Dec 31, 2022

Looking Back at 2022

Over the last decade or so I have also been doing a year-in-review here on the website to take stock of the past year (for those even mildly curious, here is 20122013201420152016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021). 2022 was the first year since the Covid-19 pandemic hit that the world seemed like it returned to a new sort of "normal." By this I mean theatres and festivals began to open once more (though audience numbers are still pretty low), people could meet face to face to socialize and plan projects again and things like shopping, dining and working out didn't feel so much like stepping into the Twilight Zone. Here’s the rundown of what I was up to in 2022...

Nothing really got going until the spring. In April I directed an evening of four David Ives one-acts, collectively entitled All In The Timing at the college I teach at. This project was one of the things cancelled back in the Spring of 2020. At that time, I was a co-director responsible for two plays. When it finally got around to being produced, I had the whole bill. This was the first in-person directing I had done in a long while and with students who had been taking online classes for the previous few years. It was rough. The plays didn't turn out bad, let's just say I was glad to have it over with.

A student actor in Variations on the Death of Trotsky by David Ives.

Words, Words, Words by David Ives

In March I teamed back up with my friend Jeff Swearingen and we put out long-form improv duo Fun Grip back together. We had been on a hiatus since 2014. We started doing regular gigs once or twice a month at the Dallas Comedy Club down in the Deep Ellum neighborhood adjacent to downtown Dallas. There was a few rough patches at the beginning to get my sea-legs back under me, but within a few weeks, I was enjoying improv again. Jeff and I slowly got better and better. We still have a ways to go to consistently tell a coherent story on stage and hit all the character beats and laugh lines, but we are still making progress.

In early July Fun Grip played as one of the Saturday night headliners at the 2022 Big Weekend of Improv Festival, produced by the Alternative Comedy Theater. That was fun, since the fest had troupes in from all over the country.

Fun Grip at the Addison Theatre Center as part of the 2022 Big Weekend of Improv

I managed to travel out to more fringe festivals finally. In late June I drove out to Denver for the Denver Fringe Festival. It was a unique fest. They had started it during the pandemic, so this past summer was the first time they held it as a live event at multiple venues. I performed in the back events room at the Blue Moon Brewery. It was great to travel again and to perform my show Robert's Eternal Goldfish for new audiences. If you are curious about how the experience was for me, listen to episode 32 of the Cultivated Playwright Podcast.

At the Denver Fringe

The end of the summer saw me at another fringe, this time closer to home. I performed Robert's Eternal Goldfish again for a long weekend at the Ft. Worth Fringe Festival in mid-September. Again, audiences were low, but to those that came out, a good time was had by all. in a review that ran, I was called "funny and booming." I did a debriefing about this festival experience also on the Cultivated Playwright Podcast. Listen to episode 33 for the rundown.

My kiddo came out to see the show in Ft. Worth (I cleaned the language up for that one).

My teaching career continued to go down hill with attendance numbers at the college being still super low (they were low before the pandemic, but now it looks like classes on campus might not make again for adjuncts for years). I taught high school-for-college students at a high school. I disliked it intensely.

Though I wasn't teaching on campus, I did direct there again. this time, I directed one of my own plays, Que Sera, Giant Monster. The experience was a breath of fresh air. the students were all enthusiastic and the design was amazing. My only regret was that it only showed for a single long weekend in November.

A big moment from Que Sera, Giant Monster.

Just before the end of the year I published an ebook version of the ten-minute holiday plays I wrote for Nouveau 47 Theatre between 2013 and 2017. A paperback version was released right after the new year.

Besides the usual creative endeavors, I also recorded 8 episodes of my podcast The Cultivated Playwright, including a very special remembrance of Sir Peter Brook, who passed on this past summer at the age of 97 (episode 35). I also adapted the transcript of that episode into a hefty essay on Brook and his immense influence on me as a theatre-maker.

I also posted several YouTube videos, in particular, on camping. I got to camp just a very few times last spring and this fall. This is something, I'm hoping to remedy next year.

I spent time with friends and family, saved a bit of money, took better care of my health and felt more gratitude this past year. I am starting to feel excitement again for what the future may hold, which is a welcome feeling after the last few years of relative creative inertia.

