You’ve Got Guts, I Like That…

By: Eric Stroud, dramaturg

For me, this show spoke leaps and bounds about our tendency as human beings to romanticize war. The first scene of the play consists of two recruiters who are trying to convince Mother Courage’s eldest boy Eilif to enlist. “Next thing you know you’ll have a new cap and boots how bout it,” and “You’ve got guts, I like that,” stand as only two lines in a series of flatteries paid to Eilif.

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The Recruiter’s Battle Station. My lobby display for “Mother Courage”.

Here at BYU, all students studying dramaturgy are strongly encouraged to create a lobby display for the main stage show they are dramaturging. It is, to an extent, a chance for the dramaturg to show their own comprehension of the show and the director’s concept. For my lobby display, I wanted to focus on this idea of romanticized war. Just as Brecht would point out that even a war as terrible as the 30 Years War can be made to be a “religious war,” or one that is justified, so too can any war today.

In addition to my depiction of the “Recruiter’s Battle Station,” I have also made a video to play at the television beside it.

jo schmo

The video shows us how Joe Schmo can go from ordinary, to extraordinary by a simple choice to become a soldier.

kissingsoldierHowever, my compilation serves as a commentary on how this idea that becoming a solider will fix everything in your life and the lives around you is too simple. War is complicated, and sad, and in many cases changes your life and the lives around you for the worse.

sad warThe most commonly quoted line from this play is one that speaks as a reminder of the reality of war. “When war gives you all you earn, one day it make take something in return.” Our goals with this show are not to disrespect or belittle those who have fought for our freedom, or for the freedom of others. It is not some cheap academic opportunity to take snide stabs at the many aspects of war that we do not understand. Just like Brecht, we see this play as an opportunity to ask questions. Is war the only answer? Can we avoid it? And how can we as a nation adopt the answers to these questions. Continue reading

In March A Tree We Planted. Part 2.

By: Eric Stroud, dramaturg

Last time we discussed Director David Morgan’s usage of a tree in his concept for this show. A representation of “human kind,” the tree is an omen of what might befall those who hold a soft spot for war mongering. However, David’s concept (“any war we have today, is simply evidence that human kind has not learned from its mistakes.”) is not clearly accomplished with just a tree that is center stage.

drkbloodcircleCircles are also an important part in this production of Mother Courage. While the tree may represent “human kind” for David, the circle represents the monotony of human kind’s choices. In this play, killing shows up constantly, in dialogue, implications, and actions. Davod felt that the cyclical cycle of killing that has existed since the dawn of time can easily be represented with a circle.

Additionally, watch as Mother Courage pulls her cart around the tree, over and over. Pay attention to how her lack of progress makes you feel. Does it frustrate you? Did you even notice it? As you watch the show, ask yourself whether or not you agree or disagree with Mother Courage’s choices and write about it in the space allotted in your program.

However, perhaps David draws his circle concept from Brecht’s play on the idea of repetition through dialogue. One of my favorite examples of this comes in the scene proceeding the intermission. Mother Courage’s daughter Katrin has just been attacked. She stumbles into camp with a dazed and downtrodden look to her. Mother Courage makes an attempt at consoling her, but is unsuccessful. In her frustration she exclaims, “curse this war!” However, this exclamation is quickly followed by this line at the start of the next scene, “I won’t have my war all spoiled for me!”

still-a-hypocriteOne second Mother Courage is cursing the war and the next she is claiming it fondly as her own, “my war.” This hypocrisy is Brecht’s showing of repetition. There are countless times in this play where characters act opposite to what they claim. It is easy to see that Davod’s concept draws from this inclusion of confusion by Brecht. It plays on the idea that just as Brecht’s characters never learn, or progress, neither does the human race. Continue reading

In March A Tree We Planted. Part 1.

By: Eric Stroud, dramaturg

(NOTE: Mother Courage and Her Children opened on Friday to a major success. Tickets are still available for other showings, but they are going fast. You can buy them online by visiting this link.)

THE SONG OF SHELTER

 

IN MARCH A TREE WE PLANTED

TO MAKE THE GARDEN GAY.

IN JUNE WE WERE ENCHANTED:

A LOVELY ROSE WAS BLOOMING

THE BALMY AIR PERFUMING!

BLEST OF THE GODS ARE THEY

WHO HAVE A GARDEN GAY!

