself providing a strict model, but rather innovations, motivations, and purposes for theatre creation. In this interview he does not attempt to describe in detail his theories, but speaks to the benefits of copying works, in a plight to discover and explore new methodologies. Brecht does not believe his approaches suit all plays, but notes Shakespeare and Faust, as well works of his day which attempt new methods of storytelling. He also speaks to a need for creative collaboration in order to further develop his proposed acting techniques and refers to the epic theatre as a literary, theatrical, cinematographic movement.

Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: 1948-1956: Conversation about being forced into empathy? Trans. John Willett. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, Ed. 1966. 270-272.

This brief interlude forces the question of empathy to the fore, and depicts Brecht’s preference for more diverse opportunities to empathize, as a spectator. Where one may identify with the sorrow of one character, they may as well empathize with the fear of a second character for whom the first weeps, for example. Key to this short conversation is prior text elaborating upon the potential for spectator’s to feel content with a character’s demise, or to feel contempt in the face of a character’s joy. Brecht viewed ‘enforced empathy’ as portable and unhistorical, and describes “actual feeling” as coming from an incident’s “double aspect” (awareness of the dynamics of an event, between characters, as well as in connection to a performer’s character).

Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: 1948-1956: Dialectics in the Theatre. Trans. John Willett. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, Ed. 1966. 281-283.

The editor’s notes here simply acknowledge that Brecht’s own view of the need for an epic theatre had evolved, describing his approach as dialectic in nature. It is interesting to note that the playwright viewed the epic theatre as becoming to formalized and as having served it’s original purpose. These notes portray an artist whom saw reform in the theatre as an ongoing process of development and discovery.

France, Peter. Public Theatre and Private Theatre in the Writings of Diderot. The ModernLanguage Review, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jul., 1969). 522-528. Web. 16 Aug. 2010.

Peter France reviews the idealistic motivations behind Diderot’s own writings, and offers a summary of insights upon the playwright’s attempts to live up to his theoretical propositions. Diderot is construed as reacting to his own experience as a theatre patron, whose interpretation of 18th century conventions in theatre includes the perspective that farce takes place where emotional evocation should instead. Diderot’s eagerness to experience a suspension of disbelief, and a personal relationship with the content of a performance, is seen to lead his desire to remove spectators from the stage and call for a more naturalistic style of acting. The article points to Diderot’s own stage works and cites the more intimate presentations (in private salons) as those which most succeeded, both in craftsmanship and in terms of exemplifying his proposed reforms. Importantly, Diderot’s objectives are described as intent upon removing artifice, rather than to intensify it, in order to cultivate a more sincere direct emotional engagement between performers and audience members.

Stevenson, John. The Fourth Wall and The Third Space. Centre for Playback Theatre. 1995: Web. 12 Aug. 2010.

Author writes upon the subject matter as an associate member and performer with Playback Theatre. He notes that Diderot, whom is credited with first coining the phrase “the Fourth Wall”, proposed theatrical refinements and techniques in support of naturalism and realism. It is also noted that the trajectory of realism as a style of theatre focused progressively on distinguishing the spectator from the performer and further separating their roles. Stevenson states that movements originating in the twentieth century perceived these conventions as superficialities that were responsible for an absence of spiritual or ecstatic experience in the theatre. In Stevenson’s recommendations for meeting the challenges presented by this conception of a fourth wall he discards the a priori need for a script and emphasizes collaborative creation instead. Stevenson regards the proscenium arch and stage design, commonly associated with Modernist theatre convention, as merely a by-product of realism’s refinements and technical concerns. The latter as opposed to viewing the proscenium itself as originating the fourth wall. The references made speak to the need for immediacy and intimate physicality. Spatiality is significant in this article. Engagement and inter-changeability of roles between performers and audience is encouraged.

Zarrilli, Phillip B. et al. Theatre Histories; An Introduction; Part 1. Routeledge. New York. 2006. 1-137.

The first three chapters of this book summarize performance practices, attitudes, methodologies prior to 1,500 C.E. Authors cite research provided by anthropologists, archaeologists, and ethnographic case studies that position oral, ritual, shamanic, and commemorative performance events as the earliest origins of theatrical presentation. There is an explicit acknowledgement that pre­literate and literate cultural practices represent important distinctions in the intent and purposes of performance genres. It is also implied that non-literacy-premised performance roundly distinguishes the very meaning of performance occasions, even while a plurality of these meanings can be found according to historical epochs and cultures. Though there are exceptions noted, the meaning of the spoken word, the advent of interpretation, and the role of the performer appear both contingent and transformed by the convention of writing for performance (as opposed to the documenting of performance).

Performance distinctions are described as that which is considered as embodied, that which is performative, and that which is mimetic. In the first case, the performer’s identity is overcome (a metaphysical possession or transformational experience for eg). In the second, a worldly evocation or event is instantiated by a speach act, and the performer’s social identity is described by and endowed with the power or gift to make manifest that which is otherwise invisible. Whereas, in the third instance, the identity of the performer is dual. They remain recognized as players while also identified as another persona (or character). Later, the authors investigate the circumstances and environments within which performances take place, in tandem with evolutions in societal structures, and the onset of more politically powerfully institutionalized religions. The latter of which take up performance as an educative and instructive method of normalization (cultural enforcement and affirmation).

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