Brecht, Chinese Theatre, and verfremdungseffekt

In The Caucasian Chalk Circle, there is a scene where two women each claim motherhood of a baby, and a judge must determine who is the mother. If this theme is ringing a bell, it should - it is similar to the Biblical story of King Solomon and the two mothers. For those of you who do not recall the story, here is a brief refresher: A baby is brought to King Solomon by two women, each of whom claims she is the mother of the child. King Solomon, unable to determine who is the biological mother (this is a bit before DNA testing) orders that the baby be split in two, so that each can have half a baby. One woman readily agrees, seeing the fairness of this judgment. The other woman cries in anguish for the child not to be harmed, that it’s better for the other woman to have the baby alone. King Solomon proclaims her the mother, because her unwillingness to have the child hurt proves her maternal love. 

 

Though a similar story is found in much folklore throughout the world - India, Greece, and Sumeria - the Chinese version is probably the most influential in the theatrical world. The Chinese version, translated as either The Chalk Circle or The Circle of Chalk, was written by Li Qianfu during the Yuan Dynasty (1259-1368). Influenced by his play, Stanislas Julien translated it into French (Le Cercle de Craie), Klabund into German (Der Kreiderkreis), and James Laver into English (The Circle of Chalk).

 

Bertolt Brecht’s first version of this tale was a short story. He changed it around, erasing the Chinese Imperial elements and changing how the women relate to the baby. In his theatrical version (Der Augsburger Kreiderkreis), Brecht further edited the story by moving the setting to medieval Georgia, adding the prologue in Soviet Georgia, and extending the story to play length.

 

In the case of Brecht, it is unsurprising that his piece can trace its origins back to the Chinese original. Brecht was heavily influenced by Chinese theater: another of his well-known plays is set in China - The Good Person of Szechwan. And Brecht was so impressed by what he saw in Chinese drama that he drew elements from it as he developed his theory of Epic Theatre.

 

Brecht’s theory of Epic Theatre sought to make theater more theatrical and less realistic, so as to force the audience to be aware they were watching a show and to think critically about the issues, instead of identifying emotionally and reaching a catharsis as in Aristotelian drama. He sought to engender a verfremdungseffekt, an estrangement effect, a separation between the audience and the characters on stage. Brecht noted several elements that he saw in Chinese theater which he thought could be used in Epic Theatre. For example, actors performed without the idea of a “fourth wall” separating them from the audience. Additionally, the actors used a series of symbolic gestures to externalize the character’s feelings, as opposed to naturalistic behaviors. Finally, the actors watched their own performances, keeping themselves alienated from the characters they were portraying. 

 

There is debate as to whether or not Brecht’s impressions of Chinese theatrical techniques are precise or misinterpretations. Either way, how he experienced Chinese theater had an important influence on his work. He began to incorporate narration and musical interludes in his plays, to create a separation between the actors and the characters they played. Similar to Chinese theater, Brecht wanted to eliminate the fourth wall, thereby eliminating the barrier between the actors and audience. Like in Chinese theater, the props, sets, and costumes are representational instead of exact.

 

Seeing a play by Brecht is a different experience than seeing Arthur Miller or Neil Simon. But there is no correct way to enjoy the show. Though his goal was to have the audience think critically, it is okay to connect emotionally. The musical interludes might jolt you out of the reality of the play, or you might just enjoy the songs (especially with the original music conceived by our cast.) However, if you want to honor Brecht’s intention, the best thing you can do is walk away from the show thinking critically about the issues and performance presented onstage.

Sources:

Cross- Cultural Encounters: Bertolt Brecht Meets Chinese Drama

The Chalk Circle

Photo courtesy of Classic Stage Company

Shakespeare’s “Problem” Plays

To most high school students, all of Shakespeare’s plays are considered “problem” plays. However, as scholars use the term, it refers to several of Shakespeare’s plays which cannot be neatly classified.