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Dec 28, 2022

I'm Teaching a Ten-Minute Play Workshop


 Writing the Ten-Minute Play...with Brad McEntire

Two Saturdays Jan 28th and Feb 4th
from 1- 4 pm
at 1106 Lupo Drive

1106 Lupo Dr
DallasTX 75207

The Ten-Minute Play is a short burst of theatrical expressiveness. As theatres seek to either expand revenue streams or grow audiences or broaden their base of artistic contributors - especially as things get back up and moving after the last several years - 10-Minute play festivals have become more and more prevalent. In this fun introductory workshop, we'll explore the structure, characters and the "punch" of these short one-acts. Filled with tips, tricks, considerations... plus, we'll do a little writing to boot. 

This workshop is open to experienced playwrights, newcomers or simply the waywardly curious.
Brad McEntire works as a playwright, director and solo performer. His plays over the last twenty years have been produced and developed at venues and festivals around North America. He is the Artistic Director of Audacity Theatre Lab based in Dallas, Texas.

Class Fee - $150
Class size is limited to 8

Call 214-630-7722 after the first of the year or email

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Dec 26, 2022

Just published: Yeti In The Airport Lounge and Other Holiday Tales

Right at the end of the year, I decided to roll out one more self-published work. This is a collection of holiday playlets (each running roughly ten minutes) that were originally presented by Nouveau 47 Theatre at the Margo Jones Theatre in Dallas' Fair Park between 2013 and 2017. N47 is now sadly defunct and the holiday play festival they presented is a thing of the past, but I am weirdly proud of how most of these plays turned out. They are tight, funny, bizarre little pieces. 

For the last three years, I have been trying to get them on Amazon in September, in time for theatres to plan for their Christmas productions, but have failed each time, including this year. I figure it is best if I just get them up, then I'll market them at the end of next summer.

The collection includes the works: Rudnick, the Candle-headed Boy, Corner Office Sky, The Yeti in the Airport Lounge, Crandall on Planet X and Langdon, the Seasonal Barista.

The paperback version is coming soon. For now, here's the kindle version.

Get Your copy... HERE

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Nov 20, 2022

That's a wrap on Que Sera, Giant Monster at TCC-SE

My play Que Sera, Giant Monster ended a three day, four show run a day or two back (November 16 - 18, 2022) at Tarrant County College Southeast. I wrote and directed. It was a pretty good adventure. The student cast and crew were enthusiastic and took direction well. The audiences seemed to dig it. Great design work from lighting designer and TD Derek Salazar, prop design by Angela Inman, sound by Darius Booker, Costumes by Paul Fiorella and set design by Clare DeVries. Here's a few parting pics.

Student actors Lily Clouse and DaShaun Ellis

Student actors DaShaun Ellis, Toni Colbert and Lily Clouse

Student actors Isara Al-Hilo and Lily Clouse

Student actors DaShaun Ellis and Kate Shugart

Student crew members Quinn Willcox and Mikalya Everheart
doing the unglamourous, but necessary work behind the scenes

Stage Manager Marc Aldreidge and ASM Mikayla Everheart
during tech rehearsal

The playwright and director in the lobby

Big thanks to the organizations and individuals that helped get the play this far. In particular thanks to Grant Knutson with Minion productions who offered me time at the Kathy George Indie Artists Residency while I was working on the piece originally. Thanks to Wordsmyth Theatre and their Texas Playwrights Festival which presented a reading of the piece in July of 2018. Gratitude to Wordsmyth Artistic Director Elizabeth Earle, director of the staged reading Cynthia Garcia and cast members Brandon Morgan, LaKeisha Randle and Bree Bridger. I also wanna thank actor-producer Steven Landry and director Debbi Ardoin at Acadiana Rep in Lafayette, Louisiana who did a developmental production of the piece back in February 2019. Big thanks to cast members of that show Erica Jure and Michelle Colon. Finally, thanks to Audacity Theatre Lab who hosted a casual table read of the play back in September 2022 with actors Jeff Swearingen, Natalie Young, Kim Lyle and Emily Faith.

I plan to keep developing the piece. Hopefully, the play will continue to be

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Nov 14, 2022

Pics of Que Sera, Giant Monster at TCC

Grabbed a few pics of a tech run of the Tarrant County College production of Que Sera, Giant Monster. Set design by Clare DeVries. Lighting design by Derek Salazar. The set isn't quite complete, but it does offer a nice first look.

