Theatre and Film, Johnny Carson School of


Date of this Version



Published in BRECHT UNBOUND: PRESENTED AT THE INTERNATIONAL BERTOLT BRECHT SYMPOSIUM HELD AT THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE FEBRUARY 1992, edited by James K. Lyon and Hans-Peter Breuer (University of Delaware Press, 1995), pp. 147-157. Copyright 1995 Associated University Presses, Inc.


Brecht wanted composers of music for his mature work who were capable of creating an idiom complementary to his own modernist ideas of theatrical performance. That idiom he called "gestic" music, the kind capable of "conveying particular attitudes adopted by the speaker towards other men" [bestimmte Haltungen des Sprechenden anzeigt, die dieser anderen Menschen gegenüber einnimmt]. When playing a fascist, for example, the actor was not merely to present the character's pompousness; he or she was to illustrate a political stance toward that pompousness. Nor was the actor to reveal layers of the character's motivation, like girls in Broadway burlesque shows who peeled away layers of clothing to reveal their bodies. Rather, the actor must instead be free, as Walter Benjamin phrased it, "to act artistically out of character." [Der Schauspieler solI sich die Möglichkeit vorbehalten, mit Kunst aus der Rolle zu fallen.] Brecht's conception of "attitude" [Haltung] in acting paralleled his conception of music; both were rooted in his rejection of nineteenth-century aesthetic values. Those values had animated the illusionistic devices of the Meininger style and later, the Stanislavsky "system," whose strictures against portraying attitudes and the search for "objective truth" in character were hallmarks of the Moscow Art Theater. Although Brecht admired some aspects of Stanislavsky's theater (e.g., accurate observation of human behavior, ensemble playing, and rigorous training for actors), and later even claimed to have studied the Russian master, he rejected the illusionism and the psychological orientation upon which the "system" was based. To Brecht it was a nineteenth-century relic, hopelessly outmoded, "un-Marxist, and reactionary."