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THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE TEACHERS’ PACK
THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLEby BERTOLT BRECHT
Translated by James and Tania Stern and WH Auden
Composed by Joe Griffiths
Ruth ConnellAndrew EmersonVanessa HavellBryan PilkingtonStephen Povey
Director: Kirstie DavisDesigner Alex EalesMusical Director: Andrew FriesnerCompany Stage Manager Suzanne Bourke
The Caucasian Chalk Circle Background PackWritten by Kirstie Davis, assisted by Linda Rowan
The Education Department will strive to provide educational and theatrical activities, performance opportunities, touring work and training of the highest quality. This will be for young people and providers throughout Hertfordshire, which illuminate the theatre process and improve the quality of life and life long learning of the participants.
The Education Department of the Palace Theatre, Watford consists of an Education Director, an Education Co-ordinator and a Youth Theatre Director. Our remit is to deliver, manage and lead drama work Hertfordshire County wide in collaboration with Hertfordshire County Council’s Children, Schools and Families.
We have an extensive secondary school programme, which consists of specialist half term projects and a workshop programme consisting of ten workshops which schools can buy in to, dealing with such subjects as Stanislavski, Brecht and Boal. We also host a Teachers’ Forum group each term in order to gain feedback and requests for future drama provision.
The Palace Theatre has a large Youth Theatre of 90 young people from the ages of 11 – 21. These are split into five groups who are led by our Youth Theatre Director and are given performance opportunities in both our venue and other theatre spaces across the County. We also have a back stage group led by a professional stage manager who are taught about lighting, sound, stage management and design.
In the spring of 2003 we will be producing our first Youth Theatre Showcase at the Trestle Theatre in St Albans. This will be the beginning of our pursuit in creating a Hertfordshire County Youth Theatre. All of the groups involved in this week of performance will be a part of this larger organisation and will have the opportunity to work together on other projects in the future.
Future projects for 2003 include Bill Bored? - A week of Shakespeare for 13/14 year olds at Wheathampstead in February half term, a showcase of Youth Theatre at the Trestle Arts Base in March, a community project entitled Ring Road Tales in August and a workshop tour of The Crucible in the autumn term.
If you would like to contact us about any of the projects and for further information please ring 01923 810397 or e-mail us at [email protected]
THE HISTORY OF THE PALACE THEATRE WATFORD
The Palace Theatre, Watford opened in 1908 as a Music hall called the Watford Palace of Varieties, changing its name the following week to the Palace Theatre. One of the most elegant theatres in Britain, it is a Grade two listed building and was restored in the early eighties to its original Edwardian splendour.
Over the years, the theatre has enjoyed a rich and varied history. In the early thirties it introduced weekly ‘rep’ which continued throughout the war period. The Melville Players took residence from 1939 until 1956 and in the fifties the theatre flourished under the management of Jimmy Perry of Dad’s Army and Are you being served? Fame. In 1965 Watford Borough Council established an independent company to run the theatre, entitled Watford Civic Theatre Trust Limited. Today an independent Limited Company, The Palace Theatre Watford Ltd, which was set up in 1996 and is a Registered Charity, controls the theatre. It is financially supported by Watford Council, Eastern Arts Board and Hertfordshire County Council.
The Palace Theatre Watford enjoys a high national profile and an enviable reputation for the quality of its productions, some of which transfer to the West End and tour to other regional theatres. Kindertransport by Diane Samuels was nominated in the Best Play category at the 1996 Evening Standard Theatre Awards and Elton John’s Glasses by David Farr, which was commissioned specially for the Palace theatre, won the 1997 Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Best Regional Play Award and then transferred into the West End. The Late Middle Classes by Simon Gray was voted the Best New Play in the 1999 TMA Awards.
The theatre has always attracted top writers, directors and designers as well as respected actors. Famous names that appeared at the theatre in the early days include Stan Laurel, Charlie Chaplin, Gracie Fields and Bob Hope. More recently, these have included Prunella Scales, Helen Mirren, Maureen Lipman, Simon Callow, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sir John Mills, Sara Crowe, Jean Boht, Diana Quick, Jerry Hall, Harriet Walter and James Fleet amongst others. Directors include Harold Pinter, Giles Havergal and Michael Attenborough.
The Palace Theatre remains a major attraction in Watford and the surrounding area. It is the only producing theatre in the region and over 120,000 people pass through its doors every year. It produces nine shows every year- from casting and rehearsing, to set building and costume making. Each show rehearses for four weeks and plays for three and the acting company changes for each production. The programme is of wide appeal, ranging from classic drama, modern plays and comedies to the traditional family pantomime. It also hosts a variety of one-off performances and incoming tours.
BRECHT- HIS THEATRE PRACTICE
Brecht’s writings on theatre were developed over a lifetime. His starting point was always his practical work and consequently ideas were constantly in flux and developed.
It is a curious fact that very little has been publicised to tell us either how Brecht really worked with his actors, or how his epoch making productions were put together in rehearsal …overwhelmingly, studies of Brecht have been largely theoretical in nature.
John Fuegi. Chaos According to Plan
He developed a style of writing and presentation that he hoped would empower the audience and inspire them to act: to change the world. This was in direct reaction to the naturalistic theatre of the day, which he believed made an audience passive and complacent.
He wanted a theatre which reminded its audience at all times that they were watching a play with actors – watching a version of things which have happened rather than any pretence at ‘real events’. So that they would ultimately recognise a situation as historic and the world capable of transformation.
The audience was discouraged from identification with the characters by a number of techniques, which have become known as his Alienation device or Verfremdungeffekt.These included the use of parables, interludes, songs, placards and captions, masks, projections and his work on Gestus. All of these were crucial to Brecht’s theatre and allowed the audience to distance themselves not only from the familiar subjects and situations, but from their own preconceived notions and personal experiences.
