Reiner Steinweg

Two Chapters from “Learning Play and Epic Theatre”1

Translated by Sruti Bala

Preliminary Remarks

My book ”Lehrstück und episches Theater. Brechts Theorie und die theater­pädagogische Praxis” (Learning-play and Epic Theatre. Brecht’s Theory and the Theatre-Pedagogical Praxis) recapitulates my first book of 1972 on Brecht’s learning-play which, at that stage, was written as a Ph.D. thesis in a more sophisticated scientific language, trying to prove every single interpretation of Brecht's widespread remarks on the subject as being well founded and part of a coherent thought of the author on that subject.

The new book adds my experiences of 15 years in which I have tried together with several German and Austrian collegues to find practical ways of making use of the learning-play in political education (”Politische Bildung”), mostly outside of schools and very often with adults. Numerous reports have been published on these experiences, even more remain unpublished. For a while there was something like a learning-play movement in Germany and Austria, especially in the 1980s.

”Lehrstück und episches Theater” is the immediate result of a wonderful experience in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Prof. Ingrid Dormien-Koudela then invited me to present the learning-play approach not only by theory but also in four ”mara­thonas” – learning-play sessions of three whole days each in the University of Sao Paulo, April to June 1989. The highly motivated post graduate students took notes from the theoretical course, and they also put very useful questions at the end of it, which I answered in written form, making questions and answers available for everybody. The book is based on these minutes, answers and questions. That was my most coherent period of thinking on the possibilities of the learning-play method, discovered in and through praxis.

How far this praxis reflects Brecht’s own praxis and how far it is a reaction to modern sociological and psychological theory going beyond Brecht’s own practical experience and theoretical horizon is also dealt with in the book, since there has been some criticism in that direction.

Unfortunately all this literature has been published only in German (and partly in Portuguese) so far, with a few, very early exceptions which could not yet rely on the multitude of experiences. Then, in 2002, I came in contact with Sruti Bala, a young Indian student of German literature, for whom English is the second mother language and speaking excellent German as well, in the framework of the Berghof Research Center on Constructive Conflict Management in Berlin, when I was the acting director of that institute for a while. Sruti Bala participated in a learning-play course I gave that summer near Frankfurt/M. She became so interested that I dared asking her to translate the two introductary chapters of the book in order to have at least something in hand when people outside the German speaking community ask me for information. I was very pleased when she started translating immediately.

I want to thank Sruti Bala very much for enabling me to answer this way to at least some of the questions which are posed to me by English speaking people all over the world.

Linz , March 2003 Reiner Steinweg

I. Core Ideas of the Learning-Play

Firstly I would like to expand on some central aspects of Brecht’s theory of the learning-play. In doing so, I shall construct a montage of Brechtian quotes on learning-plays, compiling different statements made over the years into a more or less comprehensive text. (The text numbers, referring to my critical edition2, indicate sources.)

“The learning-play instructs by being acted, not by being witnessed.” (Text 145) “The Great Teaching changes the role of acting entirely. It dissolves the system of actor and spectator. It knows only more actors, who are students at the same time.” (Text 29) “There is no difference between true philosophy and true politics. Based on this knowledge, the Thinking Man recommends the education of the youth by way of theatre (…). When young people perform acts on stage, which are subject to their own perspectives, they are in fact raised for the State.” (Text 53) “At the core of the learning-play lies the belief that the actor can be socially influenced by way of certain modes of behaviour, adoption of certain stances, the reproduction of certain speech, and so on.” (Text 145) “The representation of the Anti-Social through the person gradually becoming a citizen of the State is most useful to the State.” (Text 53) “With this play ('The Saying Yes and the Saying No'), I wanted to force the pupils to reflect.” (Text 175).