When Shakespeare’s plays were printed in the First Folio in 1623, his plays were divided into three categories: history, tragedy, and comedy. The history plays are those which are based on different English monarchs, such as Henry V, Richard III, and King John. His tragic plays follow the classic Greek structure, focusing on protagonists with fatal flaws which lead to their downfall, such as Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello. The comedies are the plays that end in marriage or betrothal, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Then there are the “problem” plays. These are mainly comedies that do not tie up neatly or arrive at the marriages in murky ways. All of Shakespeare’s plays have moments of comedy and drama; in fact, that is true for almost any play. In drama, moments of comedy serve to break the tension, and comedy derives from characters dealing with trivial matters the same way as drama. The “problem” plays go beyond a blending of comedy and tragedy into areas of uncertainty. These plays deal with too many complex moral issues to be comfortably labeled “comedy,” but also lack the essential ingredients of tragedy. Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Troilus and Cressida are the plays that typically fall into that category, but other plays also come under that heading: The Merchant of Venice, A Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline, Timon of Athens, and The Tempest. The plays we are exploring over the next cycle of Classic Sundays, Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Timon of Athens all fall into this “problem” category.

In Measure for Measure, Isabella is offered a choice: sleep with Angelo, the deputy governor, in exchange for her brother’s freedom from prison, or watch her brother be executed for a minor crime. On the other hand, there is a person in disguise, various tricks, and the play ends in betrothals. The heaviness of Isabella’s choice, matched with the typically comedic elements, and Isabella’s non-reaction to a proposal, are what make this play difficult to define.

All isn’t well in All’s Well That Ends Well. Though it ends in marriage, it comes about through trickery and bribery. Those themes are found in other Shakespeare comedies- however, in those the characters betrothed clearly like each other. Bertram’s quick turn from hatred to love is difficult to fathom.

As for Timon of Athens, it is listed as a tragedy rather than a comedy. This play does follow the tragic roadmap fairly faithfully. The problems with this play arise in authorship and publishing date. It is included in the First Folio, but there are no previous mentions of it, though the lack of act breaks suggest a publishing date prior to 1608. The varying skill level of authorship indicate that Shakespeare was not the sole author, but that he wrote it in partnership with Thomas Middleton.

Maybe because of their uneasy classification, the “problem” plays are intriguing to watch. These shows are less frequently produced, which means an audience can sit down in the theater and be surprised by each turn in the plot. These plays certainly inspire reflection and discussion, perhaps more so than something as well-known as Romeo and Juliet. How does an audience in 2019 ingest the sexual pressure in Measure for Measure or the celebrity worship in Timon of Athens?

Seeing a “problem” play can be a way of revitalizing Shakespeare. Instead of a known story that has been adapted almost ad-nauseam, one can experience Shakespeare as if he is new. Incredible for something written over 400 years ago. That does not seem like a problem at all.

 

Sources:

Shakespeare’s Problem Plays 

An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Comedy

Tragedy, Comedy, History? 

Photo Courtesy of New York Times

A Message from Our Artistic Directors

It’s a thrilling time at Antaeus and we’re eager to share some thoughts on our new season!

The plays in this season speak to questions of identity:  Who are we?  What are our values?  What matters to us as individuals, as families, as communities, and as society?  We’re eager to dig deeply into those themes, continuing to spark the kinds of vital conversations we know great theater can engender.

We are excited to be producing two plays that have been developed in the Antaeus Playwrights Lab.  Stephanie Alison Walker’s The Abuelas explores the awful repercussions of Argentina’s so-called “Dirty War” when the country was ruled by a military dictatorship (1976 to 1983).  Set in a current-day Chicago apartment, concert cellist Gabriela and her family have their lives turned upside down when two strangers arrive and expose a devastating secret.  The play explores the heart’s capacity for forgiveness, even in the face of the harshest of betrayals.  We’re excited to welcome back director Andi Chapman, who brought Native Son to such thrilling and uncompromising life.