Brecht’s Theatre, where the narrator had a critical attitude to the story and the audience was encouraged to make decisions was called Epic Theatre. To clarify the differences between Epic and Dramatic theatre Brecht presented the table on the following page:
DRAMATIC THEATRE EPIC THEATREBrings an event to life Relates the eventInvolves the audience and wears down its capacity for action
Makes the audience an observer but arouses its capacity for action
Helps it to feel Compels it to make decisions
The audience is projected into an event
The audience is confronted with an event
Suggestion is used Arguments are usedThe character is a known quantity
The character is subject to investigation
Man is unchangeable Man can change and make changes
Eyes on the finish Eyes on the courseEvents move in a straight line
Events move in irregular curves
One event follows another
The world as it is The world as it is becoming
‘Theatre for Learning’ 1957
BRECHT WORKSHOP- ON EPIC THEATRE AND VERFREMDUNGSEFFEKT
CREATING A BRECHTIAN CHARACTER
TaskTo relax and warm up the actors and begin the process of showing a character rather than being a character
ExerciseWalk around the room leading with different body parts: the head, nose, chin, shoulders, stomach, groin, feet and hands. Remember the point is to exaggerate and push the body as far as it will go. What characters are suggested by these movements?
Show some of the students walking to a chair, leading with one body part, sitting and looking at the audience as that character and then leaving with a different body part. Elicit responses to the characters- the idea of creating a character from the outside/in, rather than Stanislavski’s inside/out.
You can develop this further by introducing characters to each other and improvising around a situation. The main idea the actors must put across is the status of the characters.
ObjectiveTo introduce the idea of creating characters physically and multi role playing
TaskTo explore naturalistic organic actions non-naturalistically and create exaggerated gestures
ExerciseEveryone sitting down in their own space miming eating with a knife and fork, trying to make the mime as naturalistic as possible. The fork and knife become enormous and then tiny. How do you continue eating?Repeat the exercise with a brush or comb.What can we suggest with exaggerated gestures and also exaggerated props?
ObjectiveThe most important thing we ever find out about a Brechtian character is their social standing in the hierarchy. The props they use and their gestus can show this
TaskTo report an improvised scene in the third person
ExerciseIn twos improvise a scene in which two people bump into each other at a bus stop and they haven’t seen each other for ten years. Each person should narrate or report exactly what they are doing and put he said/ she said in front of their speech. They should also consider adding the following: body part leading to suggest character, thoughts aloud, freeze frame and presenting status physically.Present to the whole group.
ObjectiveTo look at how this may be used as a rehearsal technique. When would a director ask their company to report all their blocking and add He said/ She said before their dialogue?
TaskTo explore the use of gestus
ExerciseIn groups of five come up with a scene in which a high status character (real or imaginary) is being dressed by his/her servants (a la the dressing of the pope in Life of Galileo). The actor must manipulate a change in each part of his body as a new piece of clothing is put on him. The group must decide which item gives the character his power/ essence. For example if they choose Michael Jackson it would be his glove. As they dress him the servants must ask him for something- again particular to the situation. The high status character cannot speak until he has his power and then he can answer their requests.Once he has responded he must do a freeze frame of his Gestus.Gestus is the gist or essence of a character or scene and is mainly determined by the social position and history of the characters. It often involves a contradiction. The most famous being the silent scream by Helene Weigel in Mother Courage and Her Children. The contradiction lies in the idea of a scream being silent and succinctly shows her feelings of repression by not being able to vocalise her pain.
ObjectiveTo come to an understanding of what gestus means and to be able to use gestus as part of their improvisations.
HUMOUR AND FOCUS
TaskTo improvise a Dario Fo scene and use humour as an alienation device
ExerciseThis is the accident exercise developed by Dario Fo. Actor one is on the floor having just been run over. Actor two is the driver of the car. Actor three is a passer by who crossed the road at the moment the accident occurred. Actor four is another witness who believes it is Actor three’s fault that the car swerved and hit actor one. Actor five is someone who turns up and says he is a doctor. He starts treating the injured. Actor six also says he is a doctor and is so horrified by the way Actor five is mistreating the body that he uses the body as a dummy to demonstrate what Actor five should be doing. Actor seven is a policeman who arrives and tries to sort out the whole situation. It is up to Actor one how the scene finishes. You can at any point freeze frame this scene and ask the audience what they would like actor one to do.
ObjectiveTo realise the differences between a Brechtian scene and a Stanislavski scene. The moment the focus changes, in this case from Actor one to everyone else, the scene becomes humorous and non-naturalistic.
Other Dramatic conventions to explore:
Tableaux. These are used throughout to emphasise parts of the story and to give the audience a moment of reflection. Azdak’s scenes in the Caucasian chalk circle are full of tableaux.
Monologue- these are often sung in Brecht’s plays. Interior monologues or thoughts aloud are often reported or sung by another actor. Look at the scene between Simon and Grusha in scene 4. The Singer sings what both are thinking and so dilutes the emotional content of the scene.
Split scene/cross cutting- a fine example of this is scene 4 of The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The marriage scene and the wake are happening simultaneously on stage and the focus goes back and forth between them.
Placards and Projections - these are used to convey an attitude or the message of the play as well as to inform the audience at all times where they are and what is about to happen. Projections are often used to juxtapose the action on stage; for example a love scene may be played against the backdrop of a war scene. Thus this convention plays a vital part as an alienation technique.
Music - this is a vital part of Brechtian theatre. The songs allow for the distancing effect to take place as well as emphasising the message of the story and often undercutting the emotional element of the scene. The style of the music is often recitative and repetitive. The emphasis is on the words and the parable being put across, not on the melodic quality of the music.
THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE WORKSHOP
TaskTo explore the role of NarratorWhy is a narrator so important in Brecht? He succinctly tells the audience where we are, whether we have gone back or forward in time and reiterates the message of the story.
ExerciseLook at the opening Narrator/ Singer’s speech: Scene 2Once upon a timeA time of bloodshedWhen this city was calledThe city of the damnedIt had a Governor.His name was Georgi AbashviliOnce upon a time.
What do we learn about Georgi Abashviilli and Natella Abashvilli straight away? Power and beauty are immediately mentioned and so begins the use of juxtaposition through out. Once upon a time is repeated five times to emphasise the fact that it is a story, it is in the past and it has a fairy tale aspect to it. Of course this is a further juxtaposition because we are in fact about to see a revolution and a mass slaughter!
Create a tableau that has the title: The City of the Damned
ObjectiveTo realise the importance of narration and the use of juxtaposition.
