A sound definition of ‘politics’ is required in order to understand the political functions of Brecht’s theatre and the concept of ‘making theatre politically’.
Politics has a variety of meanings. An obvious starting point is how a nation is governed. In a democracy, political parties tend to decide on legislation through processes of debate and/or public consultation. In a dictatorship, a party or parties allied to the ruling party tend to hold sway, often beneath a powerful leader or leadership. Other forms, of course, also exist. On the other hand, people talk of ‘office politics’, meaning various smaller-scale skirmishes that lead to the enhanced power of one person or group over another. The phrase ‘that was a political decision’ also draws on this usage, that is, that a decision was made to someone’s benefit rather than to something more selfless. What these different usages share is a concern with power, either at a national level or in structures that are more localized. Yet the definition of politics that I will be proposing is broader than the instances given just now.
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, scientist and polymath, writing in the fourth century before the Common Era, considered politics to be the philosophy of human affairs. Moving forward to the twentieth century, the revolutionary, theorist and politician Lenin defined politics with a question: who does what to whom? Both thinkers understood politics as something that pervaded almost all human interaction, and it is this approach to ‘the political’ that runs through Brecht’s theatre as well.
Politics becomes a term that applies to all human relationships in that all relationships rest on a system of norms, of permissions and of prohibitions. If we acknowledge that simply being born in a certain place at a certain time confers either a set of advantages, disadvantages or a mixture of the two, then politics runs through all our lives every second of the day. That it is so pervasive means that drama and stagecraft can deal with politics in almost every situation, and Brecht offers a variety of ways to approach the staging of politics defined thus. See Arrangement, Fabel, Gestus, Haltung, Historicisation, Not/But and Verfremdung.