Performing Mother Courage Using Epic Theatre English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Mother courage and her children is a play written in 1939 by Bertolt Brecht. The play is set during the 30 years war and is a story of a mother and her 3 children, Kattrin, Eilief and Swiss Cheese. The story follows Mother Courage over a period of 12 years, from 1624 to 1636, her canteen wagon and her 3 children, which she loses one by one throughout the 12 years that the play takes place. Brecht wrote this in a way to give a sense of Courage's career without being given enough time to develop sentimental feelings and empathize with any of the characters. Meanwhile, Mother Courage is not depicted as a noble character - here the Brechtian epic theatre sets itself apart from the ancient Greek tragedies in which the heroes are far above the average. [1] 

Epic theatre, also known as theatre of alienation or theatre of politics, is a theatre movement arising in the early to mid-20th century, inextricably linked to the German playwright Bertolt Brecht. Though many of the concepts involved in epic theatre had been around for years, even centuries, Brecht unified them, developed the style, and popularised it. Epic theatre was created By Bertolt Brecht, and is described by the Encyclopedia Britannica as; "a form of didactic drama presenting a series of loosely connected scenes that avoid illusion and often interrupt the story line to address the audience directly with analysis, argument, or documentation." [2] Another interesting quote has been attributed to Brecht and his work, which in my opinion describes his work and his opinion on performing in a great way; "Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it." [3] 

An actor wanting to play a part in Mother Courage must be prepared for the Epic theatre way of acting, the point of epic theatre is not to form a bond with the audience, making the audience feel sympathy towards the character and such, but rather to keep the audience in reality and make it clear that they are watching a play. [4] 

Director Roger Blin, on the most appropriate approach to staging his play The Screens in 1966 was quoted as saying; "Each scene, and each section within a scene, must be perfected and played as rigorously and with as much discipline as if it were a short play, complete in itself. Without any smudges. And without there being the slightest suggestion that another scene, or section within a scene, is to follow those that have gone before." [5] This gives an actor playing a part in an epic theatre production pretty clear instructions, you must treat each element of the play independently, you must learn to the point where it is perfect. There must be no mistakes. One of the main points of epic theatre is for the audience to always be aware that it is watching a play: "It is most important that one of the main features of the ordinary theatre should be excluded from [epic theatre]: the engendering of illusion. [6] 

Acting in epic theatre requires actors to play characters believably without convincing either the audience or themselves that they have "become" the characters. As an epic theatre actor, you will have to be prepared to frequently address the audience directly out of character and possibly play multiple roles. When addressing the audience directly, this is called breaking the fourth wall, the fourth wall is the space separating the audience from the action of a theatrical performance, traditionally conceived of as an imaginary wall completing the enclosure of the stage. [7] This is one of the major points and goals of Epic Theatre, by addressing the audience often, you keep informing and reminding them that they are not watching a play. Another very important point here was that you have to play the characters believably, but without convincing the audience that you have actually become that character. A way to do this is to put some of your own characteristics into the character you will be playing, so that the audience see's the character you are potraying, but that it is also clear you are acting. This is one of the main points of epic theatre, as we have mentioned many times before, as it is mostly important for an audience of a performance of epic theatre to remember and to keep being reminded that they are watching a play. One of the main keys to epic theatre, is for to strike a balance between "being" their character onstage and "showing the audience that the character is being performed." The use of "quotable gesture," (the employment of a stance, mannerism, or repeated action to sum up a character), the sudden shift from one behaviour to another to put the audience off-balance, and the suggestion of the "roads not taken" in each moment of a character's decision-making are all the means to the didactic end of teaching us to criticize the society we see onstage in Epic Theatre. [8] 

There are many stylistic conventions of epic theatre, however, only some apply to the actor, we have listed and explained many above, but then there is also the use of stereotypical characters. [9] Stereotypical characters make an emotional block between the character and the audience, as the audience have seen the same character many times before and are no longer affected by the same type of character, as it is logical that (for example) a stereotypical "moody" teenager, will always be in trouble, therefore making the whole character logical and uninteresting to the audience, and making them concentrate on the story, on other characters and so on. A goal which is exactly that what Brecht was trying to achieve. The audience is intended to sit back, relax and reflect, as did hearers of bards in classical Greece or Anglo-Saxon England. The theatre of illusion creates a spurious present, pretending things are happening now. But the epic theatre is historical: the audience is continually reminded that epic theatre gives a report of events. [10] Therefore, the audience is constantly being reminded that it is watching a play by historical facts, as well as Brecht's use of historical characters (which were quite common in his plays). Therefore meaning, the audience is not able to form much of an emotional bond towards the character, as they have probably heard of the character or someone similar, before, meaning that their opinion has already been predetermined.

Brecht aimed for a theatre of learning (hence the name Didactic Theatre), where the spectator would be capable of thinking, of reasoning and making judgements with a 'mental and emotional maturity, this theatre would oppose the conventional Aristotelian theatre which he found to be 'essentially static; its only task is to show the world as it is'. [11] He believed that the audience not forming a bond with the actor was the way to do this, to provoke them to think and to not look at the play from a biased side, but rather showing their mental and emotional maturity to make a judgement, rather than becoming attached to a character, making them have biased emotions or feelings.

Overall, by following these rules, you should be able to achieve an effective epic theatre performance. Remember to keep reminding the audience that they are watching a play, not to "become" the character that you are playing, try and use a stereotypical or historical character, try and teach the audience, make them think and remember that in epic theatre, the fourth wall must always be broken. You have to make your character powerful, but yourself, you have to perform, but show the audience you're not acting, you have to make the audience think, judge and reason. By following these few but complex rules, you will be able to create an effective epic theatre character, play and finally performance. All in all, this won't be a simple way to perform in any means, however, if you make sure you follow Brecht's theatrical conventions, I'm sure you'll be able to do this to a great, if not amazing level.