TaskTo use the body part exercise in conjunction with the script for the Caucasian Chalk Circle
ExerciseWhich body parts should the actors lead with to play Georgi Abashvilli, Natella Abashvilli, the Doctors, the Nanny and the Ironshirts?
If you were to add one prop to define each character what would it be?
What is the soundscape for each character? Something that suggests their Gestus?
An example might be: the actor playing Natella Abashvilli should lead with her chin because she is very proud and arrogant, she would be carrying a small mirror because she is vain and her soundscape would be a sigh as she looks at herself in the mirror. This could be punctuated with a hiss if a peasant gets to close to her.
Create the royal procession going to church and add peasants and petitioners. What would the petitioners have on their placards? (Down with taxes etc). What body part would the peasants lead with? Can we convey a rat like quality? How do we show that they are the faceless mass rather than seen as individuals?
Discuss and create the Fat Prince. What body part would he lead with? How would an actor go from a peasant to the prince? What would he have to do physically? Is there an item of clothing he would have to put on?An example might be that he takes off a ragged garment, puts on a stage stomach in front of the audience and a crown and has a torch in his hand in order to create evil up lighting.
ObjectiveTo use techniques already learnt to create characters in The Caucasian Chalk Circle and get a sense of the opening of the play within a play
TaskTo highlight the use of props in Brecht
ExerciseWhat would they use as a baby and how do we show its royal status? This cannot be a doll as it would be too naturalistic and should be a prop that has multiple uses. In the recent Orange Tree production they used a cushion which was purple on one side and brown on the other- thus signifying the differing fortunes of the child. I have also seen a blanket being used and a piece of cloth. The nanny must also make the baby noises, as she is the one holding the child. Would there be a royal carriage and if so what would this look like?.
Create a tableau for the crowd seeing the baby for the first time. What would be their thoughts and feelings on seeing the royal heir? The frozen picture is an important moment for an audience as it should convey as many stories as possible and allow the audience a moment to reflect on what they are seeing.
Discuss what they might use for the head of Georgi Abashvilli. The soldiers have to be able to play with it and pass it around easily. How would you know it is the head of Georgi?An example might be using a football with the name Georgi printed on it.
ObjectiveTo use props inventively and for them to have multiple uses.
TaskTo play a love scene non-naturalistically.
ExerciseLook at Grusha’s first scene with Simon:
Scene 2The Soldier: What the young lady is not in church? Shirking service?Grusha: I was already dressed to go. But they wanted one more goose for the Easter banquet. And they asked me to fetch it. I know something about geese.
How are they first introduced to the audience and why? (as the Soldier and Kitchen Maid as we need to understand their social standing. It is important to realise that Brecht’s protagonist is a Proletariat). Discuss with your group how Grusha should be introduced to the audience. The actor is probably already on stage as another part. She could either re-enter through the audience, (showing off her goose), or metamorphosise on stage.This scene is a flirtation between them- how would this scene be played naturalistically?Discuss the use of eye contact, space and touch.Now co-direct this scene together in Brechtian terms. How do you undermine the emotional element?Some thoughts: it is imperative that you play the characters’ positions rather than their personalities. Thus Simon is on duty and Grusha is in a hurry to deliver the Goose. Within this they flirt quite innocently, but they must continue to do their chores. Simon could march up and down throughout and Grusha could pluck her Goose. The moment of Gestus occurs when Grusha re-enacts what she does at the waters edge, (puts her legs in the water) and Simon wants to respond but is still on duty. Maybe the quality of his marching changes?You could also try this scene with the two characters on chairs either side of the space. How does this effect the scene? What conflict does it highlight and what does the space between them symbolise?
ObjectiveTo understand the way Brecht undermines the emotional content of the scenes
Scene 4The Tallest Boy: Today we’re going to play Heads-off. You’re the Prince and you must laugh. You’re the Governor. You’re the Governor’s wife and you must cry when his head’s chopped off. And I do the chopping. With this…
TaskTo use alienation techniques already learnt to show the juxtaposition between the children playing and the actual events the game is portraying.
ExerciseLook at the scene with Michael, Grusha, the tall boy, fat boy and girl.
The children play a game called heads off. What is this meant to represent? (the moment Georgi Abashvilli was beheaded).
How do we present the children as their ages, but with clear signs of the adults within, (the tall boy is an Ironshirt, fat boy is the Fat Prince and the girl is Natella Abashvilli).How do we re-enact the beheading?Some thoughts: As Michael lifts the sword to chop off the tall boy’s head everything goes into slow motion. The fat boy, and girl metamorphosise into their adult counterparts and Michael becomes an Ironshirt and the tall boy becomes Georgi Abashvilli. As Michael falls over because the sword is too heavy they should all become children again and run off chasing Michael with the sword. This transformation should be punctuated with a scream by the girl. You could also discuss the use of projections and captions at this point to make the scene very clear.
ObjectiveTo understand the use of juxtaposition
Scene 5Azdak: So it’s about your daughter-in-law?
The Innkeeper: Your Worship, it’s about the family honour. I wish to bring an action on behalf of my son, who’s gone on business across the mountain. This is the offending stableman, and here’s my unfortunate daughter-in-law.
TaskTo explore the use of juxtaposition in the Azdak scenes by using tableau for emphasis and contrast.
ExerciseThe use of juxtaposition was very important to Brecht. The Azdak half of the story is full of moments of contrast and contradiction- all aimed at making the audience an active thinker rather than a passive observer.Look at the judgement scenes in which Azdak travels around the Grusinian Highway giving out justice, which is often paid for in advance.Make a tableau of each of the cases, as they should be perceived in naturalistic terms:The Malpractice case against the DoctorThe Rape of LudovicaThe Farmers versus the Bandit
Now create tableaux of the cases as perceived and summed up by Azdak. Notice the deliberate ‘world turned upside down’ quality to his judgement. For example although the Stableman raped Ludovica, it is suggested that she actually raped him by her provocative swaying hips and bottom. Indeed Azdak decides to take her to the stables himself at the end of the scene!
ObjectiveTo use montage and tableaux to develop an understanding of the Azdak scenes.
Suddenly I am not happy anymore with Grusha in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. She should be simple and look like Bruegel’s mad meg, a beast of burden.
