Many famous and talented people, the representatives of different professions, among which are writers and singers, politicians and historians, actors and scientists, attract everybody’s attention by their biographies. Of course, it is very interesting to know more about a man who has already had a great success in life and who can easily share his experience with others. Peter Brook is one of such people, who are worthy of respect and whose wise thoughts should be analyzed and discussed. I think that his book The Shifting Point is worth to be reading and analyzing because it is not just an autobiography of a talented man, a theater director and a well-known playwright and a wonderful screenwriter but also this book can be considered a so-called guide to the wonderful world of theater. My goal in this essay is to discuss Peter Brook’s book The Shifting Point and to prove the fact that this literary work deserves attention of all the people who are not indifferent to theater as a form of art.
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That is why I decided to organize my paper into several sections which will help to develop the theme. It is known that Peter Brook was born in London. His father, a Russian scientist, who came to Great Britain searching for the better life, was not a well-to-do man, nevertheless, Peter Brook got a good education. He studied at Westminster College, later at Oxford University where he was noticed as an active member of the amateur theater. His first amateur work on Jean Cocteau’s play La Machine Infernale attracted attention of the famous playwright Barry Jackson who offered twenty-years-old Brook to put a rather difficult play Man and Superman written by Bernard Show on the stage of Birmingham repertory theater. According to Peter Brook’s words, he always hung upon his feelings and the sixth sense in his work. It always helped him to be the first on the stage and in life.
Brook was 21 when he was invited to Shakespeare Memorial Theater to produce Shakespearian plays. This unforgettable cycle of plays made him famous. Romeo and Juliet (1947) was a real sensation. It even set off a lively argument among the English theater critics. For the first time in his work Brook used the idea of “empty space” getting rid of many decorations. As a matter of fact, he was known for brave innovations on the stage and new styles of his productions. May be, his book The Shifting Point which was written in 1988, after about forty years of experience as a theater playwright, an opera playwright and a film producer has the main goal – to represent Peter Brook’s ideas and thoughts concerning William Shakespeare’s plays.
There were a great deal of other plays, operas and films where Peter Brook showed his talent of a playwright and screenwriter. Among them are the following plays:
King Lear (1962)
Measure for Measure (1950)
The Winter’s Tale (1952)
Titus Andronicus (1958)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970)
The full title of this book is The Shifting Point: Theater. Film. Opera. 1946-1987. It is quite obvious why Peter Brook decided to give his book such a long title. He wanted to show that he had the greatest experience in the sphere of the drama and film production. Forty years is quite a long period to become an expert whose innovations were highly appreciated. The book consists of numerous witty essays which include not only some commentaries concerning both the classic theater and the avant-garde theater but also different anecdotes which are connected with opera and film work. Besides, the book The Shifting Point touches upon the theme of Shakespeare’s plays. The author gives series of thorough explorations of Shakespeare’s plays. Peter Brook is well-known as “the leading director of his generation” who uses his own theater techniques and innovations. Some critics even call him “a genius of our times”. That is true. Everybody will agree with this statement after reading his book The Shifting Point. Now I’d like to turn to the contents of the book. There are nine chapters (or parts) in the book The Shifting Point:
A Sense of Direction
People on the Way – a Flashback
What is a Shakespeare?
The World as a Can Opener
Filling the Empty Space
The Forty Years War
Flickers of Life
Entering Another World
The First Part – A Sense of Direction. There are six essays in this part.
The Formless Hunch is a rather interesting essay where Brook tells us about the way he usually organizes his work on play, the process of preparation his play for the stage: costumes, color, his rehearsal work.
The Stereoscopic Vision is another essay from the first part. Here the author continues his discussion concerning the role of director in the theater. For him “being a director is taking charge, making decisions”, as well as saying the last word.
There is Only One Stage is the title of the next essay. Here Brook tells about “the great misunderstanding” which takes place in the present-day theater. Brook compares the work of director with a potter who “molds his pot” and then “sends it into the world”. It is a misunderstanding. Brook states that the process consists of two phases: “First: preparation. Second: birth”.
Misunderstandings is another essay which continues the theme of work in the theater. Here Brook tells how he came to a famous producer and said to him: “I want to direct films”. Brook was 20 at that time and had already directed an amateur film A Sentimental Journey. Of course, he was too young to direct films. Brook prepared his script as for a film. The first scene in this play was a dialogue between two soldiers. Brook did not know “how a professional rehearsal starts”.
I Try to Answer a Letter is a small letter written by Brook to Mr.Howe, telling about how to become a director. He said that all the directors in the theater are self-appointed and one can become a director by calling himself a director and bringing other people to believe in it. He advices to be active and not to waste time in achieving the goal.