The World Premiere of Jennifer Maisel’s Eight Nights follows the poignant journey of a World War II Jewish refugee and her family through eight decades in this heartfelt, lyrical portrait of a woman haunted by the past but resiliently moving toward the future.  As Rebecca moves through time the play explores the life that comes and goes in a single New York apartment — the families that we create and the ghosts of the past that both haunt and guide us.  Actors play multiple roles in creating this tapestry of the generations of one indomitable family.  The play will be helmed by longtime Company member Emily Chase.

We’re excited to return to Shakespeare and his brilliant “problem” play, Measure for Measure.  The issues the play addresses couldn’t be more pertinent — corruption, faith, sexual politics, and the struggle to do the right thing are themes that desperately call for exploration.  Plus the humor, wit, and intelligence of Shakespeare’s characters make this a thrilling choice for the Company.  The production will be directed by Ann Noble and Armin Shimerman.  They worked together on our revolutionary version of The Crucible (Armin as director, Ann as actor and initiator) and we’re delighted to have them together again on this timely piece.

A vibrant reading in our Library of The Time of Your Life has us eager to revive William Saroyan’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece.  Set in a seedy San Francisco bar and filled with a diverse and eccentric cast of desperate outsiders, it’s a true large cast ensemble play with an uplifting message of kindness and hope: “In the time of your life, live!”  And we’ve found the perfect director in Jennifer Chang — we welcome her to Antaeus!

In addition to these four full productions, the new season will find us returning to LAB RESULTS in our Black Box theater. Six new plays chosen from the Antaeus Playwrights Lab will have two readings each over the course of two weekends in January 2020.  It’s another festival you won’t want to miss!

We’re excited to continue our CLASSIC SUNDAYS reading series which has been so popular this season.  Curated by some of Antaeus’ most knowledgeable scholars (Nike Doukas, Julia Fletcher, Joel Swetow, and Gigi Bermingham) each month we’ll have a reading of a classic play in our Black Box Theater.

We think it’s going to be an amazing season — four productions, LAB RESULTS, and CLASSIC SUNDAYS.

Antaeus- Come See Us!

 

Cheers,

Bill Brochtrup & Kitty Swink

Artistic Directors

Diana- Two Different Views of Womanhood

Cicely Hamilton, playwright of Diana of Dobson’s (running now) was raised by foster parents. Her father was busy as a Captain in the Gordon Highlanders and her mother disappeared, assumed to have been committed to a mental institution. Is it because of the lack of her own mother that we do not learn about Diana’s mother in the play? We know about her father- Diana is dependent upon him, and it is due to his death that Diana is forced into the conditions we find her in. But when it comes to Diana’s mother, we know nothing.

Notwithstanding this, Diana of Dobson’s is a good choice of something to do this Mother’s Day with your mom.

In May of 1908 the first Mother’s Day celebration was held in Philadelphia, PA at a Methodist Church, leading to the holiday as we now know it. The organizer, Anna Jarvis, had conceived of the holiday as a way to honor the sacrifices mothers made for their children. She led a massive campaign to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar by writing letters to newspapers and politicians. Her idea for the holiday was a day of personal celebration between mothers and families, along with church attendance and wearing a white carnation as a symbol.

That same year, only a few months earlier, Diana of Dobson’s premiered at the Kingsway Theatre in London. Cicely Hamilton’s play was also meant to honor women, though more to bring awareness to their living situation than to celebrate the unique nature of motherhood. The titular Diana is a free-willed, independent woman, determined to better her life.

Both Hamilton and Jarvis were women with strong views of how women were treated by society at large. Jarvis advocated for the addition of Mother’s Day as a national holiday because she thought most American holidays celebrated male achievements and that women deserved recognition as well. Hamilton is a well-known suffragist and feminist, her political views strongly evident in her plays.

