The Mother of all Epic… Theater

Epic Theater was established to inspire people. It is considered by some to be theater’s final evolution into a place where a balance of entertainment and education can be found. However this cannot be done through the traditional means of drama which can be broken up into tragedies and comedies, as they cause the audience to become attached inhibiting their ability to criticize the works. It however cannot be done through more modern techniques such as realism, the attempt to replicate real life as close as possible while still being considered a play, and expressionism, the antithesis of realism where characters are used to show the truth within man by showing their distorted appearance. No, Epic Theater is made pedagogical by alienating the audience, with a constant reminder that they are watching a production. This leads to a form of collective agency in the audience to criticize the characters and the play itself. This Bertolt Brecht wished would lead to a consciousness of their standing in society and an eventual uprising leading to a more Marxist society. Who is Brecht? Well, he is a well-known twentieth century play write, poet and essay composer, but probably best known as the father of Epic Theater.Epic theater uses certain tricks to assure this alienation effect on the audience, such as:


White Lighting – on stage,

Addressing the Audience Directly,

Fragmented props and costumes – pieced together,

Costume Changes – done so in full view of the audience,

Production and Lighting Equipment – left in plain view on stage,

Historification- using a setting from a different era to distance emotional impact,

Songs and Ballads – used to communicate themes in times normally deemed unfitting.

These are all ways to make the audience aware. They become aware of the play. They become agents in their awareness. They become agents in society.

Mother Courage is a Brecht original, if there is one, which shows the effects of war on a family business, emphasis on business. It is written for epic theater and is perhaps the best example of epic theater I know. A specific scene where this is the case is that of the return a Kattrin, her mute daughter, after have being raped. This scene uses Historification in the text, which leads to the setting of Mother Courage in the Thirty Years War a time in which it would have been impossible for any of his audience to be alive in, unless they’re immortal. In her entrance, it is made to appear s though she has been assaulted, but is never spoken outright. Since many modern viewers have not been raped it is impossible for them to truly empathize, only pity and curse the circumstances that lead to this offense, war. The only exception is in the nineteen-forty-nine version where the young German women in the audience had known someone or was themselves rapped when the city of Berlin was finally taken by the red army in World War Two. They had a flashback to that time, caused by an unaccounted for empathetic connection to Kattrin. I guess in either case, a disdain for the loss of innocence, in war, can be found. So perhaps this was Brecht’s message, that war destroys not only those who fight and profit over the struggle but the innocent caught in a war they didn’t want.


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