What is an epic theatre?
A German playwright and director, theoretician, theatrical reformer and transformer is one of the most prominent and unforgettable figures in the first 5 dictates of 20th -century theatre. Eugen Bertolt Friedrich Brecht was anxious to create something new and useful for his theatre spectators. Bertolt Brecht early in his plays experimented per theatrical styles for instance “Dadaism” and expressionism and after that Brecht decided to develop a unique style (Epic ) that suited his own vision. Brecht detested “Aristotelian” drama and the manner in which it (from Bertolt Brecht’s point of view) made the audience identify with the hero without enough analysis of the hero’s flaws. According to Bertolt Brecht, this “Aristotelian” drama produced feelings of horror and pity and led to an emotional catharsis, as a result of that, the process prevented spectators from thinking . Determined to destroy what he considered theatrical illusions, Bertolt Brecht complete his dreams into realities with the Epic . He thought rather than becoming too involved in with the storyline and to identify the characters in the performance. In that process, he developed and used alienation effects.
In this case, we can better see the idea of Bertolt Brecht in his argument.
‘Theatre’ consists in this: in making live representations of reported or invented happenings between human beings and doing so with a view to entertainment. At any rate that is what we shall mean when we speak of theatre, whether old or new. Bertolt Brecht, 1949, A short organum for the theatre page 2. John Willet, 1957 (1964), Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic (NY: Hill and Wang), pages 179-205, page 180.
Bertolt Brecht transformed dramatic theatre and developed the form of epic drama. In this theatre in which ideas or didactic lessons are important. Epic or a dialectic theatre is the genre of theatre that Brecht defined it as the theatre of interruption. This interruption is deductively present in Brecht’s plays. Brecht’s early plays were Lehrstücke, however not teach an audience something but the learning was rather part of the playing. The situations on the stage being a didactic environment for the actors involved, because the actors were proletarians. This was also instructive for the audience. He thought about how to do things differently. Brecht’s pedagogy is not about transmitting insights but rather exposing the social habits and codes (e.g. body language) that we perform in our daily lives. It is confronted by the way one acts in a certain situation, using techniques of alienation, distancing and interrupting. The drawing attention to the way that we behave on a daily basis and asking why we behave this way? “teaching is isolated from its effective entanglement”. Since that Brecht wants to move away from the enlightenment and purely cognitive. (Brecht’s Theatre of Cruelty essay)
“In order to produce Alienation Effects, the actor has to discard whatever means he has learned of persuading the audience to identify itself with the characters which he plays. Aiming not to put his audience into a trance, he must not go into a trance himself. His muscles must remain loose, for a turn of the head, e.g., with tautened neck muscles, will “magically” lead the spectators’ eyes and even their heads to turn with it, and this can only detract from any speculation or reaction which the gestures may bring about. His way of speaking has to be free from ecclesiastical sing-song and from all those cadences which lull the spectator so that the sense gets lost.” see (Bertolt Brecht, 1949, A Short Organum for the Theatre, 1948, paragraph 47 page:9)
Human beings go to the theatre in order to be swept away, captivated, impressed, uplifted, horrified, moved, kept in suspense, released, diverted, set free, set going, transplanted from their own time, and supplied with illusions. All of this goes so much without saying that the art of the theatre is candidly defined as having the power to release, sweep away, uplift, et cetera. It is not an art at all unless it does so.
Bertolt Brecht, 1940, On The Experimental Theatre (translated by Carl Mueller).
Robert W. Corrigan, 1963, Theatre in the Twentieth Century (NY: 1965 Grove Press Edition), pages 94-110, page 106.
Obviously, we can see in his plays that Brecht is always trying to show the contingency of human life (the social human life in a trouble and bad condition in different societies) through his techniques of alienation, distantiation and interruption etc. In the most countries now, we see the evidence of these techniques.
