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Summary: the Key Differences and Similarities Between Naturalistic and Epic Performances

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A well-known practitioner, born in Russia, Konstantin Stanislavski, considered performances that were as realistic as possible. ’’Remember: there are no small parts, only small actors’’. Naturalistic plays are used within theatrical performances to simulate real life. Essentially, the stage time reflects real time by making the set as realistic as possible, using props that are relevant to that time of the performance. Naturalistic writers were influenced by the new discoveries made in sciences, steaming from the Darwin’s theory of evolution. They believed that the heredity and social environments determine characters. Naturalistic techniques are important when doing a naturalist performance. The practioner Stanislavski has influenced theatre due the techniques and theories he created. His main technique is’ The System’ it refers to the methods used by Stanislavski to create a worthy performance for his audience and actors are able to portray emotion when on stage. This method is made up of eight techniques which helped actors develop their skills as much as possible. ’How does Brecht system differ from Stanislavski, I have often heard this question, sometimes in these exact words’’ .

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On the other hand, Erwin Piscator influenced Epic theatre. He aimed to encourage playwrights to address issues related to modern situations in the world and epic theatre.  Gestus is an example of one of the main techniques. A Gestus brings the sense of a mixture of physical gesture and social gist or attitude; this was one of Brecht techniques he used in his performances. To do this he used a variety of theatrical techniques so that the audience were recapped during his pieces, so they were watching theatre not real life itself. He needed them to appreciate his message and understand his performances. This makes the audience be mindful of the bigger picture and to think about  the social message that is being displayed. ‘’Gest is not supposed to mean gesticulation is it not a matter of explanatory or empathic movements of hands but overall attitudes’’.  This suggests to the audiencethat you need to focus on the specific message that your trying to portray to them. However, the gestus could be hard for the audience to understand if you don’t make it clear enough. Brecht was known for epic theatre; he wanted the audience emotionally involved the verfremdungesffekt. This means ‘’ defamiliarization effect’’, a technique that prevents the audience from losing itself completely in the narrative. Brecht used socio-political theatre in his performances to comment on social and political issues happening at the time. ’’Brecht believed that theatre had a duty not only to reflect society but to change it’’.

Naturalism and realism are often used in reference to each other but there are big differences between them. The French novelist Emile Zola created an extreme form of realism which became naturalism. Stanislavski was an actor and the director and founder of the Moscow art theatre. He wanted Naturalism performances to be natural as possible and he did this by fooling the audience to have an illusion of real life on stage. He did this by developing ‘The system’. The techniques that made up this method brought developing actors’ success in recreating real life on stage. ‘’ Stanislavski believed that it is the actor’sresponsibility to truthfully act the role by creating the links between the actors own personality and the characters he was playing’ There were eight different techniques that made up the system: circumstances, emotion memory, method ofphysical action, subtext, IF, objective, super objective and through-line. For example, emotion memory was often used by actors to mimic life on stage because then it requires actors to call on memory of details when on stage. ‘’ Affective memory is a general term which refers to both emotion and sense memory’’ .This suggests that this was successful because then the actors can take on that feeling and connect it to the character they are becoming. Also, the audience can relate to these characters as Stanislavski just wanted the audience to believe what was happening was real on stage was real people not characters. However sometimes emotion memory couldn’t be successful due to some of the negative feelings and memories that can be triggered.

Brecht was influenced by Piscator, Piscator came from a theatrical background he studied philosophy and history at university, but he was forced to leave and fight in the first world war. Piscator became involved in politics and when he returned from the war he joined a Marxist arts groups. He aimed to achieve ‘propagandistic effects’’ so he avoided drama and plays and he decided to see agit-prop. This was more powerful and direct than drama ‘’ Where the ponderous structure and problems temp you to psychologise and constantly erect barriers between the stage and the auditorium’’ . Piscator’s main performance technique was the ‘Red Venue’ it was a like a variety show. The intention was to keep the audience awake and aware, using a range of methods to engage the audience: political sketches, slide projectors and live cartoons. They collaborated because Brecht was influenced by Piscator experiments with Marxist theatre, this is where Epic theatre was introduced. ‘’ Epic theatre is chiefly interested in the attitudes which people adopt towards one another, wherever they are socio-historically significant”.

‘’Brecht argued that nothing should be taken for granted’’. This is why the dialectical method was important, the dialectical method is a tool to understand the way things are and the way things can change. There are three main points: Everything is made of opposing forces. Gradual changes lead to turning points and finally change in moves inspirals not circles. These methods was mostly useful to artist and practioners because its seen an intellectual process not just as emotional one. He wanted to pose problems and engage audiences with dialectics. ‘’ Brecht related his dialectical methods to questions of realism in the theatre through his construction of ‘great method’, his term for politicized inquiry into nature of reality’’ he wanted to make sure everything was related to issues in the world. This was successful because this tool can make the audience aware of society problems. The actors achieved this and had a impact on the audience because they followed the three main points. Brecht was developing theatre for the Russian formalist idea of de-familiarisation, ‘De-familiarisation’ is the artistic technique offering audiences collective thing in an unfamiliar or strange way in order to enhance perception. This term is the same as ‘verfremdungseffekt’

They both do have differences and similarities `within their methods. They both were deterministic, and they wanted to highlight the changing effects social class has on people.They were different on how to represent this to actors and the audience. Epic theatre was influenced by Karl Marx and focuses on the struggle of life. Whereas naturalism focused on how hereditary and social allegations had on people and our lives. Stanislavski wanted his actors and plays to be naturalistic as possible, on the other hand Brecht concentrated more on epic and absurd style of acting. The ‘verfremdungseffekt’ helped Brecht make the audience understand his message, but Stanislavski wanted the audience to be misled by thinking everything that was happening on stage was real life. Neither of these practitioners wanted to educate the actors but they both believed that theatre was art. This shows that they can be similar because they both wanted the audience to relate to the characters it was just the fact they had a different method behind how the audience can relate to them. Stanislavski method was the ‘system’ he wanted the actor to understand the character personal emotional experience and that’s why emotional memory was important within his technique because he wanted actors to become the character. However, Brecht wanted the characters of his performance be relevant to society and make them think how can we change the society by the characters. 

Bertolt Brecht and Konstantin Stanislavski are considered as two influential practitioners withinthe drama industry. They do both have strong ideas and opinions within the acting industry and both can help actors. These theories are both considered useful and professionals or people learning about acting do always study about these two practitioners. I believe that they are very similar, but practise slightly different techniques to help their actors. I believe they both wanted to make a difference within the acting industry, and they did very well, as we are still using their techniques and methods now.Stanislavski and Brecht challenged previous methods, regarding Stanislavski he focused more on ‘the system’ this required dedication and hard work from actors to produce naturalistic piece of theatre. “Love art in yourself, and not yourself in art.”  On the other hand, Brecht came behind Stanislavski and moved against naturalist theatre and focused more about his own techniques that were centred more about political ideas. This meant that spectators would be more involved within the piece as his performances related to political issues within the era that it was performed.

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