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Nov 11, 2022

Que Sera, Giant Monster at TCC-SE in the Collegian

The school newspaper where I teach sent a student reporter out to write about the upcoming production of Que Sera, Giant Monster. Here's an excerpt of the article below:

Exes and Monsters take the stage at SE Campus

SE students Lily Clouse and DaShaun Ellis rehearse for the SE play “Que Sera, Giant Monster,”
opening on Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. | 
Joel Solis/The Collegian


The Collegian | campus editor

Thursday, November 10, 2022

It is convenient that two exes end up in the same craft brewery on the same night, just as a large monster is terrorizing the city just outside of it. 

That is exactly what happens to the main characters Katherine and Charles in “Que Sera, Giant Monster” drama production, written and directed by Brad McEntire. Set to debut November 16-18 at 7:30 p.m. at the SE campus. 

The production is described as both serious and humorous by SE student and actor Lily Clouse who plays the role of Katherine.

McEntire, an adjunct in the SE drama department teaching mainly cinema and theater classes, wanted the play to reflect certain theatrical aspects.

“It’s a little bit autobiographical in some places, and it’s a little bit of the kind of things I like to see on stage,” he said. “I like to see broken people try to figure stuff out, I like misunderstandings, I like people giving other people a hard time. So that kind of stuff, the stuff that I like to see onstage, is what I have tried to put into this play.” 

"The characters are people trying to get by," McEntire says. "They are trying to figure out and navigate their lives, trying to understand themselves as well as the people around them."

“A lot of the trouble that we get into in our lives is because we don’t understand what we’re trying to do and we don’t understand what the people around us are trying to get from us and what they really want,” he said. "At least that is my observation."

Because of that, the characters felt relatable to the cast. For instance, Clouse, who’s character is a waitress and aspiring musician, acknowledged she sometimes empathized with Katherine's perspective. 

“At the start of the show, she has just worked a double,” Clouse said. “She’s tired, she’s fed up, she doesn’t have time for anybody’s crap, and you know what? I feel that.”

The production process had the cast focused on learning more than just acting. Some of the cast members were tasked with picking up a new skill set or two. For instance, Isara Al-Hilo, a SE student who plays Beth in the play, acquired a useful new skill. 

“I learned how to box a little, like, actual boxing techniques,” said Al-Hilo, adding with an ironic smile, “Put me in a ring, I’ll be fine.”

Clouse was given the task of learning a song on the guitar for the play, something she noted as a bit of a challenge.

“I wasn’t surprised, but I did not know how quickly time would fly and how difficult the guitar is,” she said. 

Que Sera plays November 16–18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Roberson Theatre on the TCC Southeast Campus, 2100 Southeast Pkwy., Arlington, TX 76018. Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can and the box office opens 1 hour before show time.

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Nov 6, 2022

Remembering Sir Peter Brook

Peter Brook in his theatre the Bouffes du Nord in Paris

Stage and film director Sir Peter Brook passed on this past July at the age of 97. I have dedicated the 35th episode of my podcast to Brook, a real influence on me as a theatre-maker. Below I have put the text of this episode.


In his obituary for Sir Peter Brook, Charles McNulty for the LA Times, wrote: " Indeed, Brook lived and worked in a continual state of becoming. Even in his last decades, when he might have basked in the eminence of his international reputation, he was still experimenting, still trying to separate the essential from the meretricious."

A continual state of becoming. That's what I think of when I think of the titan of the last 70 years of world theatre, Sir Peter Brook.

He passed on this pass summer on July 2, 2022 in his home in Paris... at the age of 97.

I have been dragging my feet putting together this podcast episode. I found out about Sir Peter's passing around the 4th of July weekend. I felt if I had lost a beloved uncle I hadn't seen in years. I felt a sense of grief, I struggled to come to terms with his passing. It wasn't unexpected. He was very old. On the other hand, Peter Brook had this sort of immortal quality, like he was not merely a human being. His otherworldly eyes, though diminished in his very last years, still sparkled in a sort of uncanny way. He struck me as both the most human person I ever saw as well as someone kind of playing at and amused by being a human being.

To be clear, I never met Peter Brook, but through his productions, plays and writings about the theatre he has served as a sort of spiritual mentor for me as a theatre artist since I first came across him back when I was an undergrad.

