Practical seminar on a Lehrstück by Bertold Brecht From theatre as a moral institution to a new way of performing theatre

29.01.2019 - 10:00 to 01.02.2019 - 17:00
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Anja-Christin Winkler

Practical seminar on a Lehrstück by Bertold Brecht
From theatre as a moral institution to a new way of performing theatre

Workshop will run from 10:00-17:00h at the KiT painting studio 6.8.
Tuesday 29/1
Thursday 31/1
Friday 1/2

Theatre, as we know it from our stages, is still based on the idea of theatre as a moral institution, as called for by the German dramatist Friedrich Schiller in 1784. Theatre is a means to an end, it is the school of the state: "In alliance with law and religion" theatre is meant to teach moral behavior to mankind. All the same: it makes no distinction among peoples! Everyone is equal and the theatre holds up a mirror to let everyone, even the rulers (the "great ones of the world"), recognize the truth about their own failings. The improvement of the individual should then also lead to the improvement of society as a whole. Humanity acquires culture by developing their “aesthetic sense or the feel for beauty" via the arts of the stage (language, dramaturgy, costumes and scenery, virtuosic performance of the actors, music). Friedrich Schiller was convinced that humanitarian ideals found their forum in the theatre.

However, classical-bourgeois theatre in the nineteenth century turned predominantly into decoration and the moral training of humanity became a farce. The real purpose of the theatre was now the representation of the ruling powers. The twentieth century saw the most diverse attempts to revolutionize, to reorganize, to deconstruct the theater; eventually they were only shouting, shitting, and bleeding on stage, all out of an angry desperation over theatre not really improving society but rather ultimately supporting the inhumane structures that it wants to criticize. But even in this gesture of rage, theater was still a moral institution. The mistake lies in the layout: the one who stands on stage at the front is the teacher and those who sit there and listen are the ones who should learn what the others, those with knowledge, have to say.
Even the most provocative taboo breaches of the people producing theatre didn't change anything, not even attempts to place the stage in the middle sometimes, sometimes in the back, not even if amateurs, animals or handicapped people were used on stage, not even when the actors stripped naked in every production, imploringly begging: “We are like you - people - think for yourselves!" - nothing helped! They remained the moral authority, naked and covered in faeces as they were. (In this case, a very critical moral authority, misunderstood by many.)
Even if only one person is sitting opposite another and the one person says: “I am the actor," the other person becomes the audience because that's the rule. Actor or recipient, above or below, anvil or hammer, teacher or pupil, master or servant, man or woman - hierarchy has its variations in all areas of 19th-century bourgeois society.

Brecht is close to Schiller on these points: theatre may educate people and it should make it possible for people, through insight, to actively improve their behaviour and, thus, the society in which they live. As this arrangement of teaching from the front had reached its limits, however, Brecht concluded that the theatre must be completely reimagined. So Brecht calls for a theatre in which NOT someone from above shows those below what is good and what is bad; he proposes a theatre in which the people who meet for this new theatre become actors themselves and have experiences that they can apply in real life. So the new theatre is a kind of play that encourages people to empower themselves. Brecht called the new form Lehrstück (didactic play); later he suggested the term “learning play.”
Because the audience now become the actors themselves, i. e., because amateurs are involved, Brecht wrote the plays in clear language. The stroke of genious was to sharpen the moral themes in the pieces - but the plays themselves are like puzzles whose pieces never all fit together. If it fits here, it rips open somewhere else: Lehrstücke are willful and deliberate constructions of contradictions. They provoke straightforward discussions. Where in the past a morale was communicated, it is now a matter of the direct conflict of the actors, of moral questions, whereby the group must arrive at a solution for itself.

The game instructions stipulate that the piece must be performed enough times so that each actor assumes every role at least once and thus experiences the perspectives of all the characters in the piece. In order for this even to be possible, Lehrstück must be very short. Each repetition is different because every role is played differently and each constellation throws a new light on the scene. And in the course of the repeat performances, the piece also evolves because the individuals involved in the process change themselves and their attitude towards the whole because they understand the positions of the others more and more.

I don't think Brecht ever actually played through a Lehrstück in that way. I would maintain that his requirements are based on theoretical considerations. And I don't know if anybody has ever done it that way. All of the Lehrstück interpretations I know still end with a performance in front of an audience, which clearly contradicts Brecht's intention.
Brecht followed Schiller not only in the view that theatre should enable people to change reality for the better, but also in the view that theatre should facilitate aesthetic experiences. Brecht called for the inclusion of music in the Lehrstück. In so doing it was about „emotional reason," about empathy, about sensitivity, about the discovery of and the further differentiation of one's own means of expression. So it's important to incorporate the different art forms into the Lehrstück.

Learning outcomes
Many people are looking for a way out of the powerlessness they are experiencing in the face of global societal and political developments and the complexity of those developments. Brecht sees in art the task of mobilizing humanity. At the end of the 1920s, he developed a new theatrical form with that purpose in mind: the Lehrstück, which centers on self-empowerment. For this the theatre is to become the place where one not only passively absorbs information but also where one can get practice in the various options for action through performing oneself. In this seminar you will become familiar with Brecht’s visionary ideas by performing his Lehrstück Der Jasager. You will learn methods of introducing artistic processes into heterogeneous groups independent of the prior training of the individuals involved. Through various group exercises in the visual, dramatic and musical arts, you will will learn how diversity can be used constructively.

For participation please bring an item from home that makes a noise which you would describe as a sound.

Anja-Christin Winkler / Felix Gmelin

To the person
Anja-Christin Winkler studied music theater directing at the HMT Hamburg and media directing at the Musikhochschule Hanns Eisler Berlin. She has worked at various theaters including Frankfurt (Oder), Freiberg, Nationaltheater Mannheim and ZMK Karlsruhe. Since 2003 she works freelance. She initiated and produced various contemporary music theater projects in national and international contexts, i.a. with children and adolescents from Germany, Poland and Lithuania. Further information under

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