“In its works, the new school of play-writing lays down that the epic theatre is the theatrical style of ourthe time. To expound the principles of epic theatre in a few catch-phrases is not possible. They still mostly needed to be worked out in detail, and include representations by the actor, stage technique dramaturgy, stage music, use of the film, and so on. The essential point of the epic theatre is perhaps that it appeals less to the feelings than to the spectator’s reason. Instead of sharing and experience, the spectator must come to grips with things. At the same time, it would be quite wrong to try and deny emotion to this kind of Theatre. it would be much the same thing as trying to deny emotion to modern science.” see (Brecht on Theatre1964 p:23)
Moreover, epic theatre is a modern theatre. Even at the end, Brecht was very much interested in the modern drama of the day too. By hard perseverance of Bertolt Brecht and his industrious, he received the National Prize, first class, in 1951. In 1954, Brecht won the International Lenin Peace Prize. So epic theatre is one the most useful and helpful technique to the world of the scientific age. In the epic theatre talking about the filling in of the orchestra pit, the issues in theatre today are more about the stage than the play, Benjamin uses this to talk about the narcotic effect of bourgeois theatre, the stage has become a public platform in the epic theatre, no longer a stage, still raised but remaining part of the real world, the theatre has to install itself in this public space. There is still a reluctance to accept that theatre is theatre, it is still disguised, however, it is an institutional frame, an apparatus that controls the actors and producers rather than vice versa, epic theatre breaks this.
Epic theatre redresses these relationships, it’s a public exhibition area, it’s a discussion, and open forum, the audience is an assembly of interested people rather than passive spectators “Epic theatre is gestural.” Text and language are still very important in the epic theatre but it has a different function, the gesture is rather the raw material of the epic theatre, Brecht isn’t interested in a psychological theatre but rather “getting what you see”, framing and interrupting the way that observed people react, have to be sensitive to the signs that are involved in human behavior, has a definable beginning and end and can be framed, unlike ideas and emotions, situations rather than actions, you get situations by interrupting actions, almost like a freeze-frame, this is why the interruptions are a key part of the epic theatre, role of the text is to interrupt the action rather than to advance it, this leads to the episodic character of the epic theatre, showing the contingency of the drama’s development by interrupting and cutting it, Walter makes the link here to cinema. Epic theatre has to interrupt the workings of society, dismantle the way it is constructed and functions, this requires a new aesthetic and theatrical language, moving beyond mimetics, then we can understand the contingency of these workings, this is why Benjamin criticizes naturalism and Zeitstücke in favor of epic theatre. We should never forget that we are looking at a theatre production, a virtual reality, retarding quality of these interruptions, allows the potential to remain unactualized.
Benjamin tries to put the epic theatre into a tradition, a tradition of drama, in which reflectional acting exists, placing it in a German tradition of the untragic hero, always trying to put the epic theatre in a larger intellectual and artistic context. Also places epic theatre into its modern cultural context, e.g. film and radio, epic theatre has an episodic value, we can drop in and out and still follow scenes, describes the epic theatre as though it was a complex text process, a text with living bodies, that we have to read, interruptions, songs etc. are analogous to punctuation in the text, putting a kind of quotation mark around the situation being presented in the play.
Talks about the literalization of theatre, opposite of function of text in traditional drama, text theatre, there is a lot of textuality on the stage, literary theatre wants you to forget that the actors on the stage are acting out a text, in the epic theatre it brings your attention to the text, punctuation and literalization of the representation of character found in traditional drama, epic theatre is a complex allegory, a text we have to read, including text on the stage, this makes the epic theatre unsensational, more of an emphasis on meditation and reflection. Everything is contingent upon conditions, and this is made visible in epic theatre, the effects of certain conditions wants to create an engaged audience that can develop its own opinions, rather than the traditional theocratic, not used for propaganda, not a pedagogical message but rather create space for audience to think about the conditions of their lives by revealing them form has to follow content, the epic theatre has to find new ways and new forms to show the conditions of society, has to be a break with the traditional play, if we want to transform society we need to transform the art that we are creating.
