Destroying the illusion Bertolt Brecht Brecht was born in 1898 in Germany He believed that Theatre should make people think - it should not be merely for entertainment The audience and the actors should not get so emotionally involved, or they will not learn anything Theatre should not try and show real life Theatre should represent things, not become them. Epic Theatre It took Brecht approximately 10 years to formulate his Epic theatre. His main influences were: Travelling fairs; Elizabethan style theatre (props minimum, quick scene changes, if any) He wanted to make clear the distinction between Dramatic theatre (romanticised, emphasised theatre) and Epic theatre, which distances the audience so they look on objectively. Through Epic Theatre, Brecht was not providing truth, but rather opinions, and a method with which to interrogate them. What is Epic Theatre? Epic theatre is virtually the antithesis of Dramatic theatre. Dramatic theatre aims to imitate ‘real life’ on stage and draw its audience into feeling for the characters on stage. The human being is unalterable. It shows man as a fixed point. Dramatic theatre wears down the spectator’s capacity for action. Epic theatre wants the audience to be critical observers questioning what is happening on stage , realising the characters are actors and that the stage world is not attempting to pretend to be real. The human being IS alterable. Epic Theatre is a means for social change. The spectator is forced to face something and see man as a process. To imitate or mimic? Brecht was aiming for his actors to portray a particular mode of mimesis on stage. The relation to reality is a critical one. Mimesis is understood as not just a simple mirroring, but as a measuring; it always involves some kind of attitude on our part. It is not possible, in Brecht's view, to produce a neutral mimesis. Brecht's poem "On Imitation" elaborates this notion succinctly: “He who only imitates and had nothing to say On what he imitates is like A poor chimpanzee, who imitates his trainer's smoking And does not smoke while doing so. For never will a thoughtless imitation Be a real imitation”. Techniques... MONTAGE “Epic theatre precedes in fits and starts, in a manner comparable to the images on a film strip” (Benjamin 1992) Brecht used montage to keep his audiences alert. By putting the scenes in an unrelated matter you are constantly aware. GESTUS “Attitude” of acting which was employed in Epic Theatre. You can look at the work of Charlie Chaplin as an example. What Brecht admired about Chaplin was that he was in control of his own movements, actions and gestures. Verfremdungskeffekt (‘V’ effect) The ‘V effekt’ literally means to alienate the audience, but the translation is not very accurate, so the word distancing is more accurate with what Brecht wanted to achieve. If the audience are ‘distanced’ they can be objective, critical observers. Brecht wrote that he wanted to “make the incidents represented [on stage] appear strange to the public”. Brecht wrote an article called ‘alienation effects of Chinese acting’ (based on Mei Lan Fung) in which he commented on the actors’ ability to stand aside from his character and not empathise with him. They demonstrated the mechanism of acting to the audience. What was the effect of these techniques? To avoid getting too attached... Brecht did not want you getting too attached to the characters on stage, but instead focus on the meaning of the story. Actors could be swapped around in roles during the piece to keep the audience alert. The actor and the character Brecht believed that an actor must not feel the emotions of the character. You don’t need to in order to tell their story. He often had a different actor play the protagonist in the second half of the play, from the first, so the audience would not get too attached. It is the story that is important not the characters. Actors would ‘step-out’ of their roles and speak directly to the audience/ explain what happens next. They would also speak in the third person when in character and speak stage directions to continuously remind the audience that they are actors. Design To show the mechanics of the stage reminds the audience that they are watching a play. Brecht did not want to hide his props, set or lighting. The audience would often see actors get into costume on stage. The audience were not plunged into darkness when the play started. The fourth wall should be broken. He used a boxing ring style design where the actors would perform in a restricted space. Inside the boxing ring actors are in character, outside they become the observer. Therefore there is a stage within a stage happening. During performances projections/images/slides were often launched onto the back wall. Placards were also used to give titles of scenes or the title of a song, followed by the projection of the song words for the audience to join in. Half masks were often used in Brecht’s theatre, preventing the audience from empathising with the characters. Occasionally they also used a half curtain, giving it an amateur feel. Effects Lighting Lighting was for clarity – clear and sharp, so that the audience could see the actors better. There was not an atmospheric purpose to the lighting, but a functional purpose. Achieving pathetic fallacy was not the aim of using lights. Oil lamps were often used, and they lit up the musicians when they were on stage. Music Music was vital as part of Brecht’s ideas for Epic Theatre. Musicians were on stage and part of the action. He wanted to constantly remind the audience that it is a play. The songs he used commented on the action or characters, they narrated what happened, what was going to happen, and sometimes the dilemmas felt by the characters themselves. By employing this technique, it prevents the audience from being lulled into the action, as there is a shift, therefore keeping us alert/aroused. What is the point? Why is trying to show real life not appropriate on stage if you are trying to create a piece of Epic theatre? What do you think Brecht thought the purpose of theatre was? But shouldn’t Theatre be about entertainment? Don’t ‘gawp so romantically’. Arouse your capacity for thought! CHANGE THE WORLD! How can these techniques be applied / be useful for my devised piece?
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