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Peter Brook: Drama helps you see life more deeply

  ”I can take any empty space and call it an empty stage. One person walks through the empty space and another person looks at him, and that’s enough to make a play.”
  July 2, 2022, British contemporary theatre master and film director Peter Brook has died in Paris at the age of 97. The above-mentioned opening chapter written by Brook in his theoretical work “Empty Space” can be regarded as the starting point of all his theatrical thoughts, and it is also the summary of all his theatrical practice.
  Brooke was a director of the Royal Shakespeare Company in his early years and later founded the International Centre for Dramatic Studies in Paris. He directed more than 80 plays in his lifetime, won several Tony Awards and Emmy Awards, and won a Lawrence Olivier Award trophy.
  ”Theatre is not just a place, it’s not just a profession. It’s a metaphor that helps you see life more deeply.”
  Brooke is a philosophical explorer who challenges the stereotypes of drama and leaves a lot to subvert people’s thinking His works include the revolutionary “Mara/Sade”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a high-altitude swing, “The Tragedy of Carmen”, a deconstructed tradition, and the 9-hour “Maha Bharat”. In addition, he has directed many films and operas, among which “Lord of the Flies” and “The Sound of a Piano” were nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
  ”Drama only exists in the present. The present is by no means static, but ever-changing. Chinese theatrical art is well versed in this, and Chinese tradition is a living tradition.” In the past 10 years, Brooke’s “Lover’s Clothes”, “Valley of Wonders”, “Battlefield”, “Why? ” and other plays have toured many places in China. Although he was over ninety years old, he continued to create. At the age of 94, Brook responded humorously to Chinese readers: “Empty Space has been published for 50 years. How do I see the future of drama today? Only an idiot can predict the future.”
  As the most original theater director of the 20th century, Brooke, with his extraordinary imagination and sensitivity to life, has spent his whole life leading audiences to explore the essence of theater, inspiring creators to be bold and innovative. Now, the person who walked through the “empty space” has called the curtain call. He used the “thread of time” to weave a dense net of soul in this “empty space”, capturing the memories of countless audiences around the world; he left a precious legacy Theatrical legacy, and the possibility of everything growing in the “empty space”.
Reflecting on Shakespeare’s ‘Benevolent Qualities’, Exploring ‘The Drama of Brutality’

  ”Shakespeare’s plays are like a deck of cards…you cut, shuffle, and deal cards, and every place, every context, every historical time in the play has infinite permutations and combinations, and finally freezes the reality of the deck, It also freezes the reality of poker players. When you and I started playing poker, we were following the rules of poker for nearly 500 years…by knowing this, we can get close to the essence of Shakespeare’s work.”
  Brook claims that Shakespeare has always been his A role model, a love of Shakespeare is at the heart of his work. He followed Shakespeare’s example in setting up the International Centre for Theatre Studies and the troupe in Paris: building a theatre where comedy and tragedy, seriousness and frivolity, vulgarity and holiness come together on the same stage—retracing the glory of the Elizabethan era.
  Although Brooke lived and worked in France for the last 50 years of his career, the Englishman did not like to be described as an “exile”, in fact, he had a long-lasting impact on British theatre.
  Brooke was born on March 21, 1925, to a Jewish immigrant family from Latvia in London. He showed extraordinary artistic talent since he was a child. At the age of 7, he performed a 4-hour “Hamlet” in front of his parents. Still a little Brooke, one person swept all the roles in the play.
  Brooke rarely went to the theater as a child. He felt that the theater was dead and he wanted to be a film director since he was a child. After he was admitted to Oxford University, he founded a college student film club in Oxford. He was so addicted to movies that he was almost expelled because it affected his studies. After graduating from university, Brooke worked at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  Brooke explored new forms of drama as a rebel at a young age. In 1942, when he was only 17 years old, he directed his first work “The Tragedy of Doctor Faust” at the Torch Theatre in London, which was regarded as a “miracle of theatre”; at the age of 24, he directed the famous Covent Garden Theatre in London. Directed the shocking Salome and the revolutionary Boris Godunov.
  As a young British director, Brooke has already rehearsed a large number of Shakespeare plays in the 1940s and 1950s, such as Tit for Tit, The Winter’s Tale, and Hamlet. In 1962, after taking the directorship of the newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company, he reinterpreted King Lear (starring Paul Schofield) in a crude way, which was seen as a reflection on traditional Shakespeare play. An example of a concept.
  Brooke borrowed Beckett’s concepts and terms to interpret “King Lear”, using dark gray burlap and reddish-brown background boards to create an empty and simple stage, thus presenting “naked earth, naked people”, which is his The initial practice of the concept of “empty space”.
  The 1962 version of “King Lear” looked dark, bleak, and doomed (Brooker even rejected the color scheme used in the 1971 film version), but his 1971 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” style was the opposite, with an overall bright tone , brisk, like a light and agile fairyland drama. Brooke incorporates the acrobatic elements of ballet and circus, allowing the actors in bright costumes to fly and jump on the high-altitude swings on the white stage, creating a youthful and dreamlike beauty.
  ”If you take a play by a less-than-savvy writer, you’ll find that he prescribes how each sentence should be said, and the sentence even prescribes the stage installation, but Shakespeare’s sentences don’t have a specific orientation, you really can turn this play upside down.”