The epic theatre is chiefly interested in the attitudes which people adopt towards one another, wherever they are socio-historically significant (typical). It works out scenes where people adopt attitudes of such a sort that the social laws under which they are acting spring into sight. For that we need to find workable definitions: that is to say, such definitions of the relevant processes as can be used in order to intervene in the processes themselves. The concern of the epic theatre is thus eminently practical. Human behavior is shown as alterable; man, himself as dependent on certain political and economic factors and at the same time as capable of altering them stress added.” Bertolt Brecht, ~1935/1957, On The Use of Music in An Epic Theatre. John Willet, 1957 (1964), Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic (NY: Hill and Wang), pages 84-90, page 86.
The ‘epic theater’ Brecht envisioned was to rest on three pillars: new dramaturgical constructs embracing different raw materials; a new style of production that would de-emphasize emotion; and a new spectator who would coolly and scientifically appreciate this new theater concept (stress added). John Fuegi, 1972, The Essential Brecht (Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalss, Inc.), page 18.
The difference between epic and dramatic theatre.
The Structure of Epic theatre.
dramatic theater audience says
1. Yes, I had the same feeling, it’s very natural.
2. Never change.
3. The sufferings of this person will throw me into a drowning because they do not escape from them.
4. This art is superior; everything is like the day is clear.
5. They cry when we cry and laugh when they laugh. The epic theatre audience says:
1. I never thought so – that’s not the way.
2. Surprising and incredible – must end.
3. The sufferings of this person make me huffy because it is not necessary.
4. This art is transcendent: there is nothing obvious in it.
5. When they cry, they laugh and laugh at crying
2. Implicates the spectator in a situation
3. Wears down the capacity for action
4. Provides spectator with sensations
6. The spectator is involved in something
8. Instinctive feelings are preserved
9. The spectator is in the thick of things
10. The human being is taken for granted
11. Humans do not change
12. Eyes on the finish
13. One scene gives way to another
15. Linear development
16. Evolutionary determinism
17. The human being as a fixed point
18. Thought determines being
19. Feeling Epic Theatre
2. Turns the spectator into an observer
3. Arouses the capacity for action
4. Provokes the spectator to make decisions
5. Picture of the world
6. The spectator is made to face something
8. Brought to the point of recognition
9. The spectator stands outside and studies
10. The human being is the object of inquiry
11. Humans can and do change
12. Eyes on the process
13. Each scene for itself
17. the human being as a process
18. social being determines thought
Theatre is as an art form fundamentally linked to life in society, even if it is superfluous and entertaining, and even if this form of life in society is contingent, the audience should leave the theatre ‘productively disposed’, they have somehow developed an attitude during the play that enables them to look in a different way at their life and their situations and could think about changing these, the epic theatre should allow the audience to find entertainment in learning about and thinking through the terror of unceasing transformation and the performance/maintenance of society, taking the life of the public out of its context, putting it in the epic theatre and showing the contingency of its conditions, and thereby freeing it from predetermination, ‘the simplest way of living is in art’, art is a place to experiment with different scenarios and the conditions that determine your life can be questioned.
…nobody who fails to get fun out of his activities can expect them to be fun for anybody else. “Bertolt Brecht, 1926,” Emphasis on Sport. Translated and reprinted in John Willet, 1957 1964, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic (NY: Hill and Wang), pages 6-9, page 7.
A firm believer in the use of theatre as an instructional medium, Brecht…sought to prevent audiences from becoming too involved emotionally with the events portrayed on stage. He considered it a shameful waste of the theatre’s resources to mesmerize an audience and purge its emotions through an identification with the characters and situations. All such empathic theatrical experiences he identified as ‘Aristotelian.’ He called theatre that existed solely to give sensual pleasure without provoking socially meaningful thought ‘culinary.’ Theatre should inform the spectator; it should make him ponder the drama’s Marxist implications–the need for societal change stress added.” Samuel L. Leiter, 1991, From Stanislavsky To Barrault: Representative Directors of the European Stage (NY: Greenwood Press), page 158.