The starting point for such a political-aesthetic education is bodily expression:

“Just as moods and lines of thought can lead to certain postures and gestures, so also postures and gestures can lead to certain moods and lines of thought.” (Text 125)

“Operating with specific gestures
Can alter your character
Alter it.
When the feet are placed higher than the derriere,
the speech is different, and the type of speech
alters the thoughts.” (Text 121)

Learning about postures and gestures is contrary to an aesthetically packed imparting of doctrines, insights and world views. It is precisely not about a “theatre of postulations”, although the expression “learning-play” may seem to imply so:

“The correct or false rationale behind a judgement is a completely different matter, which targets issues that I did not introduce into the debates.” (Text 179)

Whereas in epic (stage) theatre, “alienation” should replace “empathy”, in the learning-play, both are called for:

“Try as I might, I could not fit the idea of empathy into theatre anymore, so I came up with the learning-play to fit in the notion of empathy.” (Text 153) “The exploration of the Verfremdungseffekt, the effect of alienation, is indispensable.” (Text 145).

One of the means of alienation is the continuous change of perspective. (In the following example Brecht refers to the play “The Measure’s Taken”, however the directions are valid for all learning-plays):

“Each of them [the actors, R.S.] must change from one role to the next and take over the figure of for instance the accused, the prosecutor, the witnesses, the judge, in quick succession. Under this condition, each of them will be able to subject themselves to the exercises of discussion and of course gain the knowledge – the practical knowledge of what dialectics actually is.” (Text 179) The change of perspectives targets those “exercises in pliancy, meant for those types of mental athletes, which all good dialecticians must be.” (ibid.)

By working on postures and the continuous exchange of roles, a distinct, different aesthetic emerges, which in fact was an anti-aesthetic, in comparison to the predominant understanding of aesthetics in Germany in the 1920s:

“Aesthetic standards that are relevant for the formation of persons in audience-based plays, become irrelevant in the case of the learning-play. Especially single-sided, starkly individualised characters are left out, unless the single-sidedness or individuality are themselves the problems being dealt with.” (Text 145). “The value of a sentence or a gesture or an action is not decided by its beauty, but according to whether the State has some use in the actors speaking that sentence, executing that gesture or performing that action.” (Text 53). “‘The Flight of the Lindberghs’ has no value, if one is not schooled by it. It does not possess any artistic value which justifies a performance that does not have precisely this schooling as its aim.” (Text 51).

“Schooling” and “feeling” do not, however, exclude each other; and the aesthetic form of the learning-play has great significance:

“Indeed the most rational form, the learning-play, shows the most emotional effects.” (Text 149) “The form of the learning-play is stringent, however only so that individual inventions and innovations can be easily adapted into the play.” (Text 145) “In the learning-play, an immense diversity is possible.” (ibid.)

The form of the learning-plays is inextricably connected to the goal of these exercises. This is to do with the strengthening of the social competencies of the practitioner:

“If someone has to give a speech in the evening, he would presumably go to the Pedagogium in the morning, and read the three speeches of Johann Fatzer. In this way, he would sort out his movements, thoughts and wishes.” (Text 54)

Taking into consideration various other remarks of Brecht on his theory of the learning-play as well as on the epic theatre, both of which we will be dealing with, the following conclusive remarks may be made from his articulations on the topic:

1. The learning-play does not contain any instruction, it does not teach “Marxism” or another philosophy or social theory, rather it teaches one to acknowledge reality more closely. In this regard, the term “peça da sacação” or “theatre of discovery”, coined by Zé de Celso, a Brazilian avant garde theatre director, is better than “learning-play”. It provides a framework, within which new modes of behaviour can be discovered and put to the test. The learning-play provides opportunities for “sociological experiments”, similar to those which Brecht speaks of in the “Three Pence Process”. In the course of the play, the social and political realities of the actors are present in their body gestures.

2. The recognition of gestures by way of bodily empathy, imitation and alienation is only possible when the participants in the learning-play refer back to their own social and political experiences, i.e. to their experienced social realities. Learning-plays are so ‘abstract’, do not display any “rich”, “extraordinary” figures/persons/ “heroes”, because it is easier to place one’s own experiences as an actor into the centre stage of theatrical action under these conditions. The “hero”, the centre of the learning-play, is the actor him/herself. That is the reason why aesthetic standards for the creation of the stage figures are not valid in the learning-play.

