As an actor playing Ui what performance techniques would you use to affect the audience?
Arturo Ui, written by Bertolt Brecht is a political parable concerning nazi Germany set in Chicago at the start of the 1900’s. As an actor playing Ui I have a clear idea of how I would need to approach the role of Ui. I would have to take into account Brecht’s views of theatre. A “traditional” acting approach will not be possible if I am to be faithful to Brecht’s thinking. I will not be able to create my character by developing him progressively but rather through “montage”, where I will need to connect all my separate actions, breaking down their continuity and keeping my audience in a constant state of alertness.
As Ui is a powerful character the audience would be expecting a huge well-built man but as Brecht wanted his theatre to be anti-realistic I would play Ui as a short person almost a caricature, that does not command respect but has to earn it. At the start of the play I would want Ui to wear costume to reflect the time period and his profession so I would have him dressed in a smart flashy suit with a folded handkerchief in the pocket, a purple shirt underneath with a bow tie, braces and black shiny glistening shoes. In his hand,
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I would have a cane, on his fingers I would have lots of diamond rings and round his neck he would wear gold necklaces. Keeping in line with Brecht’s views, as the play proceeds and Ui starts to gain more and more power he would begin to lose parts of his costumes starting with little things like his cane and jewelry then progressing to him losing his jacket and trousers. His flash shirt would be replaced with a tattered bloodstained t-shirt and slack cords to represent all the people that have been killed on his orders.
I would hope that through using this way of dressing I would be challenging my audience to look at what was happening in the world of human affairs as being changeable and socially unjust. The main objective that I would want to achieve through different performance techniques is to show that Ui is a very contradictory character and his mood changes instantaneously. This can particularly be seen in scene 4 when Ui goes to see Dogsborough at his country house. When Ui first enters he is very calm and has a presence about him.
He is very upright and walking with a confident swagger. You can see by his facial expression that he is expecting to get what he wants. Ui starts off trying to persuade Dogsborough by being very humble. “The high esteem I bear you” This could be shown by using different levels. Ui can sit in a chair while Dogsborough is standing but then when Ui appears not to be getting his way he starts to turn very aggressive “Bellows” and could show this by standing abruptly and rising his voice and talking very quickly.
When Ui rises he could advance menacingly on Dogsborough causing him to fall into a seat behind him. At this point the “parable to Nazi Germany” can be emphasised by Ui madly waving his arms like Hitler did when speaking to large crowds at rallies and the words “Arturo Ui! Me! Me! ” could be shouted at the top of his voice and he could throw his head back and spread his arms out wide in a greatly over exaggerated movement. After this outburst Ui would quickly calm back down and is once more humble suggesting that he wants to help Dogsborough. It’s now or never. Let me save you” To show this Ui can sink to his knees and when he attempts to seize his hand, Dogsborough can remove his hand in slow motion saying his next lines while he quietly weeps “I’m washed up and I know it” At the end of the scene Ui once again has regained his dignity and saunters out with confidence. This would show the inconsistencies in Ui’s behaviour. Brecht believed that the actor should not get emotionally involved with the character and should present it to the audience rather than represent it.
A definite distance has to be created between the actor and the role. Instead of creating a rounded character, I would need to demonstrate the character. To achieve this during rehearsal I would speak in the third person rather than the first, as I would when performing. To show the audience the difference between myself and the character of Ui, I would use the cane that I walk with. Every time I speak as Ui, I would have the cane in my hand but when I’m not speaking I would place the cane down so that the audience associates the cane with the character.
This would mean that every time I hold it they can instantly see that I am Ui and not myself . In scene 6, in the theatre, the character of Ui uses a lot of Grotesque movements. Ui wants to appear more intellectual so he has forcefully enlisted the help of an actor to help him achieve this. The first thing Ui wants to learn is how to walk as they “do in the theater”. During this lesson the actor is instructing Ui to do a number of very grotesque movements, which he would follow out with enthusiasm. “Ui throws his head back. Once again in this scene the audience can be shown the parable of Nazi Germany by Ui walking in the stereotypical image of Hitler rising his legs high and leaning back. The movement can be even more exaggerated by giving the Nazi salute while walking. Throughout the whole play Ui uses guile, bad charm and manipulation but it can especially be seen in Scene 12 when he visits the flower shop. This starts as soon as Ui enters with outstretched arms and he starts to charm Dullfeet. “A man like you is welcome everywhere”
I think that Ui should be very physical, using tightly controlled movements, in this scene and so that I can use Brecht’s philosophy of “Gestus”, I should use a whole range of outward signs of physical relationships including my stance, voice and physical and facial expression so that I can move the audience’s attention once again away from myself and towards the interaction between the characters. As the scene progresses, Ui should get closer and closer to Betty until at the end he is draped over her.
As Ui is charming Betty he should be speaking in slow deliberate tones and be maintaining eye contact at all times. Ui bends the truth a lot during this scene to charm Betty. ” I never smoke and have no use for liquor” While he is telling these untruths Betty should not be able to see any emotion on his face at all but because Brecht believed that the audience should be actively involved he should turn and smirk at them when he tells his lies. It is not important what the scene would look like in real life as long as I am able to convey the social and “political” content to the audience.
In the last scene Ui has achieved all his aspirations to take over the vegetable trade and is very jubilant. He should stroll on very slowly and deliberately, taking his time to reach the center of the stage congratulating all his bodyguards and gangsters. When he reaches the centre of his stage, he should deliver his closing speech directly to the audience starting off slowly and quietly with little movement but building up to fast loud shouting with very violent movements of the arms as Hitler would have done at this type of address.
These actions should reinforce the contradiction in Ui’s character. By portraying Ui as a character of conflicts, at times charming, sinister and also “comic”, by exploring the possibilities for contradiction and controlled movements, by presenting the role rather than representing it, I will be trying to portray what Brecht called after Wordsworth, the “verfremdungseffekt” cultivating in the audience an objective response to the message in the play. I would hope that I would be making the audience look at things in an unexpected way while producing an enjoyable performance.