Sunday, 19 July 2009

Brecht on Epic Theatre

Above all things that theatre was and what he wanted theatre to be, Brecht believed that the theatre's broadest function was to educate. "It is the noblest function that we have found for 'theatre'".

Brecht wanted the answer to Lenin’s question ‘Wie und was soll man lernen?’ ('How and what should one learn?'). He created an influential theory of theatre, the epic theatre, wherein a play should not cause the spectator to emotionally identify with the action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the actions on the stage. He believed that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left an audience complacent. Instead, he wanted his audiences to use this critical perspective to identify social ills at work in the world and be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change.

Hans Eisler has noted that these plays resemble political seminars[citation needed]. Brecht described them as "a collective political meeting" in which the audience is to participate actively. One sees in this model a rejection of the concept of the bureaucratic elite party where the politicians are to issue directives and control the behaviour of the masses.

For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself, which he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as distancing effect, estrangement effect, or alienation effect). Such techniques included the direct address by actors to the audience, transposition of text to third person or past tense, speaking the stage direction out loud, exaggerated, unnatural stage lighting, the use of song, and explanatory placards.[61] By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was, in fact a construction and, as such, was changeable.

Another technique that Brecht employed to achieve his Verfremdungseffekt was the principle of historicisation. The content of many of his plays dealt with fictional tellings of historical figures or events. His idea was that if one were to tell a story from a time that is contemporary to an audience, they may not be able to maintain the critical perspective he hoped to achieve. Instead, he focused on historical stories that had parallel themes to the social ills he was hoping to illuminate in his own time. He hoped that, in viewing these historical stories from a critical perspective, the contemporary issues Brecht was addressing would be illuminated to the audience.

In one of his first productions, Brecht famously put up signs that said "Glotzt nicht so romantisch!" ("Don't stare so romantically!"). His manner of stagecraft has proven both fruitful and confusing to those who try to produce his works or works in his style. His theory of theatre has heavily influenced modern theatre. Some of his innovations have become so common that they've entered the theatrical canon.

Although Brecht's work and ideas about theatre are generally thought of as belonging to modernism, there is recent thought that he is the forerunner of contemporary postmodern theatre practice.


This is particularly so because he questioned and dissolved many of the accepted practices of the theatre of his time and created a political theatre that involved the audience in understanding its meaning. Moreover, he was one of the first theatre practitioners to incorporate multimedia into the semiotics of theatre

The birth of Brecht's theories, centering around his writing of Baal and In the Jungle of Cities, was the core of the plot of the play The Concrete Girl by Bertolt Brecht written by Josh Morrall and Simon Farid. Set in 1921, when Brecht was 23, the short play featured an actor portraying Brecht on stage as a tortured, young, famine stricken writer, recently arrived in Berlin. In order to inspire himself to finish a play he is writing (the fictitious, supposedly 'lost' play The Concrete Girl) Brecht summons Frank Wedekind from his grave. Brecht hopes Wedekind will aid him in the writing of the play, but is ultimately left feeling discouraged, and burns the work, setting the tone for his early theory and later works.

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