Epigram from Brecht’s Journals 1934- 55
The most famous Gestus of all- The Silent Scream
SYNOPSIS OF THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE
The prologue hints at the parable, which is about to unfold episode by episode in front of our eyes. Two factions of peasants have a dispute over a piece of land. The Rosa Luxemburg Kolchos has been defending and looking after the land during World War two and has plans to develop and irrigate the land even further. The Galinsk goat-breeding Kolchos had to evacuate the land during the war and has not found as good grazing land anywhere else. It is interesting that Brecht decided to set his prologue in 1945 Soviet Georgia and the play itself in an imaginary medieval Georgia. This sets the tale in a setting experiencing the conflicts between modern soviet life and ancient traditions and customs. It is also relevant that it discusses collective farms, as Brecht lived through the time of Stalin’s brutal collectivisation programme when famine took millions of lives in the Soviet Union.
The peasants decide to resolve their dispute by bringing the expert in to entertain them with the ancient Chinese tale of the Chalk Circle. The Singer takes us back in time to a feudal system run by the tyrant, Georgi Abashvilli. We are introduced to our heroine- who is the kitchen maid and watch as horrific events unfurl, (predominantly off stage). The Governor is beheaded by his brother and the soldiers revolt onto the Fat Prince’s side. Grusha is left alone with the royal heir, as the natural mother is more concerned with her clothes and saving her own skin than minding her baby.
Grusha goes on the run with the Ironshirts in hot pursuit. She encounters some extraordinary characters along the way- all in their turn create further barriers and put her and the baby in danger. As a last resort she marries Yussup in order to prevent any suspicion being placed upon her as a single woman with a child. She believes at the time of the wedding that he is dying and so she will become a respectable widow. Unfortunately, Yussup is only pretending to be ill in order to prevent being drafted into the army.
When the war is over two years later her soldier fiancé Simon returns to find Grusha already married and a child in tow. Before she can explain the Ironshirts appear and drag Michael off.
The second half of the play is the story of Azdak. He is a drunkard and a thief and by a sequence of amusing coincidences becomes judge of Grusinia. We watch him warp justice for fun and to assist the lower social classes and get his own back against the ruling classes. It is he who is judge for the trial of the two mothers.
The final scene is straight out of the bible story of Solomon- the child is placed in the chalk circle and the mothers are ordered to pull him towards them. Grusha cannot bring herself to pull, as she is worried about hurting him. Natella is more concerned with his appearance and the fact that in her eyes he looks like a beggar. Azdak decides to give the child to Grusha, reclaim the Abashvilli land to create a childrens’ playground, divorce Grusha from Yussup, (‘accidentally’) and then he mysteriously disappears in to the night.
For Brecht, the world, like the disputed land should belong to those who are good for it. At the end of the play within a play Azdak awards the baby to Grusha and not to its natural mother as she is the one that will care for it best.
What made you want to tackle this piece of theatre?
The Caucasian Chalk Circle has always fascinated me as a piece of work, in terms of its parable, (the land should go to those who will look after it best), and its heroine. Grusha is an interesting mixture of peasant stock and incredible refinement. She is the only one in the play who has a very sure sense of herself and her moral territory.The play is also a great mixture of humour and pathos- slap stick humour is provided by the soldiers who in turn revolt us with their rapist mentality and there is true sentiment in the way Grusha bonds with the child and risks her life to save it.
What concept did you arrive at when first considering the text?
That the play is still very relevant to today even though it was written in the forties. You cannot get away from the landscape that the play inhabits. The Second World War is the backdrop for the prologue and the entire piece, but then the play within is a play is set in an imaginary world of the past. However this imaginary world has resonance’s of a Russian past with dictators, military regimes and the poverty-stricken masses.The politics behind a play always fascinates me and I find it incredible that Brecht spent almost his entire life running away from various oppressive regimes. The world that Grusha inhabits doesn’t feel that alien from some of the war torn countries that we are witnessing today.
What do you have to consider when directing a piece by Brecht?
Everyone always seems so unnerved to deal with Brecht- as though he is this monster that needs to be tackled. I find his work very freeing in terms of what you can do with the text and the possibilities it gives you. The Caucasian Chalk Circle has some very uplifting moments such as the scene where Grusha decides to take the child and some very dark, haunting moments such as the scene when the Ironshirts catch up with Grusha and almost rape her. But interspersed with this is a lot of comedy and riotous singing! Brecht’s message is always clear and this is still what the audience should take away with them, but at the same time he once said, ’ nothing needs less justification than pleasure’ and the plays are entertaining in themselves as well as imparting an important idea.
How did you use Brechtian techniques during rehearsal?
The cast is made up of five, (two female, three male) and therefore the actors had to work very hard at portraying a multiple amount of very different characters in a short space of time. They had to draw bold brush strokes for their characters very quickly in the rehearsal period working from the outside in. We have concentrated on the physicality of the characters and the differences between them as well as soundscapes for each and a defined prop. All of this goes to represent a character and the actors are constantly slipping in and out of role. For example they are all involved in the narration which allows us to keep reiterating the actors behind the characters. We also chose to use masks for the high status characters, (i.e. the bourgeoisie), to emphasise the difference between them and the masses and to show their rigidity and type. We were also able to use the set throughout that helped us to inhabit this world that we created very quickly and to explore the landscape of the set. The Musical Director has played an important part in terms of us actually playing the set as an instrument and using it for sound
effects. The paring down idea, which happens with the set, was an initial concept that I had with the designer and seemed to symbolise the land that was being disputed over as well.What would you want the audience to take away with them after seeing a performance?
I hope that they come out feeling energised by the performance, which is a fast paced production, and I hope that it is thought provoking. It feels timely that we are presenting a piece of work written sixty years ago, that has so many resonance’s with the world that we see around us in 2003. The portrayal of war, love, responsibility and corruption seems as relevant now as it did in 1941 and Grusha’s struggle and Azdak’s opportunism could be modern day stories of hardship and desperation with a backdrop of war.
MUSICAL DIRECTOR’S INTERVIEW
Why do you think music is such an important part of Brecht’s work?