  Inspired by Brook, generations of young directors have learned from him the possibility of respecting inner rhythms and ignoring the possibilities of stage direction, thereby creating experiences that are unrelated to Shakespeare but also connected. These achievements are summarised in The Qualities of Kindness: Reflections on Shakespeare, in which Brooker combines practical stagecraft with literary and psychological analysis in a concise and profound way.

  While working at the Royal Shakespeare Company, he was deeply influenced by the French dramatist Antonin Aalto’s theory of “cruel drama”. In 1963, Brook established the “cruel drama” group. He was the first director to conduct drama experiments with the actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company. , Under his influence, those rebellious and talented drama people in the 1960s began to pay attention to heavy realistic topics, trying to inject radical ideas into the staid drama style at that time.
  In 1964, Brooke directed the English version of “Mara/Sade” for the first time, which is the representative work of German playwright Peter Weiss. The protagonists of the play, Marat and Sade, are both figures of the French Revolution era. The whole play focuses on the conflict between two values, personal hedonism and a common social ideal. The script adopts a play-in-play structure. The core of the whole play is the dialogue between the two people, which runs through the thinking of many dialectical relationships, and it is extremely difficult to rehearse.
  Brooke’s revolutionary and crazy “total drama” mixes Brecht, brutal theatre, absurdism and other performance art forms and elements, bringing together actors and audiences, stage and space, design and material radicalism. The fusion of ideas and revolutionary political stances became his landmark work in the history of dramatic art. In 1965, “Mara/Sade” landed on Broadway and was an unprecedented success. The work also won Brook the 1966 Tony Award for Best Director and the New York Drama Critics Award.
  ”Hunger, violence, cruelty, rape, crime – allies in the here and now. Drama always penetrates into the deepest darkness of fear and despair for one reason: not before, not after, now… …Even though evolution can take millions of years, drama can set you free in this time frame. As the old man said: ‘If not now, when?’”
  If Brooke’s 1962 version of “King Lear” in some way defined London culture in the 1960s, his “Cruel Drama” group’s “Mara/Sade” and “America” ​​heralded 1968’s Anti-war confrontation. When watching two controversial works, “Mara/Sade” and “America,” the audience will discover that, in addition to traditional parlor theatre and classical theatre, theatre can also be a projection of contemporary reality. As Brooke himself said: “In drama, every belief is about the present, otherwise it is nothing, so every proposition must be made at the moment of making it, giving it the flesh and blood of real life.”
“Empty space” bids farewell to Britain, “open door” faces the world

