Epic theater

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Epic theater, also known as theater of alienation or theater of politics, is a theater movement arising in the early to mid-20th century, inextricably linked to the German director Bertolt Brecht. Though many of the concepts involved in epic theater had been around for years, even centuries, Brecht unified them, developed the style, and popularized it. It is sometimes referred to as Brechtian acting, although its principles apply equally to the writing and production of plays. Brecht later favored the term dialectic theater, to emphasize the element of argument and discussion.

Epic theater assumes that the purpose of a play, more than entertainment or the imitation of reality, is to present ideas and invite the audience to make judgments on them. Characters are not intended to mimic real people, but to represent opposing sides of an argument, archetypes, or stereotypes. The audience should always be aware that it is watching a play, and should remain at an emotional distance from the action; Brecht described this ideal as the Verfremdungseffekt—variously translated as "alienation effect", "defamiliarization effect", or "estrangement effect". It is the opposite of the suspension of disbelief.

This was largely a reaction against other popular forms of theater, particularly the realistic drama pioneered by Konstantin Stanislavski. Like Stanislavski, Brecht disliked the shallow spectacle, manipulative plots, and heightened emotion of melodrama; but where Stanislavski attempted to mirror real human behavior through the techniques of method acting, and to immerse the audience totally into the world of the play, Brecht saw this as another form of escapism. The social/political focus of epic theater was also a departure from the radical theories of Antonin Artaud, who sought to affect audiences on an entirely non-rational level.

Common production techniques in epic theater include simplified, non-realistic set designs, announcements or visual captions that interrupt and summarize the action, and music that conflicts ironically with the expected emotional effect. Brecht used comedy to distance his audiences from emotional or serious events and was very influenced by musicals and fairground performers, incorporating music and song in his plays.

Acting in epic theater requires actors to play characters believably without convincing either the audience or themselves that they are truly the characters. Actors often address the audience directly out of character ("breaking the fourth wall") and play multiple roles. Brecht thought it was important that the choices the characters made were evident, and tried to develop a style of acting wherein it was evident that the characters were choosing one action over another.

An acting term coined by Brecht is the Gestus: a physical attitude or gesture that represents the character's condition independent of the text. This was based on Brecht's observation of Chinese acting: he noted that when the actor Mei Lan Fang acted a part which required his character to be frightened, he merely put a lock of his hair into his mouth and everyone in the audience knew that the character was scared, though the actor remained completely calm throughout the performance. With a Gestus that clearly defines the character's attitude, the actor stays distanced from the play and therefore avoids any undue emotionality.de:Episches Theater

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