New Brecht in Practice Resource – The Crucible

Are you looking for full overview of Professor David Barnett’s Brecht in Practice? Click here.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

A new major documentation of the Brechtian production of Miller’s The Crucible staged at the University of York in Oct 2017 has been added to brechtinpractice.org. There is a full visual guide through the acts and some video material, as well as several reflective pages on the various elements of the production.

This is a great resource for students and teachers studying Brechtian theatre practices and/or Miller’s play. The production offers an introduction to how a certain tradition of interpretation, with its own implied politics, can be challenged and re-presented.

New resources from the 2017 production are available here.

Get a full overview of Brecht in Practice here.

Want more on Brecht? Read our interview with Tom Kuhn here.

Tim Etchells on duality

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

In much of the Forced Entertainment work and in my solo practice there are moments, events, scenes, actions and texts that effectively refuse to confirm themselves as one thing or another: it’s funny but it’s not at all funny, or it’s extremely aggressive and extremely apologetic at the same time. We often, I think very deliberately, put these things in a close proximity – creating work that pushes and pulls an audience member at the same time, in two directions.

We don’t mind moments in shows where everybody laughs but we’re also quite known for those moments where a few people are laughing and other people are annoyed with them because they’re laughing. We like the tension that comes from this kind of duality.

At one level, for me, the work sets out to create situations or feelings or exchanges that aren’t reconcilable. Something is profoundly not finished or unbalanced or unanswered in what we’re doing. There’s a problematic lack of resolution in what you’re left with. A key understanding about art making for me is that it’s not so much about making statements as it is about opening space. It’s about wanting to leave the audience with a problem rather than solving it. I mean that’s Brecht of course – no catharsis, leave people questioning.

Dirty Work (The Late Shift). Photo by Hugo Glendinning
Read the full interview here.

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Tim Etchells on witnessing

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

Again, it’s about the relation to the spectator. Perhaps theatre has in it this idea of the spectator who passively consumes or watches something in a distant way – consuming the events as they unfold in front of them on the stage as if your responsibilities to the theatrical event are not much more than being entertained or keeping track of what’s going on down there in the dark. The witnessing idea arises from a desire to go beyond that – to make that relation between the spectator and the stage more complex ethically and politically.

Brecht talked, in that poem about the street accident, about the idea of the witness and the guy who’s explaining how the car went this way and the other car went that way. The explainer in that poem has the responsibility to get it right because it matters. Who crashed into who? Who’s fault was it? How did the guy got knocked down? So there’s something about witness that’s about being truthful.

You also have somebody like Chris Burden who in his 1971 piece Shoot is shot in the arm by his friend in the gallery. He talked about the people who were there that night for the performance as witnesses rather than spectators. That’s to stress the reality of the thing that happened – a bullet going into an arm. Burden says that watching that is different from watching a fake bullet fired from a fake gun – there’s a quality of “realness”.

 

We’ve done nothing with that kind of bold claim on ‘reality’ but I think we’ve always tried to look at the stage and the auditorium and how to implicate the spectator in a more complex way.

We make work that refuses to be simply an entertainment taking place at a distance, down the other end of the telescope, down there on the stage. Instead we try to find ways to triangulate the work directly to the auditorium. As if to ask the audience who they are and who is sitting with them, to wonder not about the narrative of a drama but about the truly present situation and dynamic of the theatre. So many of our shows ask that question in different ways. Often we have worked by creating a kind of dramaturgical tension in the auditorium or between the stage and the auditorium. For example, in First Night the performers appear as rather failing vaudevillians or nightclub entertainers who effectively turn on the audience in different ways – vague insinuations and then direct attacks, the surface of the entertainment crumbling. “It’s all good people here; there’s no racists here; there’s no homophobes here; there’s no wife beaters here.” Taken together it creates a kind of probing of the audience, forcing them to take a position, to think about who they are and who the strangers in the seats nearby might be. Theatre perhaps sees itself for the most part as a gathering of the good, honest and true to watch something that will enlighten them. A benign, convivial space. I think, a lot of the time, our work wants to niggle at that, transforming it into this unfolding set of ethical and political negotiations with the audience which connects to this idea of witnessing. Something is at stake.

First Night. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
Read the full interview here.

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Essential Videos on Brecht

Here is a selection of videos on Brecht’s theatre to compliment our brilliant content from Professor Tom Kuhn and Professor David Barnett. We begin with a documentary from the 1980s that has footage of Brecht’s contemporaries discussing his work and methods including his wife and long term collaborator Helene Weigel. Then there is a look at some academic perspectives on Brecht’s theatre with a particular focus on key terms. Finally, there is an example of a workshop that brings to life the Messingkauf Dialogues, as well as a look at some contemporary productions of key plays.

Read more about Brecht with insight from Tom Kuhn and David Barnett.

David Barnett on Brecht in Practice

David Barnett is Professor of Theatre at the University of York. He works mostly on German theatre, with a particular interest in the Brechtian tradition of making theatre politically. He has written widely on postdramatic and experimental theatre, play texts and directing.

