October 21, 2011

Emptiness and the living playwright

It may seem strange for me to say this, but the biggest influence on my work as a playwright is Peter Brook's The Empty Space and The Open Door. The Empty Space is one of the first books about theatre I ever picked up. At the time, I only plucked them off the shelf because they were short and easy for me to understand. Little did I know how fortuitous it was for this piece to appeal to me. From the first sentence, I was immediately made aware of the sheer possibility of theatre:
"I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all I need for an act of theatre to be engaged." -- Peter Brook, The Empty Space
If I can be said to have anything approaching a philosophy of theatre-making, that would be it. This idea of emptiness as a core component of theatre-making fascinates me as an artist. What a liberating, empowering concept! To make vital theatre that engages audiences at every moment, you don't need a building, or sets, or a light/sound board. All you need are people and space. Imagine that!

The Open Door is the book that made me realize that making theatre that captivates and touches an audience depends not on a complex intellectual edifice, but the freedom to explore and discover. This helped free me from feeling obligated to explain so much about my plays, whether in the script itself or when collaborating with others.

Of course, Peter Brook was working with playwrights who are either dead or not present during the production.

As a living playwright, this puts me in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, I want to help collaborators in whatever way I can. On the other hand, I want to give people the space to discover their own meanings for the play. Sure, I want to be involved, and I want the intentions I have to be honored, but at the end of the day, I wrote a play, not a manifesto.

In my own writing, I deliberately create empty spaces, and I am often reluctant to make any definitive statements about my work's meaning or intent. For one thing, those things are not static. Who I am when I initially write a script is often not the same person as who I am six months after the final draft. Another thing is that I enjoy making room for a variety of perspectives and approaches. Giving my scripts this free space, I find, does much to keep the work fresh and allows for more powerful collaborations with fellow artists and audiences.

What about you? How do you create empty spaces in your own work as a theatre maker?

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