This term (Verfremdungseffekt) was introduced by Bertolt Brecht to refer to the aim of preventing the audience from reacting to the characters in a play without being aware of it. The fictional nature of stage action is highlighted and the audience is invited to question their emotional reaction to it. In this way the audience becomes witness not only to what is happening in the play, but also to themselves. We can become very involved in our stories, to the point that we are driven by the role we play in them and lose the bigger picture. Can we look at them as an outside witness to gain greater awareness and freedom?
Whenever there is a background/foreground distinction in live arts (see applicable thought #13), the background is meant to support what is happening in the foreground. In terms of perception, any change in the background changes the way in which the foreground comes across. Nothing happens in isolation, either on a stage or in life. Everything is part of a system of dynamic relationships. Everything is background until we notice it and see it as foreground and goes back to being background when something else takes the foreground as figure. By definition we are more aware of the foreground, but we can expand our awareness to perceive the effect of the background as origin and context.
In live arts the instrument (a musical instrument, the voice or the body) is the equivalent of the medium or material in other artistic disciplines. The performer’s sensitivity, ability, comprehension, awareness, memory, aesthetics and many more things interact with one’s instrument in order to make the art piece. The better one knows one’s instrument, its possibilities and limitations, the more one can get out of it. In life we are both performer and instrument. Sometimes we can feel that our instrument is not responding how we would like it to. We can’t change our instrument, but we can take care of it, tune it, learn about it and practise in order to realize its full potential.
Improvisation has always been used in live arts, either to generate material that is then set or as an approach to performance. No situation is exactly the same as a previous one and the most appropriate response needs to consider the specific internal and external circumstances at hand, rather than what happened in a previous similar event. That is improvisation. It’s not about acting randomly but about being honest with what is here and now. Considering the brain’s strategy of saving behaviour that has worked in an attempt to be energetically efficient and repeat the success, how much can we actually bypass our patterns and improvise? Conditioning is building up every day. Being true to the moment implies letting go of this buildup ongoingly.
We are making choices every instant. We may be aware of it and choose consciously or merely choose by default and not use our creativity. Just like a performance is shaped by every single member of the team, every single thing one does contributes to what happens in life. You can act by default or you can take responsibility in your role as co-creator, you choose.
Life is unfolding live. It’s happening as you witness it and take part in it. There is no chance for a second take. Whatever happens, the show just goes on, there is no time out. That means every moment is significant and can’t be repeated or modified. Performing live is exhilarating, and so is life when we are in touch with this.
This series shows the usefulness of live-arts concepts and practices for everyday life. This view is not original and can already be found in notions like “All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare) and Shiva’s cosmic dance that cyclically creates and destroys the universe. These 90 daily posts are based on these metaphors and offer practical inspirations to interact with life. You can find them all together under the category with the same title in the top right-hand corner of any blog page.