O/T: Brecht and Didactic Theatre


Brecht in Action

I was recently reading a rather mundane series of posts around the issue of adaptation at Musicals.net, which then delved into the realm of Bertolt Brecht and his vision of theatre. Here’s the bit that I found interesting:

Hans wrote:
There are different levels of how much an adapter contributes with in an adaptation. Just to pick relatively neutral examples, I’d say that the movie adaptations of A Clockwork Orange and The Lord of the Rings respectively can be said to represent two extreme positions of a continuum. The adaptations of The Lord of the Rings are very faithful to the books they are based upon, and recreate as closely as possible the images and moods from the source of adaptation. A Clockwork Orange on the other hand, goes as far as possible in reinterpreting the book it is based upon. The frame of the story is by and large kept, but it serves to a great degree as a vehicle for the agenda of the adapter, who uses a lot of the effects that belong exclusively to the movie genre to crate an end product that stands much further from the source than the The Lord of the Rings adaptation does.

Should an adapter have an agenda he or she wants to illuminate? Or is it OK to merely “illustrate” a story?

Monsieur D’Arque wrote:
The question you ask is an old one. The Clockwork Orange question is related in a way to Brecht, who would reinterpret other stories as either pro-socialist or anti-fascist allegories, regardless of their original position. He believed that all theater should be didactic theater, and should not simply entertain, but strive to create social change by informing the audience.

Hans wrote:
I really believe one can voice one’s opinion and/or treat issues one finds interesting through art without making the art didactic.

My response to this issue around Brecht’s work: of course one can, but that wasn’t Brecht’s intention. Brecht said that the problem with theatre that expressed an issue dramatically left the audience passive and therefore had no real effect socially, politically or economically. I don’t know that Brecht was as dogmatic about all theatre as Monsieur D’Arque makes him out to be, although he did feel this way about theatre that was trying to instigate social reform by approaching contentious and even taboo socio-political and/or economic topics, hence his creation of Epic Theatre in opposition to Dramatic Theatre. Even though he did this, Epic Theatre remains an ideal model for the kind of theatre that Brecht wished to see created in this regard and contemporary criticism holds the view no play has been created that is completely Epic, but that some plays are more Epic than others. In other words, Epic Theatre and Dramatic Theatre are at the extreme ends of a continuum and even Brecht’s own plays don’t achieve every single ideal of Epic Theatre: as drama, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, for example, may be more Epic than Mother Courage and her Children, while both are more Epic than something like A Doll’s House, which could be made more Epic on a theatrical level.

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