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This project was successfully funded on February 6, 2015

Rehearsing Failure

by Lisa Channer


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I am a theatre director working right now to finish a project that is very dear to my heart and that I have been working on for about six years.  This is a new play with music called Rehearsing Failure and it is about the women behind Bertolt Brecht.  I first stumbled upon the story of Brecht’s time in Los Angeles when I was doing research for a project called “Brecht’s Brain” at the University of Minnesota in 2008. That performance, made with University theatre students, focused on his play The Life of Galileo.  Brecht often wrote and spoke about his sense of connection between Galileo, who stood before the Inquisition as a heretic for claiming the earth rotated the sun, and himself who stood before the House Un-American Activities Committee as a suspected communist infiltrator in the film industry.  Brecht saw both himself and Galileo as martyrs to causes larger than themselves.  That they both ultimately capitulated to their interrogators was my initial interest in the parallel but as I dug deeper I found I was even more interested in the women surrounding Brecht. This began a six-year journey to create a show about that particular facet of the Brecht story.

Many people know of Bertolt Brecht as one of the most important voices in 20th century theatre. The creator of epic theatre and the alienation effect, the author of Three Penny Opera, Mother Courage, etc. What is not as well known is that Brecht worked inside a fascinating “workshop”  of writers, directors, actors and translators, many of them his current and ex-lovers. This is something that has been known and spoken of quietly for decades but mostly from the perspective of Brecht’s work and how it was made, with him at the center and the women as footnotes.  I am fascinated by this arrangement and what it meant for the women artists and their work. I wanted to open that story up and examine it out loud.  It seems each of the women were bright and talented enough to stand out front but chose - or were compelled - to shadow and support a “great man” instead, often with little reward or compensation and at huge personal sacrifice.


I am focusing on three of his partners; the actress Helene Weigel, the director Ruth Berlau and the writer Elisabeth Hauptmann. The show takes place in 1947 the last of 7 years they all lived together while in exile in Santa Monica CA working on “The Life of Galileo” and also preparing for Brecht’s testimony before the HUAC where he was subpoenaed to appear that October

Rehearsing Failure is about how these women worked with each other and Brecht, what it means to sacrifice your self to another’s fame and how art and life can slip into each other’s porous spaces.   It combines music, text, movement and design in unusual ways, helping us see these artists living and creating inside various theatrical frames. It has been a labor of love for me and my gifted and dedicated collaborators.

The script, music and physical choreography were created over the past three years with playwright Cory Hinkle, composers Dan Dukich and Annie Enneking and a really amazing and committed cast of actors. With support from the Network of Ensemble Theatres, the Playwrights Center and some enthusiastic supporters, we presented a workshop of the show last June at the Red Eye Theatre in Minneapolis and we’ve been back in rehearsals this year to tighten the piece and add new songs, scenes and movement.

I am doing this project now because I have the opportunity to present the premiere of Rehearsing Failure with Theatre Novi Most as part of the inaugural year of ARTshare, a new producing model that supports resident artists and companies to make new work in the historic Southern Theatre in Minneapolis. This is also a time when our country is engaged in rigorous debate and conversations about women directors and playwrights and why they are still so underrepresented on our professional stages. Locally, in fact, just two years ago the Guthrie Theatre announced a season with no women playwrights or directors. This sparked a heated and lengthy conversation on line and in the press nationwide,

One particularly exciting new addition is the use of 16-millimeter film.  Filmmaker Kevin Obsatz is adding this element with us and I feel very excited to have that kind of technology incorporated into this story.  Brecht was eager to break into film while in exile in Hollywood and the fact that he never really did is part of the story of the “failure” of the L.A. years.  The film we have added is modeled on Andy Warhol’s “screen test” series and will be projected with vintage equipment, onto the set and bodies of the cast.

Rehearsing Failure will open Jan 24th 2015 at the Southern Theatre and run for 10 performances in repertory with other resident artists. It closes on Feb 22nd.  Our cast and crew are assembled from among the astonishing community of professional theatre artists in the Twin Cities. Cast includes Barbra Berlovitz, Pearce Bunting, Dan Dukich, Annie Enneking, Billy Mullaney and Sara Richardson.  Designers are Cole Bylander, Heidi Eckwell and Samantha Johns. Google them all if you don't know them. They are, each one, distinguished.

I need to make up $3,000 in the budget that was lost when a grant did not come through at the last minute. All funds raised through this Hatchfund campaign will go toward paying the actors salaries  and toward the buying and processing of the 16-millimeter film.

If we take in over our $3,000 goal we will be able to put it toward design materials, stage manager pay and graphic design costs.  We will also be able to help fund our goal of touring the show to other cities.  Maybe you'd like to help us come to your town in the future? Contact me!

 I really thank you for considering a donation to help this great project with these amazing artists behind it, finally see the light of day.  I am thrilled to share this story and artistry with audiences after a six-year process. We are so close!

It means so much to me and I truly appreciate your support.

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