The past four days, my life has been completely consumed by my drama directing task. This weekend I woke up, worked on the assignment, ate lunch, worked on the assignment, ate dinner, worked on the assignment, went to bed, woke up, worked on the assignment, ate lunch, worked on the assignment, ate dinner, worked on the assignment, and went to bed. It was exhausting. Last night at 11:30 pm, the end result was a forty page port folio, and a bag full of props. I am relieved to have it finished save for the presentation, which I have resigned to fate.
However, I brought this up because the nature of the assignment itself was very interesting. The task was to direct a scene from Bertolt Brecht's Epic Theatre play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, using Brechtian techniques to foreground a theme.
A major element of the assignment is a written director's port folio, which includes an introduction to Brecht and Epic Theatre. Have a read.
Bertolt Brecht was a German playwright who lived 1898 to 1956. Brecht saw the potential in theatre for inspiring social change in an audience. German director, Erwin Piscator worked with Brecht to originate the concept of Epic Theatre. A bold contrast to Konstantin Stanislavsky’s methods of Realism, Epic Theatre focused on avoiding the illusion and emotions of reality and instead urge the audience to reflect on the social comparisons made onstage. Brecht suggested that by blocking the audience’s empathy and other emotional responses to the characters, viewers would think objectively about the ideas of the play. This technique is known as Verfrumdungseffekt or ‘alienation’.Alienation was achieved through a variety of techniques that affected virtually every aspect of the play. The aim was to make it clear that it was a performance, and not an attempt at realism. Examples of alienation include: scene or costume change s made in full visibility of the audience, the insertion of songs in the middle of scenes to interrupt the action, the use of signs, sound effects, mime, projections, captions, and Gestus – the physical portrayal of a character or scene’s core attitude. Bertolt Brecht instructed his actors to avoid connection with their characters and never hide the fact that they were acting.
Brecht wrote the play The Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1944. It explores themes of power, justice, and sacrifice. A key theme to the play is nature versus nurture, explored when the biological mother of abandoned child, Michael, fights to get him back from the peasant women who raised him in order to inherit his fortune.
When experienced, these techniques create raw and beautiful scene. It feels like the play grows into something more and becomes so challenging. When executed correctly, Brechtian techniques have immense power to stir you to think. I decided to share this because it was so different and exciting for me, that I hoped you might wonder too.