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Bertolt Brecht
Quick Biography
• Born in Augsburg Bavaria to middle class
• Bright quiet student in grade school
• As a child, he visited folk festivals and saw
extremely detailed dioramas of historical
events. These simple, expressive images
captured his imagination and had a strong
influence on his artistic style later in life.
Quick Biography (cont.)
• Went to Medical school where he was
drafted into the German army near the end
of the first World War, where he was
stationed in a VD clinic.
• This experience would greatly influence
his writing throughout his life and lead him
to adopting a pacifist philosophy.
Emerging Artist
• Around this time he began to write plays,
finishing his first full length piece, entitled
Baal, in 1919.
• Created in response to The Loner (Der
Einsame) by Hans Johst.
• The first of many works to be created in
response to another work.
“Anyone can be creative. It’s rewriting other
people that’s challenging.”
• In September 1924, Brecht was hired as a
dramaturge at Max Reinhardt’s Deutsches
Theater in Berlin, one of the top theaters in the
world at the time.
• Around this time he met Elisabeth Hauptmann
who he remained romantically and
professionally involved with for the rest of his
• Also during this time, he married Helene Weigel,
a successful actress with whom he remained
with for the rest of his life, albeit not faithfully.
Berlin (cont.)
• Around this time he began establishing the
“Brecht Collective.”
• First play produced by the “collective” was
Mann ist Mann.
• Marks the beginning of his “epic theatre.
• Began studying Marxist theory, and from
this point on remained an avid communist
in life and art.
• Because of Hitler’s rising
power, Brecht left Germany
in 1933 for Denmark, and
then on to Sweden, and
finally ending in America in
• He worked on several
screenplays for Hollywood
and hated every second of it.
• Blacklisted and subpoenaed in 1947.
• Laughed through the whole proceedings
and contradicted everything he espoused,
which was defendable according to his
personal philosophy.
• Flabbergasted the board.
• Flew to Europe the day after the hearings
were finished.
• Brecht returned to communist controlled
East Germany in 1949
• Mother Courage opens at Deutsches
Theater in 1949
• Established the Berliner Ensemble in his
very own theater in 1954; performs The
Caucasian Chalk Circle.
Butting Heads
• Brecht and East German officials
continually bumped heads over the
years. Artistic censorship frustrated
Brecht, even as he was being held up
to the Western world as a shining
example of communist artistic
• Bertolt Brecht
died of heart
failure on August
14, 1956 at the
age of 58.
Triumphant visit of the Berliner Ensemble to
London later that year with productions of The
Caucasian Chalk Circle and Mother Courage.
Epic Theatre
• Created in response to the Aristotelian
theatrical tradition, the melodrama of the
nineteenth century, and the Naturalistic
style promoted by Stanislavsky.
• Composed of ideas and conventions that
existed for hundreds or even thousands of
years before hand, from many different
cultures around the world.
Circa 335 B.C.
384 – 332 B.C.
Aristotelian Drama
• Single event presented over a short
period of time.
• Clear sequence of beginning, middle
and end.
• Scenes interdependent on one
another to convey plot.
• Subject primarily Man’s relation to
• Easily digestible
• Protagonist is
archetypical “good
guy” and Antagonist
is archetypical
“dastardly villain.”
• Endings all
wrapped up and
everyone goes
home happy.
• Stanislavsky attempted to overcome the
shallow, static style of melodrama with an
in-depth reflection of real life.
• Subject is Man and his relation to Himself.
• Great emphasis on characters “internal
• Aimed at pulling the audience into the
world of the play by suspending their
disbelief to the utmost extent.
• “Subtle Gradient.”
Aims of Epic Theatre
• Brecht felt that theatre should be used as
a vehicle for social change, a forum for
social issues to be examined and
• Subject is Man and his relation to Society.
• He felt that the audience should retain
their critical thinking skills, and should
therefore be pulled from the world of the
play at all costs.
• Play construction is “epic” in that it spans
large periods of time.
• Scenes are not dependant one another
and can be added, removed or reordered
with little overall effect to the plot.
• Sparse, non-realistic stage and lighting
• Placards and projections.
“Alienation effect”
Acting in the third person (traffic accident).
Presentational as opposed to Representational.
Actors and audience are encouraged to not, at
any point, feel that they are the character they
are portraying.
• Characters are not representative of individuals,
but of social groups or types.
• Attempts to create a space between audience
and actors.
Peter Brook on Bertolt Brecht
• ``Brecht
is the key figure of our
time, and all theatre work
today at some point starts or
returns to his statements and