Abstraction and Deconstruction/ Environmental Theatre

This week’s reading: The Messingkauf Dialogues, “The A-effect” and “A model for mother courage and her children” in Directors on Directing both by Bertolt Brecht.
In “A model for mother courage and her children”, I like what he said about “to act old age”. I think this is an important section, especially if I plan to direct teens in my future. He talked about a young person’s first instinct to put on a “voice” and gestures as though they were old. Instead, he argued that the lines in the text are written for the role of an older person and they should emerge on their own if you isolate the text— one after the next. He claims they will “age” visually and gradually by absorbing the reality of their lines.
He had another interesting point about taking your time at the end of the play. He said if the movement is extended, a moment of irritation arises. If it is prolonged even further deeper understanding sets in. I love to use this idea in my directing pieces. I tend to enjoy creating visual bookends for my work. A strong tableau does so much for a piece…when done correctly. A picture says 1,000 words and these moments of silence allow the audience to “simmer” on their thoughts. Hopefully a clear end picture will confirm any questions they have…or even raise new ones. I have used this technique at the end of my scene after Steph leaves and the fight is over…I felt it was important to show Greg on the bed, by himself. Completely dejected. I think its an eerily quiet end after such a loud and chaotic scene.
I also enjoyed Brecht’s musings on small meaningful gestures. The little discoveries in the nuances of human nature. He gives the example of the woman and her change purse. I must remember to add meaningful gestures that have nothing to do with the words in the scene, but add a touch of flavor and informs the audience of the character’s personality. I think these meaningful moments enrich both the actor and the audience’s experience.
In “The A-effect” Brecht speaks of the Alienation effect. The “A-effect” is the alienation-effect needed for spectators to break out of empathy with characters and storyline. The spectator is invited out of the passive role designed for them in dramatic theatre, and take on a critical and suspicious role. It is accomplished in epic theatre by doing everything dramaturgically imaginable to keep the spectator from taking flight in the suspension of disbelief.
This Epic theatre is a whole new world for me. Being an actress who is enchanted by the naturalism approach to theatre, the little that I did know of Brecht had never really piqued my interest to investigate further. My passion for the theatre is directly connected to my ability to identify with the characters on the stage and become emotionally involved with their reality. I had thought this to be in direct contrast with Brecht’s theories. However, as a responsible future teacher of the theatre, I realized it is my duty to submerge myself in the teachings of Brechtian theatre, before I wrote it off completely. I’m glad I did! From these readings and after doing some research of my own online, I have discovered that Brecht’s epic theatre allows theatrical productions to engage an audience and forces them to think. It would surely be a mistake to create a production that neglects Brecht’s theories of challenging an audience to reevaluate their worldview! It is clear that Brecht was passionate about changing the world, using the theatre as a classroom; and that is definitely a concept that I can get on board with.

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