(Sasha Dugdale’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/10.)
In 1931 German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht met a young actor, a woman called Margarete Steffin, with whom he was to become both intimately and intellectually involved. They met at a play rehearsal and she subsequently acted in Brecht's The Mother, then became a collaborator in his writing. Steffin typed up his work, corrected it, made suggestions, translations and drove him to greater efforts. In a late poem Brecht called her his "little teacher".
Steffin, who was from a proletarian Berlin family, could also supply for his political plays the details of real working-class life, of which the more comfortably raised Brecht had no direct experience. The composer and Brecht collaborator Hanns Eisler wrote of Steffin: "She was Brecht's most valuable collaborator. I have to say that Fear and Misery of the Third Reich – the working-class scenes – could not have been written without Steffin."
But Steffin was already suffering from tuberculosis, the terrible collateral of such knowledge, and over the next decade Brecht paid for her treatment at sanatoriums across Europe as her health declined. They also began a relationship, and the two lovers exchanged passionate, touching and lustful letters and poems, a selection of which are being presented by Modern Poetry in Translation and performed by actors on 19 July as part of the Southbank Centre's Poetry International and Festival of Love.
Visit Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http://www.stagevoices.com/ . If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com