On May 1, 2022, W.B. Worthen, Barnard’s Alice Brady Pels Professor in the Arts, Chair of the Department of Theatre at Barnard, and Professor of English and Co-Chair of the Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance at Columbia, published a new article in the triannual academic journal PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art. The piece, “A Whole Carnal Stereophony: The Wooster Group Stages Brecht,” considers the Wooster Group’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s play The Mother, arguing that its experiments with live and recorded sound reframe the ideologically “alienating” work of Brechtian theatricality in a contemporary social, theatrical, and technological apparatus.
In The Mother, the Wooster Group develops its aesthetic of “repurposing”—both in recording the actors’ voices in reusing scenic elements of previous productions and in projecting scenes from the Berliner Ensemble’s landmark production of the play featuring Helene Weigel — in ways that challenge the traditional understanding of the actor’s voice, and the “liveness” it implies, as the sign and embodiment of “presence” in the theatre. Professor Worthen suggests that the production, staged under the sign of Brecht and Weigel, so to speak, uses contemporary practices and technologies to refigure the spectators’ responsiveness in ways that repurpose, and so alter and amplify, the traditional work of Brecht’s theatre.