Gesture or Gestus:
Gestus (gesture) is related to Haltung, with what we can observe, with the materiality of our living, when observing other people, we can only see their actions, their gestus, not their inner phycology. By framing and reproducing this gestus we can examine the Haltung, interrupting this to look at what is happening and why? Gestus is rooted in a social perspective, how people behave in a certain context, related to the semiotics of the everyday. We move through the world through codes and signs, not always consciously, Brecht wants to make us conscious of these codes and make us look at the way that other people apply them. Always it’s related to historical socio-economic conditions, not related to the eternal nature of man but the product of historical transformations and changes.
Quote of Brecht’s conversation
The answers to the questions, who is the spectators of epic for whom did Brecht write and what is his expectation?
In a conversation Brecht has been asked Are you a poet or a playwright or are we wrong regarding you as both?
Brecht answers that his poetry is more private. It’s designed for banjo or piano accompanist-
meant, and needs to be performed dramatically. In his plays, he doesn’t just give his own private mood, but also the whole world’s. In other words, an objective view of the business, the opposite of mood in the usual poetic sense
Q. This isn’t always clear from performances of your plays.
A. How could it be? They are usually performed all wrong. People perform the poet they imagine him to be something that he hardly is outside his plays, and certainly not in them.
Q. So he rejects the idea that the author participates poetically in the characters and events he portrays, and whatever may consequently come to be expressed in the play?
A. He doesn’t let his feelings intrude in his dramatic work. It would give a false view of the world. He aims at an extremely classical, cold, highly intellectual style of performance. He is not writing for the scum who want to have the cockles of their hearts warmed.
Brecht gave the answer that Who does he write for? He said, for the sort of people who just come for fun and don’t hesitate to keep their hats on in the theatre.
Q. But most spectators want their hearts to flow over…
A. The one tribute we can pay the audience is to treat it as thoroughly intelligent. It is utterly wrong to treat people as simpletons when they are grown up at seventeen. he appeals to the reason.
Q. But the intellectual mastery of the material is just what I sometimes feel to be lacking with him. Brecht doesn’t make the incidents clear.
A. He gives the incidents baldly so that the audience can think for itself. That’s why he needs a quick-witted audience that knows how to observe and gets its enjoyment from setting its reason to work.
Q. in order to he doesn’t want to make things easy for the audience?
A. The audience has got to be a good enough psychologist to make its own sense of the material he puts before it. All he can guarantee is the absolute correctness and authenticity of what happens in my plays; he is prepared to bank on his knowledge of human beings. But he leaves the maximum freedom of interpretation. The sense of his plays is imminent. You must fish it out for yourself.
Q. There can’t be any objection to an actor making the material immediately intelligible, though, as against his way of doing things?
He said, there are writers who simply set down what happened. He is one of them. His material is intelligible: He doesn’t first have to make it so. There is another writer who not only put down what happened but give a theoretical explanation as a separate element. And then there is a third way of going about things, which aims at the mutual fusion of live material and conceptual analysis. To his mind, only the first approach suits the dramatic form.
Q. Certainly. But sometimes it can confuse the audience. They lose the thread of the material.
A. Brecht said, if so then it’s the fault of the modern theatre, which takes anything that would repay analysis and plays it for its mystic meaning.
Q. what does Brecht main, that it’s not only the author but the producer too who has to make the dramatic sequence of events intelligible?
Brecht answers, For the period of the performance, yes. Proper plays can only be understood When performed. But they have got to get away from the prevailing muzziness-even from monumental muzziness. The height of muzziness is bad posters. He is for the epic theatre! The production has got to bring out the material inducts in a perfectly sober and matter-of-fact way.
Nowadays the play’s meaning is usually blurred by the fact that the actor plays to the audience’s hearts. The figures portrayed are foisted on the audience and are falsified on the process Contrary to present custom they ought to present quite coldly, classically and objectively. For they do not matter for empathy: they are there to understand. Feelings are private and limited. Against that the reason is fairly comprehensive and to be relied on.
Q. That’s uncompromising intellectualism. It’s a great thing, to my mind, not to have given in to the anti-intellectual fashions of recent years.
