Glee is Epic. No, Really…

SO. ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS THIS GUY CALLED BERTOLT BRECHT. He was a German theatre practitioner who did all kinds of wacky things during the thirties and forties. He wrote plays like ‘The Threepenny Opera’, ‘ Caucasian Chalk Circle’ and ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’ (which was a cool commentary on Hitler’s rise to power…reimagined in the world of Chicago gangsters). His drama was kind of awesome, but more importantly….his work was groundbreaking. Bertie Brecht became king of a whole new type of drama, Epic Theatre, a theatre of ideas and questions rather than of sensation, illusion and escapism. Brecht’s was a theatre which aimed to change the world.

Everyone is familiar with Dramatic Theatre. It is the most popular and widespread set of conventions for telling a story through drama and it is the model which the vast majority of TV shows adhere to. One scene follows another in linear progression. There is a sense of growth and, usually, resolution. The action is naturalistic. The characters behave like real people.

Epic Theatre is the opposite of all this, because while Dramatic Theatre creates an illusion, Epic Theatre aims to tear illusions down.

read more About as fatale as an after dinner mint. – Who wants to learn about Epic Theatre? (A thinky picspam).

This very smart essay was posted 3 months ago, and I find myself returning to it after every episode and nodding like a bobblehead. So I’ve reposted it here with permission of the author. Very interested to know what you guys think.

There’s more information on Epic Theatre here, too.

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9 thoughts on “Glee is Epic. No, Really…

  1. Yes–THIS is the article I was trying to find last week! Thank you! This piece has been on my mind a lot, especially since that “immorality” article . . . just couldn’t remember where I’d seen it before.

  2. I had to ask Julia to give me the link last week because I forgot what it was called. It’s just… everything that makes me uncomfortable about Glee, I go, oh, ok, wow. Maybe I’m supposed to feel uncomfortable about this. Maybe that’s the point. I really do like this interpretation.

  3. “Maybe I’m supposed to feel uncomfortable about this. Maybe that’s the point.”

    And that might not seem right to people, but it’s okay (sorry—listening to that in the car on the way to work this morning). I think Epic Theatre is a valid lens for thinking about the show, and accounts for so many of the elements that make us uncomfortable as viewers. So much Modern lit is like that, too, of course. I finally got around to reading “The Sound and the Fury” recently, and it pissed me off. It frustrated my attempts to engage with it. But it was brilliant.

    At the same time, Glee is no work of Faulkner. But it is smart and layered—it just doesn’t always satisfy as traditional storytelling. I chalk that up to the little amount of time they can spend on each character’s arc within an episode. “Hold on to Sixteen” was probably the worst this season in that regard. It was like watching any of the newer “Star Wars” films, with scenes so quick they had to write the crappiest dialogue to move the plot along so it would make sense in the most basic way.

    Generally if I go in to the episode not expecting much, I’m usually enjoying myself. But that’s kind of a bummer in itself to admit that.

  4. I was thinking yesterday, really, that Glee is like a soap opera — except it gets one hour a week instead of 5. And that explains a lot. It’s hard to have such a huge ensemble cast and have the stories happening that they do, and address it all to everyone’s satisfaction. But I think, again, like Epic Theatre, the audience is expected to be smart and to fill in a lot of the blanks themselves (which of course is what happens, in a concrete way with fanfic and meta but also just in general — we all have our own headcanons.).

  5. Yes, I like this line of thinking. So the show has to do a lot of shorthand, and yes, I think especially since there’s such a rich fandom (especially with regard to fanfic, and meta too), we’re all willing to fill in the blanks. But on the other hand, you can see easily that people’s tolerance for filling in the blanks varies. On top of that, poor writing is poor writing–and for individual viewers, their sense of when the show crosses that line will vary too.

  6. My favorite episodes of Glee are the ones that make me deeply uncomfortable. It seems to be the place where I get the most out of it.

    But then I am a huge fan of performance that makes me uncomfortable.

  7. I agree about the time constraints being important. I used to tell anyone who would listen how terrible the writing was on Glee until one day I thought about how much they had to fit into such a short space and I realised that I most certainly would not be able to do better!

    I have also have started to think of the real story as being the songs. The sections of dialogue are filler to hold together the scenes which really count – the scenes where there is no talking but only singing.

    I don’t actually feel like Glee is badly built anymore…I just think it is built differently, and using different building blocks.

  8. I love the episodes that are painful to watch, too. And I love how one sentence can give a new meaning to something that has been going on for 10 episodes and I misunderstood or didn´t even notice.

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