Some great tributes for Brook showed up in the world's most prominent news publications, though not enough for my tastes. So, I'm not going to recap the whole story of Brook. His accomplishments are so varied and to some extent, legendary, that there's simply too much to cover. Some of it unbelievable.

I struggled with what I wanted to say about Sir Peter. It is hard to put into words just how influential his work and ethos  has been on me. Some aspects of this are so ingrained in me, all these years later, that I think of them as second nature, not direct or even elliptical lessons passed on from this great man.

I am also not an expert on Brook. Especially in any sort of academic sense. My interest in him is both practical and spiritual. I find reading about him and pouring over his work comforting when I am stuck, or searching, or in need of inspiration. But Brook is too vast. After nearly three quarters of a century of prolific output and layer upon layer of ideas, studying Brook is a bottomless well... and thankfully so.

Part of the difficulty of celebrating Peter Brook is his own, now legendary, reluctance to be thought of as a guru in any sense. He waved off any such talk, proclaiming that he wasn't a model or an example and that his work on stage was at best, ethereal. It was meant to be experienced and then destined to be forgotten like the rest of theatre. If he didn't respond to the role of guru, he only begrudgingly referred to himself as a director. He preferred the term “distiller”: someone who boils away everything extraneous to render the essence of the story he’s telling. So, here I am, celebrating a man who adamantly would not want to be celebrated.

After getting over the initial news of his passing and then himming and hawwing about how to talk about him, I think I will go the course Brook himself might have conceivably approved of. I will whittle it down to the most essential, simple connections.

What follows are a series of straightforward impressions. Things I have learned or that have stood out to me about Brook as I have discovered them over the years. Some of these things have influenced my work in the theatre, some have affected me as a person.

Peter Brook started in the theatre in a rather traditional way. As a young man in college at Oxford, he just wanted to be a part of the entertainment business. He was drawn to film, but finding the bar of entry too high, he turned to theatre. He wanted to tell stories, but he wanted to work. The theories and concepts he explored later in his life, questioning almost every aspect of the theatre, were not yet there in his younger years. He could have been any one of us as a young, enthusiastic theatre maker. That is the first thing that stands out about Brook to me. 

He didn't purposely set out to be "Sir peter Brook, International Man of Theatre." He formed his ideas organically, over time. What he learned was hard won. Where he started was a completely different place than where he ended up. The most prominent feature of his early years was his excitement about the stage. He wished to know... well, everything. This spirit of searching, of openness, of soaking up would take him very far.

In his memoir Threads of Time, Brook recounts an encounter he had early in his career. He had established himself as a director and was approached by a middle-aged architect who had been commissioned to design a new theatre in a provincial town. At that point, thrust stage configurations - called open stages at the time - like Tyron Guthrie had created in Stratford, Ontario were in vogue. The architect asked for advice and a very confident Brook advised the man to dismiss an open stage and instead create a traditional proscenium arch style stage instead. At the time, Brook preferred the picture frame effect of that proscenium.

"The so-called picture frame is an instrument of focus. It is foolish to throw it away. With an open stage, different parts of the audience see different things. With a traditional picture frame everyone sees the same stage picture."

I love this episode. It illustrates where Brook came from and how far his thoughts  and hard-tested theories on the theatre experience had come, how they had changed over the years. The mature, simplified, more austere Brook of later years, after decades of experiments, rightfully looked back with amusement at his younger, cock-sure less-experienced self. His philosophy on staging plays circled 180 degrees away from the traditional proscenium theatre's picture frame box. 

There seem to be lots of other examples of Brook's paradoxical nature. His life long quest seemed to be to challenge the whole field of theatre to boil it down to its more essential state.

Form your ideas then hold them close, but hold them lightly. Test them often. Change is inevitable he seemed to be saying.

The Tempest Project at Bouffes du Nord

Tragedy of Hamlet at Bouffes du Nord

When I think of Brook, I see the director of that last several decades. This is the Peter Brook of my lifetime. The impression I had of him showed the results of a lifetime of experiments, particularly during the last major phase of his very long career. I think of live music supplied from the side of the stage by one or two musicians. Drums, always drums. I see carpets spread out to signify a playing space. Very little furniture or scenery. I see warm and earthy costumes that present both an ancient and a timeless impression, with scarves, tunics, baggy pants and robes that represent no set nationality or style. The actors sometimes barefoot. I see performance of actors, elegant, masterful and brimming with equal parts playfulness, power and clarity. I see audiences scattered about nearly encompassing the stage, the front rows seated on padded floor cushions. Whereas, we take for granted that the audience sits in darkness and the actors are illuminated up on the stage, in Brook's productions the light that bathed the stage would sometimes be the same light that spilled out over the audience that shared the space.

