1921 1923 1927

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

John Heartfield Stage Design For Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator, 1923

John Heartfield meets and begins a close lifelong friendship with Bertolt Brecht in 1923.

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

Heartfield’s stage design was a vital element in the early plays of Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator. Heartfield created stage sets, costumes, and stage projections.

John Heartfield and Erwin Piscator Inspiration For The Bertolt Brett Alienation Effect (Verfremdungseffekt), 1923

Heartfield played a significant role in helping Brecht conceive the Alienation Effect concept (Verfremdungseffekt). Brecht used the idea of involving the audience in the made-up world occurring on stage. Heartfield’s streetcar broke down as he carried screens he had created as part of a set for an Erwin Piscator play. So the play had already begun by the time he arrived at the theatre. An annoyed Piscator stepped to the front of the stage and interrupted the performance. He gave the audience four choices, and they chose to have the play start again from the beginning, allowing Heartfield to put up his screens.

This incident likely inspired Bertolt Brecht to develop the Alienation Effect (Verfremdungseffekt), interrupting plays at critical 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. Many famous theater groups later used the Alienation effect, including The Living Theater and Joe Papp’s Shakespeare productions.

Bertolt Brecht Reclining With Cigar. Great friend of John Heartfield. Worked with Heartfield Stage Design

Bertolt Brecht


Professor John J Heartfield is John Heartfield’s paternal grandson. He gives live interactive presentations around the world that focus on his grandfather’s life and work and modern political art. Please write to him to request his presence at your event or ask any question. He is always pleased to hear from exhibition visitors.

Dada Political Artist John Heartfield grandson, John Heartfield, Curator Official John Heartfield Exhibition