“Spectator is a bad word!” (Gerould, 473).
Boal advocated that the spectator free himself from his passive role and become active in the progression of the action on stage. In attempting to free Brazilian theatre from its “overdependence upon European models,” (Gerould, 462) Boal began revolutionary types of theatre centred around making the audience involved with the actors on stage to a degree not previously seen.
Boal believes strongly in the active-ability of the audience. He feels that the audience members were capable of playing an active role during theatre performances rather than a passive role. In this way, it can be said that Boal feels that theatre should be available to all people, regardless of class, race age or nationality- everyone can and should be involved in the “happening” of theatre. This sentiment was implemented as Boal attempted to create theatre in unconventional places, among the masses- raw productions in places such as street cafes, restaurants, parks, prisons etc. This type of theatre was termed “Invisible Theatre.” His liberal views saw the spectator actually acting within the theatre. These spectators must break down the major divisions constructed by the ruling classes- the spectator on one level and the actor on another. Instead, he believes that theatre is something everyone partakes and participates in, the people involved become “spect-actors,” (Gerould, 473). “Forum Theatre” allows for the audience tpo participate in the decision –making process on stage. This active role played by the spect-actors leads to rehearsal for social change, – moderated by the “joker” who acts as a sort of director. The purpose of this type of theatre is to find a solution to the issue or problem (such as a problem brought on by a social revolution). In order to achieve social change, a solution must be reached. Boal advocated that we are all equals. The performers should be on an equal playing field with the audience members- the audience members should actually BECOME the performers. Schiller would have agreed with Boal’s method because he too, believed that theatre could bring about social change (in the form of a social institution such as the Church or the Law). Boal goes beyond Schiller and takes theatre to the streets, the parks, trade-unions and prisons, trying to expose as many people as possible to performance and attempts to include everyone in the action.
INTERESTING TO CHECK OUT ———–> http://www.theatreoftheoppressed.org
Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera (1928), Act I Scene 3
The Modern Theatre Is the Epic Theatre (1930)
Bertolt Brecht essentially advocated for theatre to fulfill its role as a didactic form of entertainment. You may ask how theatre can function as didactic and as entertainment simultaneously. Brecht’s Epic Smoking Theatre was the model for which he based his theories. “This smoke-filled alcoholic environment would promote the attitude of detachment that is integral” to this type of theatre, allowing for the audience to benefit from the importance of entertainment. (Gerould, 445). Brecht touches on two types of theatre in order to illustrate the two essential roles that theatre plays in order to simultaneously produce the result of didactic entertainment: Epic Theatre and Dramatic Theatre. He believed in the audience being able to be entertained, however he also expected that the spectators get something more substantial out of the experience. In Epic theatre, the audience members are consciously aware that they are experiencing theatre; they make decisions about it, react to it and perhaps even discuss it and pass judgement regarding the action while sitting in front of it. He stated that “the modern theatre is the epic theatre,” (Gerould, 449). The observer stands outside and studies it. In Dramatic theatre, you feel more. (Sensations). You share the experience with the players.
Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting (1935)
The idea of the Chinese actor never acting as if there is a fourth wall (Gerould, 455) is an extremely important example of Brecht’s idea of Epic Theatre. Just like Brecht wanted the audience to do, in Epic Theatre, the actor is consciously aware of every move he or she is making and gearing each movement with the awareness that he or she is being watched. “The audience identifies itself with the actor as being an observer,” (Gerould, 456). In this way, the Westerner may conclude that the Chinese actor is “too cold,” (Gerould, 456). Perhaps because seeing the actor detached from his own character instils in us, (the audience) sentiments of detachment towards his character as well. The Chinese actor is aware of everything going on around him or her and not so deep into portraying a character that he or she becomes utterly immersed mind, body and soul into the role. Brecht asserts that “the Chinese actor can be interrupted at any moment,” (Gerould, 458) including having the set changed around him or her while depicting a character and telling a story. The alienation effect demonstrated in Chinese theatre by Brecht serves to make sure that there is a distancing effect between the audience and any emotional attachment they might develop to the action on stage. Brecht wanted the audience to always be reminded of the artificiality of theatre and its role as didactic entertainment- not some fantasy world that audience members could get lost in and succumb to the sentiments of pity and fear after becoming too involved and taking the transpiring action way too seriously and to heart. Examples in modern theatre could include signage on stage, explanations of plot occurrences, visible set changes or stagehands etc.
Brecht, Bertolt. “The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre” and “Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting.” Theatre/Theory/Theatre. Ed. Daniel Gerould. New York, NY: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2000. 444-461.
