Peter Brook

One of the most compelling and challenging aspects of Brook the director is his willingness to try to create a “global” theater that partakes of all cultures. He talks of ritual theater, the “life” which he “believes exists beneath theatrical forms,” as Lorna Marshall and David Williams write. In this I see the Rise of Man, when our ancestors first acquired the idea of “I am.” I see the cave paintings in France with children’s footprints in the corner. It is a circle, clearly, a ritualistic dance. I see the reliance on the body as well as the mind, because our ancestors required gestures, not having sufficiently formulated a cohesive spoken language. What is challenging for me is how such a smart man can occasionally seem tone-deaf, like with The Mahabharata. Though I am certain his critics were too harsh, he didn’t help with his comment about the “flavor” of the East. Does sound a bit Rudyard Kipling.

            Brook’s International Centre for Theatre Research “has been driven by the desire to discover what makes theatre ‘immediate’ (or ‘un-deadly’).” He has approached each production with, as it were, a fresh pair of eyes. He experiments with theorists like Brecht and Artaud, with cultural conventions like “Japanese Noh, Balinese Topeng, African storytelling and dance, [and] English and Polish classical theatre,” Marhsall and Williams write.

            Brook has displayed a wide interest in theater theorists: he chooses whichever one is right for a particular production, and abandons them as necessary. His Brechtian influence, for instance, led him to rite in The Empty Space that it is “only through detachment that an actor will see his own clichés….In a way, the most powerful feature of the Brecht actors is the degree of their insincerity (emphasis added).” He wrote that companies “must saturate themselves in Brecht, study the Ensemble, and see all those factors of society…to reconsider their attitude to the darkness of the individual man.” His Shakespearian influence led him to return to the world of the Elizabethan stage, wherein words, description, and suggestion gave all the necessary setting. It was a “neutral open platform,” he wrote, that provided the “greatest freedoms.” Shakespeare, like Brook, presents the whole man: at once good and bad, kind and cruel, deceitful and truthful, altruistic and sociopathic. He warns in his writing about the dangers of performing Shakespeare always in a declamatory style, even in the simplest of phrases. Also striking and useful is the idea of shortening his passages to capture the essence of the sentence, and adding in the decorative prose later. His forays into Artaud were as much a Pavlovian audience experiment as a production of a play.

            Something else that really struck me about The Empty Space was a sort of confirmation of an already-held belief on my part. Brook, in discussing actors, wrote that “if the system dictates the employing of actors one doesn’t know, one is forced to work largely by guesswork.” I have great expectations of seeing the local talent at whatever regional theater I work. However, it is very comforting to me to know that I have an entire stable (hee hee – professional wrestling terminology) of Brooklyn College actors whose skills I have repeatedly seen. I’m sure most of them would be open to the idea of travel and some time spent away from New York.

            I think what Brook represents for the future of theater is what theater needs, and has always needed, most: experimentation. He has shown an eagerness to experiment with theatrical models of all cultures, and is wedded to no one model. He even acknowledged such an attitude when he wrote: “As you read this book, it is already moving out of date.”

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 12:19 am  Leave a Comment  

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