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Building New Audiences at the Berliner Ensemble, 1949-1956

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2019
Event16th Symposium of the International Brecht Society: Brecht unter Fremden / Brecht Among Strangers - Leipzig, Germany
Duration: 19 Jun 201923 Jul 2019

Conference

Conference16th Symposium of the International Brecht Society
CountryGermany
CityLeipzig
Period19/06/1923/07/19

Abstract

This paper responds to the challenge to recover the ‘alien Brecht’ by investigating how Brecht was re-introduced to audiences in East Berlin between 1949 and 1956. Using material from the Brecht Archive, the archives of Isot Kilian and Egon Monk, and trade union records, it explores the immense efforts that the Berliner Ensemble made to mobilize working-class audiences during its early years – efforts that were spearheaded by Brecht’s young collaborators. It examines how the Berliner Ensemble took specially designed sketches and shows to audiences in workplaces, community centres, and trade union festivals; how it advertised its productions to workers; and how working-class spectators responded in post-show discussions and questionnaires to their first experiences of epic theatre. This primary evidence of workers’ responses provides a valuable counterpoint to the claims that theatre critics frequently made on behalf of working-class audiences in the early GDR, and it also enables us to test and contextualize the pessimism that Brecht expressed in March 1953 about the impact of his productions. With hindsight, the Berliner Ensemble’s ambitious outreach programme exposes a fundamental irony and missed opportunity: at a time when Brecht’s theatre faced substantial criticism from leading figures in the SED, it was making a better job of the government’s policy on outreach than many of its competitors.

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