Bertolt Brecht thought that theatre could be used to make people think. He figured that in order to accomplish this, he’d first have to change what an experience of “going to the theatre” was like. Much like any groundbreaking theorist, he created formulas and invented techniques for Actors or Directors to put this plan into effect. One of these techniques is called Gestus, which is exactly what it sounds like; a gesture. Brecht thought that each character within a play, big or small, had a place and role within the world that was shown on stage. Therefore, the character should be able to communicate their history, their social status, and how society views them through something as simple as body language and gesture.
Theatre of the Beat happens to enjoy some of Brecht’s ideas, so we figured we’d take a stab at Gestus in “Forgiven/Forgotten”. In the scene portrayed in the photo above, Kimberlee’s character is feeling defeated and alienated. She is working two jobs to support her son, her husband is about to return from prison, and she is feeling downright beat. To help convey all this (aside from the dialogue and performance) we have given Kimberlee two weighted grocery bags. Each grocery bag is filled with books and other heavy objects. The thought was that everyone can identify with slugging around heavy grocery bags, everyone needs to eat -it is a necessity. By carrying these bags throughout the scene it physically keeps Kim’s shoulders tense, as if you can she the emotional load on her shoulders. It adds stress and strain to her voice especially while she’s trying to pretend like everything is OK. And, when she does begin to show emotion in her conversation with Ben, having her hands full keeps her from being able to hide her face.
We tried it and it worked. The scene has gone a new and powerful direction. It’s remarkable what these actors are capable of and their willingness to try strange techniques like Gestus really makes rehearsals exciting! “Forgiven/Forgotten” is becoming a play.