Personally, as a theatre-maker, I don't prefer all of Brook's kind of staging. For instance, I like a proscenium. Since I operate on a fringe, indie level, I am most often saddled with makeshift spaces and black boxes set up with the audiences on three sides almost as a matter of course. The actor is almost always on floor level. A proscenium with the audience all facing the same direction, with decent sightlines is actually a great luxury for me. It is not something I take for granted. And I like the audience nestled in darkness. But, then again, I do a different kind of theatre than Brook did. 

The important thing is, I see how he arrived where he did. I respect and appreciate how he got to where he ended up. He questioned everything and then ran it through the ringer. For years. The lesson of asking what is essential, what is really needed is invaluable. In his hugely influential 1968 book The Empty Space, Brook encourages us, as theatre-makers, to be both simpler and more exacting in our work. He talked about how theatre is as simple as an empty space in which something happens. The caveat being, you better really, really think about what happens in that space and what really is needed... especially for connection with your audience. The connection between the actors and the audience is paramount.

Initially, Brook wanted to go into journalism. He wanted to be a foreign correspondent and live a life of travel and interaction, tasting of different cultures and lifestyles. He found, however, that theatre offered a different sort of adventure, one that allowed glimpses into countless times and places and lives. So, he threw himself into the theatre. As Brook plunged headlong into his work on the stage he seemed to have an unbelievable knack for finding other capable folks to collaborate with.

Early on, he worked with Barry Jackson who brought Brook along as a director first at Birmingham Rep then when he took charge of the RSC.

Jackson described Brook at 20 years old as "the youngest earthquake I'd ever met."

At the Royal Shakespeare Company Brook made waves early putting on stage a hot and violent Romeo and Juliet as well as a production of Love's Labors Lost based on the paintings of Watteau. It is during this period he began working with a young actor named Paul Scofield.

The bulk of the first few decades of Brooks career were filled with projects for the commercial stage, film, opera and subsidized theatre. He played on Broadway. He worked at the RSC and the National Theatre. He was celebrated for his Shakespeare productions. In his early to mid 40's, however, Brook grew restless. He had sort of a mid-life artistic crisis. Travel, experimentation and adventure called to him. In the late 1960s, after his experiments with Artuad's Theatre of Cruelty with his celebrated asylum production of Marat/Sade, after his astounding film version of King Lear with Scofield in the title role, after his production of Oedipus with Laurance Olivier,  Brook came to a turning point in his life and career.

By 1968, his second child, Simon, had been born and his wife Natasha Parry announced to him that she aimed to professionally return to the stage after taking some years off for maternity and domesticity (their first child, Irina, had been born in 1962). Like a lot of us, reaching the beginnings of middle age and coming to terms with the sacrifices of parenthood, Brook realized a change was needed. He needed a new location, a new home base, where he could finally put down some roots. He also needed a new direction, one that didn't abandon the work he had done up to that point, but that furthered it.

I relate with this point in Brook's life since it is roughly where I am in my own life and career. I am a bit more of a late bloomer than Brook and, of course, work on a much smaller scale. But, as anyone who has listened to other episodes of this podcast (especially the early ones) knows, I am a father now, deep into my 40s. After nearly 30 years of continually learning and practicing my craft, I can empathize with the question of "what now?" One doesn't want to throw away all that has come before, but the old drive has changed. There's this sense that we must finally grow up.

I was interviewed on Holly Bagwell's podcast Give Me Twenty last year. One of her questions was about how I have changed as a theatre maker since my younger days. I replied that there was along period of trying to prove myself, of spreading the net wide and tackling things for the sake of experience. But now, as I enter the middle years of what will hopefully be a long career, I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone, not anymore. Now I am simply trying to improve. I'm trying to be a better version of the artist I have evolved into. This "improve instead of prove" mentality is what I think Brook keyed into as well. He began to conceive of an altogether different project. If he couldn't be a nomad traipsing around the world, he'd bring the world to him.

