STYLETASTERS 2 : Brecht, Boal, Brook
|CAUSES AND EFFECTS||6|
|THE THEORIES WHICH LEAD TO THE SYSTEM||12|
|THE THEORIES EXPLORED THROUGH PRACTICE||20|
|FINDING THE OUTWARD SIGNS: GEST||20|
|DEMONSTRATION, NARRATION, BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL||21|
|IDENTIFYING MOMENTS OF CHOICE; MAN IN CHARGE OF HIS DESTINY||27|
|USING THE THEORIES: A FINAL GROUP PROJECT||29|
|A BRIEF INTRODUCTION||31|
|CAUSES AND EFFECTS||32|
|MEMORY, EMOTION AND IMAGINATION||49|
|THEATRE USED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES||52|
|PREPARATION FOR IMAGE THEATRE, MASKS AND RITUALS||56|
|IMAGE THEATRE - A PREPARATION FOR FORUM THEATRE||59|
|USING THE THEORIES: A FINAL GROUP PROJECT||59|
|CAUSES AND EFFECTS||63|
|THE THEORIES EXPLORED THROUGH PRACTICE||75|
|DISCOVERING THE BASICS. EARLY EXPERIMENTS||75|
|SIMPLICITY, HONESTY AND TRUTH||79|
|FREEDOM WITHIN BOUNDARIES||85|
|EMPTY SPACE, EMPTY PROP||87|
|USING THE THEORIES: A FINAL GROUP PROJECT||90|
With an awareness that some syllabuses require not so much a detailed knowledge of practitioners as an understanding of different styles in more general terms, this series is designed to serve that purpose. The emphasis, as in all my work on practitioners, is on understanding the work through practice. Once again, theories are dearly explained in terms that any student can understand and each theory is then explored and tested through practical exercises. This practical work helps fix the understanding of the theory.
The grouping together of Brecht with Brook and Boal makes some good sense. All three practitioners are interested in the social function of theatre, though with Brook it is an interest that he experimented with only as part of his extensive journey into the whole range of theatre experience, past and present, Western and Eastern.
Brecht saw theatre as a tool to explore man as a social animal and to show how we are both manipulated by social conditions into behaving the way we do, and able, through recognition of these social conditions, to change them for the better.
Human beings as interesting characters in their own right are not in his brief, but human beings as alterable cogs in the social machine are. Thus the actor's ability to convince an audience of the believability or reality of a character is of no interest to Brecht; instead it is the actor's task to show human behaviour under different circumstances and, more importantly, that if the circumstances can be altered then so can human behaviour. The thieves and beggars of 'The Threepenny Opera' only behave in this way because of the social inequality of the classes, the division of wealth and the corruption of those elements of society, such as the police, who should be working for the greater good of all society. Social conditions are alterable and this will cause an alteration m the behaviour of human beings.
Brook in his early experimental work used many of the tools of Brecht's epic theatre, combining them - as in 'The Marat/Sade - with the ideas of Artaud to create a new synthesis. But his work with Brechtian theories is only a small part of his testing of world theories in his all-consuming quest for 'What is theatre?'
Boal takes the Brechtian idea of theatre as a tool to alter the human condition into logical - but ultimately non-theatrical - routes that are closer to therapy and personal self-discovery. However, his most interesting and passionate work follows the Brechtian ideal of freeing the 'Oppressed' layers of society - women, the poor, anyone who is, in fact, an underling of any kind. By exposing the mechanisms and workings of society around our daily lives and showing, through working with the oppressed', that they themselves can alter these things, Boal comes perhaps closest to a development of theatre in a way that Brecht might approve.
The format of the book is as follows:
- Such biographical details as help with an understanding of the practitioner are given and followed by a clear exposition as to how those details help explain the theories.
- The essential theories of each practitioner are clearly explained. These are easily photocopiable should you want students to have a copy in front of them.
- Each theory is then explored with one or two exercises. Students should be encouraged to try the theories through practical work in an enquiring manner, seeking to understand the reasons for the practitioner's emphasis on such and such a theory, but not being afraid to find the limitations of a theory either.
- A final project is set in which the students are expected to explore the practitioner as fully and as 'truthfully' as possible.
The work on each of these practitioners should take between four and six weeks. This is sufficient for an informed tester but may not have enough detail for an 'A' level in-depth essay on that practitioner alone; it would be sufficient, though, for comparisons between practitioners and the work throughout invites this approach.
Note: should you want to cover a particular practitioner in more depth, there are Study Programmes on Stanislavski, Brecht and Artaud where all the theories are very thoroughly explained and explored through a wealth of practical exercises. The work in each of these Study Programmes is sufficient for one term's exploration of that practitioner. The Study programmes apply the theories in each case to a variety of texts, something which this series can do no more than suggest.
This file of work is a companion to Styletasters 1, which covers Stanislavski, Artaud and Grotowski in a similar fashion.
The approaches in both these Styletasters files is different from that of the more detailed Study programmes dealing with a single practitioner. There may be an occasional exercise found in both, but on the whole Styletasters offers a different selection of practical work. Those teachers aiming at exploring Brook or Grotowski, who already have Study Programmes on the 'main' practitioners can rest assured that they are not paying for 'repeats.'
