Theatre for the People: the Impact of Brechtian Theory on the Production and Performance of 1789 by Ariane Mnouchkines Théâtre du Soleil

Abstract

Ariane Mnouchkine is a contemporary French theatre director, associated with the Théâtre du Soleil, known for its ‘activism, formalism and cosmopolitanism (Singleton 2010, 29). Her theatre, made by the people and for the people, breaks with the traditional perception of theatre as elitist. Her revolutionary status in the profession can be explained through her belief in the power of collaborative theatre (création collective) as the most democratic art form, capable of dealing with political questions. The redistribution of the power of decision-making in the process of production and staging can be seen as a metaphor of a political system based on civic participation. Mnouchkine’s theatre teaches the audience how to react critically to what is being observed, and to translate this reaction into political activism and participation, in shaping their community. One of the central elements of her philosophy is to make the spectators aware of their potential to participate in the process of change. Instead of passively witnessing the unfolding of political and social events, citizens should feel encouraged to act and to note their personal impact on history. Such an approach is almost certainly inspired by the work of an earlier artist whose creation also falls into the category of political theatre – that of Bertolt Brecht. Brecht was known for having coined the term Verfremdung, crucial in achieving a critical response, and which can be described as the opposite of the suspension of disbelief, commonly cited as a requirement for most forms of entertainment. In the Brechtian epic theatre, the spectator must be aware of the fictional character of the play. Only then can the characters’
actions be judged in an objective way. The motivations behind these actions are explained by the actors, often through another device typical of Brecht’s style – gestus, defined in his own words as ‘convey[ing] particular attitudes adopted by the speaker towards other men’ and ‘allow[ing] conclusions to be drawn about the social circumstances’ (Brecht 1978, 104-5).

Keywords

political commentary, Brecht, theatre

How to Cite

Karch, A., (2011) “Theatre for the People: the Impact of Brechtian Theory on the Production and Performance of 1789 by Ariane Mnouchkines Théâtre du Soleil”, Opticon1826 10.

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Agnieszka Karch (UCL)

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