Music is an important part of Brecht’s work as it illustrates the rare case of a playwright truly combining spoken text with sung text. For Brecht, it is totally natural for characters to literally ‘drift’ in and out of song in a very different way to operetta or music theatre. Musical sections within the play are often used to highlight an emotional or plot turn, and often occur when least expected. He doesn’t specifically delineate them as songs. This device of song-into-speech is a feature of storytelling in many European countries. It gives naturalism to the use of the music.I particularly like the fact that for Brecht, music is just another theatrical language that he sees fit to use as much as spoken text. The songs in Brecht have no preamble or preparation, as would be common in both music theatre and operetta. They just happen.
Why did you choose this particular score?
I chose this score principally because of its simplicity. In tackling such a big play with only five actors, it was important to me that the music had flexibility so that we could really play with it and find our own slant on it. Some of the music scores available for CCC are very rigid in their structure, asking for certain musicians and involving set pieces; this would not have freed up our actors to have as much of a creative input into the music.
The score we are using is a very simple setting of all the sung text in the play. Harmonically it is very simple, often employing three chords where another score would employ twenty-three. The score has only a vocal line and suggested chords. This gives the actors and myself tremendous freedom in taking melodies and playing with them. It also enables me to be more flexible in meeting the creative vision of the director.
What impact do you think underscoring creates in a theatrical piece and why is it particularly relevant to Brecht ?
In my opinion underscoring, that is, music supporting or interpolating into the text, is as important as any sung set pieces. By its nature underscore is something that happens ‘under the surface’. It can support what is being spoken or sometimes play against it. I find it very exciting that music without words can give information to the audience. For instance, the audience may hear a theme played on an instrument, which has previously been sung by a character, either consciously or subconsciously. Similarly a theme may be heard which subsequently becomes associated with a character or a situation. Music can prod the audience’s subconscious without having to spell things out to them, thus involving them in the progression of the drama. This is particularly relevant in Brecht.
How does a Musical Director work within a rehearsal and with a director?
My initial creative meeting with the director will involve playing through the entire score, often at the piano. I will have worked on the music for sometime, collecting thoughts and ideas on how I think it will work. The director will give his or her vision of the production and during the course of the meeting we will try and bring together my view of the music and his or her view of the play. Often during this meeting the director expresses an interest in certain musical themes from the score that may be particularly useful. Similarly there may be other themes that the director does not feel are as useful; it is my job to interpret the music in a way that fulfils the director’s vision and at the same time does justice to the music. The director will often pick up on the aspects of the score that he or she particularly feels are important; this gives me information on where I think our interpretation of the play is heading. I will go away from this meeting with lots of ideas, often rethinking and rethinking until the very day when rehearsals start. I will also have been very involved in the audition process, so I will know whom I am working with well before the first day of rehearsals. This is important when it comes to writing vocal harmonies or arranging for instruments.In rehearsals I will have music calls, that is, sessions where I will teach certain music cues to the actors. In a play such as The Caucasian Chalk Circle, much of the rehearsal will involve how we cue a certain song or theme within the context of our production. Therefore I see my role in the rehearsal room as one working very closely with the director, so that the music is woven into the layers of the production we are building.
Personally, I like to teach the music and then get it ‘on its feet’ so that the actors can play around with it and make it their own. No music is interesting unless it is given life by the actors who will perform it. I find this part interesting as at this point it starts to be their music. My job from there is to guide them through their creative process. The music will change and change as they bring their own interpretation to it. I must also work to balance that with both mine and the director’s original thoughts. I enjoy this organic process of watching the music grow into something that is personal to our production.
Why did this project attract you? I was attracted principally because of the play. I have never done The Caucasian Chalk Circle before, although I have had much experience in other Brecht pieces. I had worked with the director before and very much enjoy our working methods, whereby I am given a brief and then have the freedom to be wildly creative with that brief. I find the prospect of working with such a small cast on a very epic play very exciting. I like the task of making things work. For instance,if the director asks for the sound of a cathedral choir on page X of the script, I like the challenge of turning to a group of five actors and making that work! It always does, as long as you use your imagination.
How do you come up with a concept for your designs?
After reading the play I sit down with the director and we talk about the themes and messages within the script and narrow these down to those we would like to put in the show. I then go away and research the ideas we’ve had and have as many conversations and meetings with the director as possible so we can feed ideas from each other. This way we come up with a concept that we feel works for the play.
What was your main idea for this piece?
My main idea for this version of The Caucasian Chalk Circle was to reveal a hidden layer in the script, visually. One of the themes of the play is about outward appearances and surfaces covering hidden depths, both in terms of character and situation. On of the surface Natella is beautiful, but underneath she is a poor mother. On the other hand, Grusha is financially poor but emotionally rich and generous. The set reflects this as gradually the flat white surface is stripped away to reveal a rusted metal structure.
What considerations do you have to think of for a touring set?
Touring sets have to be both light and strong and easy to assemble. This set breaks apart into pieces that are easily moved by few people, but strong enough to withstand months of being loaded and unloaded.
How do you work with a director?
Working with a director can be very rewarding if the ideas are coming thick and fast between us. I like working with Kirstie as we think about things in a different way, but we like the same ideas. This means that while I am considering the practical implications and look of the show, Kirstie is thinking of the possibilities in rehearsal. This way we get the most out of the ideas we have.
What are your ideas for costume?
The costumes in this production are a mixture of old and modern. Showing the relevance of the time the piece is set, the time the play was written and now, when we are performing it. The Aristocrats are all dressed in 1910’s Tsarist Russian influenced costumes, very intricate and colourful. The ordinary people like Grusha and Simon are dressed in 1940’s clothing and the actors start the play in modern day rehearsal clothes.
Why did you want to use masks and what is their relevance?
The use of masks is a very Brechtian thing to do. It alienates the audience from certain characters, allowing them to be less human and therefore more symbolic of problems or being bad. They also help the actor represent the character rather than become too emotionally involved.
ACTOR’S DIARYBRYAN PILKINGTON (Fat Prince & other roles)
It's pretty exciting starting a new acting job, especially if you have been anticipating it for weeks! On the first day, you usually try to turn up a bit ahead of time - chance to catch your breath and dispel some 'new job' nerves. Unfortunately, London Transport had other ideas, so I pitched up dead on the dot of 10.30. Not to worry - our Director and Stage Manager are busy manhandling bits of scenery out of the van, and I'm sent up to the rehearsal room for a cup of tea and our 'meet and greet'.
