by brechtLast week, we looked at Brecht as one of the fathers of Modern Theatre, with his Epic Theatre. We narrowed our discussion to the most important part of Epic Theatre: Brecht’s alienation effect (also known as the distancing effect). Today, we’ll expand our understanding of the alienation effect with some new ideas and examples. We’ll also explore the idea of a double (or a split-self).
We focused on how Brecht achieved his alienation effect in these ways: #1: MASKS to create intellectual distance from characters (instead of emotional connection with them.) #2: Strange SETS and PROPS that seem fake (symbolic rather than “real”). #3: A Geographical or fictional SETTING Which could be in any city and allows us to see our culture in the play & think about our society. #4: MUSIC or poetry (in between the play’s dialogue) to create a jarring effect on the audience.
We touched on how Brecht used masks to separate the audience from the human emotion of the characters.
Brecht also used masks to create sharp (or drastic) distinctions between one character and another—since one method of his alienation effect was to have one actor play two dramatis personae (or two characters) in a single play.
Shen Te & her “cousin” Shui Ta is the most obvious example of a double character in The Good Woman of Setzuan, but Brecht would often have actors double up their rolls, in many of his different plays. Having the actors play two characters is an alienation technique since it makes us, as the audience, very aware that the actors are performing. It makes us more conscious that the action is not real.
We might even say that Brecht enjoyed masking his actors, simply so that he might unmask them to create even more of an alienation effect—or distancing effect. Actors were often called upon to unmask (or even come on stage out of costume) to deliver asides to the audience and read the epilogue (or the closing speech) of Brecht’s plays.
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