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The epic form's primary innovation was the Verfremdungseffekt, generally translated as
the "alienation" or "distanciation" effect. This effect demanded an alienation of the
spectator from the spectacle that would reveal the social relations—what Brecht dubbed
the "gestus" or "gist"/"gesture"—underlying the narrative on-stage. A particularly wellknown method for such alienation was Brechtian acting technique. In the epic theater,
the actor would no longer seamlessly efface themselves in their role and "become" their
character, but perform both themselves and the character at once. Brechtian acting would
bring the relation between actor and character to light, forcing, in the name of a higher
realism, the audience to examine the artifice of the spectacle and the tensions between its
constitutive components. Brecht's staging techniques similarly aimed at such alienation,
the epic theater making frequent use of unfamiliar settings, the interruption of action and
dialogue, unsettling music, the use of banners to mark scene changes, and playing spaces
divided by half-drawn curtains.
In Relation to – Mother Courage and Her Children.
The Wolsey Theatre Ipswich. 31st March 2004.
Brecht’s purpose.
Brecht saw Theatre as a tool to examine society. Brecht wanted a new kind of theatre that reflected the
times in which he was living- replacing an old fashioned theatre. He wanted a theatre that asked
questions of the actors and the audience that entertained whilst also being a tool for social and political
He wrote ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ as a response to Twentieth Century war and Politics.
The Wolsey production moved the action to Africa and highlighted the plight of child soldiers.
The production also highlighted the fact that the war had been going on for so long it had become
a part of their life.
In order to encourage an audience to stay mentally alert and in a condition to think about and argue
with what it sees on stage Brecht developed the idea of Verfremdungseffekt. This is ‘to make strange’.
It should make the audience pay attention to something that they might otherwise simply take for
‘ Certain incidents in the play should be treated as self-contained scene and raised- by means of the
inscription, musical or sound effects and the actors’ way of playing- above the level of the everyday,
the obvious, the expected Prevents emotional involvement.
The street scene.
Brecht drew an analogy between his Theatre and a sporting event at which spectators were encouraged
to smoke but also to express their opinions of the skills on display. It also acknowledges that the
audience is an educated participant.
Kenneth Tynan said that the actor in Brecht’s theatre treated the spectator as an equal ‘in a sort of
dialectic, rather than as people to be sweetened or flattered’.
Stanislavski wanted truth in a performance. Brecht wants us to ask ‘is this picture of society actually
Does it truthfully tell us why this character is like he/she is or why s/he does what s/he does?
The actor must not identify with the character but be surprised by the character's behavior, contradict
him, do not take his/her behavior for granted.
When an actor goes on stage as a certain character they should imply what doesn’t take place as well as
showing what does. This is called ‘fixing the ‘not…but’ Moments when choices are made and
“Did I bargain for too long?” After she has delayed the release of Swiss Cheese by trying to get a
better price for her business.
The actor should not let a fourth wall divide them from the audience.
‘Let the audience see you are not this character, but you are an actor representing this character and that
you do not necessary agree with what your character is doing/saying. However be specific and avoid
characature. In this last point are the seeds of social Gest. I.e Demonstation.
Emotions have to be externalised and for this an actor must use gesture. Gesture as used by the actors
adopting the V-effekt must underline the social gest. ‘ One which reveals the prevailing social
relationships between people of a given period. These social gests are underlying every incident.
Absolute clarity was very important to Brecht and he was a big fan of Charlie Chaplin.
The young soldiers in scene 1 urinating against tree
Their vulnerability
Reading Playboy.
Mother Courage always carefully counted out the money when doing a deal.
The General- his laugh and cigar and his swagger.
Yvette- her body language and costume- westernized and blonde wig.
Later when Yvette was married to the Colonel she got fatter and wore fur coat. The colonel was
also padded out so that he burst out of his shirt.
Direct address to the audience- The chaplain directly addressed the audience and asked them to
think about Eilif being a hero during wartime but a criminal for doing the same in peace.
Brecht wanted us to be critical of the people he made fun of - The General, The Chaplain,
Exaggeration used to ridicule.
The use of the Death Dance’s as a distancing effect.
Dancing with guns was an expression of attitude.
Set Design
Brecht’s most famous set Designer was Casper Neher. Neher would observe rehearsals and
concentrated on social groupings. The set should remind the spectator that they are in the theatre and
should acquire the same fascinating reality of a sporting arena during a boxing match- to show the
During the performance you had to cross the stage to exit the auditorium. The atmosphere of the
production was such that audience members felt able to speak aloud their comments on the
“ If a set represents a town it must look like a town that has been made to last precisely 2 hours”
Selective Realism- Using only what is necessary to tell the story and should be authentic.
Scene 11 used the wagon for Kattrin to sit on rather than a roof.
Tents made from canvas but in scene 2 it was just a canopy and the General and Chaplain and
Eilif stood outside of it.
Authentic uniforms and costumes
Chicken in scene 2
Potatoes in scene 2
Chaplain chopping wood.
Brecht saw the set as another actor and often the set could be constructed in such away as to force an
actor into adopting an attitude. It adds to the gestus.
In Scene 2 The General was stood up stage left and had a large grand straight backed chair.
Stage right the cook was on a very small milking stool whilst he peeled the potatoes. MC had to
crouch down beside him to pluck the chicken.
The cart was heavy and difficult to manoeuvre the actors’ were forced to show the struggle to
move it and get around.
Music was an essential part of Brecht’s Theatre. It could interrupt the action, comment on the action
and could comment on emotions in the 3rd person. Song of fraternization- song by Yvette.
Songs were to be treated as separate elements. Courage’s song about how war is just another form of
Courage’s song scene 7- Glitter ball, Marlene Dietrich, Fur coat and diamonds, KERCHING.
Breaks up the structure Non linear.
A sense of fun.
The scene changes- had a real sense of energy.
The radio announcement style of the original scene titles.
Comedy as a distancing technique. Swiss cheese’s death and the Man U gag and scene 11 which
has always been a tricky scene for directors was stopped from being emotional by the singing of
“Lady In Red” and “Agadoo” but was still powerful.
Comic characterizations.
The chaplain’s vest having bullet holes in the shape of a cross
Jokes relating to Nigeria
The chaplain’s proposal to Mother Courage- The chopper!
Connects dissimilars in such away as to ‘shock’ people into new recognition’s and understandings.
The image on the slide at the end mirroring MC’S gesture.
Eilif’s death on stage as MC sings another verse of courage’s song.
Scene titles
Help eliminate suspense.
The play’s lengthy scene titles were delivered by radio announcements.
Captions on cyclorama showed how many years had passed and drew attention to the fact that
the play is a story and set in the past.
Use of images. The child soldier before the interval made the audience focus on the message of
the play. The image of the guns with MC at the end. The war is just another business trading in
blood instead of boots.