How do characters engage with audience?

Epic Theatre

  • Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) entered the German theatre as one of a number of young playwright at a time when stage production was in a whirl of experience: realism was crumbling and new approaches were being put to the test.
  • He wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognize social injustice and exploitation and to be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change in the world outside.


History of Epic Theatre came from Bertolt Bercht. His earliest work was influenced by German Expressionism, but it was his preoccupation with Marxism and the idea that man and society could be intellectually analyzed that led him to develop his theory of “Epic Theatre.” he believed that theatre should appeal not to the spectator’s feelings but to his reason. While still providing entertainment, it should be strongly didactic and capable of provoking social change. In the Realistic theatre of illusion, he argued, the spectator tended to identify with the characters on stage and become emotionally involved with them rather than being stirred to think about his own life. To encourage the audience to adopt a more critical attitude to what was happening on stage, Brecht developed his Verfremdungs-effekt (“alienation effect”)–i.e., the use of anti-illusive techniques to remind the spectators that they are in a theatre watching an enactment of reality instead of reality itself. Such techniques included flooding the stage with harsh white light, regardless of where the action was taking place, and leaving the stage lamps in full view of the audience; making use of minimal props and “indicative” scenery; intentionally interrupting the action at key junctures with songs in order to drive home an important point or message; and projecting explanatory captions onto a screen or employing placards. From his actors Brecht demanded not realism and identification with the role but an objective style of playing, to become in a sense detached observers.

As the theory developed, Brecht argued that all theatre artists, from the writer to the lighting engineer, should work together to induce the distancing defect and make the performance truly objective. This idea, however, had nothing to do with the old Wagnerian unity of the arts. In epic theatre each artist was to make a separate contribution.


  • The actor as we have seen, would ‘show’ rather than imitate, and Brecht advocated number of rehearsal devices to encourage this : the actor would speak in the third person, or in the past tense, or even speak the stage directions Gesture would consciously indicate his inner feeling, as of the actor were visibly observing his own movements.
  • The designer of the set, following Piscator, would dispense with illusion and symbolism, and build according to the actor’s needs. There would be no suggestion of a ‘forth wall’, and, except for props, the stage would be bare, merely an open space on which to tell a tory.
  • The playwright  would structure his play episodically, preceding each scene with a written title, which would remain in position until replaced by another one, and offer an ‘historical’ account of the action of the scene.
  • The director would arrange the blocking or grouping of the actors on the stage, not merely to achieve some formal beauty of good composition, but essentially to clarify the structure of human relationship in the play.
  • The lighting designer would abandon the idea of hiding the sources of light to achieve a mysterious effect that would draw the audience into the action. The stage itself would be lit with a plain white light so that the actor would seem to be in the same world as the audience.
  • The composer of the music should express his idea of the play’s theme independently, and so provide a separate comment on the action, which might often be in conflict with the activity of the characters.

Reference List, (2016). BBC Bitesize – GCSE Drama – Epic theatre and Brecht – Revision 2. [online] Available at:[Accessed 27 Jan. 2016].

National Theatre,(2016). An Introduction to Brechtian Theatre. Available at : (Accessed 28 Jan 2016)

Oregon State University,(2015). Bertolt Brecht and THE EPIC THEATRE (1). Available at : (Accessed 28 Jan 2016)

Styan, J. (1981). Modern drama in theory and practice 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Drama Teacher,(2016). Epic Theatre Conventions. Available at : 27 Jan 2016)


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