David has developed a wonderful free-to-access resource that connects Brecht’s theories for the theatre to real-world theatre practice. Brecht in Practice is aimed at people who are interested in the political possibilities of theatre-making, who may have read about Brecht and his ideas, but who might find the gap between theory and practice hard to bridge.

The site complements David Barnett’s book, Brecht in Practice, a volume in which many of the theoretical issues are discussed in greater detail.

David has kindly shared a taster of the vast content from Brecht in Practice. This simply scratches the surface of the site and we urge you to follow the links and take full advantage of this fantastic free resource.

Brecht in Practice is rooted in theory but each theoretical idea is connected to real examples in order to show the relationship between theory and practice.

Who was Bertolt Brecht? an overview of Brecht’s life and ideas

Brecht (1898 – 1956) experienced a turbulent world first-hand and sought to understand how such instability could occur and how his approaches to theatre might represent a dynamic, active world that was also capable of change.

The Meaning of ‘Brechtian’: a definition of what this term might mean for theatre practitioners

‘Brechtian’ can be found in all sorts of contexts and applied to all manner of theatre and performance. It is often used to describe certain devices used in performance, such as direct address to an audience, the use of placards or signs, or showing the mechanics of a production instead of hiding them behind illusionist aesthetics. In the light of this, one could describe all manner of TV adverts as ‘Brechtian’, but it is obvious that none of them are concerned with criticizing capitalism or its excesses – on the contrary, they are designed to increase consumption and profits.

I thus propose that ‘Brechtian’ implies the dialectical examination of dramatic material. That is, ‘Brechtian’ puts the emphasis on a method of dealing with dramatic material, not necessarily the means with which the material is performed, even though they are important. While ‘dialectics’ is a philosophical term and has its own vocabulary, the process of dialectical examination is based on the search for socially contextualized contradictions. The theatre company then looks for suitable ways to perform the contradictions in a theatre of showing.

In short, a focus on Brecht’s means rather than his aims can de-politicize the theatre, and make it purely the site of entertaining devices rather than one that engages with society and its mechanisms with a view to changing both.

The Aims of Brechtian Theatre: gives an overall introduction to what Brecht was trying to achieve in his theatre and how he set out his theoretical ideas.

The list of points below is not exhaustive, but does draw attention to some of the more important aspects of Brecht’s theatre.

To stage accurate representations of human beings

To reveal the social factors the influence human action, behaviour and thought

To show the (stage) world as changeable

And derived from these ideas, a Brechtian theatre seeks to:

  1. Criticize human behaviour, actor and thought as ‘natural’
  2. Articulate contradictions clearly

Brecht’s Aims for a Production:

Brecht’s Means:

The Brechtian Method: outlines how Brecht’s approach to making theatre can be considered a ‘method’ and how it might be applied.

It begins with the construction of the Fabel , which then leads to initial blockings in the form of the scenes’ Arrangements . The actors then develop a basic Gestus  for their figure, and inductive rehearsal  leads to a diverse range of Haltungen . The aim, as ever, is to produce lively, realistic theatre that allows the spectator to speculate on the ways society works by drawing attention to the contradictions that drive the action.

A Theatre of Showing: Brecht’s theatre is all about setting out relationships with clarity and not passing over contradictions

Theory and Practice: considers the relationship between the two and offers thoughts on how the two can be negotiated.

Marxism, Dialectics and Contradiction : a more detailed discussion of Brecht’s approach to reality with an emphasis on how the world works and how it can change.

Brecht’s Approach to Reality : this relationship lies at the heart of Brecht’s theatrical ambitions and differentiates his theatre from other forms of theatre-making

Brechtian Realism: contrasts the more conventional definition of ‘realism’ in the theatre with Brecht’s

Politics in a Brechtian Theatre : what are the political implications of Brecht’s theories?

Making Theatre Politically: what is the difference between ‘making political theatre’ or ‘making theatre politically’?

Modelbook

Brecht in Practice presents a virtual modelbook based on a production of Patrick Marber’s Closer. 

Click here to access the Virtual Modelbook of Patrick Marber’s Closer.

Patrick Marber’s Closer

Brecht in Practice takes an in depth look at a production of Patrick Marber’s Closer staged at the University of York with professional actors in October 2016. The site provides a detailed analysis of the production from the starting point of the theory introduced.

Free resources to download

You can download the following exercises:

  1. Social Salutations – a simple exercise with a couple of variations that establish Gestus and Haltung, and introduce Brecht’s theatre of showing .
  2. Posh Restaurant – a scenario that invites participants to think about class, not through character, but through a clear situation and a series of relationships. The scenario further develops Brecht’s emphasis on showing  material onstage and sensitizes participants the processes that lead to actions and reactions in public.

You can also download the following approaches to working with dramatic material:

  1. The Role of the Fabel – this plan introduces the practice of writing a Fabel  for a scene and staging material in its light. You will also need to download this extract  from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and this sample Fabel .
  2. Inductive Rehearsal – this plan introduces the practice of inductive rehearsal , a method Brecht developed for actors working with issues of social status and the pressure of social situations.

Want more on Brecht? Read our interview with Professor Tom Kuhn here.