Extract from Brecht: Causes & Effects
BERTOLT BRECHT [1898 - 1956]: CAUSES AND EFFECTS
Brecht was a colourful, charismatic character who has been the subject of many biographical studies, which I do not intend to repeat. The smoker of foul-smelling cheroots, boiler-suited style-setter - he had a following of young men involved in a range of arts who dressed identically in the 'worker's uniform' of the boiler-suit - leaps off the page of any biography. His musicianship, enjoyment of pub-culture, politics, womanising, famous intolerance - all are important to building up a fiery but very human portrait of Brecht the man and perhaps should be borne in mind when students grumble about Brecht's 'coldness', 'lack of emotion', 'dryness', as they will somewhere along the line. Then it is best to remember that this man made his mark through passion: passion for the theatre, for his own political beliefs, for the rights of the working classes, on top of which he had a passionately bohemian and noisy personal life. Despite his interest as a person, however, I intend to pick out only those biographical details that help the student to understand why his theories evolved as they did. Like all practitioners, Brecht's theories are the product of the times he lived in.
1. Brecht lived through two World Wars, the First as a medical orderly [after school he began training as a doctor, though he did not complete] and the Second from the 'safe' distance of exile in the United States. In neither war, then, did he fight and the sights he saw as a medical orderly in the First World War confirmed him as a life-long pacifist.
The Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War One, in which Germany was forced to make expensive and humiliating reparation for the damage caused by the war provoked a deep-seated desire to rebel. Nobody likes his nose rubbed into the dirt and the constant reminders of their defeat :- no armed forces; huge sums paid to all countries deemed to be damaged by Germany during the war, [e.g. France on whose land much of the fighting had taken part], which were not just lump sums but crippling amounts of money paid out over years; parcels of German territory given out to nations allied to the victors, and so on - all these factors combined to keep Germany down in the dust. But the Versailles treaty paid scant attention to human nature and human nature is to grin and bear such humiliations as long as it is politically expedient, whilst nurturing bitterness and anger inside. Not surprising that a Hitler, whipping up pride in Germany, real benefits such as efficient roads, schools and the other structures of society, as well as promises of revenge for all those years of humiliation, could achieve such power.
What was Brecht's position through all this? Like many intellectuals of the twenties and thirties, his response to the growth of fascism was to look beyond the immediate 'benefits' that this seemed to offer to an alarmed realisation of the lack of personal and intellectual freedom it also entailed. Fascism was sweeping through many countries in Europe and seemed unstoppable - except possibly by Communism - the only party with sufficient numbers to oppose it Many intellectuals, like Brecht, became Communists in the 1920s and 30s.
A proof of how strong the Communist Party in Germany was at this time is Hitler's actions on being made Chancellor: almost his first act was to make membership of the Communist Party illegal and to arrest all known Communists and put them in concentration camps. Brecht himself narrowly escaped by fleeing Germany on the day after Hitler became Chancellor. A further attempt to discredit the Communist Party in the eyes of the ordinary German people was to arrange for the burning of the Reichstag Building [the German equivalent of our Houses of Parliament] and to blame the crime on the Communists. This caused an emotional charge of revulsion against Communism amongst ordinary people. By these actions, Hitler had won an unseen political skirmish and eliminated a potential threat to his new power.
These facts tell us
- a] that Brecht's starting-point, quite understandably, is a critical one of the world and society that he knew. People needed to be warned. And theatre could both show society and its faults and suggest that it is within the audience's power to alter it. In fact, the growth of Hitler and his party is a model of how people's minds can be altered through propaganda and brain-washing; Brecht's theatre seeks to keep an audience fully aware at all times and conscious of its own power to judge, to make decisions and to alter events - the opposite of brainwashing, since awareness and choice are involved.
- b] It becomes understandable why Brecht embraced Communism as his creed. To the end of his life, and despite Stalin, whose tyranny, especially in the field of the Arts, must have made him uncomfortable, he held firm to the Communist ideal and recognised that society was a long way from this ideal so that sometimes extreme 'means' were justified to bring about an 'end' that is desirable and for the 'greater good.' Hence, many plays from Brecht's middle period of writing, the Lehrstucke [teaching/ learning plays], are attempts to grapple with hard tests to his own natural inclination - tests posed by Communism. Many of these plays are 'what if's.' What if there was a choice between the life of a child and the lives of a whole village? ['He Who Says Yes']. In the short term, we are betrayed by our emotional inclination to wish to save the child - in any case, the child is 'there' in front of us on stage so our emotions are engaged by that fact. Yet, unless the child is sacrificed, the others cannot cross the mountain, fetch the medicine and save the whole village. 'The whole village' are unknowns to the audience - their 'emotions' are not therefore engaged - a fact of human nature well understood by Brecht. [Don't we have more sympathy for the photograph of the one starving African child than the huge numbers of dying in a famine, numbers that we cannot comprehend and so which cannot capture our emotional interest in the same way?] This fact of human nature - our short-sighted emotional response is one that Brecht is always challenging, probably because he found this the hardest thing to conquer in himself. Intellectually, it is obvious that the 'greater good' is more important than the fate of a single individual but emotionally? Hence, we have the start of the whole emotion versus reason debate that forms so much of Brecht's theory.
The emotional hysteria of the Fascist 'message' as delivered by Hitler, which stirs up an extreme response by manipulating its audience emotionally, would be very suspect to Brecht, bypassing, as it does, the reason. Brecht's plays and methods of production always appeal to our reason and our intellectual understanding.
Extract from Brecht: The Theories
Brecht's own writing about his theories are often not helpful or easy to read. You will find that trying out the practical work for each theory given in this file will make things very dear - and the theories themselves are, surprisingly, far easier to understand than it would seem from Brecht's own essays.
The starting point needs to be extracted from the above 'facts' given in Causes and Effects. They are:
- Brecht is a Marxist, who believes that the Communist creed may hold the answers for a horribly flawed and class-ridden society, where the poor are kept poor by the uncaring rich who exploit them.
- Having discovered this creed, Brecht is keen to expose the faults in society and show that there are choices to make and that the world as it is is alterable.
