Brecht and the alienation effect

Brecht and the alienation effect

Laura undertakes a thorough exploration of the ways in which harnessing Brecht’s ‘alienation effect’ throughout acting training and creation can draw attention in the studio and onstage to the ‘constructedness’ of what may appeal to be ‘natural’ expressions of gender, sexuality, culture, ethnicity, ability, and so forth.

Brecht and the Alienation Effect, by Laura Levin, artist, associate professor, and Director of the MA & PhD Program in Theatre and Performance Studies at York University.

Laura Levin

Laura Levin is Associate Professor of Theatre at York University. She is Director of York's MA/PhD Program in Theatre & Performance Studies and teaches courses on devised theatre, contemporary theatre, performance art, and practice-based research. Her research focuses on performing gender and sexuality, site-specific and urban performance, intermediality in performance, and disciplinary genealogies in performance studies. She is Editor in Chief of Canadian Theatre Review; Editor of Theatre and Performance in Toronto and Conversations Across Borders; and Editor of several special issues of journals. In 2015, she was awarded the Canadian Association for Theatre Research’s Ann Saddlemyer Award for her book Performing Ground: Space, Camouflage, and the Art of Blending In (Palgrave, 2014). Laura has worked as a director and dramaturg on a number of productions in North America and co-curated research-based art projects that investigate intersections of performance, geography, and digital technologies. Most recently, she has been moonlighting as a performance artist and collaborating on activist, photo-based actions in and around Toronto. 




  1. How does the act of ‘alienating’ an actor from a role they are portraying provide the opportunity for the audience to engage in a more critical conversation with the work of art? How could such a model of increased critical conversation serve to intervene in the industry in Canada?
  2. How can subverting onstage-signs related to representations of race/ethnicity/gender/class/ ability (and so forth) add complexity to theatrical texts that take these realities to be natural and inevitable social ‘givens’ rather than social and historical constructions?
  3. Think of the ways in which a practice such as cross-dressing can be utilized to ‘delaminate’ the character from the actor. Conversely, also think about the ways in which such a practice can be directed in order to perpetuate harmful stereotypes.
  4. Discuss a play that stages problematic representations of race/ethnicity/gender/class/ability (and so forth), and discuss how such representations can be challenged using alienation techniques deployed by actors in a production of the play.

References and Resources

Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. Ed. and trans.

Derrida, Jacques. Margins of Philosophy.  Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

Diamond, Elin. Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theatre. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Diamond, Elin. “Brechtian Theory / Feminist Theory.” A Sourcebook on Feminist Theatre and Performance. Ed. Carol Martin. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 120­135.

Jackson, Shannon. Professing Performance: Theatre in the Academy from Philology to Performativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.


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