BRECHT IN PRACTICE
Directing Strategies for Closer

As noted here , an orthodox Brechtian approach, directing the Fabel  of each scene, was not available, as the scenes themselves said little about the politics of the play itself. Brecht, however, doesn’t fall if discovering the scenes’ Fabel proves unproductive.

Inductive rehearsal  allows directors to examine the progression of a scene, line by line, to tease out social details as exposed in the relationships on stage. The process, however, has to proceed from a clear sense of who is acting and  what is at stake. Establishing the social contexts of the figures  was an important starting point as it offered the scenes additional material to the speeches themselves. This then served as a basis for rehearsal aimed at experimenting with the different meanings of the lines when viewed from a social perspective.

Rehearsal was thus focused on how social position affected the action. The results were not, however, inevitable. That is, the figures’ social position doesn’t lead to a definite way of behaving, as everyone has a range of choices as to how to respond to something. That is, being at the top or bottom of the social pile doesn’t mean that one always succeeds or fails, respectively. Instead, an acknowledgement of social position can enhance the realism  of a scene by locating decisions or actions in their concrete social context. Consequently, the social becomes a focus and invites the audience to consider that frame as a contributory influence on the action itself.

Here are some examples of how a sensitivity to the social stakes of a scene can affect performance:

  • When Alice enters Anna’s photographic studio in scene 2, she is tentative and clearly intimidated by the situation. In addition, Dan brings her in as if she were a possession. Both visual decisions reflect her socially inferior status with respect to the other two figures. However, Alice doesn’t remain a passive or put-upon figure in the scene: she engineers Dan’s exit so that she can confront Anna about Dan’s intentions towards her and she challenges Anna when she asserts that the poor are more generous. What is important here, is that Alice is socially contextualized and this makes her actions more engaging as she stands up for herself.
  • Alice and Larry assume fake posh accents when discussing the photographic exhibition in scene 5.

Alice had previously mistaken Larry for a waiter, confusing a middle-class dermatologist with a working-class server. Alice then put on her posh accent to satirize the way the exhibition turned suffering and loneliness into something beautiful to look at. Larry then joined in by playing Alice’s game. Larry thus ridiculed the event that was showing his partner’s work. Larry thus presents himself as a social hypocrite – happy to mock proceedings to win favour from Alice, while, later in the scene, revealing his desire to please Anna’s socially superior parents. Suffice it to say, there is no direction in the text for either to affect a posh accent.

  • The confrontation between Dan and Larry in scene 10 could be presented as the clash of two men, fighting over the women. However, there is also a class component present, as evident when Dan mocks Larry’s background by noting that his father was a taxi-driver. As a result, the cock-fight was staged not as an exclusively testosterone-driven struggle, but one with a social dimension. At one point, Larry notes his social inferiority to Dan (‘I don’t doubt I’m somewhat common’), and, as a way of highlighting this, the actor was directed to deliver it in his working-class accent. This was both ironic, with Larry stylizing himself against Dan, and a nod to the audience that class still played a role in the scene.

Direction also emphasized a Brechtian focus on process, a topic discussed here.

 


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

David Barnett
Professor of Theatre
University of York

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