He had spent years avoiding running his own theatre, he was finally coming around. "I've never wanted the tie and the responsibility of a theatre of my own," he wrote in a letter to a friend in 1968. "Now, and only gradually at that, I'm beginning to prepare for the need of having a group for which I can be totally responsible on all levels for a substantial period of time. It now seems that this is the only possible evolution after so many years of attempts and experiments."

By 1970 he and his family had relocated from England to Paris.

The goal was to bring together an international group of well-trained actors, down for experimentation and adventure. He had classically-trained actors from France, actors steeped in ritual from Africa, English Shakespeareans, Kabuki actors from Japan and American Method actors. Everyone brought to the table a different toolkit of techniques and training. As soon as Brook had them all together, instead of having them each teach the others, he had each actor basically abandon the training they had acquired up to this point. Everything was stripped back to the essential. What qualities do these actors share that make them human? Brook was interested in exploring what makes us similar, what connects us as humans, rather than how we are different. The group trained together, inventing from scratch, under Brooks leadership, new exercises and techniques... Experimenting with elemental rhythms, a full range of physical movements and the most basic human motivations and interactions.

The group of folks he surrounded himself with were no joke. A young Helen Mirren, a youthful Bruce Myer. His powerhouse actress wife, Natasha Parry, of course. One of the main collaborators at this time was a young man from Japan named Yoshi Oida. Oida has, over the years become a major influence on me as well. He stayed with Brook since he first came into the company in 1970. Oida , even in his older years, blends a childlike enthusiasm, wonder and excitement, even a sense of fun, for performing with a very rigorous sense of discipline and craftsmanship.

Yoshi Oida

Back in 2011 I had the privilege of seeing both Oida and Bruce Myers onstage together with the wonderful Hayley Carmichael. The trio were at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. performing 5 short Beckett pieces in an evening called Fragments. It was co-directed by Brook and his powerhouse partner-in-art Marie-Helene Estienne. What I remember the most was the sense of playfulness the group had, something often overlooked in the works of Samuel Beckett.

Brook recounts one story about how the company was invited to a rather boring presentation one time. Oida was sitting on the front row. As everyone squirmed and glanced for the exit, patiently waiting out the tedious presentation so as not to offend their hosts, Brook glanced up just a bi after the presentation had begun and realized Oida had somehow slipped away - from the front row - without anyone even noticing. Brook recounts the story with amusement and reverence for his friend. If there is a person I would like to be in such a situation, it is Oida. This is an example of something Brook seems to put a great deal of stock in (and I will admit, I do as well)... Simply, it is often just a matter of letting actions speak louder than words.

I have my own Oida. For the past 20 years I have collaborated with my friend Jeff Swearingen. Jeff and I met a few years after I left college and he was just starting out on the stage. We were in a children's theatre company together. I have directed him dozens of times. He went on to start his own theatre company for a few years and branched from acting into directing nd playwriting as well. We have performed long form improv together for over a decade and a half. Like Oida's daring and mischeiviousness to Brook's steady concentration, Swearingen's qualities seems to compliment my own. We push each other and support each other. Like Brook, I think partnerships such as this allow for artistic growth.

Brook was very open to great artistic influence. He borrowed a lot of ideas from his avant-garde contemporaries: Grotowsky, Artaud, Brecht, Meyerhold, Joan Littlewood, Edward Gordon Craig. What set him apart was actually putting the theories of these folks into practice on stage. He did this through experimenting with the very nature of theatre. In fact, Brook seemed comfortable with simply trying a bunch of stuff out. This spirit of experimentation has so appealed to me that I ended up naming my own little company Audacity Theatre Lab. Too much focus on the resulting production implies bringing something to market. It is commercial in its approach to some extent. Brook loved the process. His theatre was a laboratory.

