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Book review: The Open Door by Peter Brook

Review of “The Open Door” by Peter Brook

“The Open Door” by Peter Brook is a nonfictional performing arts book about some of the theatre practices Brook and his production teams have encountered, as well as Brooks own thoughts on these.

I read “The Open Door” in Danish, so if anything got lost in the translation, I’d be happy to hear from others who’ve read it in English. I will however, review it in English, since I know it’s available in both languages (and others too I assume).

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“The Open Door” and Peter Brook

Peter Brook is sort of well known in my professional circles. If someone I work with or attend a lecture with, aren’t familiar with Brook and his teachings, it’s really just a matter of time. It’s been a few years since I first learnt of Brook at university, so when I found “The Open Door” sitting un-read on my shelf, I thought it was time to open it up again.

It’s not exactly a new piece, but very beneficial in terms of knowing your theatre history. Peter Brooks praxis is worth knowing as a performing arts practitioner, whether or not you want to work like him. The principles of Brooks work center around the very ‘basics’ of theatre making, without having to compromise the raw and honest aesthetic qualities that lie within.

book cover of peter brook book with peter and title

Following Peter through the door

Brook uses ‘The Open Door’ as a metaphor for what can happen when you encounter or meet something, with an open mind. Not far from the thoughts he presents in “The Empty Room”. Which demands a re-read now that I’ve just finished “The Open Door”. With “The Open Door” being a later publication, Brook draws a lot on his earlier experiences. Some of which readers may have come across before, at least in theory.

Brook describes both anecdotes, incidents, thoughts and exercises. Some of which are followed by a rather humorous commentary from Brook himself. It’s very clear throughout the book that Brook doesn’t necessarily want to present ‘the school of theatrical practices by Peter Brook’. Rather, he wants to contribute to the ever-growing world of performing arts. This through his musings and reflections on his own praxis. It gives a much more personal touch to “The Open Door”.

Culture, Context and Tradition

The book is divided into three parts, each with their own objective but ultimately, they all support the same thoughts. Generally, Brook acknowledges that theatre practices have come a long way and evolved nicely to keep up with current times. However, in “The Open Door” Brook reflects on how theatre seem to be stranded somewhere between tradition and now.

Playing into multiple contexts can be challenging indeed. Brook skillfully demonstrates this, when describing a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. How different contexts come into play is a subject in and of itself and reading “The Open Door” is definitely a good way to get acquainted with it.

According to Brook, the real theatrical magic happens when audiences and their authentic experiences align with the theatre and the productions special blend of tradition, context, culture and relevance. I’ll leave it to you to read how he gets there.

Should you read it then?

Let me say it this way; if you are or intend to become a performing arts professional, you should read something by Peter Brook. Seeing as “The Open Door” does have references in its content to earlier works, you might try to start with “The Empty Room”.

It’s really well written, has a great reading flow and is in no way very academic. Even though its subject might demand some knowledge of how theatre productions work. It’s exciting to read Brooks own thoughts on processes and methods, as well as his views on quality and aesthetics.

This is definitely a great read for anyone wanting some honest insights into the methods and teachings of Peter Brook.

Are you familiar with Peter Brook or is this the first you’ve heard of him? Let me know what you think, in the comments below – I’d be happy to hear your thougts!

Look here for more book reviews of performing arts books! You can also find my complete list of reviews including fictional works in my collection of book reviews here>>

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