Dialectical theatre is a label that the German modernist theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht came to prefer to Epic theatre near the end of his career to describe the type of theatre that he had developed earlier in his career. From his later perspective, the term "Epic Theatre" had become too formal a concept to be of use anymore; one of Brecht's most-important aesthetic innovations prioritized function over the sterile opposition between form and content. According to Manfred Wekwerth, one of Brecht's directors at the Berliner Ensemble at the time, the term refers to the "'dialecticizing' of events" that his theatre produces.
Epic theatre (German: episches Theater) was a theatrical movement arising in the early to mid-20th century from the theories and practice of a number of theatre practitioners, including Erwin Piscator, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vsevolod Meyerhold and, most famously,Bertolt Brecht. Although many of the concepts and practices involved in Brechtian epic theatre had been around for years, even centuries, Brecht unified them, developed the style, and popularized it. Epic theatre incorporates a mode of acting that utilises what he calls gestus. The epic form describes both a type of written drama and a methodological approach to the production of plays: "Its qualities of clear description and reporting and its use of choruses and projections as a means of commentary earned it the name 'epic'." Brecht later preferred the term "dialectical theatre" which he discussed in his work A Short Organum for the Theatre.
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."
Epic theatre was a reaction against popular forms of theatre, particularly the naturalistic approach pioneered by Constantin Stanislavski. Like Stanislavski, Brecht disliked the shallow spectacle, manipulative plots, and heightened emotion of melodrama; but where Stanislavski attempted to engender real human behavior in acting through the techniques of Stanislavski's system and to absorb the audience completely in the fictional world of the play, Brecht saw Stanislavski's methodology as producing escapism. Brecht's own social and political focus departed also from surrealism and the Theatre of Cruelty, as developed in the writings and dramaturgy ofAntonin Artaud, who sought to affect audiences viscerally, psychologically, physically, and irrationally.