One great example of this was his trip through Africa with his international troupe of artist-adventurers in the early 1970s.  Brook founded the International Center of Theatre Research in Paris in 1970. He gathered a group of international actors. These folks were all young, adventurous and, as I said, well-trained in their respective cultural performance practices. He brought this group together then asked them to divulge themselves from their own backgrounds. He was interested in what made these actors alike, not what made them different. What human qualities did they share and then what universal human stories and situations would develop. He took these actors on a tour through Africa. They would stop in a small village and Brook, through a translator, would explain to the village leaders what they were attempting to do: to see on what basis we, as people, might relate with one another. They troupe would unfurl a large carpet on the ground as a playing space. Villagers would gather around and the actors would begin to improvise. Maybe someone would toss a shoe onto the carpet. Another actor would approach it cautiously, poke at it, pick it up and then hug the shoe against her chest. An additional actor might enter and then take the shoe. A chase ensues. An improvisation emerges. The whole performance was done with sound effects and broad physicality. No words. They did this over and over again, seldom duplicating the exact same show and incorporating the audience each time. It was amazingly playful and brave and communicative (especially considering everybody seemed to speak different languages and dialects).

Helen Mirren in Africa

Brook watching an improvisation in Africa, 1972

I first learned about Peter Brook when I was in college. In a theatre history class, we had to do projects on important theatre artists of the last 200 years and a friend did one on Brook (I can't remember who I covered). I remember his presentation. This was one of the first Brook projects that really caught my attention and I was bowled over by how awesome this African tour seemed. It appeals to me, even today, on so many levels. Improv and clowning. Simplifying. Directness. Just the adventure of caravanning in jeeps through the backcountry of Africa taking theatre performance to strangers, in places where they may not even have a word for the concept of Theatre.

This was a 'pilgrimage' to answer the question "What were the common stories, the recognizable shorthands, the instant abstractions, the shared outlines of story and character with which an international group could work?" They experimented with gesture and sound.

Of course, for Brook and company, this excursion was simply a stepping stone to further experiments and explorations. He and the core of this international group went on to a home-base in 1974. They moved into a derelict Parisian music hall called the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. He did this, I might add, with the help of his Parisian agent, manager and producer Micheline Rozan. She was instrumental in helping him find funding for his adventures and experiments, as well as leading him to Bouffes du Nord. 

The building was cleaned up and made safe, but not overhauled. The proscenium arch remained, but not the stage beneath it. Shows happened on floor level. The auditorium was still tiered in a half circle, but the seats were replaced with benches and places were left on the  floor for seat-cushions in the front. Renovations left the weathered textured walls. They were cleaned but not repaired, the age and wear, the splendid ruin, left on display.

Brook remained at the helm of the Bouffes du Nord from 1974 until 2008.

The early 1970s onward marked a fruitful, prolific period for Brook and his troupe. There was the seminal white-box Midsummer, then the epic version of the Mahabharata, the ancient Indian Sanskrit classic of gods and battles and princes in the 1980s. In the early 2000s he presented The Tragedy of Hamlet with Adrian Lester in the title role. Brook approached the play as if it was a brand new work that he had plucked out of a script pile. He purposely ignored the 400 years of baggage the play has acquired. This original approach yielded a tight, amazingly straightforward version of Hamlet. In fact, I have watched a video recording of this production about half a dozen times. If one descriptor stands out it is: clarity.

He caught flack over the years with accusations of cultural appropriation and post-colonialism. His Mahabharata, for example, had a multinational cast made up of lots of ethnicities and skin tones. Brook thought of the Mahabharata as a world-text, like the Bible or the works of Shakespeare, with something universal to say about humanity. This rationalization did not go over so well by some in India.

On the other hand, it can be argued, Brook was a pioneer of what is typically called color-blind casting nowadays, though he doesn't respond well to the phrase. When asked about the "color-blind" casting, Brook invariably corrects the statement and says it should be called "color rich" or even "color welcome" casting.  "Color blind implies something snobbish. That we have our eyes closed and can't bring ourselves to look. I think it disgusting. On the contrary, we have our eyes wide open, welcoming the fact that this actor might be light brown, and this other dark brown, and then this other poor little actor is white," he told interviewer Barbara Bograve of Shakespeare Unlimited a few years ago.