- For this to be evident, Brecht needs a thinking and aware audience, who can see what a play is getting at and will at least debate the issues and at best try to after injustices.
- To keep the audience thinking and aware, the actor needs to be conscious at all times of what he is doing and why. The Brechtian actor is acting from his reason, his intellect and not from his heart, his emotions.
ALL THE THEORIES HANG ON THE ABOVE. Most of the theories are either about:
a] keeping an actor at one remove from his character, so that he can himself point out that character's faults and identify what choices he has along the way. To do this properly, the actor cannot be 'in character' - that is absorbed in the skin of the part, as in Stanislavski.
b] keeping an audience aware of his surroundings - that he is just in a theatre - so that he can watch for the messages being shown him, realise that the world is alterable and act on this realisation.
1.THE WORLD IS ALTERABLE. THE FAULTS OF NATURALISM. BRECHT PROPOSES PLAYS APPROPRIATE FOR THEIR TIME.
Brecht is aware of the power and temptation of Stanislavski. Many actors do not feel they are acting unless they become totally immersed in their character and achieve, if possible, the state of 'I am.' "I am' Hamlet, who had a mucked-up childhood losing his father, felt emotionally betrayed by his mother ... and so on. Naturalistic acting is dependent on the whys and wherefores of the emotional state of the character - the psychology, the motives - and every one of the actor's moves have to be justified by being tied into the inner emotional state of the character: I sink to the floor, because I am so gutted by the news of my mother's betrayal that my legs won't support me ... etc.
Frustrated by working with actors trained in Stanislavski, Brecht set out first to 'debunk' the System and then to put something in its place - a new set of possibilities for an actor to follow, to achieve a different effect.
Debunking the System consisted of pointing out the absurdities of believing that man and society is unalterable. Naturalism shows a state of mind that is just so 'because it is.' The audience are invited to feel along with the characters, to laugh or weep with them, to nod or shake their heads sadly, to see Hamlet's or Juliet's deaths as inevitable, to make links with their own lives. Love in the Fifteenth century is just like it is today - how wise of Shakespeare - how well he understands the world. Hamlet is a portrait of any ditherer; again and again he is given the opportunity to right a wrong, but it is his destiny to dither - that is just the way things are; his tragedy is inevitable and unchangeable; there are people just like him today.
What good is such an attitude, says Brecht? What does it do to theatre and the world it should portray, ultimately, to say that mankind is the same wherever and whenever - to look for the similarities in people and events over the centuries rather than to recognise that this needn't be so. If Hamlet is a victim of political chicanery, Juliet a victim of a society oppressive to young women, what good is it to say that things haven't changed? To look for links with our society, rather than pointing out the differences - young girls of fourteen are not forced into marriages any more in the West - is a waste of time. Instead of celebrating a defunct social tradition and shaking our heads over the sadness of it, we should be turning our minds to areas of our own society that are oppressive or wrong. Re-interpreting 'Romeo and Juliet's' story as in West Side Story, for instance, which shows the evils of gang warfare and the oppressive nature of some Hispanic cultures to their own womenfolk in the 50's, was a legitimate use of the original story because it was made relevant to the sub-culture of New York.
To clarify: Brecht was not interested in plays that have no relevance to our time. Each society is different, living in different conditions and with different problems; the plays written and performed should be relevant to that society and not showing things as they are, inviting the `oh dear, what a shame - shaking of the head sadly' approach, but rather showing how things could be altered. His plays tend to expose a problem - sometimes many problems. The main characters in the play make decisions that we are made aware of which alter the circumstances. Often answers are not given; the audience is simply shown the problem and it is left to them to decide what would be the best way of dealing with it. For instance, in 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' we are given a judge who is not really a judge at all, who allows Grusha the baby because she will be 'good for it.' Yet in the real world - our world - where judges abide by laws set in stone, that outcome could never have happened. It is part of Brecht's charm [and possibly naivete] that he leaves the working out and connections with our own society up to us, the audience. He does not rub our noses in it. Even the referral back to the valley and how it should be used - i.e. the part that was relevant to Brecht's post-war world, where land was being re-allocated everywhere and traditional ways challenged - is dealt with in one line at the end of the play. An audience that is not listening - that is 'carried away' by the story could miss the connection altogether. And yet it is crucial.
Thus, given the problems Brecht poses for us with his own legacy of plays, an actor taking part in one of his plays must be very aware of the point of the production at every moment. Never should he drift out of his own 'head' in to the 'head' of the character. The two must never be confused. How is this done? Through a dear 'demonstrative' style of acting, through the use of 'gest' and through distancing exercises designed to keep the actor at one remove from his part.
Extract from Brecht: The Theories Explored through Practice
2. DEMONSTRATION, NARRATION, BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL
In order to make dear how an audience should respond to a character or a situation, it is often necessary to break that fourth wall - the imaginary boundary between audience and actors put so firmly into place by Stanislavski and his followers.
Taking the last example from the previous section on 'gest', the dodgy car salesman and the streetwise customer, the latter may well have to break that barrier and tell the audience his reactions: 'Does he really think I'm taken in? Look at his toothy smile; look at the way he steers me away from looking underneath the car - so that I don't see the rust... etc.'
This kind of explanation would be a legitimate - and often amusing - way of exposing the faults in a social situation, keeping an audience aware both of what is going on in the scene and also showing them the 'outward signs' of duplicity for themselves to guard against.
a.Take any of the scenarios suggested in the gest exercise above, this time clarifying the reaction the audience should have by having one or more of the characters in the scene pointing things out to them. Note that it would be just as legitimate for either of the two characters in the dodgy salesman and the streetwise customer scenario to explain what they are doing or feeling to the audience. E.g. the salesman could warn:' Look at my toothy smile; listen to my unctuous tones. I am trying to put this customer at ease.'