IN JUNE WE WERE ENCHANTED.

 

WHEN SNOW FALLS HELTER-SKELTER

AND LOUDLY BLOWS THE STORM

OUR FARMHOUSE GIVES US SHELTER.

THE WINTER’S IN A HURRY

BUT WE’VE NO CAUSE TO WORRY.

COSY ARE WE AND WARM

THOUGH LOUDLY BLOWS THE STORM:

OUR FARMHOUSE GIVES US SHELTER.

This lovely song comes in scene ten of Mother Courage and Her Children. Sung by a farmer and his family, it seems to be a simple ballad of gratitude for a garden in the spring and a house that keeps their family warm in the winter. It is a pretty song, but to be frank, random. When I first heard it, I wondered why would Brecht include it in his play. However, after some research I was surprised by what I found. Lets focus on the planting of the tree for a moment.

A large part of director David Morgan’s concept for this show revolves around a tree that sits center stage.

deadtreeWhen I first spoke to David about his concept for the show, he spoke of how he wanted to emphasize that any war we have today, is simply evidence that human kind has not learned from its mistakes. He wanted his audience to stop and think for a moment about what war has ever actually solved, and whether or not it is ever the answer. When he told me about the tree, I asked him what he wanted it to mean. He sat for a moment and pondered. “It’s human kind,” he finally answered. He went on to tell me that the tree would be a dead one, just as war mongering is the death of the human race. Continue reading

Barta Heiner: Talk With A Three-Time Mother Courage

Barta1by Eric Stoud, dramaturg

Not many actresses can say that they have played the role of Mother Courage three times. However, Barta Heiner is not just any actress.

A member of the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA, Heiner has performed more than 100 roles and directed more than 40 productions. Some of her favorite theatrical roles include Lettice in Lettice and Lovage, Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir, the title role in King Lear, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and Mary Whitmer in The Fourth Witness. Her recent roles in film have been Verlene Bennion in Cokeville Miracle and Sergent Major Nedra Rockwell in Once I was a Beehive.

Barta Heiner is on the BFA Acting Committee at BYU, where she teaches acting and directs productions during the theatre season. She received her bachelor’s degree in theatre from BYU and her master’s degree in acting from the American Conservatory Theatre. Upon completing her academic degrees, she acted professionally with the Denver Centre Theatre while both teaching and directing for the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver.

BartaYoungerShe has served as an acting and dialogue coach and consultant on such films as: The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd and Emma Smith, My Story. She also was involved with a student-mentored film project called Diantha’s Crossing, a project inspired by her great, great aunt, Mormon pioneer Diantha Farr Clayton. It has been aired on BYU television.

As busy as she is with this production of Mother Courage, Barta kindly took the time to answer a few of my questions in this short interview:

Eric Stroud: How does it feel to be doing Mother Courage as your last play at BYU before you retire?

Barta Heiner: Honestly, I’m not sure I have had time to think about that…There are about four other shows that I would have rather done.  Shows that were of a lighter vein, but still had pathos and important things to say.  Since we have gone through three versions of “Mother Courage”, it has been a bit of chaos for me trying to memorize lines and forget some of the ones I had already learned.

ES: Having done Mother Courage in the past more than once, what themes or parallels do you find that the director of each production has held in common?

BH: The same theme that Brecht had.  It is a classic anti- war play.  For me the difference between this and the original anti-war play “The Trojan Women” is that Euripides showed “humanity” on both sides.  You saw the loss and pain and suffering of the women of Troy, but you also saw the compassion of the Greek, Talthibius who has to carry all of the messages of “doom” to the women.  “Mother Courage” shows more darkness, irony, stupidity, futility, horror, but it also shows how the people still find humor in their lives in spite of the devastation and hunger around them.  Katrin, who is the only gleam of goodness in the war is silent, yet still finds a way to make a difference by her actions.

ES: What is Mother Courage’s mission to you? Continue reading

Epic Theatre: Honoring Brechtian Alienation with Masks

MCWildby Eric Stroud, dramaturg

RECAP: In my last post, I talked about what the definition of Brechtian Theatre actually is. We discussed that it is an altered version of Epic Theatre. Brecht wanted his audience to “engage” with the theatre on a political level. For Brecht, “engaged” meant that his audience was able to think critically about what they were seeing. According to Brecht, a production succeeded when the audience felt “alienated” from the performance. Brecht called his alienation process Verfremdungseffekt (in America we often refer to it as the V-Effect). Brecht used the V-Effect to jolt the audience from becoming too emotionally involved the production.

