Happy End: Bertolt Brecht in Performance and Translation

Plan Author

  • Olivia Schaaf, 2015

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Berlin as Collaborative Model: A Project Around-and-Between Music, Theater, and the City of Berlin
  • Course: Staging the Apocolypse
  • Tutorial: Exiliteratur: German Culture in Exile 1933-45
  • Tutorial: Translating Brecht

Project Description

An adaptation and production of Brecht/Weill/Hauptmann’s musical Happy End

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Elizabeth Daily, Plymouth State University


This Plan is a study of Bertolt Brecht’s theater theory and his work in translation through the specific lens of a production of his Weill/Hauptmann collaboration, Happy End. It starts with a comparative analysis of how Bertolt Brecht’s theater theory impacted works of contemporary playwrights, such as Samuel Becket and Botho Strauß. This is followed by a paper on the difficulties of Happy End in translation, specifically the moral opaqueness referred to in German as Lehrstück that is more developed in some of Brecht’s other work, and Olivia’s own translation of the play. The final paper is a play written by Olivia, On the Geneology of Metaphysics of Morals, based on the works of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzche, which was presented in a staged reading. The production of Happy End involved a cast of 12 and live music.


The most prominent stylistic method Brecht developed and utilized to meet this end was the Verfremdungseffekt (estrangement effect). Staging and execution of the performance was modeled to emotionally distance the audience from the events on stage, in order to draw it in on a basis of rationality. The estrangement effect disagrees with a clear distinction of protagonist and antagonist, while actively obliterating and defusing moral stereotypes. This technique allowed Brecht to present his plays’ conflict in a morally ambiguous manner, leaving the disquisition of good and evil to his audiences’ capacities.

In The Threepenny Opera, for example, we are reminded of the theatricality within the play by written signs, pre-notifying the spectator of the content and intention of each scene or song. The onlooker is pulled away from the illusion created by the world of the play as the element of surprise is erased from the experience. Similarly, in Happy End, the content and intention of a song is announced within the dialogue prior to their performance. The expectations of the audience are to be fulfilled – not to be startled. Again, the illusion of the performance cannot exist. The intention behind this effect is to confront the audience with reflecting on their current political situation, challenging every viewer individually to evaluate their desired position within societal structures.


The inspiration for my Plan came from my admiration for Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, as well as my fascination with the English translation in comparison with the German original.

Putting on a full musical at Marlboro was definitely a very challenging experience. Everything you want to achieve with a production as a student has to come from you and your work. It’s ultimately rewarding. I had more than 20 peers involved in the production of my Plan production Happy End, which made Plan less about myself, and more about the Marlboro community.

My Plan related directly to my plans for graduate school, and my professional work. I graduated with a BA in theater, and then begin graduate school at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler Berlin in their MA program for music theater directing.