Bertolt Brecht, [from] "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting" [The following remarks are just a few of B.B.'s many on the "alienation effect" (Verfremdungseffekt) that he sought in the creation of his "epic theatre" and the direction of his plays. We'll discuss it in connection with the stagecraft of Arturo Ui when we read that play. But try a thought-experiment. Do any of these remarks seem, uncannily, to apply directly to the character Richard of Gloucester / King Richard when we meet on the page? ]
The following is intended to refer briefly to the use of the alienation effect in traditional Chinese acting. This method was most recently used in Germany for plays of a non-aristotelian (not dependent on empathy) type as part of the attempts being made to evolve an epic theatre. The efforts in question were directed to playing in such a way that the audience was hindered from simply identifying itself with the characters of the play. Acceptance or rejection of their actions and utterances was meant to take place on a conscious plane, instead of, as hitherto, in the audience's subconscious. . . .
It is not all that simple to break with the habit of assimilating a work of art as a whole. But this has to be done if just one of a large number of effects is to be singled out and studied. The alienation effect is achieved in the Chinese theatre in the following way.
Above all, the Chinese artist never acts as if there were a fourth wall besides the three surrounding him. He expresses his awareness of being watched. This immediately removes one of the European stage's characteristic illusions. The audience can no longer have the illusion of being the unseen spectator at an event which is really taking place. A whole elaborate European stage technique, which helps to conceal the fact that the scenes are so arranged that the audience can view them in the easiest way, is thereby made unnecessary. The actors openly choose those positions which...
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