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The Learning Play

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

Despite the name, the learning play—also known as didactic or teaching play—provides no lesson, not even. communist one. It stands neither for indoctrination nor for pedantry, and it offers recipes for political action only with serious caveats. This is especially true for the learning plays of Bertolt Brecht, who is the central artist figure identified with the form, even as he moved closer to Marxist and communist positions toward the end of the 1920s when he began writing such plays. If we put aside the distortions the concept accrued in the course of the cold war, it is possible to appreciate. principle Brecht formulated in 1931 at the peak of his so-called learning play period: “He who learns is more important than the lesson.” That same year he described the goal of the learning plays that he and a circle of his collaborators had created as “an attempt to practice. particular mode of intervention.” By 1937/38 he offered. more elaborate description: “Underlying the learning play is the expectation that the participant/ player can be influenced socially by performing specific ways of taking action, assuming specific attitudes, reproducing specific dialogues, etc.” Such guidelines are far removed from the ideological and dogmatic limitations later attributed to the learning play.

In the late 1920s, Brecht's close collaboration with the composers Paul Hindemith, Kurt Weill, and Hanns Eisler led them to develop the learning play as a collective type of performance in the context of the New Music movement and its festivals in Donaueschingen, Baden-Baden, and Berlin. Those plays identified with Brecht's name generally consisted of short texts written in the form of librettos and include variant titles such as Lindbergh, Der Lindberghflug (Lindbergh's Flight), Der Flug der Lindberghs (The Flight of the Lindberghs), and Der Ozeanflug (The Flight across the Ocean), concerning Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic crossing; alternative versions under the titles Lehrstück (Learning Play) and Das Badener Lehrstück vom Einverständnis (The Baden-Baden Lesson on Consent); as well as various versions of an ancient Japanese Nō play under the title Der Jasager (He Said Yes) and the complementary Der Neinsager (He Said No);

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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