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GCAC Presents: Shakespeare, Peter Brook, and the Deadly Theater

Richard Albert Richard Albert GCAC Presents: Shakespeare, Peter Brook, and the Deadly TheaterThe Columbus Civic Theater’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays January 8 through February 1, 2015.
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Back in 1968, the internationally renowned director Sir Peter Brook wrote in his seminal book, The Empty Space, of four types of theater: Deadly, Holy, Rough, and Immediate. Guess which one of these Sir Peter warns to avoid at all costs?

“Nowhere does the Deadly Theatre install itself so securely, so comfortably and so slyly as in the works of William Shakespeare,” he wrote. And he was right.

A local actor sat down with several others to rehearse a Shakespearean play for the purpose of a staged reading. Seated next to him was the director of a local theater company who was taking part in the reading. The actor was shocked when the director began reading the text with an affected voice.


Brookspeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins performances at the Columbus Civic Theater January 8, 2015.

What breeds in this vacuum of ignorance of all things Shakespearean are beliefs that simply aren’t true. One of them is that Shakespeare must be done in a certain way. Brook warns against having preconceived notions of what is appropriate or conventional. Anything staid or traditional should be avoided. Describing anything in the production as “spot on,” should make one wince. Shakespeare’s words should be alive, and not dead. The late Bille Brown used to refer to the Bard’s plays as “the living text.”

Easier said then done. When Brook mounted his famous production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in the groovy 60’s, he had a lot of money and time. The Civic is now conjuring its breathing embodiment of the play in less than five weeks. We have assembled the best cast that money cannot buy, dedicated soldiers of their craft. The play is up and running well in rehearsal. We open in ten days. Yet each night, we collectively find ways of bringing the text to life.

The task involves unbiased analysis of the text and keen observation and experimentation from players, eschewing the security of “it’s usually done that way” and questioning the legacy of famous productions, like Max Reinhardt’s in 1927, and even Brook’s in 1970.

What was the intent of the playwright? Shakespeare wrote Midsummer in the winter of 1596, perhaps imagining, in the words of scholar Harold Bloom, “the perfect summer.” This doesn’t explain Shakespeare’s need for sorcery in the woods or why he subjects his hapless lovers to emotional brain washing. Unless of course he felt that love is perverted in civilization and when freed from bonds of society’s norms runs amok.

Searching for the most rewarding answer is worth the wait, but its trial before a live audience is the true test. All live audiences are contemporary and keeping in mind this obvious but oft forgotten perspective is the utmost concern of the director.

Meeting the challenges of bringing Shakespeare to life are hard but surmountable, and worth the effort, for even an ounce of enlivened Shakespeare is worth a ton of Deadly Bard.

The Columbus Civic Theater’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens next week. For more information, visit www.columbuscivic.org or call (614) 447-7529.

GCAC Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus – in partnership with the Columbus Arts Marketing Association, a professional development and networking association of arts marketers. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at the arts in Columbus.

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