The A-Effect (Bertolt Brecht)

November 6, 2007 at 7:07 am (Uncategorized)

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.


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