‘I don’t like grand terms such as “artistic vision” because I don’t believe I have one,’ he told the London Guardian back in 2005. ‘For me, the absolute necessity was to work with actors of different cultures and backgrounds and play in front of different audiences’

Brook continued to work into his mid 90s. Two of his final offerings, I think, are apt to bring up here.  In 2016 Brook (with his frequent collaborator since the 1980s Marie-Hélène Estienne and writer Jean-Claude Carrière) produced Battlefield, a sequel to his 1985 production of The Mahabharata; it traveled around the world. The Mahabharata is the tale (encompassing hundreds of smaller tales) of the war between the 100 sons of a blind king and the five of his brother. Every effort is made to avoid the war. The gods give inscrutable good advice. But fate, of course, cannot be avoided. The epic bloodshed ends with brother killing brother, cousin killing cousin and hundreds of thousands dead. Battlefield picks up as an epilogue. It opens with the victorious Yudishtira looking over it all in horror and unable to face the consequences of his actions. His only desire is to leave the world and live in the woods as a hermit. The play, just over an hour (in contrast to the nine hour staging of The Mahabharata) is a concentrated exploration of the ethics of responsibility, of following one’s destiny and trying to make the best of it.

Battlefield (2016) trailer

In 2019, he and Estienne co-wrote and co-directed the play Why?  The piece was part lecture, part demonstration, part meditation on the purpose, as well as dangers, of theatre.  The first act being a sort of inside baseball glimpse at theatre makers' thoughts on the nature of theatre itself and then a second act that serves a sort of biographical study of Meyerhold, a Russian director and student of Stanislavski who broke away from his teacher's ideas with concepts of his own.  Meyerhold's search for truth made him a political target when Stalin came to power and he was inprisoned, tortured and eventually executed. His art made Meyerhold dangerous. Brook's production, not exactly a straight-forward play in the traditional sense, seemed to most directly ask the questions Meyerhold was asking in the early 1900s: Why do we do theater ? Why do we give our lives to the theatre?

Let me end today with  a word about Brooks most influential book, The Empty Space." In this short volume, he covers four kinds of theatre he was observing during the middle of the 20th Century. Deadly theatre is that well-groomed, but toothless production of old plays presented in the same ways they have always been done. This sort of theatre doesn't necessarily have anything important to say, even if it is nice to look at. It is theatre steeped in nostalgia. Deadly theatre is fine. The production value is fine. The acting is fine. A lot of the commercial theatre at the time fell under this label for Brook during the 1950s and 60s. 

Holy Theatre is high-minded theatre that strives to say something really significant, but it is not necessarily concerned with engaging the audience. Holy theatre strives to make "the invisible visible." This sort of theatre attempts to create, or recreate, ritual in a world where we are short on ritual and the sacred. It is theatre that includes spans of silence. Brook used as examples the highly symbolic work of both Samuel Beckett as well as Haitian voodoo. Holy theatre takes itself a bit too seriously and does not always make itself accessible to the audience. 

Rough Theatre is the label Brook gave to makeshift, homemade, eclectic, noisy, profane popular theatre. Rough theatre is vaudeville, music hall, long form improvisation. It is popular messy theatre. Enjoyable and entertaining, but theatre that doesn't necessarily say anything important. Brook holds up Bertolt Brecht's Theatre of Alienation, with all its roughhewn tricks and techniques, as an example.

The last type of theatre Brook mentions is the Immediate theatre, the theatre that “asserts itself in the present”. Immediate theatre occurs when the audience is reacting to the happening on the stage. What is happening is both intellectually and emotionally elevating. The word Immediate is used by Brook as an affirmation.

"[There are] moments of achievement which do occur suddenly, anywhere: the performances, the occasions when collectively, a total experience, a total theatre of play and spectator, which makes nonsense of any divisions like Deadly, Holy and Rough.

At these rare moments, the theatre of joy, the catharsis of celebration, the theatre of exploration, the theatre of shared meaning, the living theatre -  these are all one.

But once gone, the moment is gone and cannot be recaptured."

 When I imagine these types of theatre in a graphic, I picture a triangle with the extremes of deadly, holy and rough at the corners, and immediate right in the middle, balanced and equal distance from each of the others... a sweet spot to shoot for. Immediate has elements of the other three, but with the measurements just right. Upon reading The Empty Space right after college, I knew I had found a sort of north star to navigate by. Immediate is the sort of theatre I would strive  to create and the way I would strive to produce that work on the stage.

This is the opening sentence of The Empty Space. I still use it today as a definition for the act of theatre in the college classes I teach:

“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”

Thank you for this, Peter Brook. An actor, an audience and a place for both of these parties to gather. This is where we all start.

Listen to the Cultivated Playwright Podcast episode... HERE

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