 

Essential Videos on The Living Theatre

Judith Malina introduces The Living Theatre:

65 years ago, Julian Beck and I found the Living Theatre, and it continues to do play after play. The Living Theatre is a company of actors who want to bring about the BEAUTIFUL NON-VIOLENT ANARCHIST REVOLUTION. We wanted to find a theatre that would grow with history and in history.

That is why we called it the LIVING THEATRE, because we wanted it to change with time. People say ‘Yeah—the world is in lousy shape, and there are wars and horrors going on all the time. But what am I gonna do? Who am I? What can I do?’

And to give people the sense that there is something they can do, that they are empowered.

That begins in the theatre.

The Living Theatre’s mission by Julien Beck

To call into question

who we are to each other in the social environment of the theatre,

to undo the knots that lead to misery,

to spread ourselves

across the public’s table

like platters at a banquet,

to set ourselves in motion

like a vortex that pulls the

spectator into action,

to fire the body’s secret engines,

to pass through the prism

and come out a rainbow,

to insist that what happens in the jails matters,

to cry “Not in my name!”

at the hour of execution,

to move from the theater to the street and from the street to the theater.

This is what The Living Theatre does today.

It is what it has always done.





World Theatre Traditions – Yuan Drama (AKA Zaju)

“By turns lyrical and earthy, sentimental and ironic, Yuan drama spans a broad emotional, linguistic, and stylistic range. Combining sung arias with declaimed verses and doggerels, dialogues and mime, and jokes and acrobatic feats, Yuan drama formed a vital part of China’s culture of performance and entertainment in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.”

Hsia, C., Wai. & Kao, G. (2014). The Columbia Anthology of Yuan Drama. New York: Columbia University Press.

In order to understand Yuan drama we must understand the society in which it developed. Yuan society was unique in Chinese history : the entire nation was ruled by a foreign and militant tribe and its people officially divided into four ethnic groups with the Chinese at the bottom. The Mongols were the ruling class ; next were the se-mu, Moslems, Central Asians, Europeans, and other ethnic groups of the western regions ; third the han tribes of the north such as Tatars and Koreans, and those Chinese who lived in the territory of the former Chin dynasty; and lowest of all the Southerners i.e. the Chinese of the now defunct Southern Sung dynasty. These groups formed the basis for discriminatory policies and the practice of a spoils system.

Yang, R. (1958). THE SOCIAL BACKGROUND OF THE YÜAN DRAMA. Monumenta Serica, 17, 333.

The rise of the drama during the Yuan period, has been attributed to various causes. Some scholars believe it was a direct result of the examinations which required skill in composing songs. This theory has been challenged by modern scholars, among whom Wang Kuo-wei:

“The abolition of the examination was the real reason for the development of the drama. Since T’ang and Sung competitive scholars had been accustomed to the examinations. When the examinations were suddenly abolished the scholars no longer had an outlet for their talents; hence they turned their energies whole-heartedly to (the composition of) dramatical arias. Moreover, the requirement for the examinations on subjects during the Chin period had been most simple and shallow. These scholars once they lost what they were used to do, were unable to contribute much to other works of scholarship. For serious essays and documentary writings were not what they were familiar with. At this moment, the new style of drama appeared, and many turned their attention to it. When one or two gifted scholars devoted their entire talents to this new style, the writings of Yuan drama became a unique achievement.”

A third theory is advanced by Shionoya On:

“The Chinese people had always held the teachings of Con- fucius in high esteem, and Confucianism had been regarded as the foundation of both government and religion. But neither the Chin (Tatars) nor the Yuan (Mongols), conquerors who arose from the north, were capable of understand- ing and appreciating Confucian teachings and they allowed considerable freedom of thought in all religions, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity alike. The Chinese people, humiliated by the rule of foreign tribes, sought com- fort and consolation in poetry and wine. They took great delight in the newly developed form through which they could express their indignation against their own oppressors by poking fun at characters of the past. They criticised their world with passion and through satire admonished the people. Those who heard generally developed a sense of sympathy and satisfaction.”

Yang, R. (1958). THE SOCIAL BACKGROUND OF THE YÜAN DRAMA. Monumenta Serica, 17, 332 – 333

In 1995, Grant Shen directed Freed by a Flirt, the world’s first zaju opera in English. In translating the Chinese libretto into English, he preserved as many stylistic features of zaju as possible.

Read more articles by Grant Shen here.

Two English versions of The West Wing. Introduction taken from The Octant.

For a Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) opera, The West Wing (西厢记), written by Wang Shifu, is surprisingly racy, making it the most-performed, as well as the most-banned play in the history of Chinese opera. Now, a group of Yale-NUS College students are staging several scenes from this classic, marking the first time since the mid-Ming dynasty that parts of the original Yuan text are being performed. A separate cast will be performing the English translation of the play.

The West Wing tells the story between two lovers, Oriole and Zhang Sheng, who consummate their love despite parental disapproval. It was deemed immoral, pornographic even, by Confucian scholars and hence was banned for a long period of time in China.

Chinese version of The West Wing