3. The texts of the learning-play reproduce the deeper structures of social reality, namely at the very core nodes of society: the conflicts and the way they are or are not resolved – with or without violence, pressure or force. The learning-play and the repetitive, estranging enactment of the text forces a confrontation with these deeper structures, to consciously reflect on them and on one’s own share or entanglement in them.

4. The learning-play consists of exercises, which combine and bring together the Personal, i.e. personal experiences in conflicts with people from one’s own direct working and living context, with the Political, i.e. experiences of conflicts in institutions, at work places, in political groupings, with political opponents or socially powerful figures, as well as with the perception of international conflicts on a wider scale. The text, the enactment of the text enables the recognition of social conflict structures through individual experiences of conflict.

5. The instrument used in this process of learning or recognition in the learning-play is the provocation of associations. This is why we gave the first comprehensive report on the new practical application of the learning-play in the then West Germany the title “Assoziales Theater” or “Associative Theatre” (KOCH/ STEINWEG/ VAßEN 1984).3 This implied: associations of the anti-social, remembrances of violence and coercion in all their subtle shades, as an instrument for honing our capacities to influence political and personal structures, reducing the need for violence and coercion.

The practical application of the learning-play since 1979 is diverse. In the mid 80s, there were at least eight different approaches to applying the learning-play; we have presented these in “Assoziales Theater” and in “Weil wir ohne Waffen sind” (“For we are without weapons”) ( HEIDEFUß/ PETSCH/ STEINWEG 1986, cf. footnote 3). In the meantime, the number of approaches and variations have become almost uncountable (cf. the bibliography on the learning-play by FORNOFF/ VAßEN 1994, see footnote 3). Only one of these approaches will be presented in this volume, since it is merely possible to make accurate observations in this field on the basis of one’s own experiences or experiments.

The aesthetic factor is given very different leverage in the different approaches known to me. The concern is primarily a political-didactical one. In a situation, where all concepts of “political education”, developed in the 1970s in the Federal Republic of Germany, failed to be absorbed in the day-to-day consciences of the youth as well as of adults, the learning-play offered the possibility to combine factual experience with reflection, sensuality with abstraction and theory with practice. All approaches towards an application of the learning-play known to me, work with the instrument of role exchange, in order to expand on different viewpoints of social and aesthetic perceptions and also in order to dissolve the routine of day-to-day actions and understandings.

Most of the approaches are based on the notion of a short-term training method of a weekend or 1-2 weeks. Within this time period, it is possible to dramatise the entire learning-play only by leaving out the common reflection with the group. Although Brecht upheld the “mental mastery of the entire play” as “absolutely necessary” (Text 145), most practical dramatic approaches only work with single scenes, without discussing the entire play or the context of the chosen scenes. This is possible, since all the scenes of the learning-play are built on the epic principle, i.e. the plays can, as Alfred Döblin once pointed out, be “slit with a pair of scissors” along the edges of the scenes, without rendering the individual pieces meaningless in the process. Of course, the fragmentary learning-plays are especially conducive for this sort of practical approach. The successive dramatisation of an entire play in the course of one year was once attempted by us during the project “Youth and Violence” (cf. PETSCH in Heidefuß / Petsch / Steinweg pp. 239-286) Nevertheless it remains a difficult, although desirable endeavour.

The newly evolving practical form of the learning-play was anchored in the (West) German “Society for Theatre in Education”, which we founded in 1981, following three colloquia on the learning-play (the first two held at the Academy of Arts in West-Berlin) and a few weeks of performances.4 In Austria there is a similar, though more informal “Working Group on Theatre in Education”. This German organisation organises several workshops every year, deliberately integrating theatre-in-education approaches completely different from that of Brecht as well. Since 1984 the Society also publishes its own bi-annual journal, carrying the title “Korrespondenzen. Zeitschrift für Theaterpädagogik ” (“Correspondences. Journal of Theatre in Education” ).5 In this journal, a comprehensive issue on Brecht’s learning-play was published in 1994, where I presented the biographical context of my re-discovery or interpretation of this theatrical form 30 years ago. The diversity and heterogeneity of contributions in this issue show how lively, how contradictory the practical applications of the learning-play and the theoretical debates on them still remain.

