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Brechtian Performance – Message Delivery Essay

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Our group explored and used a variety of different Brechtian techniques. Our chosen form of “social improvement” was “safe sex”, and we chose to use a parody of the well-known Bible tale of Genesis to deliver our message, hence juxtaposing contemporary society. We presented it with quite a lot of satire, with physical comedy (the banana and the throwing of clothes whilst Adam [Ryan] and Eve [Steph] were behind the curtains) as well as verbal comedy (“But God said we could do anything but touch the bananas!”). This example of verbal comedy was to parody God’s command to not touch the apples in the book of the Bible. We also had a narrator (Rebekka) who proved to be effective and acted in the style of a “Brechtian” narrator. We had individuals step out of the group to address the audience too – God (Jasmin) talked directly to the audience. This is a very popular Brechtian technique as it breaks the “fourth wall” and jars the audience. God and the narrator also gave stage directions, an example of self-reference which is again jarring for the audience. Since we used a Biblical story, there is already the presence of God, who made the judgment on characters in the end and resolved piece of epic theatre – another Brechtian technique. Also, when God entered, the music We Will Rock You was played in the background, juxtaposing God’s holiness and seriousness and creating opportunities for comedy at the same time.

I think certain Brechtian techniques were utilized quite well in our piece of epic theatre. By choosing the tale of Adam and Even, we do not need introductions or monologues in order for the audience to understand the characterizations of the roles – even if not everyone is religious, I think it can be assumed that the whole of the audience are quite familiar with the basics of the tale. This allows the audience to be easily engaged in our performance. Our physical and verbal uses of comedy was successful – the audience understood the innuendos and showed this by laughing at the appropriate times. We also presented the Bible view of contraception satirically, and in the end used the narrator to tell the audience what the message really was – to have safe sex. Thus our issue of social improvement was clearly understood by the audience. When God said “to go forth and multiply”, the narrator also held up a placard that said “= MAKE BABIES”, another attempt at humor and also translating the Biblical language to make sure the audience could comprehend and follow the story.

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Critically, I believe we employed the Brechtian techniques well, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. We used self-referencing – both the narrator and God gave stage directions. The narrator also, whilst speaking to the audience, did not speak as herself – instead, she used “The narrator enters stage right and proceeds to tell the audience that this story is going to be about the issue of safe sex.” This use of third person is jarring and effective. God also gave directions to turn the lights on and off, which made the “theatre” of our piece evident. However, there were a lot of opportunities to use more Brechtian techniques, but we didn’t. I feel our use of juxtaposition wasn’t particularly strong – we could have used a contradicting type of music when Adam and Even were behind the curtains and throwing the clothes out instead of using the music we chose, which fit with the scene instead of contrasting it. Also, we only used “frozen images”, and not gestus – Adam and Eve froze whenever God and Satan entered, but it couldn’t be called a representation or summary of all the feelings and emotions depicted in the scene.

Personally,I do not think my portrayal of Satan was up to its full potential. I didn’t really use any Brechtian techniques in my role, and my wearing the Devil horns seemed to fail as a humorous stereotypical presentation of Satan. I also think the narrator might’ve given herself more stage directions at times to create an even more jarring and comical effect. For example, “The narrator says the end to conclude the story. /pause/ The end.” We did not really have time to try this out though, so it might not be a good idea and is merely what I would’ve wanted to try. I also feel we should’ve tried juxtaposing the “sex” scene to be more sarcastic and humorous – perhaps with a classic, slow, romantic song, paired with the frantic throwing of the clothes. Again, our lack of organization meant we could not try that out, so it is only another personal goal that I wanted to attempt. I wish to have explored more Brechtian techniques, especially in my own role. For example I could’ve used a mask – perhaps a typical Halloween type of mask for a comical, stereotypical presentation.

I think we synthesized our content with our form quite successfully. Choosing the Biblical tale of Genesis as the base of our form was a good choice as we favourably parodied God’s commands and the audience could follow the story with ease. This form we chose was effective because it allowed us to employ a variety of Brechtian techniques. The use of physical comedy was also very effective – the audience liked it and it was a sarcastic and humorous symbolism when Adam and Eve went behind the curtains. The use of the banana as a symbol was also very popular and the audience liked it. These uses of physical comedy were effective because we allowed the audience to piece things together and realize the joke, thus making it more amusing for them. The use of the narrator’s third person was also very well executed as it jarred the audience – they were not used to this and it made “theatre” more evident. Adam and Eve also spoke in colloquial language, parodying the sophisticated Biblical text and making it more modernized, relating to the targeted audience. Overall the audience understood and appreciated the message we were trying to bring through, as well as our social improvement, thus I would consider this as well synthesized.

Our group did not use any cross cutting, which I think is a very effective Brechtian technique. For example, for Tanisha’s group, whose social issue was the modern attitude to obesity, the use of cross cutting was executed very well. When Chloe was giving statistics about obesity and discussing facts about “Tanya”, Tanisha was at the background eating her Doritos. With this, we understand more easily what Chloe was saying – it was like she was describing the Tanisha at the back. This also provided a lot of comedy and the audience laughed a lot. It could still be an example of juxtaposition and contrast, where Chloe was talking about how Tanya’s condition was very fatal and she must be helped immediately, whilst Tanya was at the back just eating and eating.

I also really like the use of the “original song” in the Gay Marriage group, and feel like we could have employed that technique too. YMCA is a song we, the audience, all know, and changing the lyrics to fit their own message was very successful. It was effective because we understood right away that they were gay and supported gay rights, and it was also very amusing as the lyrics to our well-known song are not changed in such a way. More comedy was created by their stylized acting – Georgia, Amalissa and Charlotte were so serious when singing the song, like it was an anthem and such – which made it more humorous for us. The use of making up your own lyrics to a well-known tune is, I feel, a very effective Brechtian technique, as the audience would easily understand and would also find it very funny.

The “power relationships” demonstrated in Cora’s group was also something I would’ve wanted to use. Their social issue was bullying, and the bullies stood on chairs and towered over “Cinderella”, who was backed up against the wall. This is a very famous and popular Brechtian technique in demonstrating power – and I find this very effective. This explicit exaggeration of statuses makes the audience question the otherwise “normal” relationship. We’ve become so used to bullying that we know it’s wrong, yet we never really question the immorality of it or how to stop it anymore. Having the bullies stand on chairs and Cinderella cowering in fear was like a “wake-up call” – we see the power relationship and we see how wrong it is. Hence this was an effective way to get the social improvement across to the audience.

Lastly, I really liked how Tanisha’s group “broke the fourth wall”. When the two contestants introduced themselves, we were given instructions to clap and give a round of applause. This made the “theatre” of the piece very evident – the audience is actually joining in and somehow “taking part” in the performance – we provided the applause. This technique is very effective because it jars the audience and makes them realize they are watching a piece of theatre. I would like to perhaps take this even further and try to ask questions and demand answers from the audience. This penetrates the fourth wall strongly and having the audience participate in such a way is very effective in making “theatre” obvious. This will make the audience think about the social issue more – the piece of theatre was not merely something you went to watch and got absorbed in, but rather, a representation of reality. I believe this is an extremely effective Brechtian technique.

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