Lecture: Epic theaters (Listen and Read)

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Lecture: Epic theaters
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Good afternoon, everyone.
As you know, this set of lectures will look at various theatrical movements of the twentieth century.
And today, we will be looking at a theatrical movement arising in the early to mid-20th century namely Epic Theater.
Now, to understand what is unique about Epic Theater,
we need to first look at the term Naturalistic Theater.
Remember last week when we talked about Naturalism.
We learned that Naturalism is a movement in European drama
and theater that developed in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
It refers to theater that attempts to create an illusion of reality
through a range of dramatic and theatrical strategies.
As a matter of fact, in Naturalistic Theater,
the audience empathizes with the lives of the characters onstage.
The audience forgets their own lives for a while and escapes into the lives of the actors.
When Naturalistic Theater was at its height,
one theatrical practitioner named Bertolt Brecht wanted to use it as a force for change.
Brecht wanted to make his audience think.
He believed that theater should be capable of provoking social change
while still providing entertainment.
For example, in Naturalistic Theater, when an audience cries for a character
or feels emotion through the events happening to them,
it's called “catharsis”.
Brecht was against “catharsis”.
He believed that while the audience believed in the action onstage
and became emotionally involved,
they lost the ability to think and to judge.
He wanted his audiences to remain objective and distant from emotional involvement
so that they could make rational judgements about any social comment or issues in his work.
His kind of theater was called Epic Theater
and the act of distancing the audience from emotional involvement
is called the Verfremdungseffekt or alienation effect.
To achieve the alienation effect, Brecht used a range of theatrical devices or techniques
so that the audience was reminded throughout the performance that they were watching theater.
First, narration is used to remind the audience that they're watching a presentation of a story.
Sometimes the narrator will tell us what happens in the story before it's happened.
This is a good way of making sure that the audience doesn't become too emotionally involved in the upcoming action.
Second, a placard is used.
A placard is a sign or additional piece of written information presented on stage.
Using placards might be as simple as holding up a card, a banner or a slideshow.
In the musical, Miss Saigon, for example,
a highly effective slideshow is used to demonstrate the loss of lives in the Vietnam War.
Third, a montage effect is achieved.
As we learned in Chapter 4: “Movie Editing Introduction”,
a montage is a technique in film editing
in which a series of short shots are edited into a sequence to condense space, time, and information.
Brecht consciously borrowed the idea from this.
In Epic Theater, each scene is treated as an episode
and is self-contained in the story.
The events of an episode are not necessarily a result of the preceding episode.
This juxtaposition of scenes employing multiple locations and time frames creates a montage effect.
Of course, there are many other techniques involving lighting, gesture and space
used to achieve the alienation effect.
Instead, I'd like everyone to do some research on Epic Theater techniques and...
write a short essay about these techniques.
Next time, we'll share your essays and discuss the additional techniques
that attribute to the alienation effect.
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