Content guidance

Physical activity required.

Adult supervision recommended.


Lesson video

In progress...


Hello there, my name is Mr. Burt, and welcome to your drama lesson.

This is the second of three drama lessons looking at a unit of learning called "One text, different approaches," looking at how we can approach one stimulus, one text in lots of different ways, and in our first lesson, we looked at the style of naturalism, and today we're going to look at epic theatre.

We're going to look at how we might create epic theatre performances, and we're going to do a little comparison between epic theatre and naturalism.

But before we go on, let's just check and make sure we've got all the equipment we need before we make a start.

So in this lesson, you're going to need the following things.

You're going to need an exercise book or a piece of paper and a pencil or a pen.

So make sure you've got that equipment before we get going.

Okay, so this is the rundown of our lesson.

We're going to start by looking at the keywords we need to succeed in our lesson.

Then we're going to learn a little bit about epic theatre.

Then, as I said, we're going to compare epic theatre to what we were working on last lesson in naturalism.

And then we're going to use epic theatre to create our own director's vision before finishing off with a quiz.

So keywords that we need in this lesson.

Well, the keyword director's the first one, and the director is the person who has overall creative responsibility for the creation of a piece of theatre.

Then we have epic theatre.

Now, epic theatre's a genre of theatre, which is focused on creating symbolic characters and telling complex, big, and often political stories.

Now there's lots of other keywords we're going to go through and learn about in this lesson associated with epic theatre, and finally, symbolism.

Symbolism is a representation of an idea, a concept or qualities.

Before we go on, let's just check our understanding of some of those keywords.

Let's start with symbolism.

So tell me now, what is symbolism? That's right.

Symbolism is a representation of an idea, a concept, or qualities within an image or a performance.

Let's think back to our last lesson.

What is the focus of naturalism? Tell me the answer to that now.

Well done.

Naturalism is focused on creating strong characters and telling character-led stories.

So let's just have a quick recap on that naturalism style.

So the plots of naturalistic performances are focused on character development.

The timeframe is often short, maybe one or two days, and the location, equally, is down to one or two places.

The set, the costumes, the sounds and the lighting are all very detailed and realistic with the idea of creating a realistic image of what things were like in the time of the play, and the characters are realistic and believable.

The acting is naturalistic because the actor's aim is to understand the character and get the audience to empathise with them.

So the role of the director in a theatre production has three main roles.

They begin with the directorial vision, to which then they need to communicate that to everyone, firstly, through the design and their role then becomes about overseeing the design, and then it's about rehearsing the actors.

So it starts with the directorial vision.

Now the directorial vision is the creative force behind the production.

It's things like what they want the audience to feel at the end of the production, how they want it to feel as an experience to be watching, how they want it to look, how they want it to sound, the ideas of the costume, the ideas of the set.

It's about bringing all those ideas together into a vision which then needs to be communicated to everyone else in the production.

It's a bit like creating a manual for the production.

So once they've got the directorial vision, the idea, they need to communicate that.

The first group they need to talk to is the designers.

So their next job becomes about overseeing the design.

Here, they need to talk to the set designers, the lighting designers, the costume designers, the sound designers any music they need, anything else that they need theatrically-wise to create the production.

They need to talk to them, communicate their ideas so that then the designers can go away with that brief and start making what they think is going to be appropriate for the production.

But their role doesn't just end there with the designers.

The designers need to keep coming back to the director, checking that they are on track with their work, making sure that everything fits the directorial vision, and that will happen right up until the end.

Their final job, which is the one that we're most familiar with is rehearsing with the actors.

Now for that bit, the director there is in the room, the rehearsal room with the actors, giving them feedback, helping them to achieve what they want to do in the performance, but it starts well before that.

The director needs to have some idea of how they want the performance to be created, so they've got to think about how the characters are going to be performed, the characters' backgrounds, the interpretation of the characters, the motivation of the characters.

This needs to be discussed with the actors at the very beginning so the actors then can go away and do their job, which is to create that character, do their research, and then come together with the director in the rehearsal room to continue to improve their performance until they feel that their performance is achieving what they set out in the directorial vision.

So if we go back to the directorial vision, that document, that manuscript, that manual for the production really is the most important part of it because it's from that that everything else is created.