One of the reasons many people say that actors are mad is because "It's like giving up your job every 8 weeks" - sometimes even less - but that does have the advantage that you get to meet loads of people at the beginning of each job as well. In short order I am gulping down hot PG and meeting up with four fellow actors, the Musical Director (met previously at the auditions) and a host of Palace Theatre staff who have turned out for the start of the new project. Most of them we will only see occasionally, but it is very good to meet the people who are there making all of our jobs possible. As usual, we all discover that there are much less than six degrees of separation between us - I have seen one of my colleagues before in a past production, and another is friends with my flatmate. Small world! After we have all stood in a circle to introduce ourselves to the rest of the assembled company (and I have promptly forgotten about half of the names - very poor effort!) most of the others disappear off, as the read through is about to start. Normally, everyone would stick around, but in this case, we have a large number of cuts to deal with, not to mention the assignation of some of the 50 or so parts, so there are going to be a few interruptions. From my point of view, this is great as the read through is THE most daunting thing about the whole production (apart from the auditions). Everybody seems to feel the same, but I'm very glad that I don't have to deliver the first line! At least we're all in the same boat, so the atmosphere is kind.Before we start, we have a short chat from Kirstie (the Director), Alex (Designer) and Andrew (MD). I hadn't really taken on board before that this is the first tour by the Palace Theatre Education department - it's really very exciting to be here! Alex talks us through the ideas for the set and the costumes, and Andrew gives us a hint of the music call that will follow in the afternoon. He mentions that his accordion will be included and looks at me. I am slightly very scared! Now we're all geared up, the read through proper can begin.
Suzy (Stage Manager) reads the first piece of scene-setting stage direction and we're off. After all of the work we have all done on our own, this is our first chance to hear the play out loud. Lots of decisions or ideas that we came up with whilst working on the script at home now get exposed to other people for the first time as well. It's no time to feel self-conscious, as invariably you make an idiot of yourself, but everyone's doing the same and it seems to go well (in spite of my less than totally successful attempt to sound Scottish for a couple of characters - much practice needed!) We work all the way through the play, with Kirstie allocating some lines, and telling us about a couple of cuts as we go along. By the time we reach the end, we have over run the agreed length by ten minutes, so a further scene is taken out. Much better to do that today than to rehearse the scene and have to cut it later, I think. By now it's lunch time, and we're all ready for a break. The actors saunter off to sample the delights of Watford, but there doesn't seem to be much rest for the others. By the time we return an hour later, the set has been assembled and we have a crash course in its construction and de-construction. Our
first attempt takes 18 minutes, and we haven't tightened any of the bolts, taped down the floor cloth, nor rehearsed carrying the thing in from the van. Hopefully it will get quicker....
After teaching us our way around the set, Alex shows us his costume designs. The ceremonial stuff for the Fat Prince, the Governor and Natella in particular looks fantastic. Can't wait to see the finished result. Time for more tea (rehearsals always seem to run on copious tea consumption - the tannin must stimulate the right bits of the brain). In any case, the tea prepares us for the last section of the day - a music call with Andrew. After a warm up in which we sing "The Way You Look Tonight" in all of the accents you can imagine (great fun) we all set up our dictaphones - essential equipment for rehearsals like these where there is lots to learn in a short time - and proceed to whizz through all of the principal themes from the play. The sound is going to feel very Eastern European, and as soon as we start, we are encouraged to adopt a style of singing that suits. We get through everything a bit before the scheduled end of the day, but as our brains are now pretty well full, that's it. I stick around for a few minutes to pick up the dreaded accordion which turns out to be much less terrifying in practice than I had anticipated. Huge relief and the train home! On the way I listen to the recorded music rehearsal, and then settle in to learn some lines for tomorrow.
The first day of real rehearsals. We arrive and construct the set (a little quicker than yesterday) and have a quick music re-cap, then begin work on the prologue. We progress quite quickly - ideas from the read through are tried out in situ, and we each get a feel for the clear intentions of each character as they progress through the scene. Building this kind of framework early on is great, and all goes smoothly. We sketch out moves and interactions, where each character has status in the scene and find a through line to propel the action forward. As we go through, my script is covered in more and more notes - by the time we get to the first performance there will be little blank space left, I suspect. We improvise some of the crowd scenes with vocal and instrumental underscoring, and I get back into battle with the dreaded accordion. It feels good to make bold character choices at the beginning - you soon get a note if something isn't working, and encouragement if it is. As we are all playing so many characters, we have to find ways of differentiating each one, by using changes in our voices, accents and physicality. It can be hard in the first few days, though, as inevitably we are in a play about five people with scripts in our hands at the moment. As well as acting decisions, we also have to work out the logistics of props, costume changes and the instruments. The Fat Prince is going to be eating - I fancy gherkins, but Kirstie prefers jelly babies. We'll see what works! I think the childish delight in eating babies could be fun, but there's a kind of repulsive fascination with bright green warty gherkins that's hard to resist.
In rehearsal – week 1
We continue working on into the play within a play, finding moves that work and give maximum clarity to the text and our characters. Lots of laughter ensues which is a good sign (even if you're rehearsing a tragedy, in my opinion). Over lunch I take the accordion away and get the first cue note perfect. When it comes to recapping all we have rehearsed later on, it completely falls apart. Hmph!
In fact, when it comes to it, our first stagger through the day's work goes okay, although for such hard work it goes by too quickly! We have reached the point in scene 2 where Grusha and Simon have just got engaged. Kirstie gives us notes to keep us going in the right direction, and we call it a day in terms of blocking. My head feels full to say the least. We then have a bit of a music re-cap just to clean up the harmonies in the opening 'once upon a time' section and some of the underscoring. It's always the way that notes/music/lines that you know perfectly on the train or in a room on your own vanish like early morning mist under the pressure of putting them into the context of the play. A good day's work, though, with lots to think about at the end of it. The stuff we've done on this part of the play will feed into the rest of rehearsals, as we have started developing ways of showing 'we're not in Kansas any more' - the play inhabits a quite different world, both in the post-war Russian prologue and the 'old legend' of the chalk circle, which is a sort of allegorical never-land. The underscoring and snippets of Russian dialogue will all help with the transition.
