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Topics: Bertolt Brecht / Pages: 4 (888 words) / Published: Feb 28th, 2013


Bertolt Brecht is one of the most influential figures in Twentieth century theatre — changing forever the way we do theatre.

Bertolt Brecht was born in Augsburg, Germany, on 10 February, 1898. He started writing and publishing by the age of 16 (news commentary, poems and short stories). And had his first plays published in 1922 at the age of 24. Was married to the famous actress Helene Weigel, who was his life-long companion and co-writer/director. They set up their own company, the state-funded Berliner Ensemble in 1949. (Overhead 2 & 3) He died on 14 August at home in East Berlin. The BE continues to exist.

‘Epic theatre’ - Epic Theatre proposed that a play should not cause the spectator to identify emotionally with the characters or action, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the action on the stage. Instead, he wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognise social injustice and exploitation and to be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change in the world outside. For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself. By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable.

One of Brecht's most important principles was what he called the, "distancing effect", or "estrangement effect", and often mistranslated as "alienation effect") This involved, "stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them" To this end, Brecht employed techniques such as the actor's direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, and speaking the stage directions out loud.

One of the goals of epic theatre is for the audience to always be aware that it is watching a play: "It is most important that one of the main features of the ordinary theatre should be excluded from [epic theatre]: the engendering of illusion.

Brecht, too, advised treating each element of a play independently, like a music hall turn that is able to stand on its own. Common production techniques in epic theatre include a simplified, non-realistic scenic design offset against a selective realism in costuming and props, as well as announcements or visual captions that interrupt and summarize the action. Brecht used comedy to distancehis audiences from the depicted events and was heavily influenced by musicals and fairground performers, putting music and song in his plays.

Acting in epic theatre requires actors to play characters believably without convincing either the audience or themselves that they have "become" the characters. Actors frequently address the audience directly out of character ("breaking the fourth wall") and play multiple roles. Brecht thought it was important that the choices the characters made were explicit, and tried to develop a style of acting wherein it was evident that the characters were choosing one action over another. For example, a character could say, "I could have stayed at home, but instead I went to the shops." This he called "fixing the Not / But element."

Beginning in 1922 with Baal and Drums in the Night at the age of 24. Followed by Man is Man in 1926, Mahogonny , a musical collaboration with Kurt Weill in 1927 and his first great success The Threepenny Operain 1928. His most famous plays were written in exile: Mother Courage, 1941 in Scandanavia, The Good Person of Szechwan and Galileo in 1943, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, 1948

Compared: As Stanislavski and Brecht began to develop their own ideas on theatre practice, they faced the conventions of the theatre that had gone before. Neither Stanislavski nor Brecht wished to educate actors or audiences with the existing practices and so developed their own systems to challenge what was before them. As Stanislavski worked against the melodramatic theatre that disgusted him, Brecht later sought to undo some of Stanislavski’s methods. The ways in which Stanislavski and Brecht challenged the theatre that preceded them can be compared and contrasted as in some areas, the two practitioners held similar beliefs, while in other places, such as the truth or symbolism of a character, differed widely.

Theatre before Stanislavski was undisciplined and the actors appeared to have little respect for their work. Although they often had a very limited repertoire, star actors had ultimate power in productions. This kind of actor was unsuitable for Stanislavski’s work, he said of one “she does not love art, but herself in art.” Rehearsals were disorganised. Actors would turn up late and sometimes not be in a fit state to act. The theatre lacked the integrity that Stanislavski introduced as he developed his System. The rehearsal system was a vital part of the whole process of a production. Instead of actors playing their roles in their own melodramatic way, Stanislavski introduced exercises that developed an actor’s entire physical, emotional and psychological being. Actors explored their own pasts to recall emotions that they could apply to situations in the script. This Emotion Memory served to make the characters more believable. Concentration on vocal and physical techniques concerning specific characters also worked to this end.

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