Lesson 2: The Deadly, Holy, Rough, and Immediate Theatres



Peter Brook, The Empty Space

    The Deadly Theatre

  • It is the most common, the most prevalent theatre. It practices "imitation for imitation's sake" (Cf. Plato's chair).
  • All great artists are innovators. The first creator/inventor has a reason for doing something in some particular way; often this reason is later forgotten.
  • Theatre is built upon conventions, but once a convention is established, it starts to rot and becomes petty, superficial, silly affectation.
  • Can you name a convention (curtain, unity of time, etc.)?
  • Challenge its necessity, especially in old, classical, traditional art¡Xconvention/tradition for its own sake (ballet, grand opera, symphony).
  • Can you name a deadly theatre?









The Holy Theatre

  • Almost all theatres started as religious rituals (Greek-Dionysus, Christian-miracle/mystery plays, etc.)
  • ƒTheatre served as a medium between this and a higher/invisible world¡Xvisionary, ritualistic
  • Plato's "divine madness"¡Xpoet is possessed, occupied.
  • In holