Brecht’s Striking Epic Theatre Techniques – 70 Explanations
Introduction to Brecht
Along with Constantin Stanislavski, Bertolt Brecht was one of the two most influential figures of 20th-century theatre and the most significant practitioner since World War II. Brecht’s theories for the stage, including his well-known epic theatre form, made him a force to be reckoned with.
Although it is well documented Bertolt Brecht had a team of workers around him to ease the load, his creative output was nothing short of prolific. He was a theorist, poet, playwright, and above all a practitioner who painstakingly applied his theories to the works of one of the great theatre companies of the world, the Berliner Ensemble, who demonstrated features of epic theatre in their performances.
Unlike Jerzy Grotowski, Brecht preferred to demonstrate his concepts in performances instead of acting exercises. Unlike Antonin Artaud, Brecht’s ideas were concrete and translatable for actors for generations to come. A staunch Marxist, Brecht’s plays often had a political and social message for those viewing them. Accordingly, his works included songs that drummed home the message of the play, storytellers, narrators, projection, placards, and actors directly addressing the audience.
this was really helpful my slime
Excellent- Thank you very much
Thanks for the feedback, Trish! – Justin
Hi! This is a really informative article, but i was just wondering if you knew a bit about Brecht’s use of tableaux? I’m doing an assignment about Brecht and I’m not sure if he would just stop the action completely or if he would sometimes have one character moving in the scene with the other actors frozen! Thank you for your time!
Hi Luca, that’s a very specific question. Sorry, but I don’t have the answer to that one. – Justin
Thank you Justin, reading this article has been refreshing and it has helped me with my stage presentation
Excellent, Itohan! – Justin
Hi, I’m a research student and my subject is about Russian constructivism as an influence on the scenographic design of Bertolt Brecht, I want to quote you but I would also like to know where I get that information from please. Thank you!
Cynthia, this article was posted on 17 March, 2014. So, depending on your referencing system used in your research, it would be something like: Cash, J, 2014, Epic Theatre Conventions, date you accessed this page, thedramateacher.com/epic-theatre-conventions. Hope this helps!
Can you help me out a bit, I would love to cite your work so I can give credit to your ideas. I’m using some of the things you say as the foundation for one of my papers in university.
Thanks Kaylee. Just cite:
-web address: https://thedramateacher.com/epic-theatre-conventions
-author: Cash, Justin
-date you accessed the information (e.g. accessed 19 September, 2018)
..and you’re done!
great stuff, really informative and developed research 🙂
Stumbled apon this site by accident. I’m starting to teach Caucasian Chalk Circle to my class this term.
I teach at an all boys school in South Africa
We are having similar debates here over use of alianation. I use enstrange or to make strange to remove or de familiarization never alienation.
I also use ‘to make strange’. However, I find myself explaining the other terms as so many people use alienation and I want them to make the links.
Useful information. Keep it up.!
thanks, I am pleased read the acting mathod
Hi- what would you say the definition of epic theatre is? And the socio-political context??
i have the same question and can’t find the answer anywhere
“epic plays employed a large narrative (as opposed to a smaller plot), spanning many locations and time frames […] epic plays used non-linear, fractured plots, where the events of a single episode were not necessarily a result of the preceding one” (THIS ARTICLE).
This material is very useful as it will be a very handy tool for me as I teach courses in “Introduction to directing” and “Advanced acting”. I look forward to more of such.
How might you take a regular musical in America and make it more interesting by adding Brechtian touches to become more artistic? I already have expresisonism and heightened realism as a goal. (This site is thought provoking…) Thanks for y our info and support.
Have you seen Hamilton. What do you think of it’s techniques?
I was unable to afford tickets to see Hamilton. Can you tell me if Hamilton employed Brechtian techniques?
Edward, Hamilton has not been to my country yet (Australia), so I can’t help you with this one. Maybe some other readers who have seen Hamilton can advise?
This was extremely helpful in aiding my project surrounding Brechtian theatre and practices. Thank you so much for posting this, it means a lot to have so much information at my disposal!
what would you say Brechts theatrical influences would be?
Amber, German Expressionism of the 1910s and 20s and to a lesser extent, the German cabaret scene. Article on German Expressionism here on The Drama Teacher.
Brecht was highly influenced by Marxism. This is because he believed in an equal society and during his times Capitalism was at the forefront. He believed that Capitalism could not provide for its people and wanted a more communist approach and that was marxism.
