October 25 - Design and the Ensemble


Remember that it will be useful to revisit the Artaud readings from Sept. 27 as well.

Primary Sources

Julian Beck "Mister Beck Without Reefer," and "Storming the Barricades," in The Brig, p. v-36

Judith Malina, "Notes on a Ritual Tragedy," in Twentieth Century Theatre, A Sourcebook, p. 275-6

Jerzy Grotowski, "From Towards a Poor Theatre" in Theatre and Performance Design p. 279-84 (also at this link p.15-21)

Jerzy Grotowski, "Statement of Principles" in Twentieth Century Performance Reader p. 217-224 (also at this link)

Peter Brook "Deadly Theatre" in Twentieth Century Performance Reader, p. 105-110

Josette Ferál "Building Up the Muscle: An Interview with Ariane Mnouchkine"

Secondary Sources

Robert Bethune, “Le Théâtre du Soleil’s Les Atrides,” Asian Theatre Journal 10, no. 2 (October 1, 1993): 179-190.

Ludwik Flaszen "Wyspianski's Akropolis," in The Grotowski Sourcebook p. 64-72

In the A Midsummer Night's Dream Acting Edition p. 7-21, 45-52

  • "Introduction,"
  • Ronald Bryden, "A Drama Critic Introduces Peter Brook"
  • Sally Jacobs "Designing tile Dream - From Tantras to Tunics"

Richard Schechner "Chap. 5: Towards a Poetics of Performance," in Performance Theory, p. 152-186


Below are the reviews in the New York Times by Clive Barnes for three of the main productions for this week:

Media (required)

Review images and clips on Post-WWII Prezi

Watch Top and Bottom clips of Midsummer Night's Dream here.

Watch Akropolis, The Brig and Signals Through the Flames in the DML

  • User: Media Viewing Station
  • Pass: BGCmedia

Additional Materials

Norman James, “The Living Theatre: Its Use of the Stage,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 29, no. 4 (July 1, 1971): 475-483.

Peter Brook, "The Holy Theatre", from The Empty Space

On the DML Media Viewing Computer

  • Marat/Sade - Peter Brook film of Peter Weiss play famously using Artaud's theories. Really well performed and shot and good music as well
  • The Mahabharata - three part Indian epic performed by Peter Brook's company around the world then made into film. Example of interculturalism as the cast consisted of actors from around the world and took a multicultural approach to this expansive text.

Brian de Palma's film version of Dionysus69

Find a translation of Akropolis here.

The video of the interview below is here instead of the Prezi because you need to turn on closed captioning

Motivator Post and Images

Motivator 1: Martina
Motivator 2:

With this set of readings I decided to compare some of the major themes and theories of directors Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, Judith Malina, and Julian Beck. All these directors are concerned with the actor’s ability to interact with the audience and the benefit of an actor-audience relationship on a production. For Malina and Beck and the Living Theatre troupe, the implications are particularly political in that the audience is compelled to be a part of the spectacle and thus society as a whole.

Peter Brook’s statements on deadly theatre, the most ubiquitous form of theatre which does not instruct or stimulate the intellect but instead creates a perpetuated state of boredom for the viewer that he/she has come to expect of the theatre. Deadly acting can be both the manner of an actor who plays a classic role as he/she sees fit without any real sense of truth, and the manner of an actor who seeks truth in such a classic role and instead ends up with an act that is “neither refreshing, like ordinary talk, nor defiantly histrionic, like what we call ham.” In Brook’s eyes, the actor has become confused by keywords like “poetic”, “romantic”, “noble”, “heroic”, etc., and in associating characters with these loaded and multifaceted terms, the act can feel contrived and uninspired—in short, the acting is ‘deadly’. But if this is a problematic way to approach theatre, how exactly does an actor escape these word associations? Brook doesn’t really explain how to get around this, and even Beck acknowledges that he doesn’t quite know what it is he is looking to get out of a revolution of theatre.

In his discussion of deadly theatre, Brook refers to the common expression that the theatre is a whore, while Jerzy Grotowski in his “Statement of Principles” notes the ‘artistic prostitution’ taking place on the part of the actor. Like Brook, Grotowski struggles with the balance of adherence to tradition and artistic integrity, begging for actors who are not concerned with money and success. What Brook calls ‘deadly acting’ is for Grotowski and even Beck a ‘sham’, and the two concepts are really the same for them, it seems; false acting is deadly. Nonetheless, it’s made clear that this kind of theatre sells, and keeps audiences coming to the theatre.

Brook, Grotowski, and Malina, single out the actor as problematic and in need of guidance. To Grotowski, for an actor to reach his/her artistic apex, he/she must place acting above all other pursuits in life, even pleasures, in order to devote oneself most fully to one’s art. For Malina, “the actor has grown apart from society” in his/her detachment from the audience. Grotowski is so opposed to actors reaching personal success, but doesn’t the success of the play, particularly for such audiences, rest on the actors? Is there really a way to escape what these figures classify as ‘deadly’ theatre?

By the time we reach Grotowski’s discussion of the actor in Towards a Poor Theatre, his approach to acting takes on a much more empirical and scientific approach in which this relationship between actor and audience must be observations, and in this case, his own observations allowed him to reach a point of implementing ‘poverty’ in theatre, wherein stage sets are minimalized or eliminated in favor of actor-audience relations and the physical arrangement of these bodies in the space. In seeking out a ‘living’ theatre, among other things, each of these figures are supporting a radical move away from theatre in its current boring, uninstructive state and towards active participation on the part of the audience.

The impact of a performance, both on the stage (whatever the stage is, in this case) and outside of theatre rests on the interaction between audience and actor. Can this sort of relationship be applied to classic plays that rest on particular associations (I know, I’m totally making the associations on how to act Shakespeare that Brook is railing against), or can this only be implemented in truly modern texts? How to implement this otherwise? And if we eliminate all the excess that allows a classic text to be performed in a recognizable way as Grotowski proposes, are we missing the essence of the play historically, replacing it with new meaning, etc? This is revolutionary but it is always a positive approach?

EDIT: I don't know what I was writing by the last paragraph of this (but I can tell you I did all the reading and writing after 10pm and I was cranky), and I sound like I'm totally criticizing these movements with no justification. Anyway, after watching all of the videos and really thinking about these concepts in action, I think the Living Theatre and Peter Brook's approaches to theatre are particularly brilliant in their complete disregard for historicity while still remaining faithful to a text and its emotional power. Their ways of utilizing space, centralizing the human body, and even returning to primal instinct to a degree as the object of a play from which all emotions, cues, props, etc. can come is really forward-looking and quite simply beautiful in its minimalism. That bare minimum forces viewers to consider outside factors and not become engrossed in a fiction acted out befor them. I am sure the Living Theatre in its initial years and Le Theatre du Soleil would have had an even bigger impact on those watching if our own political atmosphere was like that of the late 1960s; however, this revolutionary, intimate experience of the actor and the audience can perhaps even by some people be equated to the current anti-corporate protests happening in our own country. Even though I don't necesssarily know what Malina, Beck, etc. thought they could accomplish, even after reading their theories, bringing people back to that level of intimacy does open eyes to a certain alienation in society that maybe only becomes so apparent when you return to that primal, intimate level. Well, bottom line: I would like to experience theatre in this way today and am eager to see such a performance.

Les Atrides

Julian Beck/Living Theatre

The Brig