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The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate Paperback – December 1, 1995

4.7 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Peter Brook's career, beginning in the 1940s with radical productions of Shakespeare with a modern experimental sensibility and continuing to his recent work in the worlds of opera and epic theater, makes him perhaps the most influential director of the 20th century. Cofounder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and director of the International Center for Theater Research in Paris, perhaps Brook's greatest legacy will be The Empty Space. His 1968 book divides the theatrical landscape, as Brook saw it, into four different types: the Deadly Theater (the conventional theater, formulaic and unsatisfying), the Holy Theater (which seeks to rediscover ritual and drama's spiritual dimension, best expressed by the writings of Artaud and the work of director Jerzy Grotowski), the Rough Theater (a theater of the people, against pretension and full of noise and action, best typified by the Elizabethan theater), and the Immediate Theater, which Brook identifies his own career with, an attempt to discover a fluid and ever-changing style that emphasizes the joy of the theatrical experience. What differentiates Brook's writing from so many other theatrical gurus is its extraordinary clarity. His gentle illumination of the four types of theater is conversational, even chatty, and though passionately felt, it's entirely lacking in the sort of didactic bombast that flaws many similar texts. --John Longenbaugh

About the Author

Peter Brook is one of the giants of twentieth-century theatre, a unique creative genius who, through his groundbreaking productions of "King Lear," "Marat/Sade," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and especially "The Mahabharata," has virtually reinvented the way actors and directors think about theatre.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reprint edition (December 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684829576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684829579
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Remington on June 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
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.
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By A Customer on December 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Yes: Brook is a genius.
Yes: This work is of great value to any theatre artist.
BUT!!! This book is rather dense, and those who are unfamiliar with major movements and theories in the last century of theater may find themselves a bit lost when Brook begins to talk about Artaud and the "Holy Theater" or Brecht and "Rough Theater."
Brook's ideas, through his sometimes dense writing, are meant to inspire and invigorate. This is not a manual or even a reference to create good theatre, as a major argument of Brook's is that good theater is far to complex and ever-changing to be explained by any book/manual/dogma/etc.
Read this book and know that it will not help you to create good theatre- if anything, it will raise the bar for "good" theatre so much higher that one's task becomes infinitely more difficult. This is the agony and the ecstasy of reading Peter Brook.
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Be careful. This book could change your life. It changed mine. I read The Empty Space in 1974. I was so blown away by the ideas within this book, I quit my job, moved to a large metropolitan area, and ended up running a theater, directing plays in other theaters, then teaching theater for the next twenty years. What this book does is teach important lessons in creating and appreciating art. Upon rereading The Empty Space, I find some of the writing to be a bit pretentious, but on the whole, the lessons are solid. Whether exploring theater, literature, art, music, or any other creative endeavor, this books shows that experiencing an artistic event can and should be a transformative experience. What is particularly refreshing is it doesn't sugar-coat the arts. There is no formula or how-to instructions on creating good work. Risk is not only encouraged, it is necessary. Brook also shows how the arts can be manipulated to lull and pacify. The four essays/lectures on Deadly Theater, Holy Theater, Rough Theater, and Immediate Theater are as fresh to day as they were 40 years ago.
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What is great about the empty space is that Peter Brook's theory is relevant to all art forms. The four theatres he describes are basically categories in which all art falls into. This seems odd at first until you see what he is describing. What turns most people off is the idea of over-categorizing art. But Brook's theatres tend to be more or less critiques of individual performances, or what the effect of that performance is on the audience. This is also easy to read. Too much theatre philosophy gets bogged down by either melodramatic thespian writers, or rambling philosophies from those who have not trained themselves to ge good writers. With Brook, it is pretty straightforawrd, not always easy to understand mind you, but straightforward. If you are at all interested in the arts then this is a must read.
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I'm a playwright, poet, and novelist (most recent novel is THE MAGIC HOUSE). For any playwright, actor, director this book is essential reading. The notions of immediate and holy theaters are extraordinary, approaching the level of pure poetry. I highly recommend this book.
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This is the most in depth study of the modern theatre by
a genius director. His view of NYC theatre being deadly
is, in my experience working off off B'way theater, is spot on.
NYC theatre is dead and getting deader since all the
young actors and directors are being trained by studios who are
living in the past. NYC theatre is at the same dead level
as it was in the 30s, 40s and 50s when The Theatre of the
Absurd playwrights- Beckett, Genet, Pinter, Onesco, Albee
and is described by Andre Gregory and Wally Shawn in their
classic film My Dinner With Andre, that NYC theatre is controlled
by a conspiracy of commercial interests based on money which
keeps the audience bored and asleep because if you are asleep
you can't say no!
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