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

Bertolt Brecht Stage Design By John Heartfield. The Alienation Effect (Verfremdungseffekt), 1923

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

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

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 designs were perfectly suited to Brecht’s narratives.

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