Brecht and the Art of Spectatorship

Professor Laura Bradley (University of Edinburgh) presents at the German research seminar.

Professor Laura Bradley’s research focuses on the relationship between culture and politics, including factors such as state policy and censorship, the politics and identity of institutions, and the negotiation of space for artistic experimentation in theatre, film, television and literature. She has carried out major research projects on Brecht and on GDR theatre censorship, has published representations of crime in GDR film and television, and is currently writing a book about Brecht and spectatorship. Her research has a strong historical focus, and she has worked extensively in a wide range of archives in the former GDR.

Brecht and the Art of Spectatorship: As a playwright and theatre director, Bertolt Brecht’s central ambition was to empower spectators: to train them to watch performances critically, judge what they saw, and consider its relevance to their own lives. He considers the themes of vision and spectatorship explicitly in plays such as Leben des Galilei and Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui, and he frequently uses onstage spectatorship to scrutinize and critique different viewing practices. This paper explores how onstage spectatorship functions in Die Mutter and Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, showing the connection between observation and acting, the different designs that dramatic and epic theatre have on spectators, and the ways in which knowledge gleaned through spectatorship can be put to practical, political use. It asks how real-life audiences responded to Brecht’s post-war productions of his plays at the Berliner Ensemble, testing his own claims against archival evidence of interviews, post-show discussions, and audience questionnaires. Why did sections of the audience – and indeed some critics – repeat spectatorial errors that the plays parodied on stage?