Between 1926 and 1933, Brecht worked on his Lehrstücke. Written during years of far-reaching political and economic upheaval in Germany, these short plays show an abrupt rejection of most of the trappings of conventional theatre. The Lehrstücke are sparse and highly formalised pieces intended for performance by amateurs, on the principle that the moral and political lessons contained in them can best be taught by participation in an actual production. There is nothing in the drama of this century to match the precision of their language and the economy of their theatrical technique.
During his exile in America, Brecht tried to make his way in Hollywood but was not a great success, with none of his ideas in his first year there being picked up by a director. When Brecht collaborated with Fritz Lang on Hangmen also Die, and later with John Wexley, he had some minor success, although Brecht himself did not appear in the film's credits. It took only 52 days to film and was considered by critics as one of the best anti-fascist films made during World War II. Overall, Hollywood represented to Brecht the epitome of capitalist propaganda; a society uninterested in experiments in estrangement or anti-capitalist plots. When Hollywood looked at Brecht, they saw a poorly dressed, bad mannered, hot tempered man with communist ideals. It was not the most appropriate mix for a successful career.
It was during his exile in America and Europe that Brecht wrote the majority of his plays, including The Life of Galileo (1938), Mother Courage and Her Children (1939), The Good Person of Szechwan (1940), The Private Life of the Master Race (1942) and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1948).
It was not until his return to Berlin that Brecht had the opportunity to run his own theatre and in the Spring and Summer of 1949, he and his wife, Helene Weigel formed their company. Brecht didn't believe in ‘theatre schools' and was a big believer that you would only learn how to do something by actually doing it, so he took on board a number of young directors assistants and dramaturges, in an effort to pass on his knowledge and development of Epic Theatre. On 12 November 1949, the first production in the newly formed Berliner Ensemble was performed. The play was Mr Puntilla and his Man Matti, directed by Brecht and Erich Engel, set and costumes by Caspar Neher, music by Paul Dessau and Leonard Steckel as Puntilla.
During his final years with the Berliner Ensemble, Brecht was still making innovations to German theatre. One such innovation was the inclusion of preview performances and extensive exploration into the dramaturgical and design elements of the productions. While many have claimed that Brecht's theatre must be ‘cold, severe and didactic' this theory is abolished when one learns that the Ensemble's production of The Mother in 1949 (honoured for being the play to most fully present Brecht's epic ideals in performance) had its audience in tears and gasping out loud in every performance.
In the last few years of his life, Brecht worried that his theatre and its mission, to show its audience that humans and society is both changeable and able to change, where not being heard and were becoming meaningless. Unbeknownst to him, Brecht's theories have had a lasting impact on theatre and playwrights right up to the present day. His works are still being performed, and while they came out of a very specific time in history, they still have something to offer us today.