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Exercises from Director Peter Brook

 In a reaction to Realism, some artists like Peter Brook or the Living Theatre, deemphasized the realism of theatre.  Instead, they preferred to emphasize the communication between the actors and the audience.  This focus, summed up in Antonin Artaud’s phrase “Theatre of Cruelty,” was directed at eliciting the greatest emotional reaction from audience members.  In other words, make them squirm uncomfortably in their seats.  Some of these directing exercises show this change in focus, as they try to get actors to go beyond the “text,” expressing emotions much more physically.  Criticized by some as “calisthentics” rather than provoking “artistic expression for its own sake” (218). Try one or two and see what you think.


Note:  Improvising is acting a role on the spot, with no previous warning or rehearsal.


1)  Similes Exercise:  “An actor played an ordinary improvised scene realistically—a man arrived home, found a note, and read some shattering news. At this pressure point the directors redirected the actor to another style, making him express the shattered reaction through pure sound or abstract gesture.” (217)


2)  Essentials Exercise:  The actors played a scene and then labeled each beat with a single sentence describing the vital content.  They then repeated the scene playing only these sentences in sequence.  Sentences were progressively reduced to key words withc were also played as a scene, and finally each key word was reduced to its most prominent sound.  At this point, the original scene had be divested of its realism, leaving a short, essentialized, and quite nonmimentic core.” (217-218)


3)  Total fitness Exercise:  The directors forced the actors to speak whle performing difficult physical exertions, so that the voice of the straining body overcame the actor’s ordinary vocal habits or tricks….”Get thee to a nunnery,” if spoken by a man swinging upside down above a woman, might meant something new, or (given the prevailing artistic crisis) it might mean anything at all” (218).

(as discussed in Jones, David.  Great Directors at Work.  Berkeley, UC Press, 1986.)


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