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The theatre as a living organism
on June 11, 2001
Building upon the earlier work of Aristotle, Brecht, Artaud and others, Brook confronts the living organism of the theatre on four levels: Deadly, Holy, Rough and Immediate. In each level, Brook makes the case that the theatre is not only a necessary component to the human creature, but a being that despite its constant wounds and ills, manages to bounce up from the death bed and find a way to survive.
Interestingly when Brook was writing (1968) there were many cynical critics who complained that the theatre was dying in the wake of television and film. Brook confronts the issue that theatre attendance was reacing all time lows. Today, over thirty years later, it is daunting to consider that there are even more distractions (the internet, home video, etc.) and attendance is even lower still. Yet despite these imposing knives thrusting into the communal body that is the Theatre, the world's oldest art form manages to forge ahead, survive and, the rare cases, thrive all the while maintaining its cultural importance.
Brook believes the theatre is unique is that it requires a community of artists and audiences alike to exist. That very sense of humanity and awe is what allows it to flourish in many instances.
Brook's writing is admittedly erudite and sometimes pretentious. And perhaps when one takes the positions that he does, such lofty language and posings may indeed be impossible. I hate to say it, but Brook's book may be hard going for the theatre lay person- God knows I'm aware of how elitist that sounds, but I think it is true. Because of his thick verbage, it may take a couple of stabs for the reader to unlock Brook's fevered soapboxing. But the journey is well worth the price.
This is a book of theatre theory and therefore it may appear quite barren of practical solutions. However when read in conjunction with not only life experience in the theatre as well as the many great acting, directing and play wrighting texts, it does provide the theatre artist with the basis for forging a true political manifesto. To quote Brook himself, "To play needs much work. But when we experience the work as play, then it is not work any more. A play is a play."