Often, these two types of women – the kindly, strong mother and the free-spirited, career woman – are painted as opposites. Interestingly, though, in Roman mythology, one goddess, who shares the name of our production’s heroine, was patron to both types of women. 

That’s right, the goddess Diana, the virginal huntress, was also the goddess to whom pregnant women would pray for a healthy and easy childbirth. Why was the famously strong, single lady goddess connected with motherhood? Because of the inconsistency of mythology, there is no clear reason, though one theory is that because Diana was associated with the moon, which in turn is associated with women’s menstrual cycles, Diana became linked with childbirth. Another theory is that Diana acted as the midwife to her mother during the birth of her twin, Apollo.

For whatever reason, Diana and motherhood are connected. Yet in the modern mind, this is not how we think of Diana. The strong-willed woman who didn’t need a man is our more common association of her. It is surely this picture of Diana that Cecily Hamilton had in mind when creating her play. Her Diana proudly speaks her mind and wants a better life for herself. She is not content to be silent about the conditions in which she lives.

There is no one way to be a strong woman. Focusing on motherhood or on career, or trying to do both, depends upon the person. But this Sunday, we celebrate the strong women who are raising children and all of the sacrifices they make to ensure their children have the best lives possible. If you have the type of mother worth celebrating, bring her to the show or find another way to honor her this Mother’s Day.

 

Art Credit: Guillaume Seignac

Summer 2019 Antaeus Academy Classes

If you live in Los Angeles, the odds that you have, currently are, or plan to take an acting class would have bookies in Vegas reeling. However, if your interest in acting is primarily for the stage, as opposed to screen, that does put you in somewhat of a minority. In this glitzy town where film stars rise like bubbles in champagne, live theatre often takes a backseat to film. Yet, stage performance is where it all started; the skills necessary to be a great film or TV actor can be found in the classics. 

At Antaeus Academy, we offer a variety of classes, grounded in classic works, to teach the acting skills you need to succeed in the biz. Our moderators have years of training and practical work on stage and screen, so everyone from the most recent conservatory grad to a seasoned actor can learn here. The skills you learn in these classes will provide the foundation you need to be a strong actor whether you choose to pursue the stage or on-camera work. We have a variety of offerings, from Shakespeare to improv to new plays, and we are certain to have something for you this summer.

(Click on a class for more info)

It’s Alive! The Nuts and Bolts of Acting in New Plays- moderated by Emily Chase

Back In-Yer-Face Again: The Theatre of Discomfort- moderated by Rob Nagle

Shakespeare: From Page to Stage- moderated by Elizabeth Swain

Mastering the Master: The Incomparable Noël Coward- moderated by Kitty Swink

Summer Shakespeare Intensive- moderated by four Antaeus Company members

Under the Veil of Rejoicing: Being Human in the Plays of Strindberg, Chekhov & Ibsen- moderated by John Sloan

Voice, Presence, and Classical Text- moderated by Scott Ferrara

Advanced Improvisation: Looking at the Classics for Inspiration- moderated by Daniel Blinkoff

Auditions are required for first-time students. So, if you are intrigued and want to take a class (or three), make sure to sign up for an audition soon! We have one  audition date:

 Click here to sign up for an audition on May 25, 10am-1pm. 

Also available this summer for the first time- Success Teams! Previously offered only to Antaeus Company Members, we are extending the offer to our Academy students this summer. Led by company members who are experienced career coaches, these success teams will focus on creating plans to work both on your craft of acting and the business side. Through weekly meetings over 10 weeks, you will meet with like-minded artists, share strategies, and hold each other accountable to work hard and progress in your acting career.

Two sessions available:

Online team meets Mondays 1-3pm,  May 6 – July 8.

In-person team meets Tuesdays 8-10am,  May 7 – July 9

If you have any questions, visit our FAQ page or email academy@antaeus.org. 

