What people react, have to be sensitive

What is epic theatre?
Written in the early 30s
Starts by talking about the filling in of the orchestra pit, the issues in theatre today are more about the stage than the play, Benjamin uses this to talk about the narcotic effect of bourgeois theatre, the stage has become a public platform in the epic theatre, no longer a stage, still raised but remaining part of the real world, the theatre has to install itself in this public space
There is still a reluctance to accept that theatre is theatre, it is still disguised, however it is an institutional frame, an apparatus that controls the actors and producers rather than vice versa, epic theatre breaks this
Epic theatre redresses these relationships, it’s a public exhibition area, it’s a discussion, and open forum, the audience is an assembly of interested people rather than passive spectators
“Epic theatre is gestural.” Text and language are still very important in the epic theatre but it has a different function, the gesture is rather the raw material of the epic theatre, Brecht isn’t interested in a psychological theatre but rather ‘getting what you see’, framing and interrupting the way that observed people react, have to be sensitive to the signs that are involved in human behavior, has a definable beginning and end and can be framed, unlike ideas and emotions, situations rather than actions, you get situations by interrupting actions, almost like a freeze-frame, this is why the interruptions are a key part of the epic theatre, role of the text is to interrupt the action rather than to advance it, this leads to the episodic character of the epic theatre, showing the contingency of the drama’s development by interrupting and cutting it, Walter makes the link here to cinema
Epic theatre has to interrupt the workings of society, dismantle the way it is constructed and functions, this requires a new aesthetic and theatrical language, moving beyond mimetics, then we can understand the contingency of these workings, this is why Benjamin criticizes naturalism and Zeitstücke in favor of epic theatre, you should never forget that you’re looking at a theatre production, a virtual reality, retarding quality of these interruptions, allows the potential to remain unactualised
Benjamin tries to put the epic theatre into a tradition, a tradition of drama, in which reflectional acting exists, placing it in a German tradition of the untragic hero, always trying to put the epic theatre in a larger intellectual and artistic context, also places epic theatre into its modern cultural context, e.g. film and radio, epic theatre has an episodic value, you can drop in and out and still follow scenes, describes the epic theatre as though it were a complex text process, a text with living bodies, that we have to read, interruptions, songs etc. are analogous to punctuation in the text, putting a kind of quotation mark around the situation being presented in the play
Talks about the literarisation of theatre, opposite of function of text in traditional drama, text theatre, there is a lot of textuality on the stage, literary theatre wants you to forget that the actors on the stage are acting out a text, in the epic theatre it brings your attention to the text, punctuation and literarisation of the representation of character found in traditional drama, epic theatre is a complex allegory, a text you have to read, including text on the stage, this makes the epic theatre unsensational, more of an emphasis on meditation and reflection
Everything is contingent upon conditions, and this is made visible in epic theatre, the effects of certain conditions
Wants to create an engaged audience that can develop its own opinions, rather than the traditional theatocratia, not used for propaganda, not a pedagogical message but rather creating space for audience to think about the conditions of their lives by revealing them
Form has to follow content, the epic theatre has to find new ways and new forms to show the conditions of society, has to be a break with the traditional play, if you want to transform society you need to transform the art that you are creating
Dialectic materialism is very similar to the modern term performativity
Gesture as a signifier that has not yet found its signified

Agamben on gesture
Gesture is moment of interruption of language, language is not reduced to its role as a vehicle, it doesn’t yet signify, this is the moment of gesture, liberation of language from the necessity to already mean something, to already be assigned a specific meaning, but to remain an undetermined signifier, it has a core which cannot be reduced to communication, but rather a gestural core which does not mean anything but is that place in language where language is still undetermined, this is a moment of freedom

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