The Empty Space (Book Cover), Peter BrookBrook, Peter. The Empty Space. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1968.

Peter Brook outlines four categories of theatre performance that relate and inter-relate to ‘types’ of motivations and outcomes on the part of the artists, as well as to nature’s of engagement that may be experienced by audiences. These categories are offered not as theoretical streams or traditional classifications. Instead, the author offers distinctions as a means to discuss the principals attributes of successful or meaningful theatre, in contrast to that which he deems superfluous. It is evident that Brook perceives theatre, at the time this book was written, as experiencing a crisis of relevancy and purpose. He well describes a familiarity with “Deadly” (stagnant and uninteresting) theatre.

In his assessments of “Holy”, “Rough”, and “Immediate” theatre he espouses a view of purity in intent, process, and manifestation that relates more so to intellectual honesty, creative experimentation, and art/life congruence than to any prescribed or steadfast rules. The author is, in summary, calling for the discarding of tradition for tradition’s sake, entertainment for entertainment’s sake, and art for art’s sake. At the same time he warns of the discarding of all intents, methods, and processes that these forms of theatre employ. Instead, Brook suggests that a more organic and open approach to theatre creation might find appropriate use for all such techniques, forms, and content.

Nonetheless his emphasis frequently focuses on more collaborative, sensual, gestural exploration and experimentation. Likewise, the impetus behind these texts calls for a re-invigoration and further innovation in approaches to theatre creation, in order to reflect and engage with the needs of it’s own culture and people, in it’s own day. Of the categories outlined, Brook views a “Rough” popular theatre and an “Immediate” experimental theatre the most relevant to Anglo-Saxon societies in the latter half of the 20th century.

Brook also speaks to a series of workshops he spearheaded, initially inspired by Antonin Artaud’s manifesto for a Theatre of Cruelty. These explorations had espoused a similarly critical view of convention and the intrinsic value of the artform. Although, in this book, he also reflects upon some of Artaud’s prescriptions with caution and reserve.

“What must have led me so long ago to choose a theme of the empty space is that that’s where the perfume, the taste, the sense of something more can appear in the everyday. In every play I’ve done, all that’s interested me – and this is why I’ve never wanted to be a real `theatre director’, running, say, a national theatre and feeling that I have to have a career where, at the end, I can I just tick off all the different things I’ve done – all I’ve wanted to do is explore by doing everything in every direction for the sake of its energy: energy and physical excitement and participating in all the different forms. Gradually, that has reduced itself into looking closely, within many, many different themes, and behind the themes, at what more could be there.” – Peter Brook in Interview with James Woodall.


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