01 November 2008

Keeping the audience tuned in

Bertolt Brecht is considered to be one of the greatest playwrights and dramatists of the 20th century. So highly is he rated in the literary world that some intellectuals and scholars have described him as “a literary-theatrical equivalent to Picasso.”

Brecht’s dramatic style was somewhat unique. He relied more on the actors and their performance, switching their roles from time to time, testing the audience, forcing them to stay alert, almost as if he was asking the audience to participate in his plays along with the actors.

I remember several such trying moments while watching Brecht’s plays. If I were to take my mind off the stage, I missed a lot. And, if I hadn’t read the play earlier (which was usually the case) and, therefore, weren’t privy to Brecht’s treatment notes and scene descriptions, I really needed to stay alert.

That’s probably why, in order to keep the audience tuned in, Brecht’s plays have a lot of action on stage. With actors moving about, singing, choreography and text messages like newspaper headlines projected on screens as backdrops (there are very few stage-props), the audience just can’t take its mind off the stage.

Fortunately, directors of Brecht’s plays still follow his dramatic style today, keeping their audiences conscious of – and committed to – what is happening and what is being said on stage. Considering the fact that Brecht’s plays also force its audience into thinking during the play, the mind does wander, thereby requiring considerable effort on the audience’s part to stay tuned.

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