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Collective Creativity and Intercultural Theater: Brecht’s Women Colleagues

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 June 2023

Markus Wessendorf
Affiliation:
University of Hawaii, Manoa
Günther Heeg
Affiliation:
Universität Leipzig
Micha Braun
Affiliation:
Universität Leipzig
Vera Stegmann
Affiliation:
Lehigh University, Pennsylvania
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Summary

In their article “Toward. Topography of Cross-Cultural Theatre Praxis,” Jacqueline Lo and Helen Gilbert describe intercultural theater: “Put simply, intercultural theatre is. hybrid derived from an intentional encounter between cultures and performing traditions. It is primarily. Western-based tradition with. lineage in modernist experimentation through the work of Tairov, Meyerhold, Brecht.” Interestingly enough, all three of these directors tended to draw upon conventions of Asian theater, with its prescribed movement and masks which serve to create. distance between audience and actors. Brecht's essay “On Experimental Theater” (1939) suggests an intercultural approach to theater, appropriating ideas from reformers, like Meyerhold, who also borrowed from Asian theater traditions. These directors focused on. social message with techniques they hoped would encourage intellectual engagement with the performance instead of an audience of passive observers. Here. focus on Brecht's theater practice that used techniques common to Asian theater.

Scholars considering the theories of Verfremdung and the use of gesture mention Brecht's visit to Moscow and seeing the actor Mei Lanfang's performance in 1935. Cultural research for the discussions about epic theater and technique was often undertaken by women colleagues; for example, by that year, Elisabeth Hauptmann had long been translating Japanese plays from English, discussing them with Brecht, and analyzing their similarity to Brecht's ideas, as she wrote: “Immer wieder wird man an Brecht erinnert, wenn man z.B. Zeamis Ausführung über die Nachahmung liest” (“Again and again one is reminded of Brecht when reading, for example, Zeami’s version of theatrical mime”).

Elisabeth Hauptmann's interest in Asian history and theater paralleled Brecht’s. Since 1924, she had been preparing manuscripts for Brecht, researching cultures, economic systems, and reading about Chinese and Japanese theater practice. They both were fascinated by its prescribed movements as well as its masks, which kept the audience at. distance emotionally, its tendency to include choral narrative as well as dialogue in the performance, and the specificity of its accompanying music. These practices encouraged audience attention and reflection rather than identification with the characters.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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