Campus hosts first major international theatre conference

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Markus Wessendorf, 956.2600
Professor of Theatre, Department of Theatre and Dance
Posted: Apr 22, 2010

UH Mānoa's Department of Theatre and Dance will host the 13th Symposium of the International Brecht Society from May 19-23. Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), a German playwright, poet, director and theorist, was a seminal proponent of 20th-century modern drama as well as a key figure in the development of political theatre. The motto of the symposium, “Brecht in/and Asia,” relates to Brecht’s reception and representation of Asian culture in his own work as well as to the interpretation and appropriation of his ideas by writers, theatre artists and filmmakers from various Asian countries.
The conference will consist of three parts: a local Brecht Theatre Festival, a public lecture series on “Brecht in/and Asia,” and academic presentations and panels.
Brecht Theatre Festival:
For the first time in local theatre history, four different theatre companies will present work by—or influenced by—the same dramatist at the same time. UH Mānoa's Kennedy Theatre will feature the world premiere of the English-language version of Brecht’s The Judith of Shimoda. The recently reconstructed play draws on historical events that occurred after Commodore Perry opened Japan to the West in 1854. To avert the American threat of bombardment if the Japanese refuse to negotiate a trade agreement, Japanese authorities ask the geisha Okichi to serve the American consul. Brecht’s play focuses on what happens to Okichi after she agrees to sacrifice herself for the sake of her country.
(Director: Paul Mitri; translation by UH Mānoa's theatre professor Markus Wessendorf.)
Performance dates: April 30, May 1, 21, & 22 at 7:30 p.m., May 2 & 23 at 2 p.m.
Location: UH Mānoa's Kennedy Theatre mainstage
Henry Akina will direct the Mahagonny Songspiel by librettist Brecht and composer Kurt Weill with the Mae Z. Orvis Opera Studio of Hawaiʻi Opera Theatre. Though just a glimpse of the full-length opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, the Songspiel inhabits the same dystopian world ruled by boxing, eating, sex and money— and characters singing the famous “Alabama Song.” Performance dates and location are the same as for The Judith of Shimoda (The Mahagonny Songspiel opens as a “prelude” to Judith).
The Army Community Theatre at Fort Shafter will present the best-known Brecht/Weill collaboration, Threepenny Opera, which opens with the classic “Ballad of Mack the Knife.” (Brett Harwood directs.)
Performance dates: May 13, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 & 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Location: Army Community Theatre at Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter
At Kumu Kahua Theatre, Harry Wong III will stage Tremayne Tamayose’s docudrama The Hilo Massacre, which dramatizes a major incident in Hawai‘i’s labor history from 1938, when 70 polices officers tear-gassed, hosed and fired riot guns into a peaceful demonstration of 200 Big Island union members expressing their solidarity with striking workers in Honolulu.
Performance dates: May 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 & 29; June 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18 & 19 at 8:00 p.m.; May 23 & 30, June 6, 13 & 20 at 2:00 p.m.
Location: Kumu Kahua Theatre
In addition to the Brecht-specific theatre productions, the festival will also feature Mor Is Mor, a new devised theatre production by The Red Rockets, a Honolulu-based theatre company only founded in fall 2009. (The theatre company's first performance How Can You Survive the End of the World? was described by an audience member as “... the Marx Brothers meet Performance Art ...”)
Performance dates: May 19 at 9:30 p.m.; May 20 at 10:30 p.m.
Location: UH Mānoa's Earle Ernst Lab Theatre
The Brecht Theatre Festival will also include an evening of German Cabaret Songs performed by internationally acclaimed singer Robyn Archer and pianist Michael Morley from Australia.
Performance date: May 20 at 8:00 p.m.
Location: UH Mānoa's Orvis Auditorium
Public Lecture Series on “Brecht in/and Asia”:
The Singaporean director Ong Keng Sen, who first gained international acclaim in the 1990's with Shakespeare productions drawing equally on Western and Asian performance traditions, will talk about the decisive influence of Brecht's work and ideas on his development as an artist. (Ong's production of Brecht's The Good Person of Sezuan just opened in September 2009 at Landestheater Linz, Vienna, as part of the festival “Linz 2009 European Capital of Culture.”)
Ong Keng Sen: “Brecht in Singapore”
Lecture date: May 19 at 8:00 p.m.
Location: UH Mānoa Art Auditorium
The German theatre scholar Hans-Thies Lehmann, author of one of the most influential and widely translated recent books on contemporary theatre, Postdramatic Theatre, and co-editor (with Eiichiro Hirata) of Theater in Japan, will address the “use value” of Brecht’s work for the era of Globalization: how can the reception of Brecht’s ideas in completely different theatre cultures lead to an effective resistance against the prevalent theatre model of passive spectatorship? The lecture will specifically focus on the theatre situation in Japan.
Hans-Thies Lehmann: “Who, Where, Brecht?”
Lecture date: May 21 at 2:00 p.m.
Location: UH Mānoa Art Auditorium
Haiping Yan, Director of the Graduate Field in Theatre Studies at Cornell University, will give a lecture on the “Chinese dimension” of Brecht’s work. Yan’s accolades include China’s 1980-1981 First Prize for Excellence in Drama (the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize in the U.S.) for her ten-act historical play titled Li Shimin, Prince of Qin. In 1999, CNN listed her as one of “six most influential Chinese cultural figures” for her scholarly and creative works in English and Chinese. Her book publications include Theatre and Society: an Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Drama and Chinese Women Writers and the Feminist Imagination, 1905-1948.
Haiping Yan: “Sphere of Feelings: Theatricality in Chinese Aesthetics and Beyond”
Lecture date: May 22 at 2:00 p.m.
Location: UH Mānoa Art Auditorium
Richard Schechner is a major figure in American experimental theatre (Dionysus in 69), the editor of one of the most influential theatre and performance journals (TDR), and one of the founders of the academic discipline of Performance Studies. In 1975 he directed Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children with The Performance Group in New York (considered by Brecht’s son Stefan the best production of this play, apart from his father’s and Giorgio Strehler’s versions). Schechner will present a lecture on the tour of his Mother Courage production to various cities in north India in 1976. The lecture will include many photographs that have not been made public before.
Richard Schechner: “The Performance Group’s Mother Courage in India”
Lecture date: May 23 at 11:00 a.m.
Location: UH Mānoa Art Auditorium
Academic Program:
The five-day symposium will also include paper presentations by 70 scholars from 18 countries, addressing a wide range of topics from the “Estrangement-Effect” in Indian Kootiyattam to Brecht’s response to Maoism in the early 1950's to Brechtian elements in the contemporary cinema of Wong Kar-Wai, Ritwik Ghatak, and Hou Hsiao-hsien.
For additional information on the events, please contact Markus Wessendorf at

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