October 4 - Creating a New World through Theatre


Primary Sources

Vsevolod Meyerhold, "First Attempts at a Stylized Theatre" in Twentieth Century Performance Reader p. 264-75 (reserve book)

Vsevolod Meyerhold, "The Naturalistic Theatre and the Theatre of Mood," in Theatre and Performance Design: A Reader in Scenography. p. 358-66 (reserve book)

Bertolt Brecht, "Short Description of a New Technique of Acting Which Produces an Alienation Effect," in Twentieth Century Performance Reader p. 99-111 (reserve book)

Bertolt Brecht, "From Prologue to The exception and the Rule," "From Notes on the Opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny," "From Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction," and "From Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting: The A-Effect," in Twentieth Century Theatre: A Sourcebook p. 110-17

Erwin Piscator, "Foundation and Development of the Piscator-Bühne," and "Epic Satire" in Erwin Piscator: The Political Theatre, p. 178-93, 254-67 (reserve book)

Secondary Sources

Konstantin Rudnitsky, Chap. 3, "Theatrical Expansion" in Russian and Soviet Theatre p. 89-184 (reserve book)

Roselee Goldberg "Chap. 2: Russian Futurism and Constructivism" in Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present pp. 31-49

John Willett, "Introduction" and "The Designs for Brecht" in Caspar Neher: Brech'ts Designer, p. 13-78 (PDF)

Christopher Baugh, "Brecht and Stage Design: The Bühnebildner and the Bühnenbauer," in Theatre and Performance Design: A Reader in Scenography. p. 188-203 (reserve book)

Christopher Baugh, "Chap 4: The Scene as Machine 2, Constructing and Building the Machine," in Theatre, Performance, and Technology p. 62-81 (reserve book)

Greg Giesekam, "Chap 1: Magic to Realism: European Pioneers" in Staging the Screen, p. 39-50 (section on Piscator) (reserve book)

John Willett, "Chap. 4: The Eight Productions," and "Chap. 5: The Political Theatre" in Erwin Piscator, p. 84-126 (reserve book)

Motivator Post and Images

Motivator 1: Casey

Meyerhold espoused an actor-centric approach to the theater. For him, the actor was the primary agent through which the intentions of the director and the voice of the author were represented because he was the only point of contact with the audience. Meyerhold railed against Naturalism because he felt it robbed theater of its mystery. He radically proposed staging certain plays without sets in order to cultivate the audience’s fantasies so that they were enabled to create their own mental scenery. Meyerhold’s plan for The Life of Man in 1907 included draping the entire stage and removing borders and footlights to create a “grey, smoky, monochrome expanse” without harsh spotlights, using shadow and a single source of ambient illumination within a scene to give the impression of walls, and giving fresh prominence to individual pieces of furniture by removing them from conventional settings.

Brecht was also concerned about an actor’s performance and the affect of his delivery. His approach was the Verfremdunseffekt, translated as “to make strange” or “alienation.” Brecht’s method took “a common, recurrent, universally practiced operation and tried to draw attention to it by illuminating its peculiarity.” Brecht’s agenda aimed at making the audience aware of the contradiction and detachment that existed in society by allowing the actors to destabilize their characters in the following ways: transposition into the third person, transposition into the past, and speaking the stage directions out loud. In even starker contrast to Naturalist theater than Meyerhold, Brecht wanted to do away with mystery in the theater altogether and to break the fourth wall that separated the audience from the performers. He felt the illusion of reality in Naturalist theater was a useless sham. It’s as if Brecht declared, “the jig is up.”

Piscator’s writings on the stage convey his frustration with the social stratification, economic disparity, and idle bourgeois class of post-WWI Germany. He criticized mainstream theater and its concerns with the petty problems of the bourgeois which he felt presented a distorted version of what was actually occurring in the reality of German society; and that egocentric concerns of the self were out of step with a generation that had suffered so many casualties: “Is there anyone.. who can seriously maintain that we should see man, his emotions and his ties with life, as something eternal, absolute, untouched by time?”1 Piscator wasn’t comfortable presenting an idealized, uncritical version of reality on his theater’s stage. He felt that 1917 was the first time the working class had the opportunity to occupy the western theater, and the traditional dramatic repertory of Classical, aesthetic, and moral epochs were outmoded and dead to his generation and to the proletariat mass. He was interested in staging dramas so that the spectator was treated as a living force, not as a fictitious concept whose very existence went unacknowledged.

The Piscator-Bühne was the manifestation of Piscator’s spatial needs in the form of a theater that had a flexible number and variety of stages, could accommodate technical equipment and innovative theater components like screens and projections, and could express a new social and dramatic situation. The architectural project was the work of Walter Gropius who brought together all three established stage types in one oval auditorium: the circus (round arena), the amphitheater (half of the round arena), and the picture-frame stage (stage as two-dimensional projection cut off from the audience by the orchestra and curtain). Gropius’ “total theater” was unrealized due to a lack of funds. Ironic for a Marxist like Piscator, whose company struggled to stage their productions in a variety of pre-existing theaters.

below: Walter Gropius, Total Theater, 1927, axonometric view of project.


below: Hans Poelzig's Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin, 1919 was contemporary with the Piscator-Bühne