Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Books We Read: "The Empty Space" by Peter Brook

This new series at In the Classroom will introduce you to some of the best books on theatre. Each entry in the series will explore a book on theatre that's impacted somebody associated with Signature. A staff member, a teacher, maybe even an audience member! If you have a book about theatre or the arts that's changed your perspective on things, comment below and let us know! We'd love to read it and we'd love to hear from you!

Today, we hear from Joan Cummins, Signature's Education & Community Outreach Intern about The Empty Space by acclaimed director Peter Brook. You can purchase The Empty Space here at Amazon. 

How do I feel about The Empty Space?  I love it. Every time I read the book it drives me deep into thinking about theatre. I find myself wondering at Brook's insights, connecting them to instances from my own life, and I come out of the book rejuvenated and ready to spread the importance of theatre, the vibrant life force at the center of the art form, with everyone I meet. I would recommend it to anyone interested in theatre, whatever your relationship with the form. 

Brook divides theatre into four types: the Deadly, the Holy, the Rough, and the Immediate. He begins with the Deadly - theatre, often commercial in nature, that goes through the motions of style or form without truly being full of life. Deadly theatre becomes trapped in the idea that someone, somewhere, has defined how the play should be done. In Brook's words, Deadly theater fails to "start each time afresh from the void, the desert and the true question... Why theater at all? What for?"

Holy Theatre for Brook is theater that serves as a ritual, that helps connect people and the material world with the invisible or something close to the divine. Rough Theatre is popular theater, theatre full of obscene jokes, clowns, and improvised props - perhaps a paper crown thrown on to indicate kingship. Brook prizes the invention of this kind of theater, and that "it is there unashamedly to make joy and laughter... any theater that can truly give delight has earned its place."  The Immediate Theatre, containing elements of both the Holy and the Rough, is the ultimate, cathartic, present and vibrant theater.

I love the way Brook talks about the theatre. His passion for it runs shimmering throughout the entire book. He asks important questions, questions any person with any relationship with the theater can use to deepen their understanding. His questions make you ask questions of yourself. I also love the way he is able to provide a rational argument for why Shakespeare's theatre combines all the best elements of theatre into one place, instead of declaring that Shakespeare is the best because everyone says he is. Brook's book is a jumping-off point for those who want to become seriously familiar with the world of theatre - just looking up the people he mentions in The Empty Space would provide you with a great background in the important thinkers and artists in the medium.

I'll leave you with one last gem from Brook:  "The theater, on the other hand, always asserts itself in the present. This is what can make it more real than the normal stream of consciousness. This is also what can make it so disturbing."


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