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Epic Theatre
(on printed notes)
p. 3
a. Developed in Germany in 1920s
as a means to change society
b. Most influential proponents: Bertolt
Brecht and his collaborators
BERTOLT BRECHT (1898-1956)
• Born into a prosperous, bourgeois (middle class) family.
• Majored in natural sciences at Munich University, was a drama critic
on the side.
• In the 1920s, began writing plays satirizing bourgeois life. He was a
confirmed Socialist, but not Communist.
• Fled Nazi Germany in 1933.
• Produced much of his work on the run in Sweden, Finland, and
Santa Monica.
• Appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in
• Returned to East Germany and founded Berliner Ensemble.
Epic Theatre of Chicago
c. [Epic Theatre] Attempts to alienate the
audience from events in the play so they
will maintain an objective and analytical
AKA V-Effect or A-Effect
 V-Effect attempts to push audience
away from emotional involvement.
 Audience should concentrate on
WHY, not WHAT.
Plays set in far off place and/or time
Lighting instruments in full view
Captions, maps, other illustrative images
projected on screens
Songs break mood and/or contrast in lyric
and melody
Actors “comment” on the action by not
being fully immersed in the role at all times
Look at the sets, costumes, and makeup in the following
pictures and renderings from productions of Brecht’s plays.
How do they differ from plays you have seen?
Drums in the Night
Written as a response to Brecht’s experience as a medical orderly in WWI
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Set in a fictitious Oriental land in the Middle Ages
The Good Woman of Setsuan
Set in China at an undetermined time
The Good Woman of Setsuan
Threepenny Opera
Based on John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728)
Threepenny Opera at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music
Production of
Threepenny Opera at
the former Studio 54
in NYC, 2006
The character Polly Peachum with her mother and father in the Studio 54 production
Mack the Knife
By Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht
Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jack-knife has Mac-heath, dear
And he keeps it out of sight
When the shark bites with his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves though wears Mac-heath, dear
So there's not a trace of red
On the sidewalk Sunday morning
Lies a body oozing life
Someone's sneaking 'round the corner
Is the someone Mack the Knife
From a tugboat by the river
A cement bag's dropping down
The cement's just for the weight dear
Bet you Mackies's back in town
Louis Miller disappeared, dear
After drawing out his cash
And Mac-heath spends like a sailor
Did our boy do something rash?
Sukey Tawdry, Jenny Diver *
Polly Peachum, Lucy Brown
O the line forms on the right, dear
Now that Mackie's back in town
* Bobby Darrin sings Lotte Lenya, Weill’s wife and the actress who
played Polly Peachum in the original production.
Courage &
Her Children
Set during the Thirty
Years War, 1618-1648-although costume design
for this show is usually
not representative of
clothing of the 17th
Mother Courage
& Her Children
Major themes:
• War is bad
• Virtue doesn’t pay in
corrupt times
Ted Otto’s original rendering of the set for Mother Courage
Mother Courage and Her Children, set by Ted Otto. Note the device running
horizontally at the top of the picture. It is for a half curtain, and no attempt is
made to disguise it. It is constructed of highly polished metal so it will shine
in full view. A loud rattle of metal passing over metal is heard when this
curtain is drawn closed in an attempt to rouse the spectator from an position
of passive entertainment.
Brecht’s critique of realism:
from the web site of the Epic Theatre of Chicago /
• Realism seduces audiences into buying
into capitalist values.
• Realism constantly and subliminally urges
the audience to accept its picture of reality
as a natural, apolitical image of the world
as it is.
• Instead, theatre should expose its own
means of production to show that realityon stage and off, is MADE, not GIVEN.
Mother Courage was
not courageous; she
was desperate. She
did what she had to
do to survive in a
world where profit
set the rules and
corruption was king,
but she lost all of her
children in the
Mother Courage
at Yale in 2005
Meryl Streep starred in a production of
Mother Courage at the Public Theatre in
NYC in 2006.
Jenifer Lewis
played the role of
The production
was directed by
George C. Wolfe.
d. [Epic Theatre] Influenced theatre
production to be less realistic
Whether or not the V-effect works is a matter of opinion.
Brecht instructed that this caption should be projected while the scene we are going to read from
Mother Courage is being acted. What purpose could he have for telling us what will happen?
Three years pass,
& Mother Courage,
with parts of a Finnish
regiment, is taken prisoner.
Her daughter is saved,
her Wagon likewise,
but her Honest Son dies.