He was also influenced by Expressionism. However it wasn’t the whole expressionist movement but certain aspects of it listed below. Expressionism:
– abolished theatre conventions,characterisation, plot and structure
-Playwright represented thought, feelings and fate
-There was a poetic dialogue used which was sometimes non-sensical
– used unconnected scenes instead of a linear plot in the structure (influenced by the playwrights Georg Buchner and Frank Wedekind
However I must mention that in Brecht’s epic theatre, emotions were removed from expressionism
Erwin Piscator influenced Brecht in his semi-revolutionary theatre after world war one. He used themes that were against the government back then and turned them into skits and made songs, painted and drew posters. His goal was to re-educate and uplift the lower class/oppressed class. He used puppets, projections and screens and believe that art could not just be for art’s sake but should awaken social consciousness.
Elizabethan theatre practises
– a bare stage with the audience around it
-A narrator and entertainment
– personal issues and political being unravelled with changing scenes
Oriental theatre practises
– Verfremdung from chinese acting style
-Dispassionate Noh Plays
– revolving stage of Kabuki theatre from the Japanese
I hope that helps 🙂
I am student of theatre and performing Arts and I am happy for meet you because I have learnt a lots and I know brecht more better now. thank you sir
My pleasure, Auwal! Thank you for your feedback.
What techniques could i teach a class to make them get into brecht more ?
Bella, it sometimes depends on the age of the students, whether they have had some introduction to Brecht already, and how academic the group in question is? Generally, I have found students enjoy using placards/signs, narration, song with a message. Other students get into Brecht and Epic Theatre by using conventions such as speaking stage directions out loud (though in reality, Brecht’s actors probably only did this as a rehearsal technique), and swapping characters mid-scene. More sophisticated and older students get in to Brecht’s political and social background (Marxist beliefs) and how this affected his theatre, by looking at his use of gestus. Other students enjoy using projection in their practical studies of Brecht. I have found over the years one just has to tailor it to your students at the time.
Excellent! Glad it helped.
I’m currently studying for my mock exams and this is a brilliant resource thank you so much!!!1
Hi, thank you for the information. Is doubling (an actor plays 2 characters) a Brechtian technique? I doubt it but somebody told me it was so.Thank you.
Elizabeth, I teach this to my students as an epic theatre technique. – Justin
Thank you very much for your reply. There is any other place where you talk about it OR any other sources that I can check? thank you!
Wow tanks alot for em write ups..i want to knw did he(Brecht) Talked about anything on using of multimedia on stage?pls i need to knw in detail or if u can refrence me to any work fine.tanks
Migel, Brecht collaborated with fellow German theatre director Erwin Piscator on a well-known production of a work entitled The Good Soldier Schweik (1928) in which film projection was used on stage. It is believed that Brecht, in collaboration with Piscator, were two of the first directors to successfully use projection in the theatre. Whether this included sound as well, and therefore closer to “multimedia”, I do not know for sure. I believe the production used projection as scenery, cartoon film and real film (John Willett – scholar and author of books on Brecht). This information is a little tricky to find. Sorry my reply was late, but if still relevant I recommend searching books such as Brecht in Context, Brecht on Theatre, Brecht on Performance, Bertolt Brecht (Mumford) etc for more details, or searching .edu websites for web information through Google, plus utilising university libraries with academic resources on Brecht.
its more helpful to me…thanks..
A great resource that has helped me develop throughout the entire year. From my Solo performance to developing descriptive language for my Performance analysis, this resource has helped a lot.
Thanks Luke – Justin.
Hi Justin what do you mean used to emotionally detach the audience (marginally)?
Shorter episodes (scenes) in some of Brecht’s plays contained parables, often communicated to the spectator (audience) through the use of song. The intention was to distance/detach the spectator emotionally by driving home the intellectual message of the play (often a Marxist one) in these scenes. ‘Marginal’ detachment is probably more my own opinion as to the level of effect on the spectator. – Justin
A fantastic resource, thank you for developing these pages. Expect a lot of hits from South Australia as I will be sharing this with my students as it is so clear and accessible.
Thanks Lynn. Spread the word in South Australia!
Fanks for dis, halp mi on mi asignement a lot. fanks agan
What is it called when a performance does a breif overview of the play at the start…ie…in a short movment piece.. and therefore leaves the audience to then watch how it all took place, knowing already what took place? Does the techniqu have a name?
I am not sure, but if you find out, please let me know 🙂
Form of Foreshadowing
We should stop writing “alienation techniques” once for all. This is an outright wrong translation of Brecht’s term “Verfremdung”. “Verfremdung” does NOT have anything to do with “Entfremdung” (alienation). Not in the slightest. “Defamliarization” is the correct term. “Entfremdung” is a Marxist term that has nothing to do with theatre although one might be tempted to confuse these things because Brecht was a Marxist.
Well ariculated.Thank You so much guys!Kindly do the isms for me please.