2006, Mon, Apr 24

Brecht and Mei Lanfang

Modern Chinese and German Theatre

A co-operation project between the House of World Cultures and the Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus


Bertolt Brecht: “On Chinese Theatre”

The fact that the young actor is at first compelled to imitate the elder one does not mean that his acting will always be a form of imitation… The Chinese actor evidently, and with aplomb, drops certain gestures when performing in front of his audience; he discards them, triggering an aesthetic revolt in the process; he himself is carrying out an act of revolt - risking his entire reputation in the process - by placing all his bets on this one card. He will receive no praise for this innovation, but only for the value that people attach to the innovation. Although he found it difficult to perform in the traditional manner, he was able to do it nevertheless. And he had to develop his innovation within the bounds of tradition. Hence, the natural moment of revolt, the distinctly visible, judgeable, responsible act of breaking with tradition enters into that continuity which is the characteristic of true art (as it is for science too). Only those familiar with - or who have in mind - the typical, superficial creations of Western actors, who create their characters from lots of tiny nervous traits of little significance, more or less private in origin and devoid of any typical quality, will find it impossible to imagine that modifications in gestures can inspire fundamental innovations in the process of creating a character.

The Chinese show not only the behaviour of people, but also the behaviour of the actors. They show how the actors, in their manner, perform the gestures of the people. For the actors translate the language of daily life into their own language. Watching a Chinese actor, one sees no fewer than three people simultaneously: one presenting and two being presented.

Cited from Bertolt Brecht: “Über den Beruf des Schauspielers”, in: Schriften zum Theater 4, 1933-1947, Frankfurt/Main 1963

Literaturforum im Brechthaus