The Tightrope – A Workshop with Peter Brook

Made by his son, Simon, this view of one of Brook’s challenging, meditative, playful, serious workshops should be seen by actors, philosophers, those intrigued by/in search of awareness and the mind-body connection. “What the hell’s it about?” he asks. “What are we doing here? Making theater is real, alive at every moment and touches one…Imagine a tightrope from here to here…”

The floor is covered by overlapping Middle Eastern rugs and cushions. An Asian musician plays a single instrument for each exercise – a drum, a flute, something stringed. Everyone except Brook sits on the floor in comfortable, loose clothes. It’s an international group. Brook speaks in English or French. There are subtitles.

Each actor demonstrates walking the invisible rope, sometimes trying a trick, occasionally falling. When the first one topples, Brook sharply says, “Continue! Recover! Find the rope and pull yourself up.” There are big and small leaps, turns. One woman holds her arms at an angle, another straight out. This one does an arabesque. “If the body isn’t completely alive, the soles of the feet forget in no time what they’re trying to do…” Brook declares. “In every other way, actors are human beings, but they have a link between pure imagination and the body.”

A man lowers himself to one knee and covers the rest of the rope too fast. “Go back. Kneeling can’t be static. You can’t just show it with your arms.” Another is tenuous, slow. He turns and inches his way horizontally. “Again. Hold it to the end.” A woman jumps crossing her feet, then somersaults. “I never saw your feet getting onto it,” Brook observes. “You need to keep a clear reality of your own image.”

“Now you must walk calmly through a raging fire, then devastating cascades of water as in The Magic Flute.” A piano accompanies with three long chords and a strain from the opera. Two people traverse at a time, the one behind ceremonially holds a flute. “Come back. You need to feel a new strength. It takes different effort to get through the water. There must be a pause. See in front of you and prepare…” Some are calm, some fraught. “There’s no need for a set or anything because the truth is in ourselves. If we can recognize the fire and waterfalls within ourselves, we can go through them.”

“The next thing we explore is a shared mind – so easy for every insect and most birds.” People form a circle. “Listen to the silence. No one must speak at the same time.” The group is asked to count off successive numbers. When two people speak at the same time (out of sync), they must start from the beginning again. Fascinating. “Now faster.”

Back to the tightrope. One man is too serious. “Be confident. Otherwise you wouldn’t be walking to Mozart on a tightrope. It’s not an unhappy thing to do. It’s the music of someone open and happy. Happy, really happy. Enjoy it.” (Brook laughs) “For me the key has always been – you `play’ a tragedy or comedy. You `play’ in a play. There’s always this incredible pleasure whatever you’re doing in so-called acting. There’s always a moment when something is freed and exceptional joy comes…That’s why there’s no difference in improv between comic and serious…”

“The exercise we’re doing now is to increase sensitivity, as if your feet had eyes.” One by one, they follow the edge of the rug until a group of eight or so walk the rim, carefully working around one another. Actors talk about their experience, then return to the performance space. “Let’s explore a reason for the walk, a tragic reason, a comic reason. Thespians speak to one another creating a situation. Two opposing forces and the third has to deal.”

Bamboo rods are held as one walks to the end of a journey while another guards a door. The guard has set lines. Each speaks in their own language. The musician wordlessly sings.

“I think we can agree that the great interest for us is to go further.” If an actor does well, Brook just nods or smiles. During exercises, he only speaks to correct, yet goes by the premise nothing is “wrong.”

The last exercise has one alone in a room, then dying. “That puts the question of tempo very clearly. Don’t telegraph what will happen. If you decide too early what the end is, it’s not the same thing as reaching it unlooked for. A sense of balance needs to be renewed every moment. Moving forward to an aim keeps everything under control. It’s the strict, demanding razor’s edge of a tightrope.”

Tightrope is a film newly added to the web site BroadwayHD.

Photos Courtesy of BroadwayHD and Peter Brook Productions/Daniel Bardou

About Alix Cohen (1053 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.