Research the origins, content and production details of both The Threepenny Opera and Rent plays.
How did these plays affect social change?
Consider the following when completing research:
What connection do these plays have to their ‘original’ theatrical works?
How has modern theatre been able to shape these works into something significant that theatre in other eras may not have been successful in producing? (stagecraft, technology, musical style, etc)
What are the political/social/environmental/economic settings in which these plays were written and performed?
How do the themes of the play speak to the political/social/environmental/economic settings? What connections are made? What questions are asked of the audience when they watch this play in their current setting?
How does the play affect social change based on the themes and the setting of the audience?
The Threepenny Opera and Rent Plays
With time artist are revolutionizing literature to make it more interesting and exciting. However, regardless of the changes in literature in the new era, some of the characteristics and features of literature will always remain the same. Most of the artistic works put forth by most artists are meant for entertainment, educative and preservation of culture. One of the earliest from literature that exists today includes a play. A play is a form of literature written by a playwright and it usually consists of a dialogue between characters. In most cases, plays are meant to be performed rather than just being read.
Threepenny Opera is one of the most treasured plays of all time. The play was an attempt to satirize opera and operetta and to create a new genre of musical theater. The play is widely known as the opera for beggars and is written by Kurt Weill and Bert Brecht. Act one begins in the shop of Jonathan, who rather runs an unusual business as he is the boss of London beggars. Jonathan trains beggars for a cut for whatever they get after a daylong of begging. The play revolves around Mr. and Mrs. Peachum, Polly, Tiger Brown, Mack, and Macheath. Polly was supposed to marry Macheath but rather Marries Mack putting a target on his back (Brecht). He is hunted down by Brown to be executed on the orders of Macheath only to pardon him at the end. On the other hand, Rent is based on Puccini’s La Boehme. The story revolves around Mark Cohen, who is the narrator, his former girlfriend, Maureen Johnson and his friend Roger. This group of bohemians is struggling with life in modern day East Village New York. A former tragedy makes Roger numb to life and mark attempts to capture it to make a film. However, in the following year, there is more tragedy as the group has to deal with love, loss, AIDS and a modern day life.
Related: White Biting Dog Play
Threepenny opera is a play with music by Bertolt Brecht, and it is adopted from German dramatist Elisabeth Hauptmann’s translation of John Gay’s ballad opera or the beggar’s opera. The music of this play is by Kurt Weill, and François Villon and Rudyard Kipling work on the insertion ballads. The play basically offers a socialist critique of the capitalist world. The play was first performed in 1928 at Berlin’s Theater am Schiff Bauer Damm. On the other hand, Rent is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, which is basically based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boheme. The music was first performed in a workshop production at New York Theater Workshop in 1993. The music won a Pulitzer Prize, and it was a success (Meech).
Life is full of constant changes from time to time, and one of the most common changes in both plays is the social change. Social change may occur in various forms such as changes in nature, social institutions, social behaviors and social relations. In the play The Threepenny Opera, there is a clear and concrete evidence of arbitrariness of values which highly contribute to the social change of the society. Peachum uses traditional moral stance such as quoting the bible only for his own personal interests. Everyone in the play knows that Peachum is not charitable, but the use of the bible quotes my deceive people that he wants to help. Moreover, Macheath wants to live his crime life put his money in the bank and lead a decent life although he has no intention of leaving his values. On the other hand in the play Rent, April, who was Roger’s girlfriend, contributed in a significant way the change of life and behavior of Roger after she killed herself. Moreover, HIV is a major contributor to changes in the life of all the friends considering that Roger stayed in his apartment for six months without going out, and this completely changed him. Moreover, Benny changed after moving out, and he now wants to evict the squatters.
Both plays are based on traditional set up of a society and incorporate music in most of its scenes. Both of the plays are not originally written by the play writers but rather are based on some other people’s works. The play The Threepenny Opera is written by Bertolt Brecht, but the play is originally based on John Gay’s ballad opera. The same case to the play Rent, the play is written by Jonathan Larson but originally written by Giacomo Puccini.
Back in the 20th century, most of the theaters around the world were using computer generated sound, light, music and stagecraft. However, with the changes in technology, images are conjured by theater makers, the sound is directly fed into the ears of the audiences and at times, the audiences can contribute to the development of scripts. Moreover, the modern theaters have improved the stagecraft that helps to capture the attention of the audiences and it is usually in line with the themes of the play (Meech).
The Threepenny Opera is set in a low and middle class set up. The economic power of the characters ranges from middle class like of that of tiger brown to that of low class like that Macheath who steals from other people. Moreover, the play shows low degrees of morality as most of the characters are engaged in activities that are not, morally upright such as bribe and extortion. On the other hand, rent is set in a low economic power set up where characters are unable to cater for their basic needs. Rodgers and Mark are unable to raise their rent. The political environment of the play is democratic and friendly since Maureen is allowed to stage protests. However, the play contains some scenes of moral degradation.
The theme of love is evident in both plays where Macheath is in love with Polly and want to marry her, but instead, poly is in love with Mack and marries him. On realization that Polly has married Mack, Macheath commands tiger to hunt Mack and execute him. On the other hand, Roger is in love with April, and when she dies, his life changes completely. From the above example, it is evident that themes such as love used in the play can completely change the social and political environment to either make them favorable or unfavorable depending on the victims.
The themes used in the plays shows that life of a human being is full of changes and changes are inevitable. Thus, when changes occur there must be changes in the social set-up of the individuals involved. The changes may either be positive or negative. Themes such as self-interest, love, the brutality of humans, sex, aids, and change have changed the social set up of the characters in the plays.
Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht Collected Plays: 2: Man Equals Man; Elephant Calf; Threepenny Opera; Mahagonny; Seven Deadly Sins. A&C Black,, 2015.
Meech, A. “Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera for the National Theatre: a 3p Opera?” n Staging and Performing Translation (2011): (126-138).