Week 1 Readings

A response to The Empty Space by Peter Brook and “Visits to a Small Planet” by Elinor Fuchs.

Although the two readings are distinct, they both seemed to be asking the reader to notice the same thing: theater is living.

In “The Empty Space,” Peter Brook begins by talking about contemporary theater as the “deadly theater” in essence because in today’s society, theater is becoming obsolete. He blames this on theater losing touch with today’s society. As he says:

…about five years, we agree, is the most a particular staging can live. It is not only the hairstyles, costumes and make-ups that look dated. All the different elements of staging—the shorthands of behaviour that stand for certain emotions; gestures, gesticulations and tones of voice—are all fluctuating on an invisible stock exchange all the time. Life is moving, influences are playing on actor and audience and other plays, other arts, the cinema, television, current events, join in the constant rewriting of history and the amending of the daily truth.

I found this interpretation helpful in my own connection with much of theater–which, admittedly, is that I often feel out of touch with it. On the other hand, I am drawn to other live performance events and alternative theater and experiences that feel, to me, rooted in themes/truths with which I can connect.

Aside from the importance of theater to be connected to the “daily truth” of a society, in the final chapter, he eloquently talks about the role of the different players in a theater performance. Two concepts really stuck out to me.

The first is the author’s anecdote about his directorial role on his first big production. He describes how he worked out a scene with models and on paper. Then, when he tried it out on set with real actors, as he says:

I stopped, and walked away from my book, in amongst the actors, and I have never looked at a written plan since. I recognized once and for all the presumption and the folly of thinking that an inanimate model can stand for a man.

I found this very powerful as it emphasizes a unique element of theater and of live performance in general–it is alive! These are real people, with wills, flaws, and talents, and there is a certain energy and vitality that comes with that presence and humanity.

The other point that I found powerful was the idea of the audience as assistants. As Brook says:

We realize that in a vacuum their work would be meaningless. Here we find a clue. It leads us naturally to the idea of an audience; we see that without an audience there is no goal, no sense. What is an audience? In the French language amongst the different terms for those who watch, for public, for spectator, one word stands out, is different in quality from the rest. Assist-ance—I watch a play: j’assiste à une pièce. To assist—the word is simple: it is the key.

I love this idea of “assisting” a live performance, rather than “watching.” Indeed, as a performer, I know that there is always an interplay between the audience and the performer. Being open to this relationship and realizing a live event is inherently interactive is the key to any great live performance.

In “Visit to a Small Planet,” Elinor Fuchs asks us to think of theater as living from a different vantage point. She invites the reader to fall so deeply into the imagined world that it becomes alive. It is an interesting reading, but I think it is likely most interesting in practice. I’d like to take it the next time that I am putting together a performance piece, or creating an experience. I think it would be incredibly helpful in getting creativity and inspiration flowing.

All in all, what I take from the two pieces is that it is crucial to be in tune with the life of any theater or performance piece, both with respect to the world it creates, and in the real live moments during which it is being enacted.