Skip to main content

Why Engage with Brecht?

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Engaging with Brecht
  • 193 Accesses


In this volume, I record a process of applying a pedagogy of engagement with Bertolt Brecht, taking advantage of the most current scholarship, for an empirical study of Brecht in performance at higher institutes of learning, specifically in the School of Theatre and Dance at Texas Tech University, with graduate and undergraduate students. Brecht still has much to offer the theatre practitioner, particularly at a time when events of the twenty-first century cry out for a studied means of producing theatre for social change, to examine our own history from the vantage of previous histories and seek a process in which change is possible.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or eBook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 109.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 139.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 139.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions


  1. 1.

    Marc Silberman, “Brecht was a Revolutionary,” Jacobin, February 4, 2019,

  2. 2.

    Tim Prentki, “Introduction to poetics of representation,” in Tim Prentki and Nicola Abraham, eds., The Applied Theatre Reader (New York: Routledge, 2009), 21.

  3. 3.

    Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Performance, eds. Tom Kuhn, Steve Giles, and Marc Silberman, trans. Charlotte Ryland, Romy Fursland, Steve Giles, Tom Kuhn, and John Willett (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), 251. Hereafter BOP.

  4. 4.

    Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre. 3rd ed., eds. Marc Silberman, Steve Giles, and Tom Kuhn (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 267. Hereafter BOT.

  5. 5.

    In his essay, “One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back,” Vladimir Lenin is summarizing Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s dialectics, within which we find: “There is no such thing as abstract truth. Truth is always concrete.” Quoted in John J. White, Bertolt Brecht’s Dramatic Theory (New York: Camden House, 2004), 219–220.

  6. 6.

    Carl Weber, “Brecht and Communism” from Brecht Unbound, eds. James K. Lyon and Hans-Peter Breuer (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995).19.

  7. 7.

    Klaus Völker, Brecht: A Biography (New York: The Seabury Press, 1978), 110.

  8. 8.

    Völker, Brecht: A Biography, 110–111.

  9. 9.

    BOT 248.

  10. 10.

    See “Katzgraben Notes 1953,” in BOP 274.

  11. 11.

    Anthony Squiers, “Philosophizing Brecht: An Introduction for Dark Times,” in Philosophizing Brecht: Critical Readings on Art, Consciousness, Social Theory and Performance, eds. Norman Roessler and Anthony Squiers (Boston: Brill Rodopi, 2019), 5.

  12. 12.

    Stephen Parker, Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life (London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2014), 262.

  13. 13.

    Völker, Brecht: A Biography, 110.

  14. 14.

    As Stanley Mitchell notes in his introduction to Understanding Brecht by Walter Benjamin, “Brecht’s ‘plagiarism,’ his rewriting of Shakespeare and Marlowe, are experiments in whether a historical event and its literary treatment might be made to turn out differently or at least be viewed differently, if the processes of history are revalued.” Walter Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, trans. Anna Bostock (London: Verso, 2003), xii.

  15. 15.

    Bertolt Brecht, Bertolt Brecht Journals 1934–1955, trans. Hugh Rorrison, ed. John Willett (London: Methuen Drama, 1993), 73. Brecht kept to lower case letters throughout his journals, a habit he shared with his friend Arnolt Bronnen, whose name he copied to become Bertolt rather than Berthold.

  16. 16.

    His name appeared on the first Nazi blacklist compiled by Wolfgang Herrman in May of that year. See Johannes F. Evelein, “Brecht and Exile,” in Bertolt Brecht in Context (Cambridge: The University Press, 2021), 89.

  17. 17.

    At the time, according to the editors of Brecht on Theatre 3rd edition, only the Schiften zum Theater [Writings on Theatre), a single tome of less than 300 pages, had been accessible to Willett. See BOT 1. English-speaking Brecht scholars are indebted to the indefatigable Willett, who translated Brecht’s letters, working journals, collected short stories, a selected number of poems, and many of the plays.

  18. 18.

    John Fuegi, Brecht and Company: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama (New York: Grove Press, 1994). See the essays collected as John Willett, James K. Lyon, Siegfried Mews, H.C. Norregard, “A Brechtbuster Goes Bust: Scholarly Mistakes, Misquotes, and Malpractices in John Fuegi’s Brecht and Company,” Brecht Yearbook 20: Brecht then and now, eds. Marc Silberman and Maarten van Dijk (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), 259–367.

  19. 19.

    Marc Silberman, “The Work of the Theatre,” in Stephen Brockmann, ed. Bertolt Brecht in Context (Cambridge: The University Press, 2021), 115.

  20. 20.

    There are exceptions: Meg Mumford points out gestus was an important term that appeared in the daily reports on the practical work. See Meg Mumford, Bertolt Brecht (New York: Routledge, 2009), 50. I have adapted the non-italic version of the word used by the editors of Brecht on Theatre 3rd ed., although other quoted authors do not.

  21. 21.

    This is a distinction offered by David Barnett in David Barnett, Brecht in Practice: Theatre, Theory and Performance (London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2015), 57–64.

  22. 22.

    According to Manfred Wekwerth, one of Brecht’s favorite phrases. Stance here is “Haltung” in German. See Manfred Wekwerth, Daring to Play: A Brecht Companion, ed. Anthony Hozier (London: Routledge, 2011), 53.

