The first assignment was to read two selections, one was EF’s visit to a small planet and the other Empty space by Peter Brook.
The first article I read was Elanor Fuchs article on how to approach building the world of a play. It seems to me to be a granular way of approaching standard world building. When she was discussing visualizing holding the world as a tiny ball. I asked myself is this what Philip K Dick, Joss Whedon, or even Gene Roddenberry did to create the worlds of The man in the High Castle or Firefly or Star Trek.
“When you “see” this other world, when you experience its space-‐time dynamics, its architectonics, then you can figure out the role of language in it.
If too tight a focus on language makes it hard to read plays, too tight a focus on character creates the opposite problem: it makes the reading too
Seeing the fleshed out worlds of a United States if Germany had won the war or if humans were colonizing space and living as if it was the wild west and how these dynamics effect the characters and the decisions they make are thoroughly enjoyable, though I have never enjoyed the creative process of screenwriting myself. It has always seemed really laborious but I do really love it when someone who is good at it does. For instance, Kenneth Branaugh’s As you like it, imagining of Shakespeare’s play but set in Feudal Japan and played mostly outdoors.
It is interesting what rules this presentation had imposed on this performance of the play and how it breathed new life into not just that play but Shakespeare itself for me.
Which brings me to Peter Brook’s Empty Space. Brook divides the current state of theater into four categories: Deadly, Rough, Holy, and Immediate. We were to read about the deadly and the immediate theater.
Peter Brook refers to the Deadly theater as I understand it as a theater that will kill theater itself. It lacks the passion and fervor that theater has to potential to bring. Its derivative and out for the cheap entertainment.
“Deadly Theatre with dull successes, universally praised. Audiences crave for something in the theater that they can term ‘better’ than life and for this reason are open to confuse culture, or the trappings of culture, with something they do not know, but sense obscurely could exist—so, tragically, in elevating something bad into a success they are only cheating themselves.“
An interesting part of Brook’s discussion of Shakespeare is how he talked about the actor’s performance of the language being something remembered. I had just recently seen this video that discussed how the Globe Theater is doing performances of Shakespeare in the OP or original pronunciation. When Brook describes the less modern versions of Shakespeare he says that it “lends itself to dullness” and that actors seem to recycle the performances they have seen which were performances which they in turn had also seen which takes the life out of the plays. But it appears this use of the original pronunciation of the language makes the plays have more meaning to modern audiences and breathes new life into the plays.
Brook continued with his pessimistic view…
“There are occasional new movements, good new writers and so on, but as a whole, the theatre not only fails to elevate or instruct, it hardly even entertains. The theatre has often been called a whore, meaning its art is impure, but today this is true in another sense—whores take the money and then go short on the pleasure“
This made me think of what happened in television with the onset of shows like the Bachelor, or Keeping up with the Kardashians and shows of this type. They appeal to the very least of what is the dramatic vehicle.
“...when audiences applaud indifferent classics because they enjoy just the costumes or just the way the sets change, or just the prettiness of the leading actress, they is nothing wrong. But none the less, have they noticed what is underneath the toy they are dragging on a string? It’s a wheel.“
I found it interesting when Brook talks about the interactivity of the audience and the players on the stage. The exercise of putting a member of the audience on stage to read aloud the powerful descriptions of Auschwitz and the layers of silence that can be found in a moving performance when the audience is engaged in it.
The immediate theater Brook describes hearkens back to the first chapter and the speed at which plays must come together. A breakneck speed with tons of moving parts, which in the context of the designer and the director poses problems toward allowing the play to speak to the director or letting a staging or placement come out organically. Which may “trap” the play so it could never “evolve”
It is interesting that Brook speaks as if the play is a living being here. He talks about try though you might to come prepared to the first rehearsal the best laid plans will instantly blow up in lieu of the performance itself. This approach needs flexibility from the designer. A designer’s work is “open” not “shut” which again brings in the fourth dimension of time. As a result the production evolves over the fourth dimension, and becomes more immediate.
It is interesting that Brook uses the analogy of Japanese costume to illustrate what a designer brings to an actors performance, in Branagh’s As you like it, most of the cast were dressed in fairly good approximations of feudal Japanese costume. This gave the production and the performances a certain delivery that drew me into the work and made it a fresh look for me. This production design, much like Branagh’s Hamlet
plays on changing the context of the plays through the production design itself. It is something that I think Brook would consider as immediate theater rather than deadly theater, since its freshness has resonated with me on a deeper level.