Unreal Nature

October 20, 2018

A Word Does Not Start as a Word

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… And from all sides the same answer — the risk is too great, too many disappointments.

This is from The Empty Space by Peter Brook (1968):

… with Shakespeare we hear or read the same advice — ‘Play what is written.’ But what is written? Certain ciphers on paper. Shakespeare’s words are records of the words that he wanted to be spoken, words issuing as sounds from people’s mouths, with pitch, pause, rhythm and gesture as part of their meaning.

[line break added] A word does not start as a word — it is an end product which begins as an impulse, stimulated by attitude and behavior which dictate the need for expression. This process occurs inside the dramatist; it is repeated inside the actor. Both may only be conscious of the words, but both for the author and then for the actor the word is a small visible portion of a gigantic unseen formation.

[ … ]

… One morning I stood in the Museum of Modern Art looking at the people swarming in for one dollar admission. Almost every one of them had the lively head and the individual look of a good audience — using the simple personal standard of an audience for whom one would like to do plays. In New York, potentially, there is one of the best audiences in the world. Unfortunately, it seldom goes to the theatre.

It seldom goes to the theatre because the prices are too high. Certainly it can afford these prices, but it has been let down too often. It is not for nothing that New York is the place where the critics are the most powerful and the toughest in the world. It is the audience, year after year, that has been forced to elevate simple fallible men into highly priced experts because, as when a collector buys an expensive work, he cannot afford to take the risk alone: the tradition of the expert valuers of works of art, like Duveen, has reached the box office line.

[line break added] So the circle is closed; not only the artists, but also the audience, have to have their protection men — and most of the curious, intelligent, nonconforming individuals stay away. This situation is not unique to New York. I had a closely related experience when we put on John Arden’s Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance in Paris at the Athenée. It was a true flop — almost all the Press was bad — and we were playing to virtually empty houses.

[line break added] Convinced that the play had an audience somewhere in the town, we announced that we would give three free performances. Such was the lure of complimentary tickets that they became like wild premières. Crowds fought to get in, the police had to draw iron grilles across the foyer, the play itself went magnificently, as the actors, cheered by the warmth of the house, gave their best performance, which in turn earned them an ovation.

[line break added] The theatre which the night before had been a draughty morgue now hummed with the chatter and buzz of success. At the end, we put up the house lights and looked at the audience. Mostly young, they were all well dressed, rather formal, in suits and ties. Françoise Spira, directress of the theater, came on the stage.

‘Is there anyone here who could not afford the price of a ticket?’
One man put up his hand.
‘And the rest of you, why did you have to wait to be let in for free?’
‘It had a bad Press.’
‘Do you believe the Press?’
Loud chorus of ‘No!’
‘Then, why … ?’

And from all sides the same answer — the risk is too great, too many disappointments. Here we see the vicious circle is drawn. Steadily the Deadly Theatre digs its own grave.

-Julie

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