  23. 23.

    See the sections in BOT under the subheading, “Dialectical Theatre,” 283–207.

  24. 24.

    By naivety, Brecht was referring to the reactions his theatre might arouse in his spectators as they receive insights from the production, as a bridge between enjoyment and thought. See Wekwerth, Daring to Play, 53.

  25. 25.

    Wekwerth, Daring to Play, 89.

  26. 26.

    In an essay written around 1954, “From Epic to Dialectic Theatre 2,” Brecht explicitly states, “We may now stop using the term ‘epic theatre,’” as, at that point, he had replaced it with the dialectical, BOT 284.

  27. 27.

    Barnett, Brecht in Practice, 86.

  28. 28.

    Barnett, Brecht in Practice, 89.

  29. 29.

    “Short Organon for the Theatre,” BOT 250. The editors have translated instances of the word “Fabel” as “plot.”

  30. 30.

    BOT 250. For a discussion of gestus and gestic, see below. How gestic incidents are revealed through acting is discussed below and in Chaps. 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

  31. 31.

    Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, 1st ed., ed. John Willett. (London: Methuen, 1964), beginning on page 71 and then continually used throughout his book.

  32. 32.

    BOT 261.

  33. 33.

    BOT 243, “Short Organon for the Theatre §46.”

  34. 34.

    Wekwerth, Daring to Play, 36. I have not discovered this term in other writings about Brecht’s theories in English.

  35. 35.

    BOT 187.

  36. 36.

     BOP 122.

  37. 37.

    BOT 188.

  38. 38.

    BOT 196–198.

  39. 39.

    Arrigo Subiotto, Bertolt Brecht’s Adaptations for the Berliner Ensemble (London: The Modern Humanities Research Association, 1975), 5.

  40. 40.

    Arrigo Subiotto, Bertolt Brecht’s Adaptations, 9.

  41. 41.

    Hans Bunge, Brecht, Music and Culture: Hanns Eisler in Conversation with Hans Bunge, eds. Sabine Berendse and Paul Clements (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 54.

  42. 42.

    BOT 6.

  43. 43.

    BOT 6.

  44. 44.

    BOT 126.

  45. 45.

    BOT 126.

  46. 46.

    See later passages in this chapter for further discussion and definitions of gestus.

  47. 47.

    Plural Haltungen.

  48. 48.

    Wekwerth, Daring to Play, 66.

  49. 49.

    See Chaps. 5 and 6.

  50. 50.

    Wekwerth, Daring to Play, 62. Emphasis Wekwerth’s.

  51. 51.

    Wekwerth, Daring to Play, 62–63. Emphasis Wekwerth’s.

  52. 52.

    Bertolt Brecht, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, trans. and ed. Steve Giles (London: Methuen Drama, 2007), 69.

  53. 53.

    Brecht, Rise and Fall, 68.

  54. 54.

    This practice continued with the Berliner Ensemble until eventually both Brecht and Neher felt it had become a Brechtian cliché. In Zurich in 1941, the names of the countries the family traveled through were projected; the physical signs, constructed as part of the scenery were flown in for the 1949 production. Bertolt Brecht, Collected Plays: Five, eds. John Willett and Ralph Manheim (London: Methuen Drama, 1995), 280.

  55. 55.

    BOP 5.

  56. 56.

    BOT 184–185.

  57. 57.

    “This process is modelled [sic] in part on the way in which readers of a book consult footnotes, or flip between its pages in order to compare one situation with another.” BOT 184–185.

  58. 58.

    Wekwerth, Daring to Play, 62.

  59. 59.

    Wekwerth, Daring to Play, 15.

  60. 60.

    Wekwerth, Daring to Play, 16.

  61. 61.

    Kristopher Imbrigotta, “(Re)Building the Engaged Spectator: The Katzgraben Programmhefte of the Berliner Ensemble, 1953/1972,” Brecht Yearbook 39: The Creative Spectator, ed. Theodore F. Rippey (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), 99.

  62. 62.

    Imbrigotta, “(Re)Building,” 99.

  63. 63.

    Webster’s New International Dictionary: Second Edition Unabridged (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Webster Company, 1934), s.v. “engage,” 847.

  64. 64.

    Webster’s, 847.

  65. 65.

    Brecht, Rise and Fall, 68. Steve Giles, also an editor of Brecht on Theatre, translates the table, which appears in BOT, differently than in this volume.

  66. 66.

    Brecht, Rise and Fall, 67.

  67. 67.

    See Chap. 8 for a discussion on Brecht and Stanislavsky, both compared and contrasted.

  68. 68.

    Carl Weber, “Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble,” in Peter Thomson and Glendyr Sacks, The Cambridge Companion to Brecht (Cambridge: The University Press, 1994), 183.

  69. 69.

    For examples of Brecht concepts used in Shakespeare, Chekhov, Patrick Marber, Arthur Miller, and others, see David Barnett, Brecht in Practice and David Zoob, Brecht: A Practical Handbook (London: Nick Hern Books, 2018).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2023 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Gelber, B. (2023). Why Engage with Brecht?. In: Engaging with Brecht. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics