“The Empty Space” by Peter Brook

    The more I read about the theatre, the more I realize that this is such a polysemous word, that one definition of theatre will never suffice to understand what theater truly portrays. Peter Brook introduced his own definition of theatre and he channeled his writing towards four forms of theatre that he considers essential: deadly, holy, rough and immediate. In his book “The Empty Space”, Brook starts by describing theatre as simple as the action of “a man who walks across an empty space whilst someone else is watching him”. He believes any empty space can become a stage for a performative act. But once theatre is established, many spectators become victims of the deadly theatre, which Brook considers bad theatre because it is slowly dying for several reasons. He mainly criticizes commercial theatre, without denying its beauty when it comes to Shakespeare for instance. Brook believes deadly theatre appears when in the theatrical environment there are predisposed expectations about a certain piece which is what creates the problem because the actors are not given the opportunity to explore the text, they often have to follow strict guidelines which make the text sound unnatural and often even fake. Because the deadly theatre is mostly the commercial theatre, the problem with it is the matter of time the company is given to prepare the show, and once the show is set, this deadliness absorbs the actors and makes the play boring to them. Although this suppresses the abilities of the actor, his soul and excitement, deadly theatre continues to exist because for most audience members- this is what they expect, this is what brings them pleasure-and theatre, as a market, continues to provide to its customers what is highly demanded.

    Another type of theatre Brook mentions is the holy theatre, the theatre of the living, “the theatre of the Invisible-Made-Visible” (p.47). This type of theatre reveals everything that escapes our senses and makes it visible on stage for the spectator. Such theatre concentrates on the problems of the universe, and manifests these abstract problems in concrete shape and form. In holy theatre, argues Brook, directors crave something new, they want to discover something that has not been revealed yet, they are looking for objects or situation with deeper meaning than those portrayed by deadly theatre. This hunger continues in the desire to connect and grasp something that used to be invisible to this world, and this instilled desire in people makes them continue being audience members. In holy theatre what is important is the moments of genuine celebration and understanding of the abstract ideas the play was inspired from. Brook believes that through what he calls the “happening”, we discover real, concrete things and ideas, that are further developed in rough theatre.

    Rough theatre seems to be the theatre more down to earth, the theatre that creates a link between spectators and actors and creates dynamics between audience members themselves and performers alone. Rough theatre looks at simple things, things that are natural, performances that take place in informal, even dirty settings but that still manage to bring the joy to the audience. Brook believes rough theatre is closer and more honest to the heart of the audience members. There is an important difference between holy theatre and rough theatre; the former deals with “hidden impulses” whereas the latter looks at real events and actions that directly affect the viewer.

    The last type of theatre Brook mentions is the immediate theatre, the theatre that “asserts itself in the present”. Immediate theatre occurs when the audience is reacting to the happening on the stage. These reactions are different every time though because the members of the audience themselves are different and it is hard to predict their feelings, understanding and behavior. In the immediate theatre, the viewer should take to indulge the present and to allow for that transition between what is happening on stage and what is happening in their hearts at that precise moment.

    The question I raised for myself when firstly reading was where does one set the boundaries between these four types of theatre? Isn’t is possible to have a perfectly commercial theatre inspired by an invisible idea that is also immediate? Although conceptually they are very different, they are present in most performances and moreover, they are born as continuations or counterbalances to each other. I do not feel very comfortable with the idea that for a theatre to be good it has to be intellectually and emotionally elevating and it should change one’s life or perspective of life. I believe there is enough value and worth in the characteristic Brook assigns to the deadly theatre as well because of the pleasure it generates in the public when watching it and because of the amount of work invested in preparing such a performance. For me, Brook’s explanation of the four forms of theatre enriched my theoretical knowledge and opened space for a discussion about which category do the performances I saw fall into and whether deadly theatre is important at all. And my answer is- yes. Failing to admit the value in deadly theatre or advocating for its removal will automatically remove a considerable part of the audience who enjoy theatre as a source of entertainment. Why is it that we fail to see value in pleasure and joy brought by deadly theatre? I believe rough theatre, holy theatre and even immediate theatre- can all be expressed through deadly theatre as well, but even when this does not happen, its importance should not be underrated. As all the other forms of theatre, it brings something in the audience members that makes them continue seeing more and more, and I believe for someone unfamiliar with theatre in the first place, it might be a good starting point of theatrical exploration. 

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