So before we move on, let's just check our understanding of the role of the director.

One of the key roles of the director is to create that directorial vision, but is this statement true or false? The director has to communicate their vision clearly to everyone else in the production team.

Tell me now, is that true or false? Yes, it's true.

It's critical that the directorial vision is clear, it's easy to understand and that it can be communicated well to everyone who's involved in the production team.

So let's move on to think about epic theatre.

So epic theatre is a genre of theatre which is focused on creating symbolic characters and telling complex, big, and often political stories.

It was established by Bertolt Brecht in the 1950s and has since become one of the most dominant styles of theatre and film, and theatre companies, such as Splendid Productions today are leading the way in making epic theatre productions now.

Let's just have a quick check of our understanding of epic theatre so far.

What is the focus of epic theatre? Tell me now.

That's right.

Epic theatre is focused on creating symbolic characters and telling complex, big, and often political stories.

So let's break down what the epic theatre style is and what we're looking for.

We're going to start with storytelling.

So the plots within epic theatre are focused on big issues that affect everyone in society, issues such as crime, war, or poverty, and plots covers a story that takes place over a long period of time, such as months or even years, and then the scenes can take place in multiple locations, and even within one scene, a scene could travel from one location to another to another.

And so that, then, has challenges with set design.

So set designs are often symbolic and minimal, using one or two items to represent a location because the production has to visit so many of them.

The lighting is white or natural colours and banners and projections are often used, as well, along with written introductions to each scene.

The acting style is also different.

Characters need to be believable, but also symbolic of others in that position.

They represent people in society who are relevant to the story, not just those individual characters.

Acting techniques include things like gestures, song, characters will often break the fourth wall and talk to the audience.

Actors will take on different roles.

Actors will change costume in front of the audience to show the audience that they are changing a role and the actor's aim is to break the audience's empathy with the character.

Now I've just mentioned that part of the actor's aim is to break the empathetic relationship between the audience and the actor.

Now that's part of the aims of epic theatre that Brecht created, and that can come down in this word, verfremdungseffekt.

Now what that means is in a sense distancing, distancing the audience from the action so that they can see the action from a bigger picture and not just create an emotional attachment between themselves and the characters.

If we think back to what we were looking at in naturalism, the whole purpose of naturalism was creating an emotional connection between the audience and the character so that the audience would feel the same emotions that the characters were, so they could learn about themselves by looking at how they react to similar situations that the characters on stage do.

Now, Brecht thought that was important, and so that's why the characters need to be believable, and he allows us to get a little bit emotionally attached to the characters, but then he would stop that emotional attachment.

He would stop that through breaking the action, by changing the location, by multi-roling, by going in, suddenly bursting into song.

He would stop that emotional connection between the audience and the character so that we would then start to begin to see the bigger perspective, as well, that bigger issue of war or poverty that affects society and affects everyone, not just that individual character, and not just the individual member of the audience.

So this is what he means by verfremdungseffekt.

So verfremdungseffekt is Brecht's way of helping the audience to engage with the message of the performance rather than forming an emotional connection with the characters.

So let's just check our understanding of that quite complex idea of verfremdungseffekt.

So tell me now, what is verfremdungseffekt? That's right.

It's a tricky one.

It's Brecht's way of helping the audience to engage with the message of the performance rather than forming an emotional connection with the characters.

So let's see how epic theatre stacks up against naturalism, which is what we were looking at in our first lesson.

So epic theatre looks at those big issues, whereas naturalism looks at much smaller, closer to character development.

Epic theatre takes place over a long time frame, months, or maybe even years, whereas naturalism is a much shorter timeframe, one day, two days.

Likewise, epic theatre takes place over multiple locations.

If the play takes place over many years, it's going to take place in many locations, whereas naturalism because it takes place in a short period of time, looking at a focused part of a character's development will also only happen in one or two locations.

So epic theatre has a very minimalist and symbolic set and costumes and lighting and sound.

Brecht wanted the lighting to be very bright and white and he used banners and projections to help communicate to the audience, anything there to help us break up that emotional connection, not just to the characters, but also to the scenario and the stage.

Whereas in naturalism, everything is very detailed and realistic with the idea that you can place into the audience's mind and their imagination that they might be, and they could be in that situation.

