Antonic Artraud and Bertolt Brecht attempt pit themselves against bourgeoisie theatre in their attempt to identify the origin of change and establish this change within the audience through the use of theatre. The two theories and their choice of theatrical technique differ due to the difference in perspective shown by Brecht and Artraud.
Playwriting considerations for Brecht theatre are based on its belief that; human beings are conditioned by the prevailing social conditions around them, this conditioning determines the thoughts that a human being will have, results in the formulation of a human character and that in order to change this socially conditioned character, socioeconomic and social-ideological forces must be applied. Brecht theatre underscores the importance of the epic form (as the only form that can understand human character in the social scene) of theatre in understanding the process through which human character is formed and as an agent for the achievement of sociopolitical change in the society. The intent of Brecht theatre is to enable the audience to critique situations and provoke a sort of rational awareness of social conditions in order to provide a basis upon which the audience can reflect upon its behavior.
On the other hand, Artraud playwrights posit that human beings are responsible for conditioning themselves and change can only be achieved if the individual desires it, initiates it and maintains it. There is an underlying belief in Artraud theatre, that the human spirit has been corrupted by westernization and there is a need to cleanse man in to the state of purity that he once possessed before this westernization. Artraud theatre achieves this by exposing its audience to the harmful and destructive habits that are natural to the human spirit, in order to provide a sort of outlet for these antisocial tendencies and reduce their capacity to influence the behavior of man. Artraud’s theatre reveals to the audience, violent images of the latent cruelty possessed by man as part of his innate characteristic and through this display, it hopes that the audience will be able to confront these dark realities of their subconscious, learn how to control them and ultimately be free of them.
Brecht theatre employs the use of alienation techniques such as; the use of disruptive music within the play, an epic acting style, use of episodes (play within a play), visible lighting and décor, exposing the ropes, the use of captions to explain the play and audible cues in order to keep the audience in awareness that this environment is artificial and prevent the audience from identifying with the characters on stage, reflect on the general picture that is presented by the play rather than focus on a particular character and develop an attachment to him/her. It distances the audience from the play and provides a platform for the audience address the events within the play rationally and intellectually. However, it is not uncommon for audiences to miss the V-effekt and identify with a character, miss ironic twists within the play, fail to grasp at the gravity of the situations being presented to them, remark on plays whose staging was informed by Brecht theory as being playful and light hearted, despite the great lengths that Brecht theatre goes to, to avoid manipulating the audience using the elements of theatre.
Artraud’s theatre on the other hand, attempts to abolish the physical stage, render it invisible to the audience, present situations in as much graphic detail as possible in order to place the audience in a state of frantic panic, to manipulate it emotionally until the audience becomes one with the action in the play and loses all awareness of being in a theatre. Artraud theatre does this by the use of thin, opaque and dense lighting in order to evoke emotions of associated with cold, heat, fear and anger. It works on manipulating the senses and nerves of the audience in order to achieve its main objective which is to; put the actor/ actress in direct communication with the audience, so as to identify with him/her and through this identification; his/her struggles become the audience’s struggles, his/her feelings and emotional dispositions become those of the audience. It makes the actor and his/her spectator face each other in a moment of spiritual trance, communicate and inform each other.
The Brecht actor/actress is expected to act as a demonstrator, a sort of eye witness to a street scene. The actor remains as he/she is, his opinion remains his own and does not inform the behavior of the character he portrays and as such, he/she can be molded in to any form demanded by Brecht theatre. The actor is encouraged to step out of his role, comment skillfully on the action within the play, critique his/her character, show the audience the capacity of theatre and its techniques to manipulate it and shield it from this manipulation in a witty and compelling way. The Brecht actor/actress does not allow the audience to forget, at any point throughout the play, that he/she is not the character he/she portrays and is independent from the actions and emotions displayed by this portrayal. The main objective of Brecht theatre is to prevent its actors/actresses from putting the audience in a trance in order to combat emotional manipulation in the theatre and it achieves this through the use of this epic acting style.
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The Artraud actor/actress on the other hand is expected to be physically fit, an athlete who is capable of contorting his/her body in to several diverse forms in passionate vigor demonstrating the emotional effect of situations upon his/her character. This kind of dramatic acting style demand that the actor/actress know what part of the body to touch, what actions are most appropriate in making intangible objects such as; anger, confusion, anxiety, love, hatred, confusion and panic seem tangible to the audience. He/she should be able to throw the audience in the trance that he/she is in in order to communicate using emotional realism. Artraud theatre uses actors that are highly expressive, dramatic, engaging and possess an incredible capacity to appeal to the audience and evoke its emotional commitment to the play. There is therefore an encouragement, by Artraud theatre, to its actors/ actresses to engross themselves in the personality of their character, to essentially become the embodiment of the role given to them, in order to achieve its objective which is an aspiration to make the audience part of the spectacle from its onset to its culmination.
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To conclude, it is clear from the discussion presented by this paper that Brecht and Artraud theories influence the extent to which the audience will be emotionally involved in a play. This emotional involvement or lack thereof will determine the level of rationality that will be involved in the analysis of the issues presented by the play with Brecht theatre encouraging a rather intellectual perspective and Artraud theatre encouraging the audience to examine the emotional compulsions they often experience.