Try expanding one of the pair scenes you have attempted before in this way: explaining to an audience why you are gesturing in such a way, using a particular tone of voice, and so on. Try it with both characters explaining in this way. This will have the double benefit of showing how actors can include the audience and making them justify each gest - each outward sign of voice or gesture.
Doing this should make them realise how effective their chosen gest is - or show them the need to reassess their gest and come up with a better one.
b. In order to help the students understand the meaning of demonstrative acting - demonstrating a character rather than 'being' it - try an exercise that is based on the acting style imposed on performers by Brecht's play `The Measures Taken.'
This should be done in small groups.
The scenario is that a burglary has taken place in a small corner shop, selling food and general supplies. The alarm went off and the police arrived, arresting the burglars before they could escape. Now the police have been accused of unnecessary force. One of the burglars suffered quite severe injury - or says he did. The trial takes place some months after the events described.
i. Two students act as if they were the two burglars. As if relating the events to the jury - the audience - they describe what happened on that night.
ii. Having been asked by the jury to re-enact the events of that night, the two first of all act out their version of events - switching into other roles as necessary - e.g. one of them may demonstrate the policeman who beats him up.
iii. Two policemen give their version of the events of that night. The burglary itself will be told second-hand - as told them by the shopkeeper, perhaps, since they were not there until after the alarm called them to the scene. Use a mixture of re-enaction and explanation / narration.
Note: it might be useful to use the words used in 'The Measures Taken' for introducing the idea of re-enacting events - 'We will show you...' The audience thus knows that the events are merely a re-enactment and that the actors are not playing themselves but other characters in the scenario; the policemen give their version of the burglary playing the burglars in such a way that they are obviously guilty [and the police violence - if there was any - is justifiable]; the burglars will obviously colour the story to present themselves in a better light and the police in the worst light.
Obviously, both the sets of characters in the above scenario have their own viewpoints - and will select a gestic language accordingly - to sway audience opinion. Now try the following:
iv. a passer-by was a witness to the whole thing, though not seen by either burglars or police. He gives his version of the events, mixing narration - a clear exposition of the facts - and demonstration of the actions and speech of a character where necessary.
It is this last version which is the dearest example of the Brechtian style of acting. The actor is not directly concerned in the story. He does, however, want to convince the jury - the audience - of the truth of the matter, so that justice is done. He therefore selects the appropriate gest for his portrayal of each of the characters involved, to make certain the audience will understand and come to the right conclusions. If the policeman is guilty of using too much violence, then the witness may portray him as a bit of a brute perhaps, selecting the appropriate body language and rough way of speaking accordingly. If the burglar is trying to steer the jury away from his own crime to focusing instead on supposed police brutality, then the shifty and over-exaggerated opportunistic writhing on the floor when hardly touched needs to be shown. It is this selection of detail and exaggeration of it, to create 'gest', which is the Brechtian acting style.
Sample page from Boal section
Extract from Boal: The Theories
1. OPPRESSED PEOPLES NEED A NEW TYPE OF THEATRE WHICH OFFERS THEM THE HOPE OF CHANGE.
Boal sees traditional theatre and the plays that are performed as part of it as stultifying to the audience. Such plays only offer images of the world as unchanging - and by inference unchangeable. A play is a finished artefact, leaving no room for argument or for other options. Oedipus, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet die; each performance of such plays carries an audience into acceptance of a fait accompli - an act that is finished.
In this respect, his beliefs are very similar to those of Brecht, who continually wanted to show that the world was changeable and that human beings had a duty to change it. People have free will - choice - and they must be galvanised into exercising that ability. What good are visions of the world showing the fate of individuals as unalterable? How depressing that is for ordinary people in terrible social circumstances - the people who Boal calls the 'oppressed.'
Brecht answered this problem by writing plays himself that focused on individuals and the ways they can change the wrongs in society. Mainly his solutions were simple: Communism seemed to him to contain all the obvious answers.
Boal opens this idea out much further. ANY finished piece of theatre is too hide­bound. It may offer solutions for some, but others will be left disappointed. If bourgeois theatre - which is all established theatre that appeals mostly to the upper stratas of society - offers only images of the world as it is and gives no room for change, then meaningful theatre for the working classes - for the oppressed - must show 'images of transition.'
At what point is a play in transition? When it is in rehearsal. Therefore the plays Boal would offer his audiences would be plays in rehearsal - plays that could be altered. This idea was further fuelled by Boal's observation of how the ordinary people of his country, not trained to go to theatre, received plays. Boal had already taken plays out to villages and poor areas of Brazil away from the big cities. There his actors performed and he noticed that these untrained audiences liked to participate - heckling, interrupting, seeking to engage actors in conversation or argument - much like the groundlings m Shakespeare's time, perhaps - with whom, particularly the stage 'fools' often engaged. [A habit which Shakespeare comments on when Hamlet asks the players to perform only what is written for them.] Actors of 'popular' theatre - from travelling players in ancient times, through the medieval period and beyond - encompassing the Commedia dell Arte and others - have always ad libbed, allowing parts of the play to go where a particular audience wants. In those times, a play was a living and changeable organism. It is only with the birth of the idea that the playwright and his text is sacred [something Stanislavski earnestly fought to bring about] that theatre becomes formalised and audiences become, as Boal puts it, 'passive spectators.'
Boal began to take his actors into these areas with a play which was a starting­point only. The actors then improvised according to suggestions thrown out by their active participatory audience.
