In January 2013 six actors, a director and an editor of the new English edition of Der Messingkauf came together to put Brecht's theories to the test.
Introductions to the film:
Tom Kuhn: Workshopping with Brecht's Messingkauf
The Messingkauf shows us Brecht at his modernist best, dialogic, dialectic, a self-conscious collage of material, mixing genres and modes, probably always intended to be open and fragmentary in form. More interesting, in many ways, than the Short Organum, in which he tried to streamline his theoretical concerns and theatre experience into 77 numbered paragraphs.
The themes and preoccupations of the Messingkauf are many. Brecht is concerned to set up a rational, practical alternative to the high-priesterly nonsense, as he sees it, of illusion, empathy and Stanislavskian theatre. We get something of a history of the modern theatre, from Brecht’s point of view, and an introduction to the notions of Verfremdung, gestus and so on. Above all, the interest is, as one would expect from Brecht, in how to engage with reality in the theatre, how to make the theatre both a site of sociological experiment and instruction, and at the same time a place of entertainment.
Di Trevis: Acting is not theoretical
Let’s face it. The Messingkauf essays are a difficult read. I have been working on Brecht plays, plays about Brecht, cabarets of the songs of Brecht and recitals of the poetry of this great writer for over forty years and I will freely admit, these theoretical writings baffle and frustrate me. For readers of German I am assured the writing is lively and engaging. I am told in explanation that they were not finished and bundled together rather hurriedly and at times mistranslated or poorly organised, but even so ... I was not looking forward to a group of actors battling through opaque prose instead of getting up on the floor and using their practical skills.
So it was from this starting point that I invited a group of six actors to spend a few days exploring some of Brecht’s acting exercises. We met, as I like it, not as pupils and academic expert but from the first sitting in a circle, in honest dialogue and on the level.
Who is Brecht beyond the clichés and myths? What kind of acting can we learn from him? What did he call for?