How does Brechtian theatre work in practice?

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Brechtian theater, also known as “epic theater,” refers to the principles established by the 20th-century German playwright, director, and producer Bertolt Brecht. He advocated a severe break from classic, or Aristotelian, drama and from the naturalism that was common in theater in the late 19th–early 20th centuries. Epic theater had numerous practical as well as theoretical aspects. He wrote plays that incorporated his ideas, rather than just adding staging techniques after the fact. The play’s structure was one key factor that differentiated his works: rather than a tightly constructed plot, often in chronological order, he favored an episodic structure, with scenes that might jump around in time. Furthermore, he believed that plays should carry a political and socially uplifting message, not merely focus on the problems of individuals.

Brecht strongly endorsed a theater that made its audiences fully aware of the artifice and theatricality of the production, and he even drew them into it. This rupture with tradition included the elimination of the imaginary “fourth wall” that separated performers from audience and staging that dispensed with the proscenium. The characters frequently directly address the audience, even soliciting responses from them. Some of the works are not dialogue but are written on cards or posters that memes of the production hold up. Actors frequently play multiple roles, and there is often no clear line between the actors and the crew, as any company member could fulfill multiple functions. Harsh lighting and numerous songs are other commonly used production features.

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