Undergraduate theater students worked in collaboration with local theater artist and owner Heidi Van at the Fishtank Theater to create a humorous abridged version of the works of Bertolt Brecht, a mid-20th century German playwright. They called it “Brechtology.”
This is the second time UMKC students have teamed up with the Fishtank. Last semester, undergraduate students participated in “44 Plays for 44 Presidents,” and sold out nearly every night. Despite having to cancel their opening night last Thursday due to Winter Storm Q, the “Brechtology” played Friday through Sunday.
“Brechtology” was not your average theater experience. Instead of a standard polished show, it was written entirely by Van and the students, allowing them to test their playwriting and collaboration skills, but gave the show an unfinished raw feel. The show was written, rehearsed and produced all in one month, an impressive accomplishment for any theater artist.
But that does not mean the show was ‘bad.’ In fact, it was quite funny at times. Each scene was based off one of Brecht’s full-length plays. Some scenes stayed true to the original plays, while other scenes were written out of the students’ memories of the stories, with little research done to fine tune the details. Often times, the latter were funnier.
Act I was comprised of scenes that were based from plays. In Act II, the play takes a complete 180 after the performers openly admit they did not read enough of Brecht’s plays to write another full act, so for the remainder of the show, they make fun of Brecht’s personal life. They even joke about the Theater Collaboration 403 class they were all enrolled in last semester, and hand out one of the worksheets acquired in the class to audience members.
Brecht was born in 1898 in Augsburg, Bavaria, north of Munich. By the early 1920s, he was already a published writer. He helped establish expressionist theater where, instead of being completely absorbed by the play in a cathartic state, audience members are aware of everything happening onstage.
Brecht liked to warn the audience of what they were about to see by doing things like flying in a sign with the title of the scene. Today, theater practitioners and scholars refer to his style as ‘Brechtian.’
Throughout Act I of “Brechtology,” each scene is labeled with the title of the play it was based on. The acting is over the top and extremely presentational, rather than the realism most audiences are comfortable with today.
Act II feels very much like an inside joke. Many audience members were theater students who were also enrolled in the 403 class with the performers. These viewers understood the jokes, while audience members from the community may have felt left out at times, missing the jokes entirely.
Nikky Badejo stood out among other performers. Her stage presence is strong and she offered energy to the show that it needed to not be a flop.
“It was a huge learning experience,” she said. “Having to learn to put aside our egos to produce a full original production was definitely a challenge, but we attacked it head on.”
“Brechtology” will not win any awards anytime soon, but it was an enjoyable and unique experience for audience members and actors alike.