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Peter Brook: The Tightrope

Distributed by First Run Features, 630 Ninth Avenue, Suite 1213, New York, NY 10036; 212-243-0600
Produced by Brook Productions and Cinemaundici and Arte France
Directed by Simon Brook
DVD, color, 83 min.
College - General Adult
Acting, Theater

Reviewed by Rebecca Adler Schiff, College of Staten Island, City University of New York

Date Entered: 9/9/2014

The illustrious theater director Peter Brook, notable for such memorable and influential productions as Marat/Sade and a nine-hour dramatization of the Indian epic The Mahabharata, strenuously believed that a successful theater performance fundamentally begins with performers fully rehearsed and in the know. “The gift of an actor,” he says in this film, “is a certain link between the pure imagination and the body itself.” Long famous for not allowing outsiders to observe his rehearsals, the film, directed by Brook’s son Simon, offers a rare glimpse into one of his acting exercises, in this case one involving an imaginary tightrope. In essence, the “reality” of the rope becomes the basis of all performance. Still spry of mind though somewhat frail of body as he approaches age ninety, Brook is seen instructing a dozen or so actors at his Paris theater Les Bouffes du Nord to walk across a Persian carpet as if it were a tightrope, where everything is apparent all at once and the body is wholly alive. The exercises are accompanied by live music and are designed to increase concentration, sensitivity, and awareness. Brook mentions that what will ultimately be achieved by the exercises is a “tempo” resembling “real life.” The actors also work on short scenes and improvisations. Brook’s guidance of the actors is gentle yet forthright, and the camera often delights in watching Brook watching the actors. Although his instructions are mostly clear, some of his remarks may appear rather loftily abstract, since one is provided very little by way of context. Inasmuch as nothing is said about Brook’s lifelong important theatrical work, the film would seem to be most suitable for advanced theater and acting students already familiar with that work.