“Do not fear death so much 
but rather the inadequate life.”  
German Composer & Playwright Bertolt Brecht
German Composer & Playwright Bertolt Brecht

Brecht Theater Meets Heartfield Stage Design. The Alienation Effect (Verfremdungseffekt), 1923

John Heartfield meets and begins a close lifelong friendship with Bertolt Brecht.

Heartfield’s theatre sets were vital elements in the early plays of Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator.

Heartfield played a major role in helping Brecht to realize the concept of the Alienation Effect (Verfremdungseffekt). It was Heartfield’s late arrival (due to a streetcar incident) that caused Brecht to interrupt one of his plays. Brecht polled the audience. Should Heartfield be allowed to interrupt the action to put up his background screens?

This incident helped Brecht develop the Alienation Effect (Verfremdungseffekt). It was the idea of interrupting plays at key junctures to encourage the audience to be part of the action and not lose themselves in it. The Alienation Effect (Verfremdungseffekt) reminded spectators that they were experiencing an enactment of reality and not reality itself. The Alienation effect was later used by many famous theater groups, including The Living Theater and Joe Papp’s Shakespeare productions.

Bertolt Brecht’s theatre works used minimal props and stark stage sets. John Heartfield’s spare evocative stage set designs were perfectly suited to Brecht’s narratives.


Bertolt Brecht

Playwright and Composer
John Heartfield designed stage sets for Bertolt Brecht and influenced his innovative concepts of theater.
Bertolt Brecht Reclining With Cigar

Bertolt Brecht

John Heartfield’s grandson, Professor John J Heartfield, offers an Art & Politics, Politics & Art presentation to audiences in all types of venues. He was a featured presenter at 2016 DADA WORLD FAIR (The Collage Museum, San Francisco). Please write to him for more information.

brecht theatre curator answers questions