He answered. Maybe. At any rate, he is not so discouragingly chaotic as people think.
he may confine his plays to the raw material, but I show only what is typical. He selects; that is where discipline comes in. Even when a character behaves by contradictions that’s only because nobody can be identically the same at two unidentical moments. Changes in his exterior continually lead to an inner reshuffling. The continuity of the ego is a myth. A man is an atom that perpetually breaks up and forms anew. They have to show things as they are.
Q. But what this amount to is an intellectual confirmation of the confused State of the real world and you have touched it…
The answer is, by using his head. And the confusion itself only exists because our head is an imperfect instrument. What is beyond it they call the irrational.
Bertolt Brecht in a conversation about the acting of his actors.
Bertolt Brecht was a German playwright, director and performance theorist. During his life he did his many major works for instance: mother courage and her children 1941, the three-penny opera 1928, and the Caucasian chalk citole 1948 many of bronchitis theoretical writings, some of them have been translated in collection Brecht on theatre 1964. In this book Brecht talks about acting in 1929 is excerpted hero.
Bertolt Brecht was dissatisfied with conventional western acting in which the performers attempted to recreate their character- emotions and convey them to the audience. rather than disappear into the role Brecht suggested the actor should present the entirety of the character by engaging the role critic- arty letting the audience see that the actor and the character are not one and the same. Bertolt Brecht called this (Verfremdungseffekt) a theatrical technique that makes the familiar appear strange and/or the strange appear familiar. The word has also been translated as “alienation” or “estrangement” effect.
The actors always score great successes in Bertolt Brecht’s plays. Is he himself satisfied with them or not?
Brecht said no.
Because they act badly?
Brecht: No, because the actors act wrong.
Q: How should they act then?
Brecht: For the audiences of the scientific age.
Q: What does that mean demonstrating their knowledge?
Brecht: knowledge of what?
Brecht: Of human relations, of human capacities, of human behavior.
Q: All right; that’s what they need to know. but how are they to demonstrate it?
Brecht: Consciously, suggestively and descriptively.
Q: How do they do it at present?
Brecht: By means of hypnosis. They go into a trance and take the audience with them.
Question: Give me an example.
Brecht: Suppose the actors must act a leave-taking. The actors put themselves in a leave-taking mood. They want to induce themselves in a leave-taking mood in the audience. If the séance is successful it ends up with nobody seeing anything further, nobody learning any lessons, at best everyone recollecting in short everybody feels.
Q: That sounds almost like some erotic process. What should it be like, then?
Brecht: Witty. Ceremonious and Ritual. Spectator and actor ought not to approach one another but to move apart. Each has to move away from himself. Otherwise, the element of terror necessary to all recognition is lacking.
The idea of Bertolt Brecht for the expression “scientific.” What he meant that when the actor observes an amoeba it does nothing to offer itself to the human observer. He can’t get inside its skin by empathy. Yet the scientific observer does try to understand it. Does Brecht think that in the end, he succeeds?
Brecht: I don’t know. He tries to bring it into some relationship with the other things that he has seen.
Q: Must not the actor than to try to make the man he is representing understandable?
Not so much the man as what takes place. What Brecht meant is: if an actor chooses to see Richard III he doesn’t want to feel himself to be Richard Ill, but to glimpse this phenomenon in all its strangeness and incomprehensibility.
Q: Do the spectators see science in the theatre then?
Brecht: No, Theatre.
Brecht said that he is trying something that a scientific man may also have his theatre like everybody else.
Yes, Only the theatre has already got a scientific man for its audience, even if it doesn’t do anything to acknowledge the fact. For this audience hangs its brains up in the cloakroom along with its coat.
Q: Can’t you tell the actors then how they have to perform?
No. At present, he is entirely dependent on the audience, blindly subject to it.
Has not he ever tried?
Indeed. Again, and again.
Could he do it?