2. THE 'SPECT-ACTOR.' ACTIVE PARTICIPATION OF MEMBERS OF AN 'AUDIENCE'.
Boal took the ideas begun above further once he realised that as soon as people perceived themselves as members of an audience, they became passive. The separation of actors and audience instantly causes this passivity; the spectator is incapable of action. He is impotent.
How could individuals within an audience be made 'potent'? By making them actors. Boal observed that persons without the ability to act have become 'less than men.' Again, this is similar to Brecht's scathing comments on Stanislavskian audiences who 'hang up their brains with their hats' in the theatre cloakrooms and watch the play they have come to see without questioning it or criticising its view of the world in any way. Boal simply takes this idea further, to a logical solution. He changes the unthinking members of an audience into individual 'spect-actors', with the power to interrupt or to take the place of any of the actors in a piece, to show how things could be altered.
Boal takes the verb 'to act' and restores it to its original meaning. There is no mystery in acting - anyone can do it. 'Acting', in his terminology, is quite different from 'performing', which remains in the realm of professional actors and which no longer really interests him as something for its own sake.
3. FORUM THEATRE, AN ANSWER TO OPPRESSION. THE VARIOUS ROLES OF THE JOKER.
Forum Theatre is the most famous form of Boal's ideas in practice. Its origins are in the form of theatre described above where a group of actors took an idea, only partly rehearsed, to some location and then improvised alternative ways of completing the play according to the ideas proposed by their audience.
In the form it is now, Forum Theatre has become formalised as a kind of theatre activity with its own set of rules, like a game - though a game with a very serious intent. A group of actors take a particular problem which deals with some form of oppression, let us say, for example, a factory owner who is working his men too hard and for too little pay. First of all, the actors go in with a rehearsed piece which is called 'the model.' If possible, the actors should all have experienced the type of oppression they are exposing; it should be 'real' for them.
Having seen the action once, the model is repeated in a somewhat speeded-up version. At any point, any member of the audience can shout, 'Stop.' The actors then freeze and the member of the audience steps into the place of the main person - who is the oppressed one in the play, in this case the over-worked, underpaid employee. Perhaps in this, our imaginary scenario, there are two other actors in the scene - the factory owner and the manager in over-all charge of the workers. These two actors will try their best to impose the same ending as before on the scene - with the employee meekly accepting his oppression. But the new protagonist - the 'spect-actor' who has stepped in - will try to find a different solution, one that gains him some freedom from his oppression. It becomes a kind of game - the oppressors seeking to uphold their oppression and the oppressed seeking to free himself by changing something about his working conditions, or the way he is perceived by the bosses.
If it all starts to go wrong again, or another member of the audience thinks he can see another way, then he can shout 'Stop,' step in, and the scene begins again from that point. In this way, a variety of solutions can be explored.
Because this kind of theatre could easily relapse into anarchy, the Forum Theatre exercise is presided over by 'the Joker.' The idea of the Joker becomes very important in all forms of Boal theatre and therapy. In Forum Theatre he is a kind of referee who teaches the rules of the `game' to the audience and ensures that audience debate does not become chaotic; otherwise it could so easily become another form of 'oppression' for those quieter ones who want to speak but are easily defeated into silence. At other times, the Joker is the title of the director, the workshop leader or the facilitator of a major Boal techniques project. His role is to be quietly in charge, without imposing his will on the proceedings. In Forum Theatre, if the audience think that the Joker's ruling has been unfair in any way, they can debate the issue and replace him by majority consent.
Rules too can be changed, through debate and consent. In fact, the whole basis of Forum Theatre is to invite audience debate in every area - so long as the outcome is satisfactorily explored and a variety of ways of changing the form of oppression under scrutiny are exposed. It is the Joker's job to ensure this happens and to see that the debate sticks to the point.
Rules will mainly be free but sensible, such as allowing people to finish what they have to say, and so on. One other rule that is of interest and worth mentioning is this: if a spect-actor tries to alter the outcome of a scene through unrealistic means, through resorting to fantasy, the audience can shout out the word 'Magic.' An example would be if a spect-actor says to his boss 'Actually, you can stuff your job because I've just won the lottery.' This solution might be seen as a cop-out - not likely to happen - therefore not a 'real' solution to the problem. Someone could call 'Magic' and that solution would then be debated by the audience as to whether it should be allowed.
From this, you can see how the Brechtian ideal of promoting an intellectually aware audience and the Piscatorian idea of a play about a moral problem [such as his one about abortion] leading to a debate between actors and audience have been taken to very logical conclusions by Boal.
Extract from Boal: The Theories Explored Through Practice
First, I would suggest that the group discuss the whole idea of `Masks', around the following questions. We are, of course, talking about the imaginary masks people use to cope with different situations e.g. at work, with family, with friends, most people play different roles - wear different masks. A mask is simply the outward signs people employ to cope with a particular situation, to blend in with a group, and so on.
Discuss the following:
What kind of `masks' do people `wear' in different situations, in general? Think of as many as possible. What kind of masks do individuals within the group feel that they employ? How do they think people perceive them?
What has `forced' their own particular `masks'? e.g. is it a social ritual that has determined them?
a. In pairs, ask each person in the pair to imitate the mask they perceive in their partner. Care must be taken here - showing the same sensitivity to others as in all the previous work done on Boal. Perceived masks can be ones a close partner has seen employed in a particular situation, e.g. In the classroom - or the mask they perceive in their partner at that moment - which might be anxiety, defensiveness or whatever.
b. To help identify the normal social masks people use - father, son, boss, interviewer, etc. - each of which will have identifying features: gestures, expressions and so on - try the following:
A volunteer goes into the playing area and starts an action. A second volunteer, having understood the action, goes up and establishes without words - only using visible signs and the kind of realistic gestures used by whichever `mask' he has adopted - a relationship with the first actor, appropriate to the actions of the first. e.g. If the first actor was miming sitting at a computer, the second could come in as his father - which would mean the first actor, recognising this, would respond as his son; or the second actor could come is as his employer or a work colleague, each possibility eliciting a different response from the first actor.