The application of the learning-play derives from Brecht’s theory, it however also explicitly refers to the didactics of political education (as developed by Oskar NEGT, amongst others), the theories of routine consciousness (Thomas LEITHÄUSER amongst others) and to sociological theories (Alfred SCHÜTZ / Thomas LUCKMANN, George Herbert MEAD). New combinations with different theoretical strands keep emerging.

II. Draft Outline of a Course in the Learning-Play

The following draft of a course in theatre in education contains in concentrated form 15 years of experience as a theatre trainer. It also condenses and supplements earlier attempts to describe the pedagogical process.6 Certainly, the draft is merely a model, since every course in the learning-play is shaped differently, according to the time available and the focal interests of the concerned group. Not every element outlined below will or must appear in every course. Some will be modified, some newly added according to the actual demands of the situation and the intuitive decisions of the drama trainer. However, the basic structure, the progression of the main phases, remains the same.

Introduction of Rules

The model of the learning-play developed by us over the course of the years since the 1980s is based on the conditions of short-term learning, (i.e. a weekend or daily 3-4 hours for 4-5 consequent days, or even intensive theatre weeks). The work is focused on one, maximum two scenes of learning-plays. Almost all of Brecht’s scenes in his learning-plays thematise relations of authority, power or violence between humans (HEIDEFUSS/ PETSCH/ STEINWEG 1986 S. 35-50 7). They express typical conflict constellations in more or less unreal, extreme situations in a very condensed, terse manner (a solitary salesman and a single ball pen in the desert, through which a “torrential river” flows; in the midst of the black forests, an intact chair suddenly appears, and so on). Most scenes also depict the potential consequences of behaviour in conflict in an exaggerated manner (physical wounds, injury, death), which only seldom occur in day-to-day life in such direct severity, although they are often feared and dreaded.

Prior to the beginning of the play, although not necessarily at the very beginning of the workshop itself, the theatre trainer introduces the rules which are to structure the dramatic process:

1. The aim is not to achieve artistic perfection. Every participant’s version is good as far as the particular aims of learning-plays are concerned. The acted scene is neither positively nor negatively appraised by either the actors or the trainer on aesthetic grounds. “Aesthetic criteria for the formation of characters (…) serve no purpose in a learning-play.” This does not imply that one does not work to maximum precision in employing gestures and postures. The demand to sharply observe and reproduce individual gestures and postures in certain phases as precisely as possible however develops from an interest in their meanings, not in their “beautiful”, artistically convincing depiction.

2. In all verbal feedback about an enacted scene, references must only be to the character depicted, not to the person acting that role. Of course there will always be “overlaps” between the actor and the character. However, these overlaps or intersections can differ greatly. Every individual actor should be able to decide for themselves, which perceptions of the other actors and observers regarding their role they choose to accept. They are not accountable to anyone. Remarks about actors as individuals would only limit their freedom to experiment and try out things without inhibition:

The overlapping areas differ from one enacted scene to the next

3. In the feedback reflections after the enactment of every scene, everyone shares with the others what they observed, thought, felt, remembered (their associations). The actors themselves speak after everyone else.

4. During the workshop or course, the chosen learning-play is not interpreted literally. Whether the depiction of the text is “true” or “false” is never a criterion of reflection.

5. Similarly, the theory behind learning-plays and their inherent didactical principles should generally not be discussed during the course of the workshop. (The breaks can be used for this purpose.)

6. Exercises and games used as introductions8 to workshop units or in between different units are of a preparatory or contrapuntal, enlivening character. All participants can suggest and lead such exercises, if so desired. Here there are no borders to one’s imagination.

7. The trainer joins in the play him/herself and follows all rules just like all the participants. S/he thus makes sure all the rules are being followed, introduces every new step and stimulates the reflection rounds with her/his associations, questions and by way of repeating and stressing what s/he has already learnt. Without interpreting on one’s own, the trainer occasionally comments on the scene in brief statements reflecting on the relation between the enacted scene and reality.

Activating and Learning the Text

The workshop begins with exercises and games, which activate the senses and the body in a series gradually progressing towards the chosen text of learning-plays.