Sometimes it is possible, yes; if she or he was gifted and still naive, and still found it fun; however then only at rehearsals and only so long as Brecht was present and nobody else, in other words so long as he had in front of him the type of audience Brecht was telling him about. The nearer he or she got to the first night, the further away he or she drifted; he\ she became different as one watched, for he\ she probably felt that the other spectators whose arrival was imminent might not like him or her so much.
Do you think that the actor really wouldn’t like him or her?
Brecht said: he fears so, at any rate, it would be a great risk.
Couldn’t it happen gradually?
Brecht said: No. in his point of view if it happened slowly it wouldn’t seem to the audience that something new was being slowly developed but that something old was gradually dying out. And the audience would progressively stay away. For if the new element were introduced progressively it would only be half introduced and as a result, it would absence power and effectiveness.
For this isn’t a matter of qualitative improvement but of adaptation to an entirely different purpose; that is to say, the theatre would not now be fulfilling the same purpose better, but would be fulfilling a new purpose better, but would be fulfilling a new purpose quite possibly very badly at first.
Namely For example, what is the effect of such an attempt on smuggling something in? The actor basically strikes people “jarring.” But this cannot be his act to jar them, but he himself. He or she would grate on them. And yet a jarring element is one of the hallmarks of this new way of acting. Or else the actor would be accused of being too self-conscious; self-consciousness being another hallmark of the same sort.
Q: Have such attempts been made?
Brecht: Yes, One or two for instance.
In the Oedipus play when an actress was playing the servant role, she announced the death of her mistress by calling out her “dead, dead” in a fully an emotional and penetrating voice, she repeated, her “Jocasta has died” without any regret but so firmly and definitely that the bare fact of her mistress’s death carried more weight at that precise moment that could have been generated by any sorrow of her own. She did not forsake her voice to horror, but perhaps her face, for she used white make-up to show the impact which a death makes on all present at it.
Her announcement that the suicide had collapsed as if before a beater was made up less of pity for this collapse than of pride in the beater’s achievement so that it plain to even the most emotionally punch-drunk spectator that here a decision had been carried out which called for his acquiescence.
With surprise, she described simply the dying woman’s ranting and apparent irrationality, and there was no mistaking the tone of her “and how she ended, we do not know”, which she refused, as a meager but inflexible tribute, to give more information about this death. But when she descended in the few steps she took, this little figure seemed to bridge an immense distance from the stage of the tragedy to the lower phase, and while she raised her arms in conventional lamentation, she at the same time implored pity for herself that disaster had seen, and with her loud “now you may cry” she seemed to deny the righteousness of earlier and lesser-founded regrets.
Q: What sort of reception did she have?
Moderate, except for a few connoisseurs. Plunged in self-identification with the protag on feelings, virtually the whole audience failed to take part in the moral decisions of which the plot is made up. That immense decision which she had communicated had almost no effect on those who regarded it as an opportunity for new sensations.
(The performance studies reader 3rd edition by Henry Bial and Sara brady2016: 255)
(“Dialog über Schauspielkunst,” from Berliner Börsen-Courier, 17 February 1929)
The actress here described was Helene Weigel for further information See (Brecht on theatre 1964:29)
Here I tried to end this paper with its conclusion by quoting to bellow.
Human beings go to the theatre in order to be swept away, captivated, impressed, uplifted, horrified, moved, kept in suspense, released, diverted, set free, set going, transplanted from their own time, and supplied with illusions. All of this goes so much without saying that the art of the theatre is candidly defined as having the power to release, sweep away, uplift, et cetera. It is not an art at all unless it does so. Bertolt Brecht, 1940, On The Experimental Theatre translated by Carl Mueller. Robert W. Corrigan, 1963, Theatre in the Twentieth Century NY: 1965 Grove Press Edition, pages 94-110, page 106.
Bertolt Brecht on actors: “…nobody who fails to get fun out of his activities can expect them to be fun for anybody else.” Bertolt Brecht, 1926, “Emphasis on Sport. Translated and reprinted in John Willet, 1957 1964, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic (NY: Hill and Wang), pages 6-9, page 7.