So the characters in epic theatre are believable.

Brecht felt that actually characters you needed to make an empathetic relationship between the characters and the audience, but they also needed to be symbolic because the characters represented everyone in society who could be in that same position, whereas within naturalism, the characters are realistic and believable.

It could be just like any one of us in the audience watching it.

So the acting style of epic theatre was always quite big, lots of gestures, lots of songs, lots of multi-roling, breaking the fourth wall, lots of ways to break that connection between the audience and the actor.

Whereas in naturalism, the acting is very naturalistic, very real, very realistic, very believable.

So we can see that the styles of the two forms of theatre are very different, and the aims are, too.

The aim of epic theatre is about getting the audience to see the big picture and avoid too much empathy with the character, whereas naturalism is all about the character and all about creating that empathy between the audience and the character, but here's the thing: despite their differences, they both have the same aim.

They both aim for the audience to leave the theatre having learned something about themselves, whereas epic theatre wants the audience to learn something about that big picture and how you fit into that big picture and what you can do to help improve or change or develop that big picture, naturalism is all about the character and that emotional connection between the audience and the character and you as the audience member, learning something about yourself through your understanding of that character.

So let's think about your commission.

I am commissioning you to direct a play.

Remember the director is that key role, that they have that overall creative responsibility for the whole of the performance.

The play is on the themes of truth, justice and fairness, and the play follows the plot of a character who has been arrested by the police having been found running away from a burglary, but the central character denies being involved.

Instead the central character says that they were running to the pharmacy to buy some medicine for the older sister.

The character's arrested anyway and charged with burglary, and I want you to direct the play so it conforms to the style of epic theatre.

Now let's just have a look at the structure of the story as we were looking at it in our last lesson within naturalism.

And so the story fitted nicely into these three scenes.

It started with a scene one where we have an interview scene between the police and the central character, and here the central character denies they have anything to do with the burglary and recounts their actions that night, and then that moves into scene two, where the police enter with new evidence of the character's fingerprints in the shop that was burgled and the central character admits that they were in the shop that afternoon, but didn't get involved in the burglary.

And then that brings us up to the end, the final scene, scene three, the police find out that the central character's been involved in previous burglary two years ago.

The central character argues that they've changed since, but the police decide to charge them anyway.

So the plot structure we just looked at was for our naturalistic lesson we were doing in our last lesson, but this lesson, we're going to look at epic theatre, and so we need to structure and change that plot so that it suits the epic theatre style, and so what I've started here is just that, is the plot structure for epic theatre, and what I'm aiming to do is to not just look at the character development, but also look at the bigger issues of crime figures, of money and poverty, of the criminal justice system, and the fairness or unfairness within it.

I'm not too worried about dwelling on emotion.

I think it's important, but I'm looking to also break the audience's empathy with the characters by creating short snappy scenes.

So what we've got here is the plot outline for just the first third of the story, and so already it has been broken down into eight different moments of action, eight different episodes.

And so it goes like this: it starts with a scene and the central character is involved in a house burglary when they were 14.

They were arrested, but cautioned, and there is a montage of the central character going to school, doing well in their GCSEs and turning their life around.

So from the word go within the story, we've established that the central character has a past, which is a criminal past, but they have turned their life around.

Then we change scene and we go to the police station and we change time as well.

We are now up to the modern day, and the police are discussing low arrest figures, bringing in some sort of political element, political motives to their actions.

Then we go back to the central character and they are at home discussing how Dad has been made redundant and money is going to be tight from now on.

And then we have the scene which takes place where the robbery will take place, and the central character talks to the audience, breaking the fourth wall about how they feel, about how they feel about their life and what's happened to their dad, and then there is a short scene at home where the central character is sent out to get the medicine for the sister who is sick.

Everyone is worried about her.

It's clear we want to get some emotional content in there, but it's a short scene, so the audience don't have the time to make an empathetic connection between themselves and the characters.

Then the robbery takes place and the central character is outside.

But the police officer talks to the audience about there might be a good opportunity to improve low arrest figures.

So the police interview the central character, and then we have a scene at home where the police arrive to tell the central character's family about the arrest, and they were devastated but angry and they can't afford any legal representation.