 

Healing Through Art

For the past three years, Antaeus has partnered with the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance (ADAA) to present an evening that commemorates the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Last night we presented Triumph of the Armenian Spirit, which showcased excerpts from four new Armenian plays.

Serving as a partner to our local community is central to the Antaeus mission. We believe that theater is a profoundly social act, which is inherent in the way that we all experience it. The actors are not on a screen; you’re not watching with your earbuds in while you sit on the bus. The actors and audience share the same space. When we watch a piece of theater, we are sharing it and living it at the same moment as the stranger sitting next to us and the performer on stage.

Partnering with the ADAA, a not-for-profit Armenian organization for film and theatre, is particularly meaningful for us as members of the Glendale community. Armenians make up somewhere between 30-40% of the Glendale population. The influence of the Armenian population is evident across the city. One can see the Armenian flag waving from cars as they drive down Broadway. Armenian lettering adorns everything from churches to auto repair shops. Armenian businesses, schools, churches, and art abound.

For all that, though, your only familiarity with the Armenian culture may be the Kardashians (and maybe you didn’t even know that.) Which is fine. But, that is why we choose to partner with the ADAA on this event. We think it is important to illuminate diverse human experiences through performance, and we have a platform from which to do it.

The Armenian community, like many in the U.S., came here after facing persecution around the rest of the world. Though Armenian Christians have faced persecution throughout history, the biggest threat to their lives came in the early 20th century from the Ottoman Turks. From 1915-16, about 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered in a genocide.

Into this place of sadness and pain comes art. Art and theater play an integral role in the healing process; they allow stories from the past to live on and be shared with the future. The show was called Triumph of the Armenian Spirit because death and sadness do not define the Armenian experience. Though plagued by troubles, from Turkey to the USSR, the Armenian people have survived and flourished. Here in Glendale, where over 80,000 Armenians reside, we are so proud to play our small part in helping this identity thrive. 

The Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance is celebrating its 14th operating year! Learn more about the ADAA here.

Photo credit: Karin Armen

St. Joan, Notre Dame, and George Bernard Shaw

In 1456, Isabelle Romée submits an impassioned plea to clear her daughter, Joan’s, name at a trial held 25 years after her death at Notre Dame Cathedral.

On April 18, 1909, Joan of Arc is beatified by Pope Pius X at Notre Dame Cathedral.

On April 15, 2019, Notre Dame Cathedral suffers devastating damage from a fire.

On April 21, 2019, Antaeus presents St. Joan by George Bernard Shaw as part of our Classic Sundays readings.

We have been examining Joan of Arc’s life and her depictions in classic plays throughout our Classic Sundays readings this year. Joan herself was not connected to Notre Dame. In fact, she probably never saw it, as it was her failed attempt to reclaim Paris which began her fall from grace.

Yet a statue of Joan resides (or, perhaps now, resided) in Notre Dame. So when our reading commences this Sunday, it will be with the burning of Notre Dame in the back of everyone’s minds.

Theatre is a living art. At Antaeus we know this particularly well. We continue to produce classic plays, from Shakespeare to Shaw, because what those playwrights wrote are plays about human nature, which resonate no matter when or where they are produced.

Theatre lives even beyond that. Not just each production but each performance is affected by the outside world or the artists involved with the show. A person in a new relationship approaches Romeo and Juliet differently than someone recently broken up. Measure for Measure speaks to a world inflamed by the #MeToo movement.

Joan of Arc’s story was relevant despite the recent devastation of Notre Dame. A person sticking to her religious convictions despite skepticism and who defies those who attempt to silence her is relevant today. There is a special significance brought about by the burning of Notre Dame which nobody could have foreseen, but which will certainly be in the minds of the artists and audience this Sunday.

At Antaeus we attempt to produce relevant, timely classics. As Notre Dame is rebuilt it will continue to give new life and resonance to a century-old play by George Bernard Shaw and the heroine who inspired him.

