Mar 19, 2015

Book Report: Peter Brook's Theads of Time

If I had to name a single figure who has influenced me the most profoundly as a theatre artist, it would be Peter Brook. And this fact is something Peter Brook would not approve of. Brook refuses to be anyone's guru.

He defines himself as a “searcher” rather than a guru laying down some sort of set doctrine to those he has influenced. His ideas continue to fascinate and inspire me. In my personal Mt. Rushmore of artists who have had profound affects on me he is perhaps the least preachy, the least didactic. 

Moreover, I can sum up the exact things that have been impressed upon me about Brook. First off, his theatre is foremost about storytelling. The story trumps all. Secondly, he believes in the maxim of the famous French chef and restaurateur, Auguste Escoffier: faites simple (keep it simple). And last, and most important, he has a deeply intense respect for the audience. He sees them as more than just passive watchers and listeners. In Brook’s concept of theatre, the audience is essential; without it, nothing happens. “The relationship between the actor and the audience is the only theatre reality,” he once told an interviewer. 
Threads of Time is Brook's introspective, soulful autobiography. It is as different from the usual show-biz memoir as his imaginative productions are from traditional commercial theatre shows. 

Born in 1925, London-raised and Oxford-educated, Brook first began to make his mark during the 1950s and '60s with inventive Shakespeare (including a blood-soaked Titus Andronicus, an acrobatic A Midsummer Night's Dream and a celebrated King Lear) and avant-garde European works (Marat/Sade). He also relates in the book that he was immersed in the mystical teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. In 1971 Brook founded the International Center for Theater Research, which brought together actors from different traditions and countries in an attempt to make theater reach across cultural boundaries and become truly universal. The productions resulting included The Mahabharata and The Man Who (based on the writings of neurologist Oliver Sacks).

Brook's representations of how these unusual pieces were collaboratively created are as absorbing as his compelling descriptions of earlier working relationships with actors like Paul Scofield and John Gielgud. The thing is, Brook is not an other-worldly metaphysician: he relates his spiritual and artistic discoveries very precisely to the insights they gave him about the theatre. 

For a memoir by a theatre person, there is no gossip, which is not that surprising since it is Brook. But still... I mean, his two children are only mentioned once; his wife (actress Natasha Parry) appears primarily as a working companion. Instead of personal chit-chat, Brook offers the chronicle of a very individual, very committed quest. It leaves a moving impression of a man deeply fulfilled both spiritually and artistically.

If you are a fan of the theatre and of Brook, Threads of Time is definitely worth a read.

Get a copy on Amazon if you want. Here's a link... LINK

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