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.
“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.
We all get overwhelmed. Life can be a whole pile of overwhelming. Next time you’re on the verge of imploding/exploding/ode-to-joying, remember that there are a number of situations in which it is perfectly acceptable to have a meltdown.
A handy guide:
– When you’ve tried to spell “receive” incorrectly 5 times in a row
– When the saran wrap tears leaving you with an endless strand of plastic 1mm in width
– When Blockbuster is out of the next season of Breaking Bad
– When traffic stops you from going more than 10 city blocks over the course of two hours
– When things end
– When new beginnings arise
– When you can’t decide which way you should part your hair
– When someone asks you what your favorite book/movie/restaurant is and there is no possible way to pick just one
– When you have too much
– When jealous folks get rude and catty
– When that new song you love becomes that overplayed song you love within the course of a week
– When you think you feel a spider on you but there’s none there
– When nothing is happening
– When everything is happening
All good problems to have.
Allow yourself all the feelings. Each and every one of ’em. You’ll be glad for it at the end of the day.
If you were charged with leaving a short message for future generations on how to live life, what would you say?
Would you be able to capture the essence of all that could be said in under two minutes? When asked to do just this, Mr. Bertrand Russell offered just two calm and sage prescriptions for how to survive in an increasingly globalized world. Thank goodness this little moment was time-capsuled.