From the papers of Barrie Stavis comes this collection of posters from Bertolt Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble. German dramatist and theorist Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) established the Berliner Ensemble in 1949 as a vehicle for the performance of his own plays. Brecht’s later work, which was highly political—he was a lifelong Marxist— emphasized emotional detachment in order to encourage viewers to retain their critical perceptions, known as verfremdungseffekt. Brecht expounded on his theories in A Short Organum for the Theatre (1949).
Brecht’s plays include The Threepenny Opera (1928), Mother Courage and Her Children (1941), Life of Galileo (1943), and Saint Joan of the Stockyards (1959).
Barrie Stavis was put into direct competition with Brecht in 1947 when his play about Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei, Lamp at Midnight, was first produced in December 1947 by New Stages. Initially picked up by The Experimental Theatre, it was dropped in favor of Brecht’s Life of Galileo, the American version of which was translated and adapted by actor Charles Laughton, who also played the lead role. The two plays about Galileo were produced simultaneously in New York City and were often reviewed against one another. New York Times theatre critic Brooks Atkinson not only claimed Stavis’s play to be superior but also dismissed Laughton’s performance as a bit over-the-top. Stavis, however, did not want to be put in competition with Brecht, whose work he respected.
All of the posters shown here are from productions staged during Brecht’s lifetime (possibly with the exception of Playboy of the Western World.) The Berliner Ensemble performed at of the Deutsches Theatre until 1953 and then moved to Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. Brecht’s wife Helene Weigel took over the management of the Ensemble after Brecht’s death in 1956 until she passed away in 1971.