A World in Relief, the last essay in the first part of the book, continues Brook’s discussion about “directing”. Here he again repeats all the duties of a director in the theater. He speaks about a “special director’s language” where an actor is “only a noun”, but an important one. He pays attention to the phenomenon akin to holography in the theater. Brook speaks about the “golden rule” which says that any actor must remember that the play is “greater that himself”.
The second part is People on the Way – A Flashback. It contains nine essays. The first one is Gordon Graig. This essay tells how Brook met Gordon Graig, a person whose life is closely connected with the theater. He is an actor but many years ago he gave up this profession and began to direct “a tiny number of productions”. Before the First World War, he staged his last production. Now he is 84. He lives in pension de famille in the South of France. His life story is an interesting one.
The Beck Connection is one more Brook’s essay which tells about Julian Beck and Judith Malina’s production of Jack Gelber’s play The Connection. Here Brook touches upon the theme of different “forms of theater”, the meaning of the the term “lying” in relation to the theater and cinema.
Happy Sam Beckett, the next essay of the second chapter. Here the author writes about the new Beckett play Happy Days which impressed him greatly by its objectivity.
Bouncing, another essay represents Brook’s point of view concerning the routine work in the theater. He says that it is useless to make plans. He compares all the theater staff with ping-pong balls “bouncing off the net of events”. In this essay Brook touches upon his play The Balcony which was postponed due to some circumstances, he recalls Marilyn Monroe who came to the rehearsal of his play View from the Bridge without Brook’s permission and criticized his actress Mary Ure.
Grotowski is the title of the other Brook’s essay included into the second part of The Shifting Point. In this essay Brook shows his relation to Grotowski who is known for his investigation “the nature of acting, its phenomenon, its meaning, the nature and science of the processes including mental, physical, emotional points”.
Artaud and the Great Puzzle. In this essay Brook continues his story about Grotowski’s skills and experimental works in theater. Brook and Grotowski had a lot of common ideas but their paths were different.
How Many Trees Make a Forest? This essay with such an unusual title tells about Brook’s first meeting with Brecht. He compares Brecht, Graig and Stanislavski and decides how many decorations must be put on the stage to make a forest.
It Happened in Poland. In this essay Brook tells about his friend Jan Kott whom he met in a nightclub of Warsaw. He was “a Professor of Drama” and was known for his writings about Shakespeare.
Peter Weiss’s Kick. In this essay Brook discusses the problems of theater, finds the answer to the question concerning the difference between a poor play and a good play and gets acquainted with Peter Weiss works.
In the third part of the book which has the title Provocations. Cruelty, Madness and War, you can find five essays by Peter Brook. The first one, Manifesto for the Sixties, is represented by a number of quotes which are worth thinking of. For example, “Culture has never done anyone any good whatsoever. No work of art has yet made a better man”.
The Theater of Cruelty. This essay tells about Brook’s work with a group of actors who presented some theater experiments in public. He states that national theater, musical comedy and experimental theater are the main parts of the “healthy theater”.
U.S. Means You. U.S. Means US. In this essay Brook gives explanations concerning the fact that The Royal Shakespeare Theater used public money to stage a play about Americans at War in Vietnam. A great deal of contradictory reactions appeared in connection with this. Twenty five actors together with the team of authors investigated the situation in Vietnam. Brook and his partners were against the idea to use the theater as “a television documentary”, “as lecture hall”, as “vehicle for propaganda”.
The Theater Can’t Be Pure is another essay which explains the difference between words “true”, “real”, “natural” in relation to the theater. Here Brooks compares theater with the stomach where food “metamorphoses into two equalities: excrement and dreams”.
A Lost Art. In this essay Brook argues on the issue of acting. He took Seneca’s play Oedipus where there is no “external action” and he calls this theater liberated from scenery, free from costume, stage moves and gestures. In this essay Brook represents his ideas concerning the actor’s nature and the psychological aspect in acting.
Shakespeare isn’t a bore. Shakespeare has an incredible dramatic quality of the plays. Romeo and Juliet is described as a love story, which is sentimental, also includes violence, intrigues and excitement.
An open letter to Shakespeare, or, as I don’t like itâ€¦ Most of the plays of Shakespeare are miraculous, except As you like it. But despite that, the public loves them all.
What is a Shakespeare? Not much is understood about Shakespeare, as he is different in kind.
The two ages of Gielgudâ€¦ John Gielgud’s reputation inspired love and awe, and each actor was thrilled to be there. The author says that John I unique and that he is always in the present. “He is also traditional, for his passionate sense of quality comes from his understanding of the past”.
Shakespearean realism. “For centuries our practical understanding of Shakespeare has been blocked by the false notion that Shakespeare was a writer of far-fetched plots which he decorated with genius.”
Lear- Can it be staged? The author doubts that there is any designer that has patience to work with him.
Exploding stars. “Within the galaxy of plays there are plays that move closer to us at certain moments in the history and some that move away.”
Points of radianceâ€¦ “When I started work on Shakespeare, I did believe to a limited extent in the possibility of a classical word music, that each verse had a sound that was correct, with only moderate variations.”
Shakespeare is a piece of coal. The author is interested in the present. “History is a way of looking at things, but not one that interests me very much. Shakespeare does not belong to the past”.
The play is the message. Considering the theme of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the center of a Dream there is the love. This theme touches all men.
The international centre. People do research. “The purpose is to be instruments that transmit truths which otherwise would remain out of sight”.
Structures of sound. “The theme of the first year’s work of the International Centre of Theatre Research was to be a study of structures of sounds.” The theatre tries to reflect the real world.
Life in a more concentrated form. The effect is rather intense if the group of actors includes people with different backgrounds. “With an international company, a deep understanding can be touched between people who seem to have nothing in common.”
Brook’s Africa. An Interview by Michael Gibson. As a result, nothing had a better effect on the actors than the stillness of the African audiences. “It is very natural to most Africans not to manifest.”
Te world as a can opener. Everyone can respond to the music and dances of many races other than his own. For the actors the power of myths can be as a challenge. Understanding through identification is normal in the theatre.
An aborigine, I presume. A lot of gesticulating and interpreters help in telling the stories. The story describes people who live in their countries and do not fully know them.
Space as a tool. Author thinks that the theatre is based on a particular human characteristic, which is the need at times to be in a new and intimate relationship with one’s fellow men.
Les bouffes du nord. The author describes that his stroke of luck was having Micheline as a partner – “it was her brilliance and originality of vision that enabled us year after year to cross the tightrope of survival”.
The conference of the birds. “The illusions have less body, because they haven’t got the ferocious attachment to the very forces that make the illusions in life so impossible to break”.
Butter and the knife describes the specifics of the theatre, the possibility to have butter and knife by other means, the Ubu Roi, the plays The Bone and The Conference of the Birds.
The Cherry Orchard describes the work of Chekhov, and the author says that in Chekhov’s work death is omnipresent, as he knew it well.
The Mahabharata describes the difficulties in the traditional theatre from the East, which is admired even without understanding.
Dharma is something that can not be answered and the only thing that can be said about it is that it is the essential motor.
The Goddess and the Jeep. There is a decline and fall of religious theatre described in The Goddess and the Jeep.
The art of noise describes the Opera and people making noise when they came out of their caves.
Eugene Onegin. Here is described the theatrical weakness of the work – the last scene. The work also demands realistic style of staging.
Carmen describes the interview with Philippe Albera after the opening of La Tragedie de Carmen at the Bouffes du Nord in November 1981.
The taste of style is about the facts and symbols of our time. As well, the style is described, along with the peculiarities of the theatre.
Filming a play describes cases and peculiarities of filming the plays. As well, the principles of television and “filmic” equivalents are described. “The reality of the image gives to film its power and its limitation”.
Lord of the flies described the Golding’s book, which is a history of man. “My experience showed me that the only falsification in Golding’s fable is the length of time the descent to savagery takes”.
Moderato Cantabile describes the story written by Marguerite Duras and about the idea of making it into a film.
Filming King Lear. There were efforts to evolve an impressionistic movie technique, cutting language and incident to the bone, so that the total effect of all the things heard and seen could capture in different terms Shakespeare’s rough, uneven, jagged and disconcerting vision.
Tell me lies – is a feature film based on the Royal Shakespeare Company production of US.
Meetings with remarkable men – is not totally truthful story, sometimes accurate, sometimes not, sometimes in and sometimes out of life, like a legend.
The mask- coming out of our shell- is a story about masks. What is the mask doing: “the thing you are most afraid of losing, you lose right away – your ordinary defenses, your ordinary expressions, your ordinary face that you hide behind.” People are imprisoned and there is a capacity to open eyes wider and raise the eyebrows higher than people done ever before.
The essential radiance – it describes the theatres that exist at the precise moment when these two worlds – that of the actors and that of the audience – meet: a society in miniature, a microcosm brought together every evening within a space.
The culture of links is all about the cultural peculiarities. Fragmentation of the world deals with the discovery of relationships, and there are certain aspects that are imprisoned in the culture.
In conclusion of my essay I should say that Peter Brook’s book The Shifting Point can be the guide to the world of art because the author gives too many ideas and explanations concerning theater, opera, film production as well as his own understanding of the outer world. We learn about his feelings, emotions, achievements, and failures.
All critics have a considerable respect for Peter Brook. Now he is 85 but he is full of energy. He continues his writing and his new books impress his readers.
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