Der Jasager, Der Neinsager is a workshop performance of the students of a hybrid Germanic Studies / Theatre course, GMST 488 Performing German Drama. Beyond wanting to stage German theatre in its original language, the aim of this course is to offer students an experiential learning environment in which they develop a dramaturgical concept for the performance of the play based on close textual analysis and research of theatre, culture, and performance history.
This is the second year running that the Performing German Drama student theatre group is staging a German play. After the great success of the Woyzeck project last year, this year, we have taken on the challenge of staging a play by Bertolt Brecht.
The Jasager, Neinsager is part of Brecht’s so-called Lehrstücke, plays that are designed specifically for a concept of theatre as a workshop in which all participants – directors, actors, production crew, and ultimately the audience as well – contribute actively in the collaborative construction of the performance concept for the play.
The Jasager, Neinsager revolves around a simple ethical issue: A teacher, three students, and a young boy embark upon an expedition across the mountains to the great city in order to seek advice and help for a plague that is ravaging their village. The boy falls ill during the journey, and tradition demands that he agree to be killed in order not to endanger the mission. The title of the play – Jasager, Neinsager – makes plain the nature of the ethical choice at hand.
To stage this ethical problem, we took Brecht’s concept of workshop theatre to heart. Our production of the Jasager, Neinsager is indeed the outcome of a creative process that is truly student-driven and collaborative. Production tasks normally performed by single individuals were the responsibility of interdisciplinary student teams: Two co-directors; four language coaches; two stage managers; three communications specialists; and actors cast both in multiple roles and sharing in the production tasks. We also applied the workshop concept consistently during the rehearsals. The rehearsals were conducted in a truly non-hierarchical and dialogical manner and relied heavily on the creative input, critical reflection, and active discussion among all participants.
One challenge in attempting to apply Brecht’s Lehrstück concept so faithfully is how to transition from and translate the laboratory, workshop mode into actual praxis that is the staging of the play. The students rose to this challenge masterfully and developed an impressive, cohesive, and truly Brechtian concept for the performance of the Jasager, Neinsager.
Ours is a “bare bones” production that uses a minimalist set and very few props items so as to bring into relief core Brechtian concepts such as gesture and estrangement, and to invite critical input from the audience itself. Our most important props are ropes, which serve to represent the ethical dilemma symbolically as a power struggle and quite literally as a tug-of-war.
Moreover, working creatively with the Japanese theatre tradition of the Noh plays, in which Brecht’s Jasager, Neinsager is rooted, we are using the stage not merely as a place in which the action occurs, but as a configuration of symbolically significant spaces that produce action themselves by demanding a specific gestural stance from the actors.
We would like to thank the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, the Fine Arts Faculty, and the University of Victoria in general for supporting this creative initiative, and we would also like to thank Tim Gosley and Petra Kixmöller for providing us with a theatre venue that is so ideally suited for our concept of the theatrical stage.