The Empty Space

At Stratford where we worry that we don’t play our repertoire long enough to milk its full box office value, we now discuss this quite empirically: about five years, we agree, is the most a particular staging can live. It is not only the hair-styles, costumes and make-up 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.

I see that theater director Peter Brook has died. I got a lot out of his book, The Empty Space.

In Haitian voodoo, all you need to begin a ceremony is a pole and people. You begin to beat the drums and far away in Africa the gods hear your call. They decide to come to you, and as voodoo is a very practical religion, it takes into account the time that a god needs to cross the Atlantic. So you go on beating your drum, chanting and drinking rum. In this way, you prepare yourselves. Then five or six hours pass and the gods fly in – they circle above your heads, but it is not worth looking up as naturally they are invisible. This is where the pole becomes so vital. Without the pole nothing can link the visible and the invisible worlds. The pole, like the cross, is a junction.

Brook has much to say about actors:

For instance, a young actor playing with a group of inexperienced friends may reveal a talent and a technique that put professionals to shame. Yet take the very same actor who has, as it were, proved his worth and surround him with the older actors he most respects, and often he becomes not only awkward and stiff, but even his talent goes. Put him then amongst actors he despises and he will come into his own again. For talent is not static, it ebbs and flows according to many circumstances.


This must’ve been something:

There the company toured villages bordering the Sahara, using a carpet as a stage upon which to improvise stories in imaginary languages. 

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