Berlin, Germany—Bertolt Brecht was a highly prolific German writer, poet, and playwright in the
first half of the 20th century. He is best known for his contribution to the theory of epic theater (Price 57). He championed “critical social theater” or dialectical theater which broke barriers between popular and elite forms of theater, and dramatize questions of power and the structures that perpetuate them (Leach 108). During this time in theater theory, writers explored the role of the modern writer and the form’s relationship to content. Brecht disrupted form by drawing attention to the artificialness of events. Actors were discouraged from fully embodying character and remained aware of their character’s role by commenting on their actions throughout the show; this was meant to “defamiliarize familiar forms” (Price 58-59). Like Virginia Woolf and her contemporaries, modern theater was concerned with form and disrupting traditional means of storytelling. Unlike Roger Fry or Clive Bell, Brecht’s work took on modern social issues and by using scenes from history. Because of his highly politicized work, Brecht drew the attention of German Nazis in 1923 and left Germany in 1933 (Price 62).
The Berliner Ensemble is a manifestation of the work and theory Brecht had developed throughout his lifetime. It was founded by Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel in April 1949 after their return to Germany (Honegger). The Theater Am Schiffbauerdamm became the Ensemble’s home in 1954, although it hosted Three Penny Opera in its opening in 1928 (Leach 115). It continues to be a place where the Brechtian theatrical tradition lives on (Price 62). Many of the troupe’s original members were displaced peoples from WWII including Jewish refugees, anti-Fascists from Nazis prisons, those who survived drafting, and theatre professionals who continued to work in Nazi Germany (Honegger 99). As quoted from Honegger: “Their conflicted biographies reflect the traumatizing events of the first half of the 20th century.”
Posted by Rachel Bartholomew
Honegger, Gitta. “Gossip, Ghosts, and Memory: Mother Courage and the Forging of the Berliner Ensemble.” TDR (1988-) 2008: 98. JSTOR Journals. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
Leach, Robert. Makers of Modern Theater: An Introduction. Routledge, 2004.
Price, Jason. Modern Popular Theater. Palgrave, 2016.
Berlin Theater Am Schiffbauerdamn Berliner Ensemble. 1908, postcard. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.Kolbe, Jorg. Bertolt Brecht. 1954, photograph. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Commons and German Federal Archive. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
Mazbln. Berliner Ensemble (Theater Am Schiffbauerdamm). 2005, photograph. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
Note: The photo titled “Berlin Theater Am Schiffbauerdamn Berliner Ensemble” was scanned by Andreas Praefcke and uploaded to Wikipedia. This photo is in the public domain (scanner/public domain)