Brecht on Anxiety and Lighting a Bomb in the Theatre

BBontheatre

In John Willett’s compendium of some of Brecht’s most important critical writings, the editor helps to outline the theatremaker’s development of his style. Each letter and article allows for a further glimpse into Brecht’s take on Epic Theatre, acting, and the alienation effect for which his works are so renowned.

On anxiety, Brecht aptly points out:

“In his obscure anxiety not to let the audience get away the actor is immediately so steamed up that he makes it seem the most natural thing in the world to insult one’s father. At the same time it can be seen that acting takes a tremendous lot out of him. And a man who strains himself on the stage is bound, if he is any good, to strain all the people sitting in the stalls.” – From Berliner Börsen-Courier, 1926

Around the same time this article was written, Brecht was insisting on a new type of audience engagement in the form of what he called “ ’smokers’ theatre.” The audience would puff on cigars and look on as if taking in a boxing match, therefore developing a more detached and critical outlook than was possible in the ordinary German theatre. Smoking was verboten in theatres at the time.

He posits:

“That in a Shakespearean production one man in the stalls with a cigar could bring about the downfall of Western art. He might as well light a bomb as light his cigar. I would be delighted to see our public allowed to smoke during performances. And I’d be delighted mainly for the actor’s sake. In my view it is quite impossible for the actor to play unnatural cramped and old-theatre to a man smoking in the stalls.” 

Forever pushing the boundaries of what theatre was “allowed to be” at the time, Brecht paved the way for many in the modern day interactive and absurdist theatre realms. Brecht on Theatre is a delight – like sitting down for a rare and illuminating coffee-date with Brecht himself.

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Happy Birthday Kafka

kafka

While some posit that you could never be truly happy about anything, we know you’ve got a bit of an optimist hiding deep down inside.

Just look! You once said:

“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”

and:

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

and of course:

“Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.

Those that have dubbed you the eternal pessimist have refused to acknowledge this believer within you. Like so many others, what little was published during your lifetime garnered little public attention. Now people throw around the word Kafkaesque to sound cultured and in-the-know.

If you had known what would follow, would you still have left most of your full-length novels unfinished? Would you still have  burned 90 percent of your work?

Time’s funny that way. Happy birthday Kafka. We’re celebrating you now.

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Some Years Ago — Never Mind How Long Precisely, Tilda Swinton Read a Tome

moby

How many of us can say that they’ve actually got around to reading Melville’s novel, easily considered a treasure of world literature?

Peninsula Arts with Plymouth University have made the daunting task a little easier with their 21st century-friendly project, the Big Read. Readers such as Tilda Swinton and Stephen Fry embellish a chapter of Moby Dick each with their voice and skill. The project also curated 136 artists to create an accompanying illustration for each of the chapters of the book.

No better way to revisit a classic than by bringing it to the arts-hungry culture in such a digestible format.

mobyread

Should you need me these next few days, I’ll be diving into these deeper waters.

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How Artists Create a Sense of Home

Some keep company, others prefer solace. But what is a restorative space for some, seems like trappings for others.

For those with any fascination in where some of the most influential creative spirits play house, these photos are sure to spark interest. A short peek into the lives of artists at home:

Truman Capote and his kitsch collection
“Home is where you feel at home. I’m still looking.”

Donna Tartt with Pug, Pongo
“My dog has a number of acquaintances of his own species — as do I — but it is abundantly clear to both of us that there is little company in all the world which we enjoy so much as each other’s.”

Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas in Paris
 “America is my country, and Paris is my home town.”

Ernest Hemingway with his cat
“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”

John Steinbeck at home in Salinas, CA
“I have lost all sense of home, having moved about so much. It means to me now–only that place where the books are kept.”

Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico
“I can’t live where I want to, I can’t go where I want to go, I can’t do what I want to, I can’t even say what I want to. I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to.”

Anais Nin sitting down for tea
“Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together. “

Sontag cozy at her desk (yes, that’s a bear suit)
“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery – Too Little, Too Late?

Beautiful, aren’t you?
So glad that we could finally inspire you.

Image Sources: 1, 23, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

You Havin’ A Laugh: Can a 200 Year Old Joke Still Hold Up Today?

They say a good joke is timeless. Does the adage apply to those clever quips thrown around at Jackson during his chaos-riddled presidency? The bull-headed, quick-to-anger, and strongly opinionated leader was criticized from all angles about his inability to just calm down and follow the rules. But that wasn’t AJ’s style.

The political discourse at the time went a little something like this:

“Let the National Bank alone Jackson!”

Nope, going to challenge it until its a crippled and gutted version of what it once was.

“Stop hiring all of your friends to serve as your Cabinet!”

Haha good one. These positions are simple enough that a “common” man can do it. And if they start screwing up, I’ll throw them out.

“You should probably stop acting like a supreme leader whose word is law. Ever heard of justice?”

If you don’t like how I run things, you can get up and get out. I’ve made this land open to the American people by relocating thousands of others, and this is thanks I get?

Let’s hope that Andrew had some sense of humor about himself and could appreciate the attitudes of those that attempted to laugh at the situation. These old-school political cartoons of Jackson are intrinsically charming. The flood of text presented to help get the joke across? We’re a bit less wordy nowadays. But nonetheless, they give a clear idea of some of the impressions of the president during his reign..I mean, presidential term.

Shows how Jackson’ critics viewed the man’s enthusiasm for using his powers as president. Many sought to limit his influence by pushing for states’ ability to reject federal decisions.

Jackson vs. the National Bank. Andrew Jackson opposed the Second Bank of the U.S. because he believed the bank concentrated too much power in the hands of a few wealthy men in the Northeast.

Jackson, somewhat blinded to the situation (spectacles up over his head), as his Kitchen Cabinet, here depicted as the rats (John H. Eaton, John Branch, Martin Van Buren, and Samuel D. Ingham), abandons him. His foot is planted firmly on the tail of the Van Buren rat. 

Andrew Jackson is roasted over the fires of “Public Opinion” by Justice herself. He was under pressure for the controversy surrounding his removal of federal deposits from the Bank of the United States. Note the pig leg.

Image Source: Library of Congress

How to Find Your Dream Job (Hint: It’s only two words)

Be creative.

That’s right. Those two little words, saddled up next to each other and getting cosy, are the key. And although it may be an overplayed cliche, today’s “tough economy” has caused all of us to get a little nervous on the subject of job hunting. This nervousness causes us to seize up and sit in a period of inaction, or try to play it safe to please the potential employers out there. But I cannot tell you how many success stories I’ve read lately of those that bent the rules a little and made themselves stand out by proving that they have their own unique brand that no one else can replicate.

I would like to think that perhaps they read this letter from 1934 from Robert Pirosh. This copywriter traded in his New York life in favor of that of  Hollywood screenwriter. The only problem? He did not have a job as a screenwriter. So he sent the following note to all of the major studios, received a slew of interview requests, and finally accepted an offer as a junior writer at MGM. From there he went on to win an Academy Award and write for some of the best and brightest (including the Marx Brothers). Just another testament to the fact that you should not water yourself down in order to obtain the dream job. Do not censor the you that just might land you the gig.

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and I still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh
385 Madison Avenue
Room 610
New York
Eldorado 5-6024

Note Source: Dear Wit; Image Source

Populism, Yea Yea

“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”

- Andrew Jackson

It’s official: our production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will be hitting the stage this summer. As you guys know, I love it when history is made even more accessible through a good musical, and this show is no exception. Rock heavy and ridiculous, this tongue-in-cheek jaunt through the early 19th century tells the story of the U.S.’s seventh president in an entirely new light.

Why a faux-emo musical about an early American president? Because in case you haven’t heard, this guy was absolutely insane. In perhaps his most ridiculous display of badassery, when a man challenged him to a duel and misfired both of his pistols, Jackson sauntered over and beat the dude senseless with his cane. This valiant display of lunacy earned him the nickname Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson since the (otherwise harmless) cane was carved of hickory.

And because the creatives behind this show aren’t the only ones who understood what a crazy rockstar A.J. was:

Image Sources: Playbill.com and The Smithsonian

A Whole Slew of Angels in America

“In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.”
― Tony Kushner

Angels, angels everywhere. Ever since Kushner’s acclaimed play burst onto the scene in 1993, it’s taken the theatre world by storm – a tempest kicked up by the wings of hundreds of different iterations of the angel figure. Take a stroll down memory lane and see how a number of different productions imagined this pivotal role:


1993, Original Broadway production

1997, Theater Dortmund

2001, Guilford College

2003, HBO series

2004, American Conservatory Theatre

2010, Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf’s commemoration of Amsterdam’s DeLaMar Theatre’s opening

2010, Signature Theatre

Which version is the most effective? It’s remarkable that despite their physical/design differences, these angels are all relatively close in terms of presentation.

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Because I Heart Historical Musicals

I’ll admit it…I have a thing for shows that can teach me a little something about American History. Whether it’s 1776, Assassins, or any of the others that illuminate history as they jaunt along through the realms of song and dance, I’m hooked.

That’s why when I heard that Lin-Manuel Miranda was working on the Alexander Hamilton Mixtape, I immediately raced off to find out everything I could about the project. If you haven’t seen any of his work before, please check him out – one of the most creative minds and endearing personalities to come out of the musical theatre scene over the past few years. I love how he uses rap to bring a fresh look to the dusty-old-textbook version of stories we’ve heard hundreds of time.

So Many Possibilities

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges  Seurat – 1844

Isn’t it incredible when an artwork takes on a life of its own?

The vision of one individual has been replicated time and time again as new people come across the work to breathe new life into it. Some interpretations are hilarious, others more reverent, but all have their place.

I’m partial to Lapine and Sondheim’s rich musical interpretation of the painting and the man behind its beauty. But, the fact that so many various portrayals of Seurat’s work even exists speaks volumes.

You have a favorite?

Images Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 56, 7

Why You’re Probably Better off Than Most Famous Theatre Couples this Valentine’s Day

We’re getting close to Valentine’s Day. Of course that means we’ll have those few who are grumbling “what’s so great about it anyway?” Whether you’ve got a special someone or if you’re celebrating your own awesome self this year, it’s always helpful to take stock of how much better your life is than those of these classic couples of the stage. By definition, these couples needed to have drama going on in their lives.

Romeo and Juliet, Romeo & Juliet

Ah young love. What could be more romantic than hiding your crush from Daddy since he’s not too fond of your new beau? Super cute until you learn that faking your own death sends your quick-to-react boyfriend to pull a little stunt of his own. If you’re still alive, than you already have it better than either of the main characters in this Shakespearean classic.

Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, Carousel

Boy meets girl. Girl lets boy put arm around her on the carousel and gets banished from the ride. Boy mocks his boss at the carousel and gets fired from his job. Thus begins this charming love story. But ah, soon the two are wed! And Billy only gets involved with a little bit of robbery, wife-beating, and gambling – nothing enough to stop their love. Billy kills himself after a theft-gone-wrong, leaving the now pregnant Julie alone. And while second act sees Billy sent back down to earth to redeem himself, this love story ending is no where nearly as charming as Ghost (maybe a sexy pottery scene would’ve helped).

Porgy and Bess, Porgy and Bess

Bess, a beautiful cocaine addict, meets Porgy, a sweet disabled beggar, after her ex-boyfriend/dealer kills another man over a game of craps and flees. Porgy falls madly in love. Bess can’t decide if she prefers the more glamorous life of gamblers and drug dealers. She shows her love through the little things – like going to a picnic across the lake and leaving Porgy behind when his disability prevents him from getting on the boat. But nothing stops Porgy from loving that woman. He seeks her out endlessly, even when she leaves for New York with another drug dealer. If your love life is less coke-fueled, and a little bit more reciprocal, you’re already doing better than good ol’ Porgy and Bess.

Jane and Edward Rochester, Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte’s famous tale has been adapted for the stage, yes. Meaning these lovebirds qualify as some of the theatre’s most tragic.  Jane, once an abused orphan, is now a bookish governess. She goes to work for the “gruff-on-the-exterior-but-of-course-he’s-got-a-heart-of-gold” Rochester. They fall deeply in love then Ed lets an itty bitty secret slip out on their wedding day: he’s already married…to a crazy lady…who now resides in the attic. Jane gets mad and runs away. Years of broken-heartedness later, she returns after hearing that a fire destroyed Rochester’s mansion, killed his (other) wife, and left him blind.  Love triumphs. If you have successfully avoided polygamy, horrendous natural disasters, or losing your eyesight – you’re doing worlds better than these two.

