Destroying the illusion

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
 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
 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
 Dramatic theatre wears down the spectator’s capacity for
 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
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”.
“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.
“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.
 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
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.
 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
 How can these techniques be applied / be useful for
my devised piece?