So, so far within the first third of the story, I've tried to highlight the development of the character.

I've tried to include some emotion, but then stopped from that from taking place too long, by having short scenes.

I've focused on political issues of low arrest figures of money and poverty, of the criminal justice system, and any unfairness or fairness linked to that.

So this brings us up to our first task, and what I'd like you to do is I'd like you to finish off this plot structure that I have created for epic theatre.

I want you to think about what happens in the story that we've looked at so far of the central character and the arrest, and I'd like you to adapt that to suit this epic theatre style of structure.

So continue to think about how we can highlight the political issues within the story, as well as the character development of the central character, as well as looking to see how we can break the audience's emotional connection between the characters and themselves.

So pause the video now and work on the final two thirds of the plot structure and resume once you've finished.

So how did that activity go for you? It might not have been as easy as you first thought.

It's really hard, but remember, within that epic theatre structure, we don't want to just focus on the character development, but we also want to be able to see those bigger issues.

There's bigger issues of those crime figures and how that influences the police's motivation.

We want to think about how that money and poverty issue is brought into force, as well as the criminal justice system.

It's not just about telling that individual story so that the audience can make that emotional connection with that character, but it's seeing how that individual fits within that bigger story, that bigger issue within society so that we as the audience might be able to reflect on our position within our society.

So this brings us up to our next task, which is to do some set design, because remember, within that directorial vision, we'll also have some ideas for the set.

So draw out three simple sketches for the set of the three different scenes from the play.

One of the sketches must be of the police interview room.

Remember to adhere to that epic theatre style of production, so it needs to be symbolic and minimalist.

So pause the video now, work on this task, and press resume once you've finished.

So how did that activity go for you? I've got a very simple idea of a set design that we're going to talk through here, and it might be very different from the ones that you've created, but here we've got a set of very minimalist props, just symbolic of the location, where they are outside a factory.

We've got some placards that the actors are holding, giving the old message that they wanted to get across to the audience.

We've got a sign and we've got a very simple backcloth behind them, and that is all we've got.

It's just suggestive and symbolic of the location where they are.

Have a think about the scenes that you've created and is there anything, any tweaks, any changes, any developments that you would make to the stage designs that you've made, maybe something you might want to take away, or maybe something more symbolic you want to add.

So take a moment, review your stage designs before you move on to the next task.

So this brings us up to our next and final task, which is to write an extract of the scene.

So I want you to write an extract of the police interview scene so that we can get a flavour of your ideas with regards to the scene and the characters in it.

Remember to adhere to the epic theatre style of acting, so it could include things like direct audience address, song, still images, multi-roling, but it needs to be believable, but symbolic characterization.

So pause the video now, write your extract to the scene, and resume once you've finished.

So take a moment to have a look through your completed directorial vision.

You have created the rest of the plot outline, following the ideas of epic theatre, making it a focus to look at the themes of the play, not just the character development of the play and to make it happen over a long period of time in multiple locations.

We've done some set design.

We've designed some very minimalist and symbolic sets for the first three scenes, including the scene that takes place at the police interview, and then we've written an extract of that police interview, highlighting that kind of acting style that takes place within epic theatre, including audience address, song, maybe some still images, some multi-roling, unbelievable and symbolic characters.

So before we finish, let's just check our understanding of epic theatre.

And is this statement true or false? Epic theatre is focused on creating symbolic characters and telling complex, big, and often political stories.

Is that true or false? That's right.

It's true.

Epic theatre is all about telling big and complex and political stories, stories to do with money or poverty or welfare, big issues within society, and it does so by looking at big stories that take place over long periods of time, and it creates believable but symbolic characters so that the character could represent any one of us within society.

And it helps us understand that, not by allowing us to make an emotional connection and learning emotionally, but by breaking that emotional connection and seeing how we sit within society in the way that that character sits within that society, and they do that through acting with gestures, with multi-roling, with breaking the fourth wall, by breaking into song, by changing costume on stage.

It is all about seeing the big picture and how we, as the audience fit in within society.

Why not share your work with Oak National? If you'd like to, please ask your parent or carer to share your work on Twitter, tagging @OakMational or hashtag #LearnwithOak.