Aida and Radames, Aida

Seen in both opera and musical theatre, this love story follows Aida, an Ethiopian princess who is captured and enslaved in Egypt, and Radames, a sexy Egyptian hunk. Forget that Radames is supposed to be loyal to the Pharaoh, or that the Pharaoh’s daughter has the hots for him. Forget that Aida should probably be pissed off that his kingdom is trying to force her into slavery.  Their love is so wrong it’s right.  Eventually, Pharaoh sentences Radames to death and the two are buried alive. If your room still has air in it, you’re doing just fine.

Peter Pan and Wendy, Peter Pan

I’m not even going to touch the potential Oedipus complex going on here.

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Almost Better than the Real Thing

Our culture gives great weight to authenticity. We are constantly reminded to “be true to ourselves” and to “be original” – whether we choose to heed this advice is up to us. In the case of fine art, we want to know a piece’s history, its origin. It’s what differentiates the multimillion dollar gallery painting from the one that never makes it out of the garage.

But who are we really to decide what marks one for fame and the other for obscurity?

In a new Oxford study, a set of researchers set out to explore how much of out perception of “great art” is tied to seeing a famous name grace the museum placard beside the work.

Their research experiment was relatively simple: 14 subjects were placed in an fMRI machine and told the following:

In this experiment you will see a sequence of 50 Rembrandt paintings. Before each image appears, an audio prompt will announce whether the upcoming painting is ‘authentic’ or a ‘copy.’ A blank screen will appear for a few seconds after each image to allow you to relax your gaze.

But of course there’s no experiment unless they shake it up some. The scientists told half of the participants that the authentic Rembrandts were actually forgeries and vice versa.

The results blew them away. They discovered that there was no detectable difference in the response of visual areas to Rembrandt and “look-alikes.”  All of the paintings garnered identical sensory responses.

However, what is interesting is that the scientists were able to pinpoint brain activity that occurred whenever a painting was said to be a real Rembrandt.  When this happened,  “subjects showed a spike in activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a chunk of brain just behind the eyes that is often associated with perceptions of reward, pleasure and monetary gain.” This orbitofrontal response happened even when a forgery was labeled a true Rembrandt – suggesting that the quality of the art itself mattered significantly less than the name attached.

All this to say that great art can be found in more places than you think. The finest painter in the world may not have made it to the galleries yet. The best show on earth may not be on Broadway with the highest ticket price. The world’s best musician may be scrambling for rent this month and busking in the streets to help make a few bucks.

So look around. Keep your eyes peeled and courageously decide who the most inspirational artists are for you. Then support them passionately. Who knows, you may end up with one of their works before they start selling for $3 million a pop.

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How to Live like French Royalty

“Come to Blois…
C’est ca?
Au revoir!”
- French Cardinal, The Glorious Ones

These castle digs were where the very best of French royalty kept house back in the day. The commedia troupe in The Glorious Ones receives an invitation to perform for the King of France in Blois – most likely King Henri Twah.

Ever wonder how you could pull off living like a King?

Welcome Home

Step 1: Make everything about your home, including the stairway in, the most opulent creation anyone has ever seen.

Step 2: Sentence people to death for things like “looking at you the wrong way,” accidently sneezing, or singing off-key. That’ll teach ‘em.

Step 3: Never lift a finger. Have an army of servants in charge of keeping the place looking snazzy.

Step 4: Eat large cuts of meat while regarding the stunningly impressive view from your château.

Step 5: Speak a little French now and again. Try angry phrases such as “Qu’on leur coupe la tête!” (off with their head) and “Jamais de la vie…” (never in my life) to keep everyone in line.

Voila! Royalty Status. That wasn’t so hard was it?

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Little Mime for Your Monday

In the original production of “The Glorious Ones,” John Kassir (Dottore) got to show off his unique talent: mastery of mime. His performance has led me back to one of the great originals – the unparalleled Marcel Marceau.

Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?

- Marcel Marceau

This a man who devoted more than 60 years of his life to performing. And it paid off.  He was acknowledged as the world’s greatest practitioner of mime.

In the video below, he describes how to create reality in a scene. In this case, going up and down a set of stairs.  Watch his eyes as they create a destination above him.


Translation from French:

“Going up and downstairs. It’s an exercice that Jean-Louis Barrault, a disciple of Etienne Decroux, created dramatically. I have changed it a little, it’s another way to do it. What is important is to not only to locate the ramp’s substance, its artisanale side. You also must create the place’s heaviness, distance. I’m going downstairs”

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