Denis Diderot 1713-1784: “Conversations on the Natural Son” (1757) and “The Paradox of Acting” (1773-1778)
All that Diderot ever really wanted was GOOD theatre. He wanted to experience authentic plot, to encounter genuine characters and to feast his eyes upon naturalistic costumes, true to the period and setting being depicted. Was this too much to ask of the theatrical community? Apparently so, because it is evident that it took many, many years to finally see a blatant disregard for the strict rules of the Unities, character portrayals and true-to-life costumes.
One specific example comes to mind. I remember watching a film of Romeo and Juliet, done in the 1960s. Elements of 60’s fashion and style radiates through the dialogue and classic Shakespearean acting style depicted in the film. Juliet’s hair is a bouffant style, her makeup is extremely colourful with 60s flair and large false eyelashes. The costumes on both the men and the women characters in the film were the shape of 60s fashionable clothing. The director quite obviously did not attempt to render the play true to the unities of time, place and action- the styles of the 60s shine through in the physicality of the actors. Diderot would not have approved. He wanted rejection of the adoption of modern day costumes, behaviours and lifestyles on stage. He believed that “the falsity of everything that takes place on stage” was deadly, (Gerould, 190). He recognized the dullness and restrictiveness of the French theatre and critiqued it, arguing that like paintings, (his first love) theatre ought to have strong emotion and to have the qualities of both violence and tumult. (Gerould, 190). Theatre should be as colourful as the paintings he so cherished and coveted. He found this possible after witnessing famed British actor David Garrick, who was acclaimed for his discipline as an actor, true-to-life in his performances and portrayals. Like Zola, Diderot advocated for naturalistic elements on stage- not only in the set, but in costuming, character portrayal and they both would have argued against the use of the Unities. Diderot exclaims “AH, THOSE CRUEL CONVENTIONS, HOW DECORUS AND HOW PETTY THEY MAKE OUR PLAYS!” (Gerould, 194).
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had a passion for the music of Wagner. He also loved the age of Louis XIV and the French dramatic acting of the classical period. (Gerould, 337). He advocated for a return to the classical period in terms of the production and performance of art. He wanted to “ressurect the German theatre of his day by going back to ancient roots,” (Gerould, 337). In Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, Nietzsche praises the Greek gods of the arts: Dionysus (theatre) and Apollo (Music). Nietzsche plays on the dichotomy of the Apollonian and Dionysian perspective of art (theatre). He juxtaposes Apollo’s dream world with that of Dionysus’s Drunken-like state as two worlds in which the audience of theatre can be categorized. He claims that in the Apollonian sphere, the audience is transported to a dream world with certain boundaries. We are fully aware of where we are, how we got here and how to get out. What we are witnessing is not pure reality, we can distinguish the difference between the real world and this dream. On the other hand, Nietzsche proposes a Dionysian “drunken ecstasy,” in which the audience is completely lost and caught up in the dream. All members of the audience are willingly or unwillingly together in this process- the body of the audience is unified in their mutual journey into Nietzsche’s “inner world of fantasy,” (Gerould, 339). In this experience, we forget are bearings- where we are, how we got there, and how we are supposed to- if at all, get out.
Like Zola, Nietzsche believed in naturalism in theatre- however there is a sense that he perhaps feared that we were going too far with it. He still wanted us to be suspended in belief and to experience theatre as a sort of entertainment (Diderot). Thus, his explanation of getting caught up in what transpires before you, as an audience member. Nietzsche’s idea of a chorus further suggests how it works to illustrate the process of Dionysian tragedy. The chorus helps to lull the audience into a state of unification, of becoming one with the action on stage.
Nietzsche is extremely complex and dense. I am interested to explore his ideas in relation to mimesis and to explore further how his ideas correspond to music as one of the elements which gave birth to tragedy. TOUGH STUFF!
Rousseau’s statement “I allow that man is everywhere the same; but when he is variously modified by religion, government, laws, customs, prejudices, and climates, he becomes so different from himself that the question no longer is what is proper for mankind in general, but what is proper for him in such a particular age and country,” (205) is embedded in his essay to D’Alembert in 1758. In his quest to establish public theatre in Geneva, Rousseau claimed that this theatre, like all theatre should appeal to the “general taste” of Geneva. If this necessary guideline was not met, he concludes that the author then fails, and that it is ignorance on his part because he would be neglecting theatre’s primary goal: which is to please. Unlike previous theorists we have discussed, such as Aristotle and Plato, who told us that we should learn from theatre and become better citizens after experiencing it, Rousseau believed that “the primary purpose of theatre is to amuse,” (206). In order to keep it as such, Rousseau insists that “a really good piece is never disgusting to the manners of the times,” (206). He illustrates his perspective by listing examples that when appropriately performed in the theatre in a specific geographical location, would surely be okay with the audience. The production would be favouring the sentiments of the general taste and thus fulfilling his idea of the role of theatre- to amuse the audience, evoking positive, non-controversial sentiments, thoughts and opinions. (Example: “At London, a play interests the audience if calculated to make them hate the French,” (208). Rousseau further explains that in order to please the audience, public entertainments- mainly the theatre, “should favour their several dispositions, whereas they ought in reason to moderate them,” (206).
