Brecht’s unpublished writings in a book show how his theory became theater

After William Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht is the most represented playwright on the planet. His reach and importance as one of the great playwrights in history is enormous and his work continues to arouse interest.

“Mother Courage and Her Children”, “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” or “The Threepenny Opera” are some of his plays that have become classics of world theater and references in the debate on theater and political engagement.

Less known, and less understood, is his work on the stage, as director of his plays, inventing techniques to modify the relationship between the show and the audience or training actresses and actors for what he called the new theater of ” was scientific”.

The launch of the book “On the Actor’s Profession” by publisher 34 reveals this decisive and fundamental part of the German author’s work. The material, previously unpublished in Portuguese, originally organized in 1970 by Werner Hecht, in Germany, brings together texts, notes, work proposals and fragments written by Brecht throughout his life.

In the Brazilian edition, more than 190 footnotes were also inserted, which become a valuable historical guide to Brecht’s thought and the circumstances of the writing of each of the texts. The volume also has an appendix with several photos of shows that help to visualize the comments made by the author.

Part of this editorial work was carried out by the pair of translators, Laura Brauer and Pedro Mantovani, who are also scholars and researchers of Brecht’s work, as well as artists interested in Brecht’s epic theater. Translation, therefore, is marked by a practical sensibility, which seeks to underline the usefulness of the writings.

During the reading of the texts selected for the book, it becomes evident that Brecht’s epic theater is not only a dramaturgical issue, or a staging perspective, it is also a new way of being on stage and of acting.

The main techniques and concepts surrounding Brecht’s work, such as the famous estrangement effect -the effect-and- and social gestuality -gestus-, depend directly on a new attitude of the actor on stage.

As is well known, in epic theater the actor must not try to disappear, to create the illusion that he has become the character. “The actor must aim to remain human,” says Brecht. “He will imitate another person, but not in such a way or to such an extent that we take him for her.”

However, the texts gathered in the volume show that refusing illusion or emotional identification with the character should not be synonymous with a cold and mechanical theater. On the contrary, the author always emphasizes that epic theater is a fundamentally artistic operation. “The stage is not a herbarium or a zoological museum with stuffed animals. The actor must be able to create human beings.”

If in traditional theater “the spectator leaves his reason, with his coat, in the hat shop”, here the idea is to summon thought and make emotion always linked to reasoning. After all, in the words of the German author, “reason never coldly throws itself into the fight”.

From his youth, Brecht devoted special attention to acting. The singer Frank Wedekind, a prominent presence at fairs and cabarets in Augsburg and Munich, and the German clown Karl Valentin were perhaps Brecht’s first great role models in his journey to transform the social function of theatre. Later, Charlie Chaplin also causes great admiration.

The ideas that appear in the texts of the book, therefore, are not only marginal considerations about acting coming from a theorist and playwright, but a central and decisive part of his work. The “actor’s profession” is what embodies his thinking, it is the heart of his theater.

The publication of the volume by 34 inaugurates a series of other books by Brecht that the publisher is preparing. According to editor Milton Ohata, revised and modified versions of the translations made by Roberto Schwarz for the plays “A Vida de Galileu” and “Santa Joana dos Matadouros” should come out next year.

The house is still trying to locate Schwarz’s translation of “The Exception and the Rule”, in 1966, for a production directed by Paulo José with the Tusp student group that circulated in unions in the metropolitan region of São Paulo. In addition, the publisher also plans to publish the “Fatzer Complex”, a fragmented and unfinished piece on which Brecht worked between 1926 and 1930, material still unpublished in Portuguese.

Although much is said that the author talks about a time that has passed, that he flaunts a dusty socialism, or that his theory has already been incorporated by the culture industry and, therefore, emptied of its critical sense, the truth is that Brecht still teaches a lot and guides sensibilities marked by social nonconformity. (Paulo Bio Toledo/Folhapress)
Price: BRL 71 (288 pages)
Author: Bertolt Brecht
Publisher: 34
Translation: Laura Brauer and Pedro Mantovani