Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Collective Effect

I was recently intrigued by the beginning of a class in which a fellow student—and director of a new production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”--opened the floor for discussion about a potential flaw in his upcoming presentation. The concern at hand was that he had perhaps misinterpreted the representation of a number of ensemble characters, and in so doing, jeopardized the integrity of the play. In seeking to rectify this, he proceeded to open himself to suggestions from the class. This call for collaborative input is what stood out to me as a very Brechtian technique.

Through the discussion of the issue at hand a lively conversation was started, in which many of the class members offered their insights into their interpretations of the characters and, moreover, how they could/should be portrayed. I label this sort of group exercise as 'Brechtian' for the fact that Brecht himself, as well as the Brecht Collective—which by the way, I am amazed and ashamed of myself for JUST NOW finding out about—took this approach with many of their earliest and most prized works; namely “Man is Man,” which openly deals with the collective experience.

From the breadth of my theater training, I have certainly learned that in order for any production to be successful, a definite sense of collaboration must be established and embraced. It is not a matter of the actors trying to be “stars” in their own rights, nor is it for the production team to best the play through their uniquely interpreted presentation. It is, instead, a matter of an organic formation of artists and thinkers who are dedicated to making the production happen for the sake of the play and, in Brecht's case especially, its message.

I found it wonderful that the aforementioned director was open enough to discuss his anxiety with a group of like minded people as opposed letting the ego take hold and powering through the problem silently. I hope to explore this issue and others like it in the coming weeks as we continue to delve into the collective experience. While, in the case of the class, we are driven more towards understanding Brecht and his work, this creatively constructed curriculum is beginning to take hold on us all. Through our discussions we forging new ideas not only what theater is, but its myriad purposes as well. I hope to hear more from the class following the staging of the production as I feel that we will all be excited to discuss what we thought worked why.

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