Staging plays to reinvent the ideas offered by various authors in their plays is one of the trickiest issues imaginable – not because these ideas are so hard to convey with the help of a certain visual medium, but mostly because setting a staged play based on a certain work means looking at these ideas through a lens of a different person and, therefore, reconsider the system of values which is represented in the play from a certain standpoint.
The above-mentioned process is quite a lot of pain, since, while people might have hard times figuring out what the author’s intent was, considering the latter from a completely different set of values can be even more confusing. However, if realizing what the author was actually meaning to express in his creation, one can easily transform the ideas in the original text into something even more grandeur, taking the work a art to a completely different level.
With that in mind, one can find it quite peculiar to consider Pedro de La Barca Calderon’s Life Is a Dream after plunging into the depth of Bertolt Brecht’s concept a play, its standard set of values, the means of expression and the manner of conveying messages to the audience. Once set according to the rules of Brecht’s theatrical staging, the pay will convey its original message in a new and innovative way, at the same time keeping the original ideas intact and reinforcing the moral of the story.
One of the first things to take care of when staging a play based off of Life Is a Dream according to Brecht’s’ principles of staging will be to take the slightest elements of realism out of it. Since, according to Brecht’s teaching, a play is supposed to provoke people’s critical thinking, not to reflect the reality accurately, it will be necessary to introduce anti-realism to the play wherever possible. The above-mentioned does not mean that it will be needed to drive all the likability of the characters, but to make them less plausible and more modeled. The aforementioned can be achieved by simplifying the characters’ roles and cues, leaving only the lines that characterize them in a certain way.
Another issue to consider when making Life Is a Dream a play based on the principles of Brecht’s theater is how to tie form and function together. According to Brecht’s teaching, the latter must be intertwined for the audience to see the message of the play clearly and identify it with a certain situation to which it applies. Regarding the play in question, the given rule presupposes that Life Is a Dream should be transformed in such a way that its form should speak about its function.
Therefore, the function of the play must be defined. As it has been mentioned previously, the key goal of a play according to Brecht’s interpretation of the subject matter is to offer the audience a life lesson. No matter what dramatic changes have been made to the plot, the moral must always be there. With that in mind, one should remember that the initial moral of Calderon’s story could be loosely defined as learning to control one’s urge to abuse power and realizing that more power means more responsibilities.
Taking the given idea, which Calderon offered in a rather subtle way, to the nth degree with the help of the visuals, dialogues, and paper-thin characters, one will be able to create a Brechtian play. If taking a closer look at the play as it is, one will see that the connection between form and function is rather loose; while the form of the Life Is a Dream is usually defined as a comedy, with a number of typical comedic elements in it, its function is to convey an important life lesson which can hardly be articulated with the help of any comedic tools.
Hence, in the original play, there are little relations between the form and the function which the play performs. For example, such formal elements of the play as the plot, the conflict, and the setting could indicate that it belongs to the genre of comedy, yet in Life Is a Dream, these elements are either downplayed or downright absent. It must be admitted that the plot is there and it is rather elaborated; however, at times there are too many things going on, which makes the story somewhat confusing.
Hence, the plot needs to be articulated in a clearer manner according to the Brecht’s principles. Perhaps, leaving one or two key plotlines while shifting the rest of the plot twists into the background will be a reasonable idea to make the play more Brechtian.
Another essential element of the Life Is a Dream, which makes it clear from the very start that the play does not follow key principles established by Brecht, is the fact that there is little to no dialogue with the audience in it, whereas in Brecht’s interpretation, the audience must be aware of the play (Brecht-1). Indeed, if considering the play from the public’s standpoint, there is nothing that can be considered as a reference to the audience; even the omnipotent narrator, who often takes care of explaining to people what is going on is absent here.
Therefore, it can be a good idea to add the above-mentioned character to adapt the play into a more Brechtian-style comedy. There are a number of ways to make the given work more relevant to the audience; among the most obvious means, breaking the fourth wall can be considered the least painstaking and by far the most efficient. This does not mean that certain lines of the play must be changed or even that new ones have to be written in; instead, the actors can convey the idea directly to the audience by adding specific inflections to the lines that they say.
Once turning their faces to the audience when monologuing, the actors can establish contact with the audience in a very efficient way. For example, such line as “Once more the storm has roar’d itself away,/Splitting the crags of God as it retires” (Calderon), which is obviously meant for no one except the main character, can be addressed to the audience as well as any other character in the play.
Finally, such an aspect of a standard play according to Brecht’s interpretation of the latter as the characters must be touched upon. It goes without saying that the characters in Calderon’s comedy are very memorable and likable. Creating such fleshed-out leads, Calderon managed to stay true to the principles of writing which were considered true in his epoch.
However, with Brecht’s reinvention of the entire structure of a play, the role of characters in the play, as well as their development, has been reconsidered as well, which means that the leads in Life Are a Dream should be less three-dimensional according to Brecht’s ideas. One of the key features of Calderon’s characters is that they develop as time passes, and do so in rather unpredictable ways.
One of the most graphic examples, Segismundo, who is an obvious focus of the story, is a very complex character, who undergoes a considerable change. Starting from an oppressed and intimidated captive, he develops into a colossal rascal once he gains considerable power over the rest of the people; hence, the clash of his suffering and the desire to avenge all his tortures turns him into quite a monster of a prince.
After his repentance, however, he gets back to his previous humble state, getting much wiser. When adapting the play into a Brechtian performance, one has to simplify Segismundo’s character, leaving the subplot of the above-mentioned moral controversy out.
Thus, it is clear that the techniques of staging and principles of developing a play which Brecht offers can help discover new depth in Pedro de La Blanca Calderon’s Life Are a Dream. Despite the threat that the new approach might change the original idea until it becomes hardly palatable, the result which is likely to appear after implementing the plan mentioned above is bound to be quite inspiring.
It is essential that the strategy offered by Brecht allows stressing the key message of the author without changing its substance. Hence, the staged play will retain the unique features of the manuscript, at the same time featuring a new interpretation of the issues raised by the author.
Brecht-1 n. d. PowerPoint presentation. Print.
Calderon, Pedro de La Barca n. d., Life Is a Dream. Web.