The shortest scene in a learning-play, from the fragment “The evil Baal, the Antisocial” is reproduced below, so that readers have a better idea of the steps described below in the workshop outline. (For further recommended scenes and fragments and descriptions of teaching approaches cf. HEIDEFUß/ PETSCH/ STEINWEG 1986, p. 431)

Scene in Suburban Street
Baal, accompanied by Lupu, meets a young boy, sobbing in front of the posters of an obscure cinema.
BAAL: Why are you weeping?
BOY: I had saved two pence for the cinema, and then this boy came along and grabbed one from my hand. That one over there! He points a finger.
BAAL to Lupu: That is theft. Since the theft did not take place to satisfy one’s stomach, it is no petty theft. Since it apparently took place for a cinema ticket, it is a theft to satisfy one’s eyes. Nonetheless: a theft.
BAAL: Did you not cry out for help then?
BOY: Sure I did.
BAAL to Lupu: The cry for help, an expression of the human sentiment of solidarity, most widely known as the so-called mortal cry.
BAAL patting him: Did no one then hear you?
BOY: No.
BAAL to Lupu: Then grab his remaining coin as well! Lupu takes the other coin from him and both walk away unconcerned.
BAAL to Lupu: The usual outcome of all pleas of the weak.

In learning the text, the emphasis is not on the meaning of the text, as is mostly the case in school learning. Moreover, the trainer aims to not even allow any fixed pictures of the “message” of the text to unconsciously arise in the minds of the participants, or to immediately break them down.9 Participants are not allowed to study the text on their own in silence. Everyone reads out loud, each walking around the room at their own pace (cf. Text 28); thus an asynchronic music of words ensues, words that do not fit together clash with each other, opening up fields of association.

After this, the text is taken to pieces. A conversation of the participants takes place, in which the only material available is the text, but without following its grammatical or semantic structure, a game often resulting in witty combinations of different textual elements (sentences, half-sentences, words, even including stage directions): a creation of distance from the text rather than empathetic interpretation. Next comes a conscious linkage of text and subjective experience, a recount of one’s own accentuations within the group: Each one selects one sentence, phrase or word from the text, which one can personally relate to the most, regardless of the context and the assumed message of the text. These selected phrases are then repeatedly uttered, one by one, while the group stands in a circle facing outwards, so that everyone fully concentrates on listening to the voices. The phrases are thus made vivid in the imagination. Finally participants write down their selected phrase on a large sheet of paper, along with their name.

Perceiving: Spontaneous Versions

Only once a certain fluidity and familiarity with the text is established, does the exercise actually begin. The selected scene is enacted – mostly spontaneously. The trainer asks the participants to choose one role and spend two minutes to think of how they see this role and would like to portray it, in a very rough and general way. This choice is only meant for the current phase, after which the roles are exchanged.

The actors of the different roles are not allowed to discuss their roles with each other. They must strictly follow the text, but not necessarily the stage directions.10 They can, but need not necessarily react to each other. Incompatible roles can thus clash with each other. The text is read out, not recited from memory. (This is a rule for the entire course.) In this phase, all participants should get a chance to try out their chosen role.

After every scene, sometimes after two consequent scenes, the observing participants and then later the actors of the scene share with the group their perceptions, observations, what the scene reminded them of: associations of real social and political situations (this is the so-called feedback round). Such associations arise often only while speaking, while actually trying to describe what may be vague feelings while watching the scene. The associations are in a sense unfolded during the feedback round. “That was like …” is the easiest form used to convey meanings connected to observed external or formal elements, such as body postures, movements, gestures, glances or inflections of the voice. The fact that these associations are not objective in their own right becomes apparent in the often contradictory and diverse associations that different people have about one and the same scene.

