Brechtian theatre is a unique type of theatre in which the audience is reminded that it is just a play and is designed to make the audience think about the storyline and why it happened, and not care for the characters. Brechtian theatre was created by Bertolt Brecht who was a German playwright. Brecht was born into a religious household as his mother was protestant and his father was catholic and he was taught the ways of the bible which could have affected his writing when it came to writing about religion and the way in which people discriminate against those with a different view. In his twenties, he took an interest in politics which started to influence his writing and he wanted to get a message across, however, he did not want to make people believe what he believed, he wanted people to develop their own ideas and have their own opinions and ideas, he achieved this through theatre.
He believed that theatre should not just be used for pleasure but should be used to give new ideas and help people decide on what they believed, he achieved this by not letting the audience relate to the characters in his plays as if they related to the characters, they would care about what happened to the character. To prevent the audience from relating to the character, he would make the character come out of role and talk to the audience, or make the character narrate what was happening, which would make the audience remember that it was a play and not get ‘absorbed into the storyline.’
However, he also wanted to persuade people to realise the importance of the situations he was tackling and to respect other peoples decisions, for instance, at one point he said “For the attitude that these people adopt in the opera is unworthy of them. Is there any possibility that they may change it? Can we persuade them to get out their cigars?” Which I think that he meant that some people thought extremely highly of themselves, so highly that they think that other peoples choices are beneath them and that they shouldn’t have to respect people’s choices, and I think Brecht wanted to change that.
In my drama class I performed a scene using Brechtian theatre in which I was a man at a job interview who was struggling to get a job as he had a criminal record, however, I made it Brechtian (so the audience couldn’t relate to mine or my partner’s, who was playing the role of the interviewee, characters) by coming out of role and telling the audience of the things which would prevent me from getting the job and then replying with a different answer to my partner, which made it seem fairly Brechtian whilst adding some humour. I don’t think this particular piece was very effective but it did use some typical Brechtian theatre skills however it did not alienate the audience.
The Alienation effect is when the actor prevents the audience from ‘losing themselves’ throughout the course of the scene, it is performed by coming out of role and using stereotypes and is used mainly in Brechtian theatre. I used the alienation effect in the job interview scene I performed by coming out of role every so often, for instance, when my partner said “Are there any boundaries that could prevent you from getting this job?” I replied by speaking to the audience by saying “Does a criminal record count as a boundary?” and then saying to him “No, of course not!”
In a different scene I used exaggerated gestures where my group took everyday activities such as walking and knocking on a door and exaggerated them, for instance, when we were walking, we raised or legs up high and took long strides forward, this made walking look comical and it didn’t look real, but it looked Brechtian. For knocking, we curled our arms in a circle and swung our arms far behind our heads before bringing them forward as if we were knocking. We also added exaggerated emotions in which added to the Brechtian effect, the emotions were emotions such as being happy, in which we smiled very widely and stood in an upright position with our shoulders high, and when we were acting sad, we slouched down with large frowns on our faces. I think that this looks very effective in a Brechtian point of view as it looks comical and reminds you that it isn’t real and prevents you from relating to the characters.
We then performed a montage in which we acted as a mob in a riot. However, the music in the background was classical music, which contrasted with the scene. It looked effective as you do not expect the music to be used in a scene like that and it doesn’t get people excited that there is a riot occurring, it makes people think about the scene. Finally, we used statements to tell the story of a boy who was run over.
Five people were in my group and we each played different characters who were all telling the same story, but in a different way, for instance, one person said that the driver was “obviously drunk (as he couldn’t look me in the eye)” however the driver said “I couldn’t look the boys dad in the eyes, it was to much pressure.” This would make the audience think about the different stories and see if they could come to a conclusion although they didn’t know the right story. I think this technique is effective as it makes the audience think about the possibilities and they don’t think about the characters.
I think that exaggerated gestures could be used very effectively in a piece of devised theatre about domestic violence. As it needs little speech and the gestures can be very powerful, but do not make the audience think about the characters very much as the gestures look quite comical and combined with the alienation effect it could look extremely effective. For instance, the abusive character could seem rather friendly when other characters are around and this could be shown by characters laughing in a comical way (tilting their heads back and opening their mouths very widely) and eventually when the two characters who were laughing turn around, but stay on the set, the abusive character could walk towards their wife/husband etc.
And have an over the top argument with extremely exaggerated facial expressions and eventually the abusive character makes a slow movement like a punch towards the other characters face. The punch stops in mid-air but it is still as if the character is hit and shows they have been hit by swinging their head back. Then the abusive character comes out of role and tells the audience that he is attacking the other character for drinking problems or some problem with their life which will make the audience think about both sides of the story.