About the Author
not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it."
It is a daunting task to even attempt to convey
the significance of this Twentieth Century German Playwright and Poet. Widely considered to be one of the
most important political dramatists of all time, Brecht was born in Augsburg,
Bavaria in 1898. His first introduction to radical politics came when he
served as a soldier in the German Army during WWI. Caught in the
anti-war fervor of 1918, Brecht was elected as the representative of his
fellow soldiers to the Soldiers' Soviet -- a grassroots organization of
soldiers who opposed the war and the Kaiser (an experience referenced in his work DRUMS OF THE NIGHT, 1922).
Brecht began his career as a playwright in post-war
life. Although he worked at this time under the tutelage of the
revolutionary writer/director Erwin Piscator, his early works had only
tangential relevance to political issues. Forming a
partnership with musician/composer Kurt Weill, Brecht became wildly famous in
Germany with the Berlin debut of his THREE PENNY OPERA in 1925.
With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, the growing popularity of Adolf Hitler, and
the increased revolutionary
activity in Berlin, Brecht's work grew much more overtly political in nature.
Joining the Communist Party in the late 1920s, Brecht began to formulate a
radical new theatrical style that he would eventually come to call "Epic
Theater" or "The Theater of Alienation."
Brecht was compelled to flee from Germany to Denmark when
Hitler came to power in 1933. When Hitler invaded Denmark he fled to
Norway. And when Hitler invaded Norway he fled to the United States
where he settled in Los Angeles and lived for many years.
Throughout this time on the run, Brecht penned many of the most famous
plays of his career including MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN,
THE GOOD WOMAN OF SZETCHUAN, and later THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE.
In 1947, Brecht was questioned by Richard Nixon before the
House Committee on Un-American Activities. Feeling it necessary to flee
yet again, Brecht now returned to his native land where he was received by the East German
Government as an honored hero of the people. He became the
Artistic Director of the Berliner Ensemble Theater which was then -- as it
still is today -- one of the largest and most respected theatres in the
The length and breath of Brecht's body of work is simply
staggering. In his essay A SHORT ORGANUM ON THE THEATER, he
out the foundations for the first wholly unique dramatic style since
Aristotle. His commitment to the working class and the need for
revolution imbues his writing with an unmistakable stoic beauty and an
awe-inspiring sense of purpose.
Brecht's artistic style has been criticized from just about
every possible vantage point. Some complain his material is too
simplistic while others find it too convoluted. Some find it too vague
and academic while others dismiss it as too direct and baldly political.
Undoubtedly, it is a challenge to translate Brecht's unusual dramatic
constructions to the American stage in a way American audiences can
embrace. But, whatever the criticism, there is no denying that Brecht's
work re-defined our modern understanding of political theater. It is no
exaggeration to say that everything done in the field of political theater today owes at least some
small debt of
gratitude to the path that Brecht cleared.
Bertolt Brecht died in 1956 at the age of 58.