Brecht entered a theatre ruled primarily by realistic acting, often focusing on the techniques employed by Stanislavski and his System. Realism was definitely the norm and achieving empathy with an audience seemed the primary concern of actors of the time. It has been suggested that Brecht believed,
"On the Epic Stage... no effort is made to put the audience in a trance and give them the illusion of witnessing natural, unrehearsed events." ("Actors on Acting" 1970: p308)
Brecht's distance from conventional theatre and its techniques made his approach to acting particularly individual.
Brecht's approach to acting was categorised as epic for a number of reasons. Epic theatre originated from Classic Greek Theatre, from which Brecht developed many of his distinct acting techniques. Brecht's plays were also very descriptive, an aspect also typical of epic drama. In addition to this, the plays Brecht wrote or directed were also all set in the past. This historical perspective of the action of the play was also characteristically epic. Brecht wrote that,
"The concern of the epic theatre is [that] human behaviour is shown as alterable; man himself as dependant on certain political and economic factors and at the same time as capable of altering them," (Brecht, 1964b: p86 in Zarilli, 1998: p262)
Brecht is referring here to his aim that instead of imitating the style employed by realism, presenting the action as inevitable, his theatre would be one that portrayed possible courses of action, not one seemingly inevitable one.
As a playwright and actor, Brecht believed a play did not need to evoke a strong emotional response from the audience if he could get them to think about the issues at hand. He believed the audience needed an effective emotional and cognitive response to the theatrical event. It has been suggested that,
"[Brecht] was once notorious as a theorist who supposedly had turned his back on emotion in the theatre, in the interest of a dour politics, " ("Shaper's of the Stage" Arts Review, p19).
This has been much debated, however, as an examination of a variety of Brecht's plays, such as "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" or "The Good Person Of Setzuan" shows that emotion is as important as ideas and interpretation. It could be suggested that Brecht believed theatre should take a "broad approach" and present a fable in an "entertaining and instructive way", (Bentley, 1983: p102) This particular ideal made Brecht's approach to acting distinct of conventional theatre of his time.
Brecht was also a highly political man, with Marxist attitudes and ideas, all of which evident in his plays. Brecht's vastly political theatre became one of the major features contributing to Brecht's epic approach to acting. He also had a distinctly didactic view of theatre. He believed that theatre had the capability to produce social change. His versatile use of language and poetic form, for example, classical language mixed with modern language as well as unrhymed and irregular verse, were designed to shake the audience from uncritical passivity into thought and, ideally, action. Brecht was highly committed to presenting a performance that instilled in the audience the idea that not all realistic action was inevitable, as could be assumed after viewing conventional theatre. In his...