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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Peter Brook—Wisdom from The Suit's director

by Alicia Dhyana House

Peter Brook. Photo: Colm Hogan
Peter Brook is considered theater royalty and so I was absolutely thrilled to interview the legendary director for an article I wrote for BAMbill about his current production, The Suit. Brook has paved the way for generations of theatermakers, including me, and has exhilarated theatergoers around the world with his daring innovations.

I was first introduced to Peter Brook as an undergraduate at San Francisco State University. My theater history professor, Mohammed Kowsar, was impassioned about this director and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Since that class I have seen as many of Brook’s productions as possible and I have a bookshelf dedicated to books written by or about this consummate artist.

Even in his late 80s, Brook still challenges conventional theater with his subject matter and execution. He vehemently searches for and tells human stories that are screaming to be told. Narratives that are universal, crossing borders in time and space. Brook teaches us that theater is as vital to our lives as the air we breathe. And The Suit (at the BAM Harvey Theater through Feb 2) is a stunning example of a tale bursting at the seams to be told and to be witnessed. And like life itself, it is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Nonhlanhla Kheswa and William Nadylam in The Suit.
Photo: Richard Termine
Brook feels collaboration is essential in the making of theater, so much so that he called from Paris the day after our talk to reinforce this point. “Theater is a shared enterprise, a shared activity. I don’t believe any single human being can possibly believe that they know it all. We are all tiny fragments of this immense jigsaw puzzle.” Brook added that the director “is a guide who is constantly listening and feeling what everyone needs and rediscovering together with everyone else and even listening to the mistakes.”

According to Brook, the audience plays a significant part in the creation too. “The whole theater process is collective and collaborative and it’s an absolute abhorrence to think that theater is at its best in rehearsal. Theater only comes to life in the final stages in the creative process when the audience enters into the process.”

Brook talks about the theater as if it’s the most important thing in the world, a sentiment that I wholeheartedly share. The director’s boundless energy and colossal wisdom left me yearning for more. Caught in his magical spell I couldn’t resist asking him what he says to emerging directors, like me, who would die to get in the rehearsal room to observe him working.

“I say no and they say, I’ll be like a fly in the room. And I say, “Well I can’t think of anything worse.”


In a kind voice Brook concluded with these wise words. “You don’t learn by sitting and watching. You learn in the process. As it is with playing an instrument and painting, you have to do it yourself and learn by your mistakes. You must work it out yourself.”

Alicia Dhyana House is a freelance theater director based in New York City. She received her MFA in directing from Columbia University.

More on Peter Brook and The Suit:

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