Thursday, November 15, 2007

Empty Space: Ideas of Theater


In The Empty Space, director Peter Brook outlines his theories on the theater by exploring four different meanings of the word theater - Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate.

Deadly Theatre is the theatre of commerce set up to make money for its producers. It's the theatre of imitation, trying to mimic the box office successes of the past. This affects all aspects, permeates every level. The Directors rely on the old clichés and gimmicks of the past without exploring the texts for their deeper meanings. The Actors do not move past the emotional facades of the roles, playing the surface knee-jerk reactions that they get from text, resulting in stereotypical portrayals. The Audience accepts this Deadly Theatre because they have sought out an honest experience, and rather than accept the disappointment of the less than authentic encounter, they feign excitement and appreciation. Brooks posits that the Audience would rather acquiesce here in order to avoid feeling left out of a cultural loop designed by an elite who have embraced Deadly Theatre. The Critics play the society column game of declaring the big budget shows as overwhelming hits without any true critical analysis. Deadly Theatre is the theatre of repetition.

Holy Theatre is "The Theatre of the Invisible - Made - Visible."

This is what theater and all art making should be addressing- the bringing to light the dark recesses of the human experience; to perform rituals that ask the questions about why we are the way we are; how can we change or accept the less damaged aspects of human nature; what does being in community with others mean.

Religious teaching - including Zen - asserts that this invisible-visible cannot be seen automatically - it can only be seen given certain conditions. Holy art is an aid to this, and so we arrive at at definition of Holy Theatre. A Holy Theatre not only presents the invisible but also offers conditions that make its perceptions possible, according to Brook.

The strengths of a Holy Theatre are also what limit its appeal - the desire to answer the truly personal needs of those who are in the process of creating it. This is not the theatre of mass appeal. Brook explains the processes of three artists who are engaged in the creation of holy theatre - Merce Cunningham, Jerzy Grotowski and Samuel Beckett. All three are well known in their respected disciplines, but have limited visibility in popular culture.

To underscore this, read Brook on the three:

"They each start from their hunger, each works to lessen his own need. And yet the very purity of their resolve, the high and serious nature of their activity inevitably brings a colour to their choices and a limitation to their field. They are unable to be both esoteric and popular at one and the same time."

Rough Theatre could be seen as the antithesis of Holy Theatre by misinterpreting it as anti-intellectual. It is cruder, more popular and doesn’t require any "great study."

Brook again:

"It is always the Popular Theatre that saves the day. Through the ages it has taken many forms, and there is only one factor that they all have in common - A roughness. ...theatre that is not in a theatre, ...on carts, on wagons, on trestles, audiences standing, drinking, ... joining in, answering back."

Or perhaps El Teatro Campesino or Culture Clash. Ultimately, Rough Theater is indeed intelligent in its grasp of social interaction and the community at large, unerring in its ability to lay bare social issues. I would say "Real" is the key word here, rather than "Rough."

In the last chapter, Brook discusses his personal experiences in creating theater. He describes this as Immediate Theatre because theatrical "common reality" exists only in the moment of performance and is lost once the lights go out. It then becomes something different in the minds of each who experienced it. It is this immediacy that draws people to the theater, the liveness, the closeness to reality. Immediacy is the quality that makes theater unique.

ISBN-10: 0684829576
ISBN-13: 978-0684829579

8 comments:

msedano said...

interesting take on teatro, though i'm not comfortable with that adjective "rough". brook must've been in the Mark Taper audience with me for the past few years honing his categories, especially the first. Wonder what he'd say about music in LA, where standing ovations are routine?

Anonymous said...

Awesome summary of the book, just helped me pass my test on this material

Anonymous said...

Cheers! You attempt to make these ideas readable for students...unlike Mr Brookmn

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this . . you made me very happy - this book is dreadfully dull and you saved me from having to read it :D

Anonymous said...

This is a clear and well written SAMPLE to the books themes.I enjoyed reading it, however I disagree that it is a substitute to reading the book and I think that if the book was read with openess intelligance and conviction you will be convinced that it is NOT at all dull.

Anonymous said...

My teacher has been exploring Brook's viewpoints with me all year in my honors theatre class. This material has led to much debate in our classroom about how an ensemble should go about creating all of these kinds of theatre. We pushed for holy but mostly got immediate in our 3 productions this year. For me, Peter Brook's writing has led me and my classmates to see a whole viewpoint and way of performing on the stage. This summary is accurate and helpful even for those who have read the book because it highlights the main points Brook makes without the many stories and explanations.

Anonymous said...

This was very helpful to me as an instructor -- after having read this book about 10 times over 15 years, sometimes I get caught up in my awe of it and my excitement isn't always helpful when needing to make it clear. But now that I see this attempt to explicate it and how much is left out -- the really important things such as Brook's brilliant analysis of Shakespeare, interesting work in his attempts to actualize Artaud's theories, and his deep analysis of what makes a theatre truly dead or alive -- I am much clearer now in terms of what I want my directing class to focus on.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I really mean it! I've read this book 3 or 4 times for my exam and I never been capable of explane it so well. This post makes everything easier...thanks thanks thanks from Italy :)