Designing For Live Performance: Readings Response / by Maya Pruitt

Empty Space by Peter Brook

The Deadly Theatre

The Immediate Theatre

“Visits to a Small Planet” by Elanor Fuchs.

I begun reading The Deadly Theatre and paused quickly in efforts to understand the use of the word “deadly” and its capitalization. Brooks writes, “The Deadly Theatre can at first sight be taken for granted, because it means bad theatre”. At first I thought this was a terrible definition. Bad is so subjective. So I looked up “deadly", which is defined as

Causing or able to cause death.

Filled with hatred or intense rivalry.

Extremely accurate, effective, or skillful (typically in the context of shooting or sports).

Complete; total.

Extremely boring (which is defined as the informal case)

Ironically, the most informal or colloquial definition of the word is the one that I think Brooks is using the most in his first lecture and the capitalization of it then grounds it in an interesting authority. The Deadly Theatre is the extremely boring theatre, the overdone, the disconnected, the play that has the “look” but not quite the “feel”.

What was most illuminating to me was how Brooks further broke down the Deadly Theatre, into its Deadly parts. This highlights that while “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”, the more involved grandeur of theatre as we imagine it is the combination of the director, the designers, the architecture, the writer, the actors, and the audience. Any one of these components can turn Deadly, and therefore ruin the overall experience.

He mentioned a couple times the power of perception, where he asked audience members to read different works. One woman read an excerpt of King Lear, a man read a speech about Auschwitz from The Investigation, and another volunteer read from Henry V. In all cases, the most captivating performances were when the volunteers read most naturally, when given more context about the character, or told to read Shakespeare versus something about a more recent time in history, the volunteers tried too hard to be “actors” and the performance (those they may not have intended to give) faltered. I interpreted this as a type of perception, because once they tried to create from their internal ideals of theatre, the meaning of the words they recited changed significantly.

These points from Brook’s writing, I think parallel most with Elinor Fuchs “Visits to a Small Planet”. In this essay, Fuchs encourages readers of a play to ask questions and understand the world in which the play exists. One cannot just focus on the language or the characters alone, but instead should consider the space, time, mood, rules, changes, and ultimately the patterns of the play’s world. The both describe theatre in a reductionist way, breaking it down into its smaller parts.

The Immediate Theatre is then a culmination. It is the response to Deadly Theatre and the execution of a play that has been truly understood as a small planet. Brooks describes Immediate Theatre as a dynamic responsive theatre. It is made to be the product of its current time and provide an immediacy for the audience. This is where interaction may play a crucial role, as it could then bridge the gap future between the theatre creators and those that consume.