Another very productive day. We seem to have settled into a good rhythm of blocking work. We start the day with a few more cuts to the next section of scene 2 and then get going. First of all we run through scene 2 as far as we have got, and then we move on to the new section. We have a great laugh with Natella and the baby, with her fainting at a moment's notice and having to be caught and the baby being passed around like a hot potato. Luckily we're not going to be using a lifelike doll - it would cause some distress to the audience! It's hot work as we're all rushing about like mad things. We have a huge pile of rehearsal props today as well, so there's an extra incentive to get the scripts down. As the work carries on and we move into scene 3 they get left to the side in any case, as we are trying much more physical stuff to get across the violence in the scene. From my point of view it is fantastic to play a rough, crude, violent bully - a long stretch from myself (I hope!) Even more than the Fat Prince, who is going to grow with the gherkins/jelly babies, I think, there is a wonderful sense of power - maybe because it is so directly expressed against Grusha and Blockhead the inept Ironshirt. I hope tomorrow that we'll get a chance to work more on my beating him up with a stick safely. I loved stage combat when I did my training, and I'm looking forward to doing some in this play, but I definitely don't want to actually smack him over the head! Lucky for Grusha, she gets her own back and I get clobbered with my own club before she makes her escape. We work all the way through scene three and have time to run it and have notes at the end. Along with the rehearsal props, we have two huge trunks, which approximate to the ones we will have in the play. They will be great for finding extra levels as well as providing furniture and a way of carrying Natella across the stage as well. I predict I will have much bigger muscles by the end of this job - they're quite heavy!One of the big features of the play as we are doing it is the crowd scenes and the vocal underscoring which accompanies some of the action. It's a question of trial and error to find a level, which sets the scene but doesn't interfere with what's happening in the script. In two runs today, I was given the notes "we need more from you", and "that's too much" - hooray for a nice long rehearsal period so there's time to find a balance! Quite how I'm ever going to remember everything that goes on without constant reference to the script, though, I've no idea. After we block each little section, we all make notes as to what happens when in the script, and even then when it comes to a run through, bits get forgotten. For some parts of today I haven't been directly involved in the action on stage, and it's great to watch the others creating stuff. It's a real privilege of the rehearsal room that you get to observe the process, which can be just as interesting and as much fun as the finished product - sometimes more so. We're all starting to get to grips with the music as well, so even in the
breaks, there's the violin in one room, guitar in another and the accordion in a third - there's a really exciting feeling of something in the making as each element slowly takes shape. At the end of the day we're all off home to look at scene 4 before tomorrow.
Today was the hardest so far for me. We started with a bit of vocal work with Andrew, then cracked on with scene 4. The floor cloth that we have been working on so far has got a bit dirty, so the circle has now been marked out on the floor with tape (courtesy of Suzy and Kirstie after we finished last night). Scene 4 starts with a transition to Lavrenti and Aniko's house and a 'dream sequence', before the real events continue. Before we started, both Vanessa and I were feeling as though we didn‘t really have a handle on the relationship between the two of them, and before we started work on the text itself we had a bit of conversation to get the ideas going. I think we are all a bit tired as well. The days are long - I leave the house before 8 and get home after 7 -and Vanessa has the added pressure of performing in another show in the evenings. We get some energy from somewhere and move into the scene. I'm feeling a bit hampered by my Scottish accent at the moment, and the lines I learnt last night haven't stayed in my head at all, so I'm reading a lot as we go through, rather than raising my eyes off the page. It's a long section and my notes afterwards are sketchy, which I come to regret in our re-cap run later in the day. The bits of narration and underscoring also need working out and there are some more cuts (including some of the enormous Lavrenti passage, which I'm quite relieved about!) As usual, we are fuelled by tea, and make it through the morning. Over lunch, I pick Ruth's brains about the accent - having lived there, I tend to gravitate towards Edinburgh, but we have agreed that Lavrenti needs to be less gentrified. Lots of practice over the weekend is needed.
Bryan Pilkington & Stephen Povey in week 2 of rehearsals
The latter parts of the scene involve the wedding to the 'dead' Yussup. Andrew comes up with a cod Latin service for the drunk monk which has us in fits and I suspect will make me corpse on stage if I lose concentration. All in all, I think we get there with the structure, but I feel a lot less sure of the direction to push Lavrenti. Next week when we start putting in more detail will be a testing time, I think. Andrew and I re-enter as narrator/gossips. I've got an idea of what Kirstie wants to achieve, but I'm not very inspired and the words don't have a lot of intention about them yet. Some of my work this evening will have to be on this page.
Later on, we reach the next section between Simon and Grusha. I think that these are my favourite parts of the play. They are so human, and don't have the political drive that characterises so much of the rest of the play for me. The characters lose their 'good person'/'bad person' shapes and are emotional and warm. I also enjoy watching the others
work, as the scene flows well. We get as far as the transition into scene 5, and I manage to climb up onto the set with the accordion. Now that it has fulfilled its function as the broken bridge, I'm happy to be able to get up there - especially as for the first section of scene 5 I can be an observer. We were looking for ways to turn back the time that had elapsed in order to get back to the beginning of Azdak's story, so re-introducing the Azdak theme, and re-hanging the head of the governor is a start. I also have an important task in using the first narratino speech to give a hint of this. No pressure!By the end of the day I feel more optimistic, even though when it comes to the run-through, I forget a couple of important bits of action. I scribble on my script a lot as Kirstie gives her notes. It's a function of tiredness, I think, that concentrating is much harder, and remembering takes a lot more effort when it comes to the re-cap. Still, I'm looking forward to tomorrow when we'll move on to where the Fat Prince reappears. Bring on the gherkins!