  ”It’s not a play, it’s travel, and travel is the surest path to another world.”
  The world tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1970 earned Brook a great reputation, and the following year it landed on Broadway for him Second Tony Award, but he wants to go his own way and is determined to go further.
  ”Some people say ‘drama is being crushed by movies’, and this ‘drama’ refers to drama in the era of cinema…I define drama into four different categories: dead drama, sacred drama, vulgar drama And the theatre of the moment. Sometimes these four plays can coexist, across the street, like in the West End or Broadway in New York. Sometimes they are thousands of miles apart, maybe the theatre in Warsaw is ‘sacred’, the theatre in Prague is ‘vulgar’. Sometimes, They are metaphors: two of them coexist in the same performance, even in the same scene. Sometimes, the four plays coexist at the same moment, intermingled.”
  In fact, when he wrote “Empty Space” in 1968, Brooker intended “Farewell to England”. At that time, the British theater industry was full of “dead” commercial dramas, and at the same time faced the impact and threat of film and television works. “We understand without saying anything about ticketing: theater is already a dead industry, and everyone smells the stench.”
  However, in an era when people’s interest in theater art has shifted from the stage to the screen, Brooke’s first choice is still theater—— He insisted on theatrical innovation, and through the live interaction between actors and audiences, he created a “current drama” full of vivid imagination and simple appearance, but at that time the United Kingdom had no money and was unwilling to continue to support his theatrical experiments.
  In 1968, Brooke decided to start his own troupe after an experimental project in Paris with an international troupe (the troupe was disbanded due to the student movement) aborted. At a time when New York’s Active Theater and Open Theater were inviting global audiences, Jesh Grotowski’s brilliant work was prompting a re-evaluation of fundamental theater… A change was taking place – and Brooke was part of that change. member.
  Inspired by the new dynamics of the theatre, Brooke gave up his career in London in 1970, left his hometown and moved to Paris. It’s an adventure and a bid to say goodbye to the past. He is determined to “start from scratch” and explore a drama that can express the human mind all over the world. He founded in Paris a group of artists from different cultural backgrounds from all over the world, the International Centre for Theatre Studies, and developed it into a flexible theatre troupe that flaunts freedom and diversity, blending tradition and universal sensibilities. In the 1970s, when the wave of Western experimental drama was exhausted, Brooke’s exploration sails started a new journey of infinite expanse.
  The first work “Oghurst” performed by Brooke led the International Theater Research Center was not in the bustling Paris, but was born in the ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis in Iran. Brooke set the “theater” in front of the tomb of the ancient Persian emperor Artaxerxes III on the top of the mountain. Actors stood on the cliff, and the audience seemed to be surrounded by the holy mountain of Prometheus. With such an environment choice, Brooke connected with it. The verve and spirit of ancient Greek drama.
  In addition to Prometheus who steals fire, “Oghurst” extracts literary motifs such as murder, self-destruction, women’s revenge, father-son struggle for power and other literary motifs from Eastern and Western legends, and integrates them into a poetic presentation in the wilderness. Among the ruins of the ancient city. The whole play is performed from evening to early morning. It is an unparalleled theater experience for both the creator and the audience. Between history and the present, myth and reality, ambiguity and brightness, time and space break through people’s locked doors. The door of the heart, as Brooke said: “The door in front of us is open to us.”

  In 1972, Brooke and all the members of the research center went to Africa to experience for three and a half months, performing for the locals in an “empty space” without a theater, while studying African religious ceremonies and traditional culture, and rediscovering the definition of theater. .
  In 1974, after 3 years of fading out of the public eye, Brooke, who was nearly middle-aged, officially joined the Nord Theater in Paris, and started a series of more stylized performances such as “Timon of Athens”, “The Birds Meeting” and “The King of Ubud”. Brooke was artistic director at the Northern Theatre for 37 years, and many of his productions still premiered at the theatre after leaving in 2011. Brooke had students, intellectuals and other diverse audiences in France who came to support his plays despite controversy and found the ideal venue for his work. The Northern Theater was built in 1876. It was originally a coffee concert hall for vaudeville and burlesque. The old house was abandoned and converted into a theater. The mottled walls seem to prove the historical charm. It is still the theater highland of Paris.