The “gradual completion of thoughts in speech” (Kleist) requires time, especially in the beginning (30-60 minutes per scene, according to the size of the group). It is important that all participants are given the time to address and express their truth about the depicted scene. At the same time, the sheer number of comments, the diversity of the social micro-cosmos, which becomes visible in a single scene, can become tiresome and exhausting. It is thus recommended to split the group into smaller units of two or three, once the procedure of giving feedback has become familiar to everyone. If the scene is enacted by two or three actors (doubling of roles is possible, for instance. two traders instead of one), at least one of the actors should be present in each of the smaller groups. Only the main contradictions, discrepancies and points considered to be crucial are discussed briefly in the group feedback round. This can also be done in a non-verbal fashion: by way of showing characteristic postures, gestures, or by way of the small group building a living image with their bodies, depicting what they feel is the essence of the scene. Such non-verbal elements compensate having to speak and listen at length, and also often remain engrained in peoples’ memories.11

Transferring: Pre-arranged Versions

If so far the associations from real life are mostly generated in the observing participants rather than in the actors, this relation is consciously changed in the next phase. Following a reflection of roughly 10 minutes about what uncomfortable reality the scene particularly reminds them of, the participants narrate to each other in small groups events, episodes or conflicts in their own lives, where they might have experienced themselves to be in the role of “Baal”, “the boy” or of “Lupu”, in a figurative sense. Each small group selects one episode and develops a scene around this story, however using only the words of the Brecht text. Thus a real-life experience is laid beneath the text. If required, the group may borrow actors from the other groups, who are then asked to act out certain moments, without, however, knowing the entire background. The roles can be duplicated, tripled or multiplied at will, according to the structure of the chosen scene from real life. The observers do not know the experience beneath the text, but each one is aware that this time it is serious. The text estranges the experienced scene or story, highlighting the commonplace, typical elements in what is essentially a personal experience and simultaneously reveals the potential terrible conse­quences, which may be hidden or lurk as dark possibilities in real life situations. (In more than a few drafts for learning-plays of Brecht, the scene ends mortally or with an acute threat.) In the feedback rounds, the meanings of these endings become all the more severe, whether it is in the form of an “interrogation”, which the characters are immediately subjected to after the scene (note: the characters, not the persons acting them; the observers asking the questions do not know which person experienced the depicted episode); or whether it is in the form of “living images”, which the observing participants create in response to watching a particular scene, by “clay-modelling” their bodies. The phase of the pre-arranged versions allows a new quality and density of the play to emerge.

Change: “Fixed Versions”

At this stage, one of the enacted scenes is selected. Depending on the time available, this can be done by a simple vote, where each actor chooses up to three scenes, and the scene with the most number of votes is selected for further work. However, it is better to discuss the choice in the group, since a lot becomes clearer and can be learnt in the process. I learnt this from the participants of a course once held in Brazil, who insisted on deciding by way of consensus. The discussion should be divided into two parts:

  1. Which role offered by the various scenes depicted so far (i.e. not just offered by the text), have the participants been most often confronted by in their daily lives? Towards which figure (which gestures, postures) do the participants have the most questions, insecurities, and feelings of powerlessness? This figure should be fixed.
  2. Conversely, in which role do the participants see for themselves on the whole the greatest task (or chance) to change or influence negative structures and relations, that propagate violence in some or the other way? This figure should be kept as a “variable”.

“To fix” means: The actor who played or “supplied” this role repeats the portrayal of this role as accurately as possible in the manner originally enacted, with the same postures and inflections of voice, in the same positions if possible. This is of course only partially possible, since one remembers some, but certainly not all the details of one’s own acting of a role. The actors of the fixed figure(s) should therefore try to recapitulate the same feeling they had when they originally acted the scene. It might be useful for the group to jointly remember the most important stages of the original scene with its gestures and stances, before beginning with the experimental series.

This scene is repeated until all other participants get at least one chance to play the variable role. Since the actors of the variable role know the behaviour and nature of their conflict partner, they can try to develop different strategies of dealing with him/her. These strategies should be noted on paper in catchwords or phrases. They can try to outsmart, daunt or pin down the fixed figure with their own strengths, but always using the given script, i.e. mainly using the body (gestures, glances, voice, position in the room). Or they can try to undo the relation of power and dominance between the figures.

