Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) was a famous German playwright and poet.
Brecht started to writepolitical poetry and plays at an early age about social issues. He was branded atroublemaker at school and got expelled for writing anti-war poems.
Brecht became interested in Karl Marx’s Theories of Socialism.
Marxist theories wereabout social justice, and were critical of Capitalism.It is about questioningwho has power and money, and who goes without. It is about industrialisation, andhow this affects workersand the power structures of society.
Epic theatre came about at a time when Melodrama, Realism and Naturalism were popular as theatre forms.
Theses naturalistic styles tried torecreate real life on stage.The idea was for the audience to believe the story and characters in the play were real.
Basically theatre aimed to be escapism.The audience could forget about their lives for a while. To not think.
Brecht hated this.He saw it as a huge waste of an audience. He wanted people to question and challenge – not simply accept and enjoy.
In the 1920’s,Brecht created a new form of theatre -designed to make the audience questionand think about what they were watching.
Verfremdungseffekt was used to direct the audience’s attention to something new.This was done by getting the scene started, and then doing something unexpected. When the rhythm is interrupted, the audience stops getting lost in the emotion, story and characters. They are able to start to think and question.
It is like a slap in the face with a wet fish. It wakes us up.
The idea with Verfremdungseffekt was to constantly remind the audience they were in a theatre, watching a play. These techniques break the illusion of drama. We do not get lost in the story or the characters. Instead we are constantly reminded that these are actors communicating ideas and situations to us.
For example • plays were performed with the house lights on so that audience members remained aware of each other during the performance• music and dancing were used to break up the action of the play, or scenes were sung rather than spoken • placards were used to give information to the audience • all of the characters might be dressed in black rather than individually costumed
Brecht believed that the actor’s job was merely to show what happened. He didnot want actors to identify with the character or toplay the role realistically, which was the opposite of Stanislavski’s purpose.
Brecht believed that the actor should:* move as if blocking movements on stage for the first time or in a robotic, dreamlike way * treat voice and movement so that they do not match* speak as if quoting someone else rather than speaking dialogue * speak the stage directions aloud * remain physically and emotionally detached from the other actors * play scenes with mismatched emotions, for example, humour in a sad scene * perform directly to the audience * exchange roles with other actors * perform the role as if critically appraising the actions from afar.
Brecht died at the age of 54. He fled Nazi Germany and lived as a script writer in Hollywood in the 1940’s.In his will, he requested to be buried in a lead lined coffin with a stiletto heel through his heart.
Theatre people are weirdos...But pretty clever, because he revolutionised theatre and turned it into a tool for looking at the big issues that affect us all. He made it possible for theatre to make a difference.