Brecht's Influence on Theatre (continued)
Brecht acknowledged in his work the need for the actor to undergo a process of identification with the part, and he paid tribute to Stanislavsky as the first person to produce a systematic account of the actor's technique. Brecht required his actors to go beyond Stanislavsky and to incorporate a social attitude or judgment into their portrayal. Characterization without a critical judgment was in Brecht's view seductive artifice; conversely, social judgment without the characterization of a rounded human being was arid dogmatism. The theatre of mixed styles and means that Meyerhold and others constructed to cope with the grotesque experience of modern living was transformed by Brecht into a political principle. He used mixed means and styles to expose the contradictions, inconsistencies, and dialectics of situations and characters. Brecht's strongest theatrical effects were created through the juxtaposition of inconsistent attitudes in a character. Although the settings in Brecht's productions were clearly theatrical, the costumes and properties were not. Great care was taken to make each property and its use authentic for the period or character. In Brecht's theatre, if a chicken were to be plucked the actor did not mime or roughly approximate the action--the chicken was plucked. Costumes had to make clear the social class of the persons wearing them. This places Brecht directly in the line with the Meiningen Players, though again the gestus is particularly social rather than historical.
Brecht's methods of rehearsal were especially innovative. The methods worked out in his own company, the Berliner Ensemble, established a directing collective well advanced beyond those of Reinhardt and Piscator. In Brecht's theatre, the director, dramaturge, designer, and composer had equal authority in the production. The designer had a special function; in addition to designing the sets and costumes, he also produced, for early rehearsal purposes, a series of sketches of key moments in the action. The rehearsals became a process of testing hypotheses about the play and its production. What held the collective together and made the method workable was the story, or fable. All the elements of production were synthesized for telling this story in public. At some points the music conveyed the meaning, at other times the setting, or the actors, or the words did. Brecht often invited observers to the rehearsals in order to test the clarity of the story. The process of testing could continue into the performance period. When the company was satisfied that the staging was correct, the production was photographed and a Modellbuch was prepared with photographs set against the text to show the disposition of the stage at all times and to mark significant changes of position on the part of the actors. The Modellbuch was then available (in a more advanced form than the designer's sketches) as the basis for any subsequent productions.
The Modellbuch has aroused resentment on the part of directors who prefer to respond freely to the text. Brecht's intention was not to limit but to provide a document as scientific evidence of an experiment that could be used in further research. Since the finished text was, in any case, only one facet of the fable, the model book gave evidence of other aspects of the story and its telling.
Brecht's influence on the contemporary theatre has been both considerable and problematic. His Marxist views have proved a real stumbling block to his assimilation in the West, and his use of formalist techniques in the service of entertainment has presented difficulties in the socialist countries. There is no doubt that the settings and costumes of his productions are the features that have most influenced the contemporary theatre. Contemporary design exhibits in many ways the influences of his staging.
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