Brecht on Anxiety and Lighting a Bomb in the Theatre

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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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Bite-sized Wisdom: Oates

Here’s to a beautiful weekend ahead. May the universe surprise you in wonderful ways.

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“Nothing is accidental in the universe – this is one of my Laws of Physics – except the entire universe itself, which is Pure Accident, pure divinity.”

– Joyce Carol Oates 

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Bite-sized Wisdom: O’Neill

This guy’s collected a few Pulitzers in his time – I’d say he knows his stuff. Enjoy the weekend and break out from the mold.

“A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself …so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work, he is fairly safe. ”

– Eugene O’Neill

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Bite-sized Wisdom: Wilson

Here’s to a wonderful weekend ahead. Wishing you all courage and growth.

“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. Use the pain as fuel, as a reminder of your strength.”

– August Wilson

Image still from the film Angel-a, Luc Besson. 

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