In Europe, participants mostly choose to fix the figure of the oppressor, the powerful, the violator, in order to find strategies of dealing with this figure. In Brazil, however, the group in one of the four courses I conducted, chose to fix the oppressed figure (Koch/Steinweg/Vassen 1984 ). This decision was based on detailed discussions. They led to the realisation that it was very important for the participants, mostly from the middle class, to find out how they could contribute to the “poor” in Brazil to give up their apathetic stance (roughly 50% of the population, i.e. 70 million people in Brazil live below the poverty line).

Until this stage, the seminar remains true to the script, using exactly the same words of the Brecht text. This implies that more attention is paid to the postures, gestures or inflections of tone. However, from this point onwards, alterations in the script are allowed under particular conditions: if and only if the actor playing the “fixed” role is entirely convinced, both rationally as well as emotionally, that the behaviour of the co-actor in the variable role would be forced to change in the text or in the enactment of the scene (for instance that “Lupu” would not take away the last penny of the boy), can this actor change the end of the scene or discontinue it.

The actor of the fixed figure should not be changed as far as possible, since this would lead to far too many alterations in the scene. Sometimes the actors of the fixed figures are very reluctant to have to repeatedly act the same scene. However, once they get the hang of it, they feel it is a very exciting experience, since it constantly leads to new configurations. (In employing the method to a free role-play, i.e. in reconstruction of an event from daily life, without the “mediation” of a learning-play, its advantages become pertinent.

The fixed versions are enacted in quick succession and without comments in-between; after every scene participants are given 2-3 minutes to make brief notes and observations on what they viewed or experienced. (This serves as a necessary interval between two scenes as well as a preparation for a brief final feedback.) Mostly there tends to be pin drop silence during the fixed scenes, but occasionally the group breaks out into a relieving laughter when there is a comic scene. Laughter encourages one to think.

Evaluation of the Fixed Versions

Only when all participants who wish to do so, have tried out at least one strategy of action, does the evaluation of the effects of each scene and their connection to reality take place. The notes taken during this stage prove to be useful, since it would otherwise be difficult to remember one’s perceptions, feelings, impressions and experiences in each scene after several consecutive variations. The round of reflection is structured differently from the previous feedback rounds, in that first the actors of the fixed role express their impressions in each variation, in the order in which they were performed, as well as explain any changes they made at the end (decision to stop the scene etc.). The actors of the variable roles supplement these remarks with their own (often completely contradictory) perceptions of that particular scene. Only when all variations of the scene have been discussed, do the remaining participants, who were observers, express their viewpoints, if these have not already been mentioned, especially if they differ greatly from the perceptions and judgements of others, or bring to light obvious parallels and differences to their own social reality.


Since participants must relate the experiences of the seminar to their own realities, where the seminar group is not likely to be present to give support, the final task given to participants is to write down what they see as the insights gained through the seminar relating to their own personal situation. This can be in an abstract, reflexive form, or preferably in the form of an image, a story, a parable or a letter to a good friend, a political opponent or even to oneself. The participants can then decide freely whether they would like to share their text with the group or not. Those texts made available to the group present a possibility of mutual illumination and exploration of the subjective structures of the seminar. These different viewpoints are purposely not integrated into one common text. The common element lies in the enthusiastic reading and recognition of the differences, in the toleration and enjoyment of these very differences, rather than in abstract generalised maxims. Nevertheless, there may well be experiences common to the entire group. Which postures or stances are best suited in which situations, in order to end a conflict without winners/losers, without violence and destruction? Again, this process is about understanding one’s own experiences, and not about deriving a general rule of behaviour from them. Other individual experiences are valid in their own right for those who have them, and it is the task of the trainer to strengthen this sense of experienced truth.


At the end of the seminar, participants once again choose a sentence, phrase or even word from the text, which best portrays their feelings at the end of the learning process. This concluding quote, along with the phrase chosen at the beginning of the seminar, are now shared with the group, this time in a circle with everyone facing each other, and then noted on a large sheet of paper, as in the beginning. All participants are later given a transcript of the sheets, to mark the beginning and end of a common journey.

1 R. Steinweg, Lehrstück und episches Theater. Brechts Theorie und die theaterpädagogische Praxis. Mit einem Nachwort "Brecht in Brasilien" von Ingrid D. Koudela, Frankfurt/M. : Brandes & Apsel 1995, 22005, 17-21, 23-31. The second edition contains an additional epilogue on essential new literature and a teacher's report on experiences with the learning-play in school.

