04 November 2008

The politics of the auditorium

Bertolt Brecht’s theatre was intellectual. He believed that, to induce social and political change, the audience needed to be incited and aroused intellectually. In other words, theatre had to appeal to the audience’s powers of reason rather than to its emotions – which is what the earlier schools of theatre (for instance, Shakespearean theatre) depended on.

Whereas, in a Shakespearean play, people in the audience would feel for the fortunes or misfortunes of the characters because they identified themselves with the characters on stage, Brecht would find ways to alienate the actors from the characters they played, stirring up audience consciousness through techniques and practices such as songs, talking to the audience through the actors, projecting messages on screens, or actors carrying placards with messages.

Brecht laid bare a situation – usually a social ill – on stage, inciting the audience into thinking about the problem, unemotionally (i.e. by developing a critical attitude), and formulating their own solutions in their minds. He believed that people, essentially, were capable of thinking their way out of problems and improving their lives – which is what, he believed, was needed to induce social change and fight capitalism.

“Brecht thus sought to alter not only theatre’s representation of reality but also the politics of the auditorium, encouraging in the spectator an active, interrogative attitude to what is presented.”

[Citation: Quote from The Politics of Performance, Performance Analysis: An Introductory Coursebook, edited by Colin Counsell and Laurie Wolf, Routledge, 2001.]

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