Theatre Of Showing

Brecht’s is a theatre of showing, which means that everything done on stage is significant enough to be shown to the audience. Such a theatre is thus focused on offering material for the audience that continually opens up ways of understanding the figures and the action on stage.

The clear presentation of contradictions is at the heart of this aesthetic, and this aim makes certain demands on actors:

  1. Because everything is significant, the actors must be in control of their bodies throughout. There is no place for naturalist movement of, say, the head, eyes or hands.

  2. Such acting thus has a more statuesque quality to it: actors move from point to point, from significant moment to significant moment.

  3. Actors can fear that not moving = being boring. The experiences of Brecht’s company, the Berliner Ensemble, offer concrete counterarguments to this view. The audience moves from an interest in naturalist character to an interest in the interactions between situations and realistic figures. This is a different form of spectatorship.

A Brechtian production, in which showing is key, also needs to think about what is being shown. There is an emphasis on process, of how things happen, and Brecht exhorts theatre-makers to take things one step at a time. Actors should thus break down complex processes into their constituent parts and let them unfold one after the other (see examples of this in our production of Closer). This means that actors will find that ‘natural’ performance does not work in this kind of theatre, in that everyday gestures and deliveries need to be taken apart in order to show how they work. There are a couple of examples of this approach found in the documentation of Closer.

It is not necessarily the case that showing is crass, with continual nods to the audience from knowing actors. Showing is often concerned with the actors simply knowing what they are doing and why. This clarity of intention and an accompanying deliberateness in performance are often sufficient to bring about a clear showing of relationships and Haltungen on stage. Naturalist performance, on the other hand, can be vague or confusing on these terms because each movement and each delivery isn’t necessarily trying to show an audience something, but suggest a feeling, a mood or an atmosphere to an audience.

A theatre of showing leaves very little to chance, and rehearsals aim to fix positions, sequences of movement and delivery before the first performance to a live audience. Each scene is thus tightly choreographed in advance and resembles a dance with words for the actors. Their freedom to develop their figures mostly takes place in rehearsal, and there is little opportunity to improvise on stage during a public performance because this will have an effect on what is to be shown. Subsequent rehearsal, during a run, is the place to sharpen clarity or work through new approaches to the relationships and situations that may emerge in performance.