2 The numbers of the quoted texts by Brecht on the learning-play refer to my critical edition of these texts, cf. Reiner STEINWEG (ed.), Brechts Modell der Lehrstücke. Zeugnisse, Diskussion, Erfahrungen, Frankfurt/M. (edition suhrkamp) 1986 pp. 31-224 (a historical-critical edition of Brecht's (and his cooperators') remarks on the learning-play). The texts, numerated from 1 to 195, are arranged here chronologically as well as thematically.

3 Gerd KOCH/ Reiner STEINWEG/ Florian VAßEN (eds.), Assoziales Theater. Spielversuche mit Lehrstücken und Anstiftung zur Praxis, Köln (Prometh-Verlag) 1984. “Assozial” (“associative”) in German is a pun on the word “asozial”, literally: anti-social. See also Wolfgang HEIDEFUß/ Peter PETSCH/ Reiner STEINWEG, Weil wir ohne Waffen sind. Ein theater–pädagogisches Forschungsprojekt zur Politischen Bildung. Nach einem Vorschlag von Bertolt Brecht, Frankfurt/M. (Verlag Brandes & Apsel) 1986

4 c/o Prof. Dr. Gerd Koch, Alice-Salomon-Fachhochschule für Sozialarbeit und Sozialpädagogik (Technical College for Social Sciences and Social Education) Berlin-Schöneberg, Karl-Schrader-Str. 6, D-10781 Berlin, and c/o Prof. Florian Vassen, Seminar für deutsche Literatur und Sprache (Department of German Language and Literature) Universität Hannover, Welfengarten 1, D-30167 Hannover. The “Hannover Archive of the learning-play” (LAH) is located in this institute, hosting the most comprehensive collection of so-called grey literature, including reports on learning-play applications. [This archive now is part of the Deutsches Archiv für Theaterpädagogik, Lingen, see]

5 The first nine volumes appeared under the title „Korrespondenzen. Lehrstück … Theater … Pädagogik” (“Correspondences. Learning-play … Drama … Education”).

6 “Frankfurter Spieleinführung” (“Frankfurt Introduction to Learning Plays”) in KOCH/ STEINWEG/ VAßEN 1984 (cf. footnote 3); see also the chapter entitled: „Streng am Text und ganz bei sich“ (“Strictly according to the text and fully with oneself”), in: HEIDEFUß/ PETSCH/ STEINWEG (cf. footnote 3)

7 Cf. footnote 3

8 For examples for such exercises ref. CLEMENS/RAUTENBERG in “Assoziales Theater (cf. footnote 3) 1984 and HEIDEFUß in HEIDEFUß/ PETSCH/ STEINWEG (cf. footnote 3) pp. 100, 110 and 289 (“Lift-scene”), PETSCH ibid. p. 304f. and STEINWEG ibid. p. 336ff. Trainers should be careful not to suggest games which demand body contact right at the beginning, since some participants are likely to feel even more inhibited.

9 At the beginning of a course in Brazil, we once jointly worked on improving the relatively inexact (printed) translation of a chosen scene, a good beginning for learning the text and an enjoyable process as well. However, we paid attention not to the “meaning” of the scene, but to individual words and sentences, primarily to their implied gestures.

10 Sometimes the stage directions, taken literally, prevent the transfer of a particular scene from its depiction in the text, to other, similar situations experienced by the actors themselves. The directions do not, of course, prevent the transferring of the context, but could delay this transfer unnecessarily.

11 Eva Maringer from Vienna and Michael Wrentschur from Graz successfully conducted a seminar for youth from Eastern and Western Europe (European Youth Academy Villach) with language barriers, primarily using non-verbal feedback and comments. Cf. Eva MARINGER/ Michael WRENTSCHUR, Ja nemam kabat. Mrznu. Lehrstückspiel und zum Thema Gewalt in der interkulturellen Jugendarbeit; in: Korrespondenzen 1995, Vol 23/24/25.




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