Bertol t brecht

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The Modern Theatre


The Epic Theatre and Its Difficulties

Any theatre that makes a serious attempt to stage one of the new plays risks being radically transformed. What the audience sees in fact is a battle between theatre and play, an almost academic operation where, in so far as it takes any interest in the process of renovating the theatre, all it has to do is observe whether the theatre emerges as victor or vanquished from this murderous clash. (Roughly speaking, the theatre can only emerge victorious over the play if it manages to avoid the risk of the play's transforming it completely -- ­as at present it nearly always succeeds in doing.) It is not the play's effect on the audience but its effect on the theatre that is decisive at this moment.

This situation will continue until our theatres have worked out the style of production that our plays need and encourage. It won't be an adequate answer if theatres invent some kind of special style for them, in the same way as the so-called Munich Shakespearean stage was invented, which could only

Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre, edited and translated by John Willet. Copyright @ 1957, 1963. 1964 by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main. This translation and notes @ 1964 by John Willett. Reprinted by permission of Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc. and Suhrkamp Verlag.

be used for Shakespeare. It has to be a style that can lend new force to a whole section of the theatrical repertoire which is still capable of life today.

It is understood that the radical transformation of the theatre can't be the result of some artistic whim. It has simply to correspond to the whole radical transformation of the mentality of our time. The symptoms of this transformation are familiar enough, and so far they have been seen as symp­toms of disease. There is some justification for this, for of course what one sees first of all are the signs of decline in whatever is old. But it would be wrong to see these phenomena, so-called Amerikanismus for instance, as anything but unhealthy changes stimulated by the operation of really new mental influences on our culture's aged body. And it would be wrong too to treat these new ideas as if they were not ideas and not mental phenomena at all, and to try to build up the theatre against them as a kind of bastion of the mind. On the contrary it is precisely theatre, art and literature which have to form the "ideological superstructure" for a solid, practical rearrangement

of our age's way of life.

In its works the new school of play-writing lays down that the epic theatre is the theatrical style of our time. To expound the principles of the epic theatre in a few catch-phrases is not possible. They still mostly need to be worked out in detail, and include representation by the actor, stage technique, dra­maturgy, stage music, use of the film, and so on. The essential point of the epic theatre is perhaps that it appeals less to the feelings than to the spectator's reason. Instead of sharing an experience the spectator must come to grips with things. At the same time it would be quite wrong to try and deny emotion to this kind of theatre. It would be much the same thing as trying to deny emotion to modern science.

. . . Opera had to be brought up to the technical level of the modern theatre. The modern theatre is the epic theatre. The following table shows certain changes of emphasis as between the dramatic and the epic theatre:




Dramatic Theatre

Epic Theatre


implcates the spectator in a stage

. situation

wears down his capacity for action

p'ovides him with sensations


the spectator is involved in something




Instinctive feelings are preserved the spectator is in the thick of it,

shares the experience

human being is taken for-granted


turns the spectator into an observer,


arouses his capacity for action

forces him to take decisions

picture of the world

he is made to face something argument

brought to the point of recognition the spectator stands outside, studies

the human being is the object of the



Marxist Aesthetics

he is unalterable

eyes on the finish

one scene makes another growth

linear development evolutionary determinism man as a fixed point

thought determines being feeling

he is alterable and able to alter

eyes on the course

each scene for itself


in curves


man as a process

social being determines thought reason

When the epic theatre's methods begin to penetrate the opera the first result is a radical separation of the elements. The great struggle for supremacy between words, music and production-which always brings up the question "which is the pretext for what?": is the music the pretext for the events on the stage, or are these the pretext for the music? etc.-can simply be by­passed by radically separating the elements. So long as the expression "Ges­amtkunstwerk" (or "integrated work of art") means that the integration is a­ muddle, so long as the arts are supposed to be "fused" together, the various elements will all be equally degraded, and each will act as a mere "feed"to the rest. The process of fusion extends to the spectator, who gets thrown into the melting pot too and becomes a passive (suffering) part of the total work of art. Witchcraft of this sort must of course be fought against. Whatever is intended to produce hypnosis, is likely to induce sordid intoxication, or creates fog, has got to be given up.

Words, music and setting must become more independent of one another.

a. Music

For the music, the change of emphasis proved to be as follows:

Dramatic Opera

The music dishes up

music which heightens the text music which proclaims the text music which illustrates

music which paints the psychological


Epic Opera

The music communicates

music which sets forth the text .

music which takes the text for granted which takes up a position

which gives the attitude

Music plays the chief part in our thesis.

b. Text

We had to make something straightforward and instructive of our fun, if it was not to be irrational and nothing more. The form employed was that of the moral tableau. The tableau is performed by the characters in the play~. The text had to be neither moralizing nor sentimental, but to put morals and sentimentality on view. Equally important was the spoken word and the

written word (of the titles). Reading seems to encourage the audience to adopt the most natural attitude towards the work.

c. Setting

Showing independent works of art as part of a theatrical performance is a new departure. Neher's projections adopt an attitude towards the events on the stage; as when the real glutton sits in front of the glutton whom Neher has drawn. In the same way the stage unreels the events that are fixed on the screen. These projections of Neher's are quite as much an independent com­ponent of the opera as are Weill's music and the text. They provide its visual aids.

Of course such innovations also demand a new attitude on the part of the audiences who frequent opera houses. . . .

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