The Origins of BrechtFest

The following is a conversation with Jocelyn Maher, The Horse in Motion’s frequent collaborator and my roommate, on how we came up with the idea for BrechtFest. This interview took place in our living room over two bowls of Cheerios.

NM- So, first I just wanted to talk about how this project came about!

JM- How it started with a mistake?

NM- Yes - can you explain how it happened?

JM- Well… Was it last year? Two years ago?

NM- It was during Attempts on her Life. [Our last show we produced.]

JM- It was when a bunch of Seattle theaters were doing a Samuel Beckett Festival and I kept accidentally calling it Brecht Fest instead of Beckett Fest.

NM- Yeah and it didn’t click the first time you said it. You kept confusing the two, right?

JM- Yeah- and I said BrechtFest. And at some point it was like “Oh my God”. And it was you, Bobbin, and I in this room and I was like what if… oh my god, Breakfast! What if we just do it- it’s a festival of Brecht and it’s at breakfast time.

NM- Yeah, we all made eye contact at the same time. And we were like, “BrechtFest!”

JM- And we were like, wait a minute- this could actually work. And so we had that idea. Literally we had it almost 2 years ago. It seemed like such a pipedream.

NM- Yeah.

JM- Which we have somehow thus far turned into a reality.

NM- You know what’s so funny that I was thinking about, is that you and I actually have had some experience with Brecht. Which I always forget!

JM- It’s kinda shocking.

NM- But we’ve actually got a little experience under our belts.

JM- It’s true. But I actually always forget that I’ve done Brecht before. I think it’s partly because I’ve never seen it onstage.

NM- That’s true. I've never seen it performed either. No one does Brecht!

JM- Which is a shame!

NM- I mean yeah I think you are right - I think part of it is that I can’t quite imagine what it actually looks like.

JM- When we did Caucasian Chalk Circle our junior year I knew next to nothing. It was like a bare-bones crash course - “This is Brecht and his style is Epic Theater”. I don’t think that the Brechtian style was ever fully integrated into my performance of Caucasian Chalk Circle. I mean it was just very muddled. I just don’t think I understood fully the point of Epic Theater.

The summer before we were in “Caucasian Chalk Circle” at the UW School of Drama, Jocelyn and I took a Brechtian Musical Theater class with Halldor Laxness during a study-abroad session in France.

JM- The summer before we met a bit of a Brechtspert of our own.

NM- We probably should be checking in with Halldor about our show.

JM- Yeah I am going to channel him and suggest that there be a lot of touching - a lot of feeling people up.

NM- A lot of touching. A lot of caressing chairs.

JM- I noticed Liza was doing a lot of it with you and I approved of it. Keep it coming.

NM- Its gonna be a very handsy show. What do you feel like you learned from Halldor in France? Is there anything you feel like you can apply from that?

JM- At the time, I’m not sure how much I was understanding the style - it's such a difficult concept.

NM- Yeah that’s me too, it's like what I was telling you about, that note Halldor kept giving us. Play the opposite of your character. If your character is poor, play him like he’s rich and just pretending to be poor. And at the time it just seemed like a weird Halldor-esque note to give, but now that I think about it that’s a very playable action. Its something we can use. And I remember plum trees!

JM- Plum trees?

NM- Yeah we had to memorize all those poems-

JM- Which we never used-

NM- Yep, and everyone had to memorize a poem about plum trees.

JM- And Halldor was just talking about sex all the time.

NM- I mean, that is Brechtian. It’s very lusty and carnal… Hedonistic. Especially Threepenny!

JM- Yeah I think it kind of speaks to the primitive animalistic desires of mankind, which derives all of these undeniable qualities that manifest in all sorts of negative ways.

NM -That was very impressive sounding.

JM- It was interesting coming into rehearsals - we were doing this whole thing dedicated to Brecht. We did all this studying and reading. But then it was like, are we actually ready to do this? Because we better know our shit if we are going to do this whole thing: a festival of Brecht.

NM- It also, like, it felt very scary right up until-

JM- That last intensive week before rehearsals. The Horse in Motion company members had weeks where we came together to work on the script – we called them intensives.

NM- Yeah the last intensive week, but even after that it still felt very daunting. For me, it was once we had our actors reading the script, it just made so much more sense. Once it was being read aloud and we had actual people.

JM- Also by marrying the theory and the practice - because you know the theory we learned in 302 [our critical theory class] gave me the impression that Brecht’s theater was supposed to be so cold and isolating. The message I took away when I was in college was that Brecht didn’t want his audience to have any emotional response. Because he thought that it was a cheap way to get his message across. But it's supposed to be political.

NM- Yeah that’s what Richard [E. T. White, a local theatre educator and “Brechtspert”] said: empathy yes. Not sympathy. And that’s huge. And I think that’s what people just assume - no sympathy, no feelings. Turn it off. Nothing. But that empathy thing is like, no, we just need to get the audience in a different way.

JM- And learning that how we can separate the awareness of the actor as opposed to the  awareness of the character - that can come from casting. It doesn’t necessarily need to be something additional.

NM- Yeah it’s like that dual thing where they should be watching you as an actor and you as the character.

JM- And a lot of it comes from designs and the casting - how do we make these stories relevant? Who are the people in power today? Who are the disenfranchised groups today? How do we put them onstage?

NM- I mean that’s gonna be the tricky thing for us - putting politics in it. But I know we have some good ideas about it.

JM- Good stuff.

NM- Great interview. Shaudi’s interview was so much better. This is great - all I’ve got is the story of its conception.

JM- So it’s a puff piece.

NM- That’s how I feel. I am the People Magazine of our blog.

JM- Well you know what, people read it.

Nic Morden.jpg

Nic Morden graduated from the University of Washington in 2012.  Nic studied LeCoq, the work of Tadeusz Kantor and Brechtian musical performance in Pontlevoy, France.  He recently co-starred in the horror film, “Dead Body”.  Nic was last onstage in “Attempts on Her Life” and is a co-founder of the Horse in Motion.