Today was a relatively easy day, especially for me, as we were blocking for the morning only, and the first section was the scene between Azdak and the grand duke, which doesn't involve me except as an observer. I used the time when not actually working or watching the others rehearse to go over some of the Lavrenti stuff from yesterday. When we got to the Fat Prince, I got out the rehearsal gherkins, and worked them in to the scene with the nephew. It was a great laugh, but I wonder slightly if I will be heartily sick of anything pickled by the end of this tour! There's a lot of comedy potential in the humble gherkin though... Today I felt as though things were moving on again, and really enjoyed the morning's blocking which took us up to the point where Azdak has been appointed judge. In the afternoon we had a 'tidy up' music call with Andrew, going over any harmonies that had slipped whilst being put into the play, and also the instrumental cues as well. The accordion and violin really do work to bring an Eastern European flavour to the music. Alex (the designer) was back as well, with some costumes (including our shoes, which will be great next week to get a feel for how easy it will be to clamber around the set) and also with the basis of the Fat Prince's belly which is going to be fitted again next week. We're still not exactly sure how it will go on and off, as I have to be able to change into it at lightning speed and without help. I'm sure he'll think of something. Then it was back to work with Andrew whilst Suzy showed Alex some props that she had found so that he could okay them. An early finish, as well (bonus!) so back home on an early train, and to see friends outside the production for the first time this week! Over all, I think we've made a very good start this week, but of course there's a whole lot more work to be done (not least blocking to the end of the play!) and a lot of lines to be learnt over the weekend, too.
1. What does the baby symbolise? How would you portray the baby in the first scenes of the play?
2. What Marxist ideas can you spot in this text?
3. Why is the play within a play based in an imaginary landscape in the past? Do you see any historical references in the way that this production has portrayed Grusinia?
4. At what point does Grusha really accept Michael as her own child?
5. Discuss the portrayal of wealthy people and peasants in the play. What devices does Brecht use to show the difference between them?
6. What is the place of music in the play? Discuss some of the different ways in which you would use music
7. If you had the choice would you prefer to have a different actor for each part, or would you prefer to have a smaller cast who would have several roles each? What are the implications of this decision?
8. Do you think Brecht’s plays and theories are suited to working in the round? Why?
9. What is the role of the Narrator in this play? Why was it such a fundamental part of Brecht’s Theatre?
10. How would you direct the trial between the two mothers? What staging ideas would you have to consider and would you use a prop or an actor as the child?*
11. What rehearsal techniques would you use throughout the three-week period with your actors? What would happen on your first day of rehearsal?*
*These topics are particularly relevant for Unit 3 and 6 of A-level Edexcel Drama and Theatre Studies.
1898 Brecht is born on February 10 in Augsburg, Germany
1921 Brecht, now living in Berlin attends many rehearsals and gets to know all the major directors and actors
1922 Brecht directs his first play for the professional stage: Parricide by Arnold Bronnen. He gains a reputation for being a difficult director to get along with
Drums in the Night is performed. “Overnight the twenty four year old Bert Brecht has changed the literary face of Germany”. Baal and Drums in the Night are published in book form
1923 Premiere of In the Jungle of Cities. Set by Casper Neher. Brecht is involved in every element of the production. The show, like most others by Brecht, causes scandal, which Brecht thrived on.
World premiere of Baal
1924 Premiere of Brecht/Feuchtwamger adaptation of Marlowe’s Edward the second. Brecht meets Helene Weigel, whom he later marries, and Elizabeth Hauptmann, a close writing collaborator for the rest of Brecht’s life.
1926 Premiere of A Man’s a Man
1927 Premiere of The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagony, Brecht’s first work with Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya.
1928 Premiere of The Threepenny Opera at the Am Schiffbauerdamm Theatre, where the Berliner Ensemble found its permanent home in 1954.
1930 Premieres of The Yes Sayer and The Measures Taken.
Brecht sees the work of Meyerhold in Berlin
1932 Premiere of The Mother
1933 The Reichstag fire. Brecht flees from Berlin fearing arrest.
Premiere of The Seven Deadly Sins (Weill/Brecht)
1935 Brecht’s citizenship is removed by the Nazis
1936 Premiere of The Roundheads and the Pointed Heads
1937 Premiere of Mrs Carrar’s Rifles. First serious attempt by Ruth Berlau to record a production in what would later be called “Model Books”
1937 Premiere of Fear and Misery in the Third Reich
Completes Life of Galileo
1938 Begins writing Mother Courage and Her Children.
1939 Brecht moves to Finland away from Nazi invasion in Denmark and Norway. He writes The Good Person of Szechwan and Mr Puntilla and His Man Matti with Hella Wuolijoki
1940 Works with Margarete Steffin on The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
Premiere of Mother Courage and Her Children in Zurich
1941 Brecht, his family and Berlau and Steffin leave for America. Steffin dies in Moscow. The rest arrive in California in July. Works on Schweik in the Second World War and The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
1947 Premiere of Life of Galileo. Brecht appears before the house of Un-American Activities Committee questioned about his Communist activities. He returns to Europe.
1948 Premiere of Brecht’s adaptation of Antigone
1949 The Berliner Ensemble is authorised and produces Mother Courage and Her Children. Brecht recruits actors for the new company. A performance of Mr Puntilla and His Man Matti opens the Berlin Ensemble.
1951 Post war Berlin premiere of The Mother directed by Brecht
1954 The Berliner Ensemble is relocated in the newly renovated Am SchiffbauerdammTheatre
The opening of The Caucasian Chalk Circle
1955 Brecht’s production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle tours to Paris and London tounanimous acclaim.
1956 On his deathbed Brecht dictates a will: “I ask my wife, Helen Weigel, to continuethe work of the Berliner Ensemble for as long as she believes the style of the theatre can be maintained”. Weigel directs the theatre up to her death in 1971
FURTHER READING AND SOURCE MATERIAL
Bertolt Brecht Journals 1934 – 1955 Methuen
Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913 – 1956 Minerva
The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht Methuen
The Empty Space Penguin
Brecht on Theatre Methuen
Bertolt Brecht- Chaos According to Plan Cambridge University Press
The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht Flamingo
Great Directors At Work University of California Press
Twentieth Century Actor Training Routledge
Brecht for Beginners Documentary Comic Book
Brecht- A Choice of Evils Methuen
Bertolt Brecht Ungar Publishing
Re-interpreting Brecht- Cambridge University PressHis influence on Contemporary Drama and Film
For non-specialist teachers I recommend Brecht on Theatre translated by John Willett