Rousseau does not believe that theatre has any power to change human passions (sentiments and manners). Unlike Schiller, who argues that theatre had the same power and influence over the masses as a moral institution like the law or the Church, Rousseau did not see this possible benefit to theatre. (How everything portrayed on the stage could instil values and ultimately change/attribute to one’s character and instil a passionate desire to contribute to society). Rousseau also disagreed with Aristotle’s notion of theatre evoking pity and fear in the audience. In modern day theatre, issues of controversy are encouraged and attract many people because the topics are outside of their comfort zone and non-conventional- making productions that much more interesting and attractive. Theatre can be used to address issues and topics in an indirect way- a manner of exposing these themes to the masses. A perfect example: “Avenue Q”. A musical on Broadway which includes puppetry addresses subjects of racism, pornography and violence on stage. The views conveyed on stage do not necessarily appeal to the general taste- however; it is still allowed to run. Theatre is important in contemporary society because it is an outlet for these themes that perhaps do not cater to the general taste, however this ‘general taste’ seems nowadays to either not exist or it has become so liberal that many more issues are depicted on stage for whoever wishes to participate and see them. Theatre is now a place to address such issues, bringing light to these ideas but it also still serves to entertain- Rousseau would approve of the entertainment value that is put upon many productions today, however he would be amazed at the evolution of the “general taste” which has become increasingly liberal.
Emile Zola (Short synopsis in point form of his writing for those of you who visit this site and do not have the reading!)Zola loved and hated the 19th century French theatre. Mastered the intricate code of boulevard theatre: how characters must enter and exist, the technique of dramatic coups, the need for sympathetic roles, and the ‘various ways of cheating truth’ ” He was first an art critic and endorsed Impressionism (he championed the aesthetics of faithfully observed everyday life). Under the spell of the glamorous Parisian stage. Wrote novels- wanted to adapt his best-selling novels and accomplish the “great popular revolution” the theatre had long dreamed of. Aggressive proponent of naturalism in the theatre.
“Preface to Therese Raquin” (1873)
Zola’s notion of minimalistic sets, props and costumes lends itself to the idea that this lack of visual distraction adds to the effect and quality of the performance transpiring on stage. He believed in naturalism: “submitting man and his works to an exact analysis, takign into account circumstances, environment and physical attributes,” (354). The development of which he called the “newborn babe of truth” (354) that would bring the “power of reality” (354). During the time of his writing, historical dramas were ending their reign as the most powerful genre of theatre. In its place, Zola believed that naturalism would take over, riding theatre of its ‘unreality’. Zola championed reality plays- claiming that it was imperative that the human problem be studied “within the bounds of reality” (355). He mentions the playwright Moliere and his “broad and simple portrayal of men and affairs,” (355). In his plays, the “action lies not in some story or other but in the inner conflicts of the characters,” (355).
As he delves into the realm of theatre, Zola argues under the headings of sets and props and costumes. There is one term which comes to mind while engaged in his writing- this term is “versimilitude”. I believe Zola is a true advocate of this process. When a work is very true to life, this is versimilitude. This neo-classical concept is best described by the Online Encyclopedia Britannica: “The concept implies that either the action represented must be acceptable or convincing according to the audience’s own experience or knowledge or, as in the presentation of science fiction or tales of the supernatural, the audience must be enticed into willingly suspending disbelief,” (http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9075104/verisimilitude). Following the historical and melodramas of the early to mid 1800s, the background was now minimal and the emphasis was placed upon the characters and their banal existence then the scene created was thus truer to reality- the masses related and connected with these “individual people [who were] presented living contemporary lives,” (359).
The evolution of naturalism since the fifteenth century has lead to our current practice of enforcing historical accuracy in costuming. When studying theatre history last year, we discussed how historical accuracy in costuming is suprisingly, fairly new to theatre and even film. One example comes to mind from my own personal observations- not from theatre but from film and valid none the less. During my Shakespeare class last year, we would watch clips of plays such as Hamlet, King Lear and The Tempest- all from productions done in the 60’s. Perhaps unintentionally, the actors display make-up heavily influenced by this decade and also the cut of the dresses and the hairstyles mirror those of the swinging era. I believe we have moved into an era where historical accuracy is imperative or the audience is turned off because the characters are unbelievable and therefore not worth watching. I agree with Zola with the same degree of passion he exhibits in his writing.