  It is not Brooke’s greatest initiative to continue to stage the most avant-garde plays in the converted theaters of old buildings. It is well known that he also contributed another great theater to the theater world – the Quarry Theater on the outskirts of Avignon, France. For the performance of “Mahabharata”, Brooke abandoned the traditional stage and transformed the abandoned quarry into an open-air theater. Looking back decades later, this is still a revolution.
  ”Oghurst” was performed from dusk to early morning, and the ancient Indian epic “Mahabharata”, which premiered at the French Avignon Theatre Festival in August 1985, was performed from day to night, lasting a full 9 hours. Unleash Brooke’s kaleidoscope of imagination, transformation and capture to the max.
  In order to create and arrange “Mahabharata”, Brooke prepared hard for 10 years, integrated all the drama techniques he had explored, and transformed the longest poem in literary history into highly dramatic body language. The adapted plot is also intertwined. With the War of the Roses and the episodes of “Twilight of the Gods”, the gods and demons are fighting to the death here.
  In the theater built of rose-colored limestone, the audience sits around on three sides, the stone walls and sky in front form a natural stage setting, the flowing water under the wall leads the audience’s imagination to the ancient East, and the flaming flames and Indian garlands are arranged like altars;6 A number of live musicians playing oriental and African instruments were waiting.

  The sky is getting dark, the lights will turn everything into golden yellow and light blue, and the surrounding is like a dream. Throughout the performance, the actors often shuttle between the audience seats, and the “fourth wall” between the performances disappears… The end of the play, The narrator tells everyone: this is just a “final fantasy”, the actors stopped acting and started to eat and drink… The feast was gone, a game and a dream. Just as Brook once put forward “A play is play” (drama is a game, and a game is a drama), the stronger the sense of play, the deeper the sense of disillusionment. Brooke’s nine-hour classic has been called “one of the most important shows of the 20th century” by critics.
“I put my story here, someone will pick it up tomorrow”

