Most political theatre comments on what is happening in recent events. It is intended for the audience to feel a spark of motivation, a need and want for drastic change in their society. It can be shown in many different ways, allowing an audience to become so solely emotionally invested in the characters, that they too begin to see themselves within elements of the play, later comparing themselves to those characters and seeing that they are not so far apart. Or in total contrast, having the characters be completely dissociated with who and what they are seeing on stage.
The play becomes so obscure and abnormal, that the audience is forced to not become emotionally invested into the characters but instead to focus on the plot and drive of the story. This dissociation allows them to objectively look at the message the play is trying to convey, and in turn see their current societal problems too. Most political playwrights create a fictional world that is not too far of the likes of our own.
No matter who, where, or when, the play allows the audience to see a version of their own world, objectively, allowing them to conclude their political standpoint.
Bu?chner, arguably starts the political battle to anti-establishment theatre all the way back in 1879. Even though theatre at the time was heavily censored it did not incite fear into him to censor himself and his views. His multiple themes of objectification, humiliation, dehumanisation, exploitation, distortion, class structures and arguably even slavery allow us to feel pity for our anti-hero Woyzeck.
We see a society blinded by corruption with little care for humanity in general, a system that fails its poor to benefit the rich. When applied to Woyzeck “To man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude. He perceives what exists round about him-simply things, and beings as things; and what happens round about him.”
Most of the characters in Woyzeck see the poor, as objects or tools even to benefit them. Bu?chner uses Woyzeck as a political tool, just after the French revolutionary war, German Nationalism was at a high and the German upper and middle class was receiving financial benefits from the building of the rail roads, engineering and architecture, whereas the lower class didnt receive any of these benefits due to lack of education. There was a clear suffering of the lower class, that at the time was being exploited and disregarded by upper class. Bu?chner successfully conveyed this showing the effect the injustice can have on one person. It opened the eyes to the audiences who were once blinded, by ignorance and disregard and slowly but surely began to motivate German audience to look at the inequality of their state and begin to see all people as people.
Schnitzlers Professor Bernhardi is an important document to highlight the hardships at the time of identifying both as a Jew and an Austrian. The conflict of the play shows Professor Bernhardi being discriminated against for his Jewish decent, remaining a proud Austrian and Jew nonetheless. He claims to want to keep his morals, and even when dropping or ignoring these morals may have helped him, he refuses to do so. Bernhardi is arguably a version of Schnitzer himself living in an Anti-Semitic society. The end of the play does seem to come to a somewhat optimistic ending, although the society doesnt suddenly become anti-Semitic it seems likely that Bernhardi will be able to continue is medical career and can knowingly to himself declare he did right to his patient as her doctor.
It is apparent that the play seeks to incite change within the Austrian cultural policy, which is arguably, only Catholics are truly Austrian they dont need to identify by their religion in the way the Jews would have and this play is a comment to that, highlighting the key us amd them attitudes towards Jews at the time. It was essential for Schnitzler to not renounce his Jewish origins, but to see it as cultural heritage first and foremost, which did not determine a particular ethnic, political, or religious allegiance. Unfortunately, it can be debatable as to whether Schnitzlers play was successfully a tool for political change because it was disregarded and even banned shortly after its publication because of the society in which it was released, the political views werent changed and instead, escalated to a drastic level which ended in inconceivable events that will scar human history for the rest of time.
Brecht however takes the element of political theatre to the next level. He doesnt shy away from the political message he is trying to convey or use mitigation methods of any kind to be more politically correct. He truly takes the device of political theatre and uses it fully as a tool to incite change. In 1949 Brecht went back to Germany to stage Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder which lead to the creation of his own theatre company The Berliner Ensemble. He used Mother Courage to show his anti-war prerogative highlighting elements of misery and fear against the Third Reich and is his most anti-fascist play, analysing the Nazi regime and their rule over Germany. He strays away from naturalism where he believed that the audience left their brains and hats in the cloakroom and brings a play where the audience has no choice but to think about the play politically.
It can therefore be seen that theatre is a tool for political change in many ways, political theatre is when the artist takes risks by telling stories and focusing on subjects that the audience may not be prepared to hear, trying to reflect todays society in their plays. Theatre is arguably one of the only few forms to not be censored by governmental bias. It can go against the societal views and belief of what is right to highlight and comment on the problems faced by these individuals raising the antenna of peoples social and political consciousness because it is the individual view of the author.
Its societys way of being able to hold a debate with itself, people against the people. Political theatre sparks dialogue and stimulates thoughts that will leave its audience thinking and debating about for days if not years after the fact. It does not need be well received or loved by the masses in order for it to be effective, it just has to tell a story that can evoke some reaction to what before was a sheep like mentality, blindly following the crowd mentality instead of individual thought. Theatre requires its audience to be present, face to face with the characters eye to eye.
There something inherently more personal seeing a play than any other form of media, seeing the pain in the characters eyes face to face forces our innate human trait to listen to what is being said. There is a purpose in political theatre that reminds us of our role in society and reminds us that we too have a voice, an individual voice and allows artists and authors to bring attention to the political and societal problems of the time and as a collective incite change.