The scene can then be added to, bringing in other actor­volunteers - and can now progress into speech. Alternatively, the Joker could decide when speech can be employed, ensuring that people are reading the signs of gesture, body language and facial expression, in order to identify the masks.
Try one or two of these, using different volunteers from the group.
c. Try a series of greetings between different characters, to identify the rituals involved:
- husband and wife
- boy and new girlfriend
- two boys
- two girls
- teacher and pupil
- employer and employee
- doctor and patient
- interviewer and interviewee
- two Heads of State
- two soldiers
- colonel and sergeant
See if as well as identifying the rituals through discussion and observation, the class can also identify the social masks used.
d. Now try swapping masks in one or two of the following scenarios:
- a teacher ticks off a pupil. At a clap from the teacher, the actors swap masks [swap roles.]
- a headteacher reprimands a young new teacher for being too informal and friendly with his class. Once again, swap roles on a signal.
- two homeless people, one old and one young, try to persuade the social services [represented by one or two people] to give them shelter over Christmas at a special shelter. There is only room for one. Swap roles so that everyone has at least played a social services person and a homeless person.
- at a school reunion there are two people who have done well in business and achieved some wealth and status; one housewife and mother and one who is on the dole. Explore their possible inter-action. Swap as many times as possible, to explore all the possible permutations of 'masks' and 'rituals'.
Once again, make sure that the findings from all the above are thoroughly discussed. For instance, was there a difference of response between the two social services people in the third scenario? Why?
The students should have enough understanding of the idea of masks - which can be translated roughly as 'facades adopted under certain social conditions' - and rituals - which can be roughly translated as `modes of behaviour adopted under certain social pressures or conditions' to proceed from this into Image Theatre.
Sample page from Brook section
Extract from Brook: Causes and Effects
2. From the rehearsals of 'King Lear' , Brook began to realise two main things: that an actor crossing an empty space is more charged with meaning than any background setting could be and that a truly creative actor, such as Paul Schofield who played the part of Lear, needs freedom to grow into the part. Central to this was Schofield's refusal to play Lear as 'old' in any traditional sense. One can see this in the film version to this day. Schofield's Lear is upright, strong-voiced and strides about the stage, the very essence of self-confident certainty in his own power and might. Eschewing aging make­up and other traditional trappings, the audience saw Lear's age - especially as he aged in suffering - through their imaginations alone. They did not need physical aids, other than the power of the actor to convince with his own body. This realisation was an important one for Brook.
From these realisations we can see:
- a. How it was that Brook became intrigued by the essence of theatre - an actor, an empty space, an audience. The rest of his career has been devoted to discovering as much as possible about the potentials of these three elements.
- b. the seeds of his principles about allowing free rein to his actors to create their own characters - though within the confines of a central core of ideas. This 'freedom within boundaries' idea is central to theatre traditions of the Far East and was confirmed for Brook once he had started to work with international actors.
3. 1964 was an important year for Brook. This was the year of the Theatre of Cruelty season funded by the RSC, in which Brook experimented with the ideas of Artaud in particular. Many pieces of theatre were performed as part of this season, including Artaud's own play 'Spurt of Blood.' The most notable production of the season was Brook's production of 'The Marat/Sade*', which used a blend of theories from Artaud and from Brecht.
Also in this year, Brook began to conduct his first proper investigations into theatre. The Theatrical Research Group, run by him, used the LAMDA theatre in which to conduct their experiments, focusing on the basic essentials of 'What is theatre?' Working in strong white light with a piece of carpet for a performance area, Brook wanted to concentrate on what made up that unique concentrated energy which is built up, without the distractions of theatre trappings, between an actor and an audience.
From these events we can see:
- a. How enormously eclectic Brook is. He draws - and still
does - from all and any sources. Here we see him putting Artaud
and Brecht together, on the face of it an unlikely combination
- yet it worked. Brook wrote about the play: 'Everything about
the play is designed to crack the spectator on the jaw, then
douse him with ice-cold water, then force him to assess intelligently
what has happened to him, then give him a kick in the balls,
then bring him back to his senses again... It's not exactly
Brecht and it's not Shakespearian either, but it's very Elizabethan
and very much of our times.' The quote is enlightening - showing
what it is about the piece that Brook found so fascinating.
He was [and is] always looking for plays that will create a
similar energy to that achieved by the Elizabethan theatre,
a similar blend of soaring heights and passion [Holy Theatre]
and crudity [Rough Theatre.]
* The full title of the 'Marat/Sade' by Peter Weiss is: 'The Persecution and Murder of Marat as performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Cherenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.'
The play combined shocking violence, strange cries and noises from the inmates, the audience being threatened, startling make-up - much that is familiar from studies of Artaud about Total Theatre and Cruelty - with a singer/ narrator, placards, political slogans, and four singer/commentators who break up the flow of the action - all familiar features of Brechtian theatre. The blend of the two created this startling effect of being alternately horrified and forced to think, as Brook's quote shows.