  ”Theatre is probably one of the hardest arts, because it has to make three connections in perfect harmony at the same time: the actor and his heart, with his opponent, and with his audience.”
  Brook is committed to using dramatic works Expressing his unique perspective and concept, he is good at philosophical thinking, and the starting point for selecting materials is to express himself through his works – he is a real author and director, and such a person is rare in the theater industry.
  As a writer-director, Brooke is both a questioner and a mentor, always throwing up issues. In “The Mahabharata”, he discusses the various forces of destruction, the role and position of man in the battle between good and evil; in “The Birds Meeting” he again asks: Does a person have the power to devote himself to the truth, or he would rather Live this life in vain? In The Tragedy of Carmen, other topics unfold: what is the essence of addictive love? What price will people pay for it?
  There is a power hidden in Brooke’s personality: knowledgeable and energy. He observes the world with the fresh and curious eyes of a child, but his interpretation of the world is complex and profound. Margaret Crowden, author of “Interview with Peter Brook,” recalls: “When Brook spoke, he was so engrossed in his words and his audience that the focus never shifted. The gaze from those bright blue eyes was mysterious— It’s penetrating and extremely focused. Brooke has an amazing talent for conversation, interpretation, storytelling day and night, and he can talk to you for a long, long time.”
  Brooke once told Crowden Frankly speaking, his “secret” as a master of modern drama is to be the purest version of himself: a traditional rebel, a lifelong explorer, and a director who never gives up reflection and questioning.
  ”I have never experienced miracles, but I have witnessed the existence of amazing people. They are extraordinary in that they do everything they can in their entire lives…Ignorance is the door to wonder, and it means not following suit…I was most irritated as a child. , nothing more than to hear those elders say that the older you are, the less you know. Looking at my own experience now, I am very fond of King Lear’s line: ‘I don’t care about it.’ I especially hate all the superfluous respects and nods and bows, but today it’s time to show that people who are alone are just a straw in the wind, and we can’t do it alone—we need others, forever.”
  Brooke’s last few British films were all directed by his main collaborator, Marie-Helena Istani, in his later years. At the age of 92, Brook picked up memories of a trip to Afghanistan many years ago, and had the idea of ​​creating “Prisoner”. “A man sits alone in front of a huge prison in the desert. Who is he? Why is he sitting in front of a prison? Is this a choice? Or is it a punishment? What crime has the prisoner committed within the walls? … What is justice? Who will make the judgment? Why does he laugh at justice so much when he could run away? Laugh at the machinery of the state, question those who are held there. Does this man seek redemption? People see Has he? Has he been there for a long time?”
  ”The Prisoner” takes place in 1979, when Brooke was on a trip to Afghanistan about a real case confided to him by a friend of the judge. Sheila killed his father because after his mother passed away, he witnessed his sister being abused by his father, and what was even more frightening was that Sheila quietly fell in love with his sister. Accepting legal sanctions, Sheila should be sent to prison, but her uncle tried his best to save him from imprisonment. The purpose is not to let him go unpunished, but to let him redeem his father-killing crime from the depths of his soul…
  This is a story with a strong ancient Greek tragic color, and it is also burdened with meditation on “crime and punishment” and redemption. Brooke is often asked: Can theatre change the world? He said seriously, the idea is ridiculous. But he rejects plays for the sake of acting, and he always has a clear stand to express. Those who claim to “punish evil and promote good” are actually “prisoners” themselves, and the real redemption lies outside the prison, in the depths of their souls.
  ”The Prisoner” is not Brook’s challenge to the morality of the modern society, but actually hides his deep compassion. Instead of condemning and punishing crimes, we must find the true outlet for the redemption of life. In 2015, Brooke lost his beloved wife Natasha Parry, and in his twilight years “there is nothing more powerful than despair, disease, terror, but hope”.

  At the age of 94, Brooke produced his last work “Why? , an atypical retrospective work inspired by the former Soviet theatre director Meyerhold – a man “killed by theatre”. About 20 years ago, Brooke wanted to make a big play about the directors of the early 20th century. He chose Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Reinhardt and Brecht, etc. This play ultimately failed to materialize. But in the process, he discovers that Meyerhold was the only one tried and killed for the drama. He was deeply moved and couldn’t help but imagine what he would have done if he was in the situation at that time? Will you lie about being tortured? He wanted to do a play for Meyerhold alone, to show the truth of the sacrifice for the truth… In the more than seventy years of his creative career, Brooke has been exploring the process of the human soul searching for truth in this simple and humble way.
  Drama is the art of asking “why”, and drama is also a very dangerous “weapon”. From the very beginning, Brooke was a rebel who challenged tradition, with a revolutionary temperament. When he was a director in London’s West End in the 1920s, he was a “dangerous” young man, never afraid to try all kinds of plays, but his revolutionary enthusiasm did not come entirely from political theory or social upheaval, although he was deeply Influenced by the times. His enthusiasm stems from a gifted and extraordinary temperament that keeps him open to all possibilities.
  Long before “diversity” entered Western fashion culture, Brooke traveled as far as Africa and Asia, and had initial exchanges with local audiences. He is committed to a more refined aesthetic, in order to express the subtlety and mystery in the depths of the human soul. At the end of his autobiography “Lines of Time”, Brooke summed up his life and recalled his trip to Africa: “Life is not a straight line…My horse will continue to run backwards, jump and fall…In the endless struggle of all mankind In the midst of groping, sublimation, and depravity, the individual is but a fleeting particle… On the road from ignorance to experience, so many conditions swarm in… Life thus becomes a continuous word. In the African countryside, the storyteller Towards the end of the story, he puts his palm on the ground and says, ‘I put my story here.’ And then adds: ‘Tomorrow someone will pick it up.'”

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