Saturday, 10 November 2012

An Introduction To Brecht

My initial response to reading about the works and life of Bertolt Brecht was that I believe that Brecht’s' methods do have merit to them in the order of developing the skills of a training actor, however I do believe that his method of theatre essentially takes the fun out of acting. It can make the work too intellectual in my opinion and in some situations can really make the exploration of his methods dull and boring. I do however hope that as i continue to study his works and the methods of epic theatre that I can find more joy and excitement in it.

Bertolt Brecht was born on the 10th February 1898, and died on the 14 August 1956. He is mostly well known for being a theatre practitioner however he was also a playwright, a director, and a producer of his own works. 

Essentially Bertolt Brecht is held in such high esteem because he believes that through theatre you could create social change whilst still entertaining an audience. He didn’t like to think of his audience as an actual audience who were passive and played no part in the theatre - he wanted the people who witnessed his works to be spectators whom expel some kind of a reaction to the theatre that Brecht created. 

In the early 1900's a man named Konstantin Stanislavsky developed a type of theatre called 'Naturalism' which replicates real life and shows the realistic version of it. Stanislavski developed naturalistic acting, as he wanted his actors to become emotionally and psychologically involved with their roles, in order to create a convincing, realistic performance. Bertolt Brecht agreed with the idea that naturalism can evoke emotion within an audience however he tried to avoid it in his own work.

Bertolt Brecht and epic theatre: The major characteristics are that the audience weren't actually audiences. They were more like spectators as they were not spoon fed, therefore majority of the epic theatre plays didn't give away everything. It let the audience think. They were permitted to eat, drink and smoke. The actors had to portray the character and not get into the "skin of the character".

Epic theatre was proposed as an alternative to the Naturalism developed by Stanislavski. Brecht was not trying to pretend that what he put on stage was real life. He was not concerned, for example that a scene in 'Galileo', in a renaissance palace, had to take place in a believable imitation of such a palace. He wanted his audience to be aware of what was really happening -- that they were watching a play. Epic Theatre is supposed to keep an audience calm, reflective and detached from any emotion on stage. Brecht objected to theatre that relieved its audiences of stored emotions and desires, and did not want them to identify with characters. He believed such plays left audiences complacent and did not inspire them to effect change. Rather than passively sit through plays, Brecht's audiences are expected to give intellectual reflection to performances and even initiate social change after seeing examples of exploitation and inequality. The audience is invited not to feel, but to think.

Elements typical to an Epic Theatre production: 

· Loudspeakers announcing political events of the time.
· Flooding the stage with harsh white light, regardless of areas of action.
· Leaving stage lights in full view of the audience.
· Minimal use of props.
· No elaborate scenery.
· Musicians playing in view of audience.
· Intentionally interrupting the action with songs, for example, to make a point.
· Episodic narrative theatre where each scene begins with a caption, displayed or read aloud, that tells the audience what is about to happen.
· Using the voices of the Chorus for a main actor's speech, while the actor mimes.
· Anti-climactic lines after emotive speeches, such as "I must eat now." - A mundane observation made inappropriately by the protagonist in 'Galileo' after an impressive speech, to show the weakness of the man against the inventor.
· Language is clear and often informative, as Brecht intended Epic Theatre to be educational.
· Actors stepping out of role to comment on their character's actions.
· Actors making their choices explicit in speech e.g. "I could have helped the beggar, but I kept walking."
· Actors speaking directly to audience.
· Actors not supposed completely being their characters.
· Highly stylised, exaggerated movements.

All these techniques and elements aim to discourage an audience from suspending their disbelief and to keep them aware that they are watching a play, by making it harder for them to identify with characters and to keep the action alien and remote. Brecht called this the alienation effect, or 'V-Effekt'. These techniques remind the audience that the action is merely an enactment of reality and give Epic plays a constructed appearance, in the hope of communicating that our reality is also constructed by people, and so changeable.
The use of "quotable gesture," (using stances, mannerisms, or repeated action to sum up a character), and sudden shifts from one behaviour to another to put the audience off-balance, and suggesting "roads not taken" in moments of a character's decision-making, encourage audiences to criticize the society we see onstage in Epic Theatre.

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1 comment:

  1. Dear Nancy, Hearty congrats for writing such Informative blog. It seems that you have taken loads of efforts to put this great playwright a your research interest. I'll be pleased if you send me some more information on Brecht's Works.