 

Photo source: A New Chapter in the Story of Joan of Arc’s Ring

Antaeus announces 2018/19 Season of Four Modern Classics

GLENDALE, Calif. (June 22, 2018) — Antaeus Theatre Company has announced four modern classics by American, Irish, British and German playwrights for its 2018/19 season at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale.

Opening the season in October, Cameron Watson, who helmed Antaeus’ 2017 multiple award-winning revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, will return to direct another epic drama about a Southern family in crisis: Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. In a small Alabama town circa 1900, members of a decaying family battle society and one another for their continued place of prominence and authority amid changing times and the encroachment of outside forces. (Oct. 25 through Dec. 10, 2018; Previews begin Oct. 18)

In January, Steven Robman will direct The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh. Inspired by the real-life filming of the documentary Man of Aran, McDonagh’s dark comedy is set on the small Aran Islands community of Inishmaan (Inis Meáin) off the Western Coast of Ireland in 1934, where the inhabitants are excited to learn of a Hollywood film crew's arrival in neighboring Inishmore (Inis Mór) to make a documentary about life on the islands. “Cripple” Billy Claven, eager to escape the gossip, poverty and boredom of Inishmaan, vies for a part in the film, and to everyone's surprise, the orphan and outcast gets his chance... or so some believe. (Jan. 24 through March 11, 2019; Previews begin Jan. 17)

Spring will bring a rare revival of Diana of Dobson’s, a biting comedy by Cicely Hamilton that was the unexpected hit of the 1908 London theater season. Casey Stangl is set to direct Hamilton’s clever, thought-provoking romantic comedy about a fiercely intelligent Edwardian shop assistant who briefly escapes a life of drudgery with a small legacy — but who cannot escape the social and economic stricturesthat oppress her. (April 18 through June 3, 2019; Previews begin April 11)

The season will wind up in July with The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht in an acclaimed translation byAlistair Beaton, directed by Stephanie Shroyer. Deep in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, a humble kitchen maid named Grusha risks her life to rescue an abandoned baby from civil war. But when the child’s aristocratic mother returns to claim him, the entire social order of a corrupt and violent world is put on trial. (July 11 through Aug. 26, 2019; Previews begin July 5)

“Each of these plays explores themes of lies, truth and deception,” note Antaeus co-artistic directors Bill Brochtrup, Rob Nagle and Kitty Swink in a joint statement. “Are things what they appear to be? Are people who and what they say they are? What is true and what is false? These questions have never been more pertinent than right now.”

In addition to these fully staged productions, Antaeus is excited to announce first-time programming in its black box space, including a Playwrights Lab reading series and Classic Sundays, a monthly series of staged readings.

As an added bonus for its patrons, Antaeus is offering a “sneak-peek” into its plans for 2019/20, announcing now that the following season will include Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare, directed by longtime company member Tony Amendola.

Antaeus is a cooperative theater ensemble founded to empower the actor and to bring classical theater to Southern California. The company exists to create a family of artists and audiences and is dedicated to exploring stories with enduring themes. Taking their company name from the Titan who gained strength by touching the Earth, Antaeus members — many of whom are familiar to film and television audiences — regain their creative strength by returning to the wellspring of their craft: live theater. Members of the company span a wide range of age, ethnicity and experience; they have performed on Broadway, at major regional theaters across the country, in film, television and on local stages, and are the recipients of numerous accolades and awards.

The Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center complements Glendale’s ongoing commitment to integrate vibrant arts space into the fabric of city life, ensuring the arts remain accessible to all. Located just a few blocks away from The Americana at Brand and the remodeled Glendale Central Library as well as the Alex Theatre, the center promises to build upon Glendale’s growing reputation as an arts and entertainment destination. The center includes an 80-seat theater, a reconfigurable 45-seat performance/classroom space, and a theater classics library.

For more information about Antaeus Theatre Company, call 818-506-5436 or visit online at www.antaeus.org.