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Theatre: A Way To Teach Rather Than


Introduction to the key ideas of Bertolt Brecht and Epic Theatre

Introducing Bertolt Brecht

Born in 1898 in Germany Held strong political views: Pacifist and a Communist Playwright and Director Believed that theatre could present society and its faults and suggest that it is within the audience's power to alter it: Epic Theatre

What is Epic Theatre?

Im not writing for the scum who want the cockles of their heart warmed.

A style of theatre which provided a social and political commentary not for mere entertainment.

Brecht was concerned with examining a situation in dramatic action; looking at what happened in a story in terms of causes, effects and the nature of the action. Audience were encouraged to NOT empathise with characters; theatrical devices were used to distance the audience so they would focus on the social/political issue being presented. Was a reaction against the popular realistic style of theatre, pioneered by Stanislavski.

Brecht on Acting:
Characters in Bertolt Brecht plays are types of people, rather than complex individuals, which society has conditioned to behave in particular way. In a director role, Brecht asked actors to demonstrate their character rather than become their character to emphasise their social status. The Stanislavskian actor is to work at identifying with the character he or she portrays. The Brechtian actor is to work at expressing social attitudes in clear and stylised ways.

Gestus is Brecht's term for an expresses ion or representation of basic human attitudes. Not merely gesture but all signs of social relations, e.g. intonation of the voice and facial expression. Attitude expressed through words or actions Contrasts with naturalism and realism


Example: An actors physical presentation

of the body language of a character from a particular social class such as the genteel manners of a group of upper class women as they stir their tea or the posture of a farmer just back from a days work in the fields.


Gestic Tableau ONjmx4 Read the Summary of the Caucasian Chalk Circle

War the taker of lives

War the maker of heroes

Verfremdung Effect (V-Effect)

Also referred to as the distancing, defamiliarisation, or alienation effect. Brecht wanted his audience to remember that they are watching a story (a presentation of a sequence of events) NOT reality. As both a playwright and a director he used a variety of theatrical devices to constantly remind the audience of this fact these devices are often referred to as V-Effects or Epic Theatre techniques.

V-effect: Demands on the actor

An actor in a Brechtian play is often required to:

Play more than one character Directly address the audience Speak using the third person Sing Narrate Play a musical instrument

V-effect: Staging
The audience must not be hypnotised into accepting the theatre as real

Breaking Down the Fourth Wall Often left the house lights on or used harsh lights instead of simple naturalistic lighting. The set design was mainly simple, with only items that matter to the structure of the play or the service of the actors that appear on the stage The designs often used placards, sub-titles, projections of sketches, films, sound effects and photographs. Exaggerated/obvious use of props

Naturalism vs Epic theatre

Plot Implicates the spectator in a stage situation Wears down the spectators capacity for action Provides the audience with sensations The spectator is involved in something Suggestion Instinctive feelings are preserved The spectator is in the thick of it, shares the experience

Narrative Turns the spectator into an observer Arouses the spectators capacity for action Forces the audience to take decisions The spectator is made to face something Argument Brought to the point of recognition The spectator stands outside, studies

Naturalism vs Epic theatre

The human being is taken for granted The human being is unalterable One scene makes another Growth Linear development A human being is a fixed point Thought determines being Feeling

The human being is the object of the enquiry The human being is alterable and able to alter Each scene for itself Montage Broken up A human being is a process Social being determines thought Reason


Epic Theatre
Gestus Placards

Music and Song


Similar images juxtaposed together Intended to shock the audience Kept audience alert and awake Drew attention to the content Opposed progressive growth of plot

Music and Song

Essential in Brechtian theatre Interrupted the text Music and Song used separately Commented upon characters feelings Used non-naturalistically

Use of half-curtain allowing backstage to be seen Costume changes made on stage Projections separate from action Sharp, clear lighting Restricted colour schemes Placards