Applying Brechtian Theater to Orwell’s 1984


The 3 instances in which I was introduced to Bertolt Brecht are as follows; the initial exposure, which was shamefully enough in the movie “Jersey Girl” where the daughter in the movie, want’s her father to help her in the school play of the “3 Penny Opera”. In all actuality though… I loved this movie.

and they were singing “Mack the Knife ”. Then in 2010, in my Marxist Theory class, Professor Stephen Bronner, spoke at length of the excellence and profundity of this great playwright’s works, for they stood for so much more than mere emotionally manipulative expressions that concretely expressed the vacuity of the bourgeoisie aesthetic taste. In essence fodder for the gullible and ignorant masses.

That summer is when I became involved directly with New Labor, there was an expression above the their wall by Bertolt Brecht that reads as follows.

**"There are men who struggle for a day and they are good. There are men who struggle for a year and they are better. There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still. But there are those who struggle all their lives. These are the indispensable ones." -Brecht Mother Courage and Her Children**

Inscribed on the New Labor, New Brunswick NJ, Wall.

It was in Spanish, but I understood it nonetheless. This was indeed a conscious raising moment for me.

Fast forward to early 2014, when my Nona passed away, it was a rather austere time for me emotionally and spiritually. I happened to be having some espresso at Jersey Shore Coffee Roasters, and a young woman that works there whom also happens to be heavily involved in the theatre and arts scene here in the TriState area, but she is also an amazing singer. I present to you Ms. Audra Taliercio.

Well during this time, on another occasion during this period while getting my coffee I spied upon a really nice flyer for the play and it was for

George Orwell’s iconic 1984. All at once every neuron in my frontal lobe fired simultaneously because I knew in a second that I was down for this. There was nothing left for me to lose. So I asked Audra right then and there what the details were for the auditions.

The day arrived for auditions and I was totally fired up to do this, but as I was driving to auditions I started to bug out and get nervous, almost to the point of anxiety. But I pulled into the parking lot and gave it a shot. Now, here was a 50 year old Old Man Army man that had zero exposure to the inner workings and social nuances that are salient throughout the theater culture if you will, besides having been in a christmas play in the first grade.

I immediately started really digging it and threw myself 150 percent into the project. Then there was this dude that was like just a tad bit too crazy and an overboard positive mental attitude for it to be for real. This was another clear indication to me that I was becoming very jaded. He is a crazy suckah! I won’t reveal his true identity though. He is quite a character, albeit in a good way.

The auditions and the practices in a weird kind of way, was reminiscent of my Military Training at times, but Ms. Taliercio was now the director and the leader in this process along with Ms. Judi Alexander, the Stage Director. Ms. Judith was awesome, she was the kind of like a Staff Sergeant holding everything down and keeping everything straight for the director. So don’t mess around! Additionally, Ms. Judi is a stellar performer, and was in the play itself as well. True professionals in every sense of the word.

Ms. Taliercio was having us do many fascinating theatrical techniques and explaining the reasoning and logic behind them. But she also had us carry out many acting exercises that were (at least for myself) very cathartic from an emotional, spiritual as well intellectually to boot.

Oh, and by the way… So here is what happened post auditions. I was offered the part of my favorite character, Mr. Emmanuel Goldstein himself, the impassioned liberator of the peoples minds! People, didn’t understand that yes… Mr. Goldstein has just under maybe 3-5 minutes of speaking and using Brechtian theater techniques and cinema-tics, I was just a voice over and if you have read the book itself, or I appear on the TV screen. But it’s the whole crux of the matter in the Post 911, climate of fear. While writing this post I sat down on a number of occasions speaking with Audra, and at one point in our conversation I had asked her point-blank, when she took on the challenge of this project did she select it due to it’s direct social significance and she told me matter-of-fact that yes, she felt that indeed it was that George Orwell’s 1984 was the perfect theatrical platform with which to express via Brecht’s style of Epic theater to accurately reflect what she feels is the near-to-complete dystopian society that we appear to be living in present day.

I mean… Look… I went to this play because I truly believed in the man that Brecht was and the 1984 society that Orwell wrote about, also that we are past a mere Orwellian society at this point and the level of apathy coupled with fear that has completely pushed humanity only that much closer to the brink of extinction.

I do understand that your mileage may vary on this.

Some, of our practices and rehearsals were pretty hardcore, and within the span of a brief 8 weeks or so, this project meant everything to me. To the point that I know I want to and will do this again. Maybe perhaps in a rendition of the 3 Penny Opera, or Hamlet?

So… now lets get back to Brecht himself and his contributions to cinematic minimalism in 20th century. Who was this man? What made him come up with such stark and austere sets for his plays in order to raise the audiences awareness and yet at the same time not be patronizing or condescending to them?

“Unless the actor is satisfied to be a parrot or a monkey he must master our period’s knowledge of human social life by himself joining in the war of the classes.” -Bertolt Brecht 1948

It is indeed ironic that Orwell decided to pen his depiction of a dystopian society, the same year that Brecht made the above quote, Audra declares overtly that she hopes that this play would urge our audiences to take this dialogue and think critically about the contemporary society and culture they are living in today. Both herself and Brookdale Community Colleges Performing Arts Center proved this again via their actions by providing matinee performances for all the local high-schools “Pro-Bono”. It appears to me Orwell and Brecht complement one another ideologically or at the very least there is some bleed-over between the two.

Well let’s come straight out with it… Overtly, he was a passionate and genius playwright, artist, but whom also happened to be quite the Marxist.

I do not think any of us involved in this play, as well as the leader of it Ms. Taliercio, truly understands the historical and social import of her endeavor, and our collective efforts right down to the local theatre level. This is what I can tell you though… from reading the following scholarly article authored by Douglas Kellner published in Illuminations a peer reviewed journal whose main topic is Critical Theory. Professor, George F. Kneller Philosophy of Education Chair, Social Sciences and Comparative Education, UCLA.

Professor Kellner has been hailed as one the “new generation” of Critical Theory in the Twenty First century.

I hope that this post will reach all of my friends that made this production of 1984 and at the top of the list would be the Director Ms. Talercio, I believe Mr. Brecht would have been proud of her direction and production of this film, because she truly embodied the spirit and ethos of what Brecht expressed and defined as “Epic Theater”, the aesthetic that he created with these theatrical techniques.

In his essay entitled “Bretchs Marxist Aesthetic”

Section Epic Theater: Materialist Dialectics, the V-Effect, and the Politics of Separation.

The first two sentences packs everything up into a nutshell.

“From the perspective of Korsch’s version of Marxism, one could argue that Brecht’s epic theater was built on the Marxian principles of historical specification and critique that he learned from Korsch. In his epic theater, Brecht sought to illuminate the historically specific features of an environment in order to show how that environment influenced, shaped, and often battered and destroyed the characters. Unlike dramatists who focused on the universal elements of the human situation and fate, Brecht was interested in the attitudes and behavior people adopted toward each other in specific historical situations.” -Kellner Brecht’s Marxist Aesthetic

Ms. Taliercio employed many training techniques to ensure that every single one of us were fully engaged to express and articulate ourselves in such a manner that fit into “Epic Theater” as well. She ensured that everyone from novice to professional actors had a direct hand in the participation of the production. Brecht believed in the collective production and participation in the adaptations of his plays. As Professor Kellner points out in this quote that distills it down to the following:

"He saw his co-workers as important participants in the creative process, all of whom were encouraged to contribute to the production of the work of art. Such a revolution in the concept of creation, rejecting the notion of the creator as the solitary genius, was intended to alter aesthetic production radically, much as the workers' councils were intended to revolutionize industrial and political organization, thus providing an anticipatory model for socialist cultural organization." -Kellner Brecht's Marxist Aesthetic

Of all the theatrical techniques Brecht employed the overarching principle is that, my plays and art are not just for passive consumption and docile entertainment, they should strip you of your lulled sense of sheer “thrilling” emotional aspect of the entertainment, and lay bare the stark realities and social issues destroying society so the audiences could make some objective and revolutionary decisions.

Although my part in this play maybe perceived of course small… as myopic, or trite (and I am not evening talking about my “performance” which was a mere voiceover it is this man… this character that plays… at least in my opinion has the most crucial role in the story of “1984” as told by George Orwell. In my perception of it, (as crazy as it sounds), in the “Brechtian” spirit of this, Goldstein is without a doubt the Anti-Hero, the impetus and the urgency required of you, the audience to cast-off-your-chains of ignorance and to think critically.

I think some of the most effective descriptors of Epic Theater Sets would be as follows

sterile barren stark austere alienated outliers disenfranchised oppressed enslaved

I also wonder now if the Alienation Effect is what Brecht was thinking of, perhaps…how increasingly more and more, as Capitalism takes over… becoming increasingly malignant and predatory to all workers regardless of their income… when the worker becomes even further alienated from the raw output of their labor power?

Brecht believed in confronting the audiences members directly and in-your-face. Not so much unlike the punk, hardcore, and hip-hop scenes. The lighting was harsh and (here’s that word again) sterile. Additionally, in the spirit of the Do-It-Yourself ethic, the production staff and the actors put together a virtual onslaught of hard-hitting and thought provoking flyers, stickers, and to top it all off a critical study guide to be distributed to the audiences.

Ultimately, I guess I have to humbly give a million bows of respect to both Brecht and Orwell as well as Audra, MS. Judi, the actors and everyone else I forgot to mention.

Although I am barely scratching the surface here, I recommend this simple dry-board presentation on youtube that is rather straight and to the point.

Now my dear readership I will leave you with this final caution. I am not a Marxist… I am not a Capitalist… I am not an Anarchist… I am NOT… Do NOT Try to Label or Classify… You will fall into your own traps… I am a HUMAN BEING… Just Like You… Let it go. I came into the World with NOTHING and I will leave this WORLD WITH NOTHING

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