I made the statement that the usage of Brechtian was often incorrect because it was being used as a blanket statement for any non-traditional theatre rather than a reference to Brecht’s specific approach to theatre. However, the usage is also often wrong because a lot of what Brecht did with theatre in his day has become common place in modern theatre.

While you will see some Brechtian V-Effect techniques in this production, many have become less effective on a modern audience. Today, tactics like placards and spass are more common and less alienating.  However, Director David Morgan wants his audience to experience that same sense of alienation during his production of Mother Courage, Masks1with the hopes that they will be able to think critically about it. Morgan has chosen to approach his alienation through the usage of character mask.

What is character mask? Character mask is inspired by the 16th century Italian art form of commedia dell’arte. While in commedia there were only masks for characters within two subgroups (servants and masters), in character mask, the number has been extended infinitely. In fact, a character mask can represent anyone. Each character mask is unique to the individual it represents. Actors will hold the mask by their side, but when they put the mask on, they become the character to whom the mask belongs.

Why use character masks? Character masks remind you that you are watching a performance, not real life. Additionally, the masks add to the sadistic elements of human nature that we find in Brecht’s Mother Courage. If you see the show, you will notice that while the actor wears the mask, they take on a persona that is commonplace in the play’s brutal war-time setting. However, when the mask is taken off, they simply become an actor again, reverting back to their normal and natural characteristics.

Tableaux

This contrast between masked character and unmasked actor is so important to Morgan’s accomplishing of Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt. As you watch the show, pay close attention to how it makes you feel when the actors use masks to jump in and out of character throughout the performance. Here are some questions to ask yourself once you have seen the show: Continue reading

“Brechtian”: A Clarification

by Eric Stroud, dramaturg

BrechtLoungeEveryone loves to throw around the term “Brechtian”. When most people use the term it is in their description of a piece of theatre. Often, they are implying that piece of theatre is non-traditional, and in fact, acknowledges that it is theatre. It has become a sort of blanket statement for all theatre that is different than traditional.

However, when people use “Brechtian” in these ways, they are using it incorrectly. What we must understand is that Brecht subscribed to a very specific type of theatre, called Epic Theatre, and then added elements that were unique to his needs and wants for theatre.

So what is Epic Theatre?

First and foremost, Epic theatre is a reaction to the 19th century melodrama. It is important to note that though Epic Theatre gained influence from other genres, such as Theatre of the Absurd, Theatre of Cru-elty, Expressionism, and Surrealism, however, it is unique in and of itself. Both Brecht and Constantin Stanislavski (another well know theatre practitioner of the time) used Epic Theatre to make a push back against melodrama when their acting methodologies were devised. Brecht especially did not agree with the shallow, and inflated nature of melodrama, or its simple goal to simply entertain the audience.

However, the practitioners parted ways, as Stanislavski desired his audiences to become submerged in the emotion of a play, Brecht felt that the audience could learn more if they were kept separate from the emotions created on stage. When Brecht began writing and directing, World War II was looming. So, many of his motivations for Epic Theatre spurned from the fact that he wanted people to be engaged politically, both locally and nationally. Continue reading

Mother Courage: Shattered Beyond Repair

bloodyhandBy: Eric Stroud, dramaturg

Hello there. Will you do something for me? Close your eyes for a moment, and imagine your most prized possession. Picture it as clearly as you can. Now, imagine that possession is in the middle of the road. As you watch your possession in the middle of the road, imagine a giant, speedy diesel truck runs over it and smashes it to pieces. As you try and gather up the pieces of your possession, you realize it is useless. It is destroyed beyond repair.

helpless mother            Mother Courage and Her Children is the story of prized possessions being destroyed beyond repair. It is gritty, and dark, and unpleasant. As a Mother tries to keep her children alive during one of the most violent and deadly wars of 1600’s Europe, we are shown what it is like to loose everything. We are shown what its like to be completely helpless, to the whims of something bigger than ourselves. We are shown that war, though often romanticized in every age, may still just be people taking other people’s lives. Continue reading