Bertolt Brecht ( 1898- 1956 ) was a German poet, playwright and theatre practitioner, whose ideas about reforming theatre created the ‘Brechtian' style of theatre, which came to be known as ‘Epic Theatre’. Brecht’s ideas about theatre are most suited to play scripts that have political, social or moral messages, which he encouraged to be told from different character viewpoints. Brecht wanted to use the theatre as a force for change and invited his audiences to think critically.
Epic Theatre offers an alternative way of producing and staging theatre, providing a very different approach to traditional dramatic theatre. Brecht’s revolutionary ideas changed and shaped modern theatrical performances and his methods are still actively used in productions today.
Brecht's ideas were in direct contrast to the Russian actor, director and theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski and his popular acting system. Brecht argued that the theatre should not ask the audience to ‘believe’ the characters on stage and in doing so become emotionally involved and moved by them. Instead his epic theatre style focused on the audience observing the characters in a way that was more detached and analytical. Brecht didn’t want the audience to become emotionally attached or invested with the play's individual or lead character, rather that the audience should be objective and thoughtful about the broader ideas represented in the story and to see the story from many different character perspectives.
Brecht experimented with staging techniques that would seek to remind the audience that they were watching theatre, jolting them into ‘thinking’ about social ideas rather than being immersed into a character driven plot. He particularly wanted to avoid his productions being viewed as entertaining escapism, in which an audience might temporarily forget about their own lives as they emotionally connected the story. He was also aware that emotionally driven stories had the power to sway an audience into siding with one character and to potentially influence an audience's own beliefs.
Brecht would provoke his audiences constantly, so that they were abruptly reminded that the story presented was not real. He wanted his audiences to think critically about the social issues that were being discussed within his plays. Brecht believed that if his audiences could think critically whilst watching his plays then they would be encouraged to do so in real life.