- b. The beginnings of Brook's ongoing researches to which he was to end up devoting all of his energy. The LAMDA experiments show the start of his reductions - theatre without excess, seemingly quite the opposite of what the Marat/Sade was all about. Yet, about his rehearsal for that play, Brook stated he had encouraged his actors to all sorts of excesses, in order to explore the idea of untrammeled madness as well as the excesses of Artaud, but that then much of the rehearsal period was devoted to trimming down these excesses to essential outlines, what he described as a 'gradual withering away of excess.' This method of rehearsal became normal for him and he still uses it. The idea is that the actors should first of all unleash everything they have - glory in an excess of ideas, allow themselves complete freedom to play with their characters. From this 'excess', a number of useful ideas will emerge and these form the basis for the eventual realisation of the character. All the other ideas will gradually fall away and be seen as unnecessary, quite naturally.
4. 1964 saw Brook's production of 'US', which dealt with both the USA's involvement in Vietnam and the British lads of awareness of it. It was an attempt to confront a British audience with truths about that war - the title 'US' stands for both 'us, the British people' and the United States - and as such was a one-off, a kind of 'Happening' that evolved out of fifteen weeks' intense work. The work evolved out of the group themselves, who all brought stories they had found out about events in Vietnam, photographs and other items round which to evolve their work. The work had an intensity and vitality about it at the beginning, which, Brook reports, gradually fizzled out with constant repetition over a five-month performance period.
A significant feature of the devising process was Brook's invitation to Grotowski to spend ten days working with the actors - with mixed results. Not all of the actors found Grotowski's methods helpful, but Brook was fascinated by the man and his dedication.
This work helps us to understand:
- a. Brook's open-mindedness, his constant willingness to challenge himself and his confident expectation that others will want to be similarly challenged. Grotowski draws him because of their many similarities - not of style or subject-matter - but of dedication and research. Brook points out that no one since Stanislavski has so closely investigated the phenomenon of acting - a credit which can now apply to Brook himself. Grotowski's ideas were probably too steeped in Catholic/ Polish roots to be truly applicable to British actors, but some of Grotowski's ideas did spill into 'US' nonetheless: the self-immolation of the Buddhist monk reminds me of the kind of 'sacrifice' that Grotowski demanded of his actors; the huge uniformed model of a marine commando, which hung over the stage, a napalm shell in its belly - reminds me both of the huge brooding shapes advocated by Artaud and the symbols constructed out of pieces of rubbish into outsize religious icons in some of Grotowski's work. The lads of setting and props were both an imperative, since the action of the finished piece moved from an English lawn to the steps of the Pentagon to a square in Saigon, for example, and an exploration of the ideas inherent in 'Poor Theatre' where limited items can be used again and again to represent anything at all and are made convincing by the way the actors use them. The ending of the play, which involved the ritual burning of a white butterfly is the kind of shocking symbol with which Grotowski's work abounds.
Extract from Brook: The Theories
6. SEEKING FOR THE 'MAGICAL' IN THEATRE: 'THE GOLDEN FISH.' CONCLUSIONS ON 'WHY THEATRE AT ALL?'
The main aim for Brook in any theatre presentation is to 'net the golden fish', which means to come up with an image or a symbol that transforms life, that is unforgettable. These images have been found by such playwrights as Beckett - who gave us two tramps and a single tree and a woman half buried in the detritus of her life, both potent metaphors. Other powerful symbols that became, as Brook points out, part of the Twentieth Century consciousness - archetypes in their own right - are Brecht's old woman pulling a cart [Mother Courage], Arden's dancing sergeant, Sartre's people trapped on a sofa in hell [Huis Clos]. These, and others, are all memorable images that transform our way of thinking about life. It is this sort of symbol that Brook too searches for. He wants to transform our thinking, translate life for us, make something so memorable that we will never forget it; this is to 'net the golden fish.'
In order to achieve this kind of magic in theatre, the ground must be prepared. Hence the work on creating an ensemble of actors who are so in tune with each other that the slightest ripple of reaction from one is picked up and reflected in all the others.
Hence, too, the preparation of the audience for a ritual which puts them in a frame of mind for the revelation of wonders. Participating in a ritual, very much a feature of all Brook's more recent work, creates a sense of sharing between audience and actors and heightens the intensity - that special sort of electricity - which is part of the ongoing creative process. The disparate fragments of life which are the different individuals that make up an audience are brought together in the simple focusing of shared attention on a ceremony such as the ritual lighting and blowing out of a candle, twice. It is an act, too, that crosses cultures - being understood by all cultures and religions. It brings people together - and that, too, is very much a part of what Brook is about. And because people are brought together and share in something, a healing takes place - the same kind of healing as was originally effected by participating in a shared religious ceremony - where people shed the complications of their lives outside the theatre and find a kind of innocence, regaining their childlike sense of wonder.
Brook sees himself now as part of a world tradition - not just a European one - and one that will continue beyond him. Just as the African storyteller slaps his bare palm on the ground to signify the end of his story, Brook has adopted many such simple touches from his investigation in world theatre traditions and his mingling of actors from different cultures into his performance group - for just as the slapping of the palm on the bare earth means the end of the story, it also is an invitation. The story is placed on the earth by the storyteller for another storyteller to pick up and carry on.
Brook's starting point was to ask' Why theatre at all? What for? Is it an anachronism?.... Has the stage a place in our lives? What function can it have? What could it sense? What could it explore? What are its special properties?' And, after a lifetime's research and scientific investigation his response is a resounding affirmation of the role of theatre in our lives. There is a way to go, he acknowledges; people must be given a hunger for art and see it as necessary to life itself and to achieve this, deadliness must be overturned and living theatre put in its place with its ability to transform life through startling images and through a blend of the spiritual and the real. But it has and should have a place in our lives, because it is always in the present, because it shows life in an intense form, but above all because it can bring people together, in delight, in laughter, in the gasp of awe at wonders revealed, in a realisation of our shared humanity.
Extract from Brook: The Theories Explored Through Practice
c. Ask for volunteers to come in alone, or in pairs, with the Instruction that they must `fill the space' for the audience. The space is empty - how easily can they make an audience see it as a particular place? Challenge the actors to come up with as imaginative Ideas as possible. Some may fulfil the criteria by performing actions, such as pushing an imaginary shopping trolley around and pulling objects off shelves to load it; some may simply `take us' to a place they love - by the sea, in the woods - and paint the scene for us with words and actions. If they see their place in their mind's eye, they will translate their feeling for the place and bring it alive for us by the subtlest of movements to accompany their description of it.
d. Challenge the space.
i. Without actually changing the size of the space that
has been defined, ask groups to plan a short scenario which, when
performed In the playing area will convince the audience that
the space is either much larger or much smaller than it is. They
could be lost In an endless desert.... stuck In a lift.... in
a cell ... be tiny creatures on a table.... be huge creatures
in a tight spot....
ii. Try a simple realistic scene .... a family ... a couple having a conversation ... and having quickly planned it, try it in different configurations of the allotted space. What difference does it make to the scene if the couple, for instance, are having to communicate with the whole width of the stage between them? What difference, again, does it make if they are practically eyeball to eyeball?
Try other different spatial relationships too: back to back, one behind the other, standing at strange angles to each other.
Experiments like this can sometimes cast unusual light on ordinary things, making us see things in unexpected and often enlightening ways. It can work well with naturalistic conversations out of play texts being studied, too.
Make sure that all of the above is discussed. Have the students more of an awareness about the potentials of the empty space that is the playing area? They should never forget that it is an area for 'playing' in - for experimentation and for challenging everything.
e. Ask all the students to find some object in the room and use it as something for which it is not Intended. A shoe can become a mobile phone, for instance. Keeping to the same object, ask them on a given signal to change its use again - and again - a minimum of three times.
f. Put an empty cardboard box - preferably large - into the centre of the playing space. Ask a number of volunteers to come up one at a time and demonstrate its potential use.
g. Finally, divide the class up into small groups - of three or, at the most, four. Each group is to have a simple object which must not be too complex or too rooted to a particular period in time. Timeless objects, then, are allocated. The following would be suitable:
- a stone
- a box
- a piece of rope
- a pair of shoes
- a bowl
They are to come up with a simple scenario based around their object. The principle around the composition of the scene is that it should be as like a folk-tale or street story as possible, simply told, with characters that are straightforward and broad in outline.
What would it be like, for instance, for a barefoot beggar to find a pair of shoes - or a bowl of food?
What if a thief or trickster conned him out of his find?
What if a quarrel then ensued and a third person entered in to try and sort out the rights and wrongs of the quarrel - recognised the shoes and claimed them as his own?
Their stories should be as simple as this, use the space well, seek to draw in the audience by, perhaps, direct address, as well as by the interest of the story and the ability of the actors.
This last exercise, as well as using 'the empty prop', mimics the kind of work Brook was doing with his actors on their travels around the world, particularly in Africa.
Extract from Brook: Using The Theories A Final Group Project
I am aware that there are theories that have not been explored. All of the sections so far have, in any case, tried to cover more ground than is really possible in a limited period. Brook, like all of the practitioners, has spent all his life coming to some of the conclusions he has done and any experimental work we do will be only scratching the surface - but will hopefully help us understand something of the nature of those theories nonetheless.
The area I have largely left out is that of the training of the actors, especially the eradication of their personal blocks and how to achieve this. If you have Styletasters 1, this is touched on in the section on Grotowski, which may be useful here, since Brook's ideas largely concur with Grotowski's in this area.
In addition, the work with canes, in particular, is relevant to this area, as are much of the teamwork building exercises in 'Freedom Within Boundaries.' Any of these can be referred to as back-up work for this area of Brook theory, when writing essays.
For a final project which uses as many of Brook's ideas as possible, give the group the title 'Creation.' They are to come up with a piece that involves the following 'ingredients':
- a story-line that is mythic - that uses legend/ myth as its
- an empty space
- a ritual to open and to close the show - this may be the same ritual or different ones. Remember, the ritual is to focus the audience attention - to bring them in and to generate that special 'electricity'; it may or may not be a direct part of the action of the story itself. It would be quite acceptable to use Brook's own ritual of blowing out a candle, relighting it and blowing it out a second time, if nothing more apt suggests itself.
- a story and presentation that is stripped down to the barest of essentials
It would be hard to be more specific than this, without imposing too much on the potential of the finished piece. I think it is important that the group should try to work in as Brookian a manner as possible, i.e.­
Starting with games and free improvisations that come out of the group's own ideas and objects left around in the room, plus ideas from the teacher or director himself - fed in only judiciously and it the group's own creativity is flagging. For instance, leaving around coloured balls of different sizes might lead to 'playing with the idea of balls as planets; brainstorming different Creation stories might come up with free improvisations around Adam and Eve, Prometheus, and many others from world religions and legends. Always encourage adventure, play, using musical instruments, voices m different ways, pieces of cloth, canes, and so on - all around the free association of ideas around 'Creation'. Plunder the actors' own associations - which might have nothing to do with legends or religions at all - allow anything at this stage: the craftsman's creation - the mother's....
There does need to be a 'director' who is a unifier - whether that is the teacher or a member of the group. In the end, the director will piece together the final product by working his way through all the creative work on offer from this early stage, finding a startling image or series of images that would work together. This is the stage where any 'set' used starts to be created too or music, light, and so on.
Once all parts have been allocated, care must be taken to allow the actors' creativity still to freely develop, within the confines of their role in the piece.
If possible, it would be good to try out some of it on another group - or some younger children, before finalising the material.
The group should aim for a `final' piece of around fifteen minutes.