What is a Modelbook?

Brecht documented some of his productions, not merely to record that they had taken place, but to help theatre-makers understand how they were made and what they were trying to achieve. He produced and supervised a number of what he called ‘modelbooks’, documentations that were to serve as models of practice.

Productions as Models

Brecht was sometimes criticized for the idea that his work could serve as a model for other practitioners because they misread his intentions and believed that he was telling them ‘this is how to do it’. Such an interpretation misses the point that Brecht was setting out a set of principles of how theatre-makers might approach staging drama, with a set of concrete suggestions in the form of his own work. Brecht was indeed trying to spread his way of making theatre, but not dictating how it was to be done.

What did a Modelbook look like?

Brecht combined photographs of key moments in a production, taken in rehearsal and performance, with texts that described and reflected on the decisions that had been taken. Brecht’s modelbooks largely emerged in the 1950s, an age before easy access to video equipment, and so he used photographs that mostly framed the whole stage in order to show both the actors’ positions and their gestural relationships to one another.

A Virtual Modelbook

This site preserves Brecht’s use of photography over video for a couple of reasons. 1. A photograph can pick out key moments in a scene. 2. When taken together, the photographs can represent the way that a scene changes over time, from point to point. 3. Photographs don’t attempt to give a sense of what it was ‘really like’ to have been in the theatre, something that video often attempts, but often fails to achieve.

The form of the virtual modelbook on this website uses Prezi presentations to present an image, a brief description of its action at the top of the image, and commentary on what is happening in the image. Occasionally there is an additional text at the bottom of the image discussing broader issues.

Click here to access the Virtual Modelbook of Patrick Marber’s Closer.


BRECHT IN PRACTICE - Copyright 2017 © Prof. David Barnett | All Rights Reserved

David Barnett
Professor of Theatre
University of York