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  • The Lehrstück As Performance
  • Andrzej Wirth (bio)
    Translated by Marta Ulvaeus (bio)


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Figure 1.

Students from CUNY’s (City University of New York) dance department in The Measures Taken directed by Andrzej Wirth, 1973. (Photo courtesy of Andrzej Wirth)

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Figure 2.

The Measures Taken directed by Andrzej Wirth in New York, 1973: “The work developed in the direction of a danced oratorio—with strict, formal choreography and the text performed as a sound poem—and became a practical exploration of inwardly directed communication (what I call ‘intrinsic communication’).” (Photo courtesy of Andrzej Wirth)

Reading Brecht’s Lehrstücke as thesis pieces has become an established tenet of German studies even though there are disagreements over the status of the theses in Brecht’s texts. Should they be understood in terms of content or form: as political appeals or as formal exercises in the art of the dialectic (see Steinweg 1972)? But there is also a third possibility: Perhaps the short pieces are performance drafts with intentionally controversial governing principles that have the power to generate a performance (as acceptance or rebellion). Drama therapy as pedagogy: Lehrstück texts are therapeutic sound poems. This hypothesis deserves to be interrogated.

The critical discourse in German studies has overlooked that the Lehrstücke are libretti and can be interpreted only in relation to the vocal, musical, and choreographic performance: The music and the orientation toward particular target groups make the Lehrstücke applied texts, explainable simply in terms of performance practice. The originally envisioned target groups of the Lehrstücke (for example, the workers’ choruses of the Weimar Republic) belong to the past. What is learned from a Lehrstück (as “thesis” or experience) depends upon the composition of the actual target group.

In the Lehrstück project, two utopian concepts meet: the theatre as metatheatre, and society as changeable. Both are equally radical: theatre should function without an audience, society without classes. The short pieces written from 1926 to 1933 are formally the most innovative in Brecht’s oeuvre. In the last seven years of his life, Brecht, a theoretical socialist, was confronted with the political practice of a state which called itself socialist. He was able to live in a small state that understood itself as a Lehrstück and had to learn that such a state needed no Lehrstücke from its poets. But this realization doesn’t discredit the significance and importance of the initial grand design for a new theatre practice. The abstract style of the Lehrstücke proved to be forward-looking. As a utopia for the theatre, the project stimulated work that, since the 1960s, has taken different forms in both theatrical and paratheatrical practice. The spread of encounter workshops (self-awareness groups) since the ‘60s, despite having a different objective, has perpetuated the idea of self-sufficient role-play.

Formal affinities are evident in the abstract dramaturgy of Gertrude Stein and the aesthetic of Robert Wilson (repetitions, symmetry of the acts, singing). [End Page 113] It is not surprising that Robert Wilson directed Der Ozeanflug [The Flight over the Ocean] with the Berliner Ensemble in 1998. The abstract dramaturgy of the Lehrstücke anticipates the later, fully developed theory of Verfremdung [alienation] and uses much sharper alienation effects than those of the large parable pieces. Verfremdungseffekte in the Lehrstücke refer not only to the Gestus of the singing and the music composed for the text. They also concern movements, which are not presented as action but as the report of action that has already taken place. Further, Verfremdung is achieved through role exchange. The composition is based on the montage of diverse elements: chorus, quoted dialogue, quoted movements and situations, aria-like solo numbers, commentaries, and so on. The diversity and flexibility of these loosely assembled elements is a distinguishing feature of this novel module-dramaturgy.

The “modular” structure of the short pieces—they are constructed of symmetrical units—allows for shifts of elements, depending upon the play’s arrangement. If one takes Brecht at his word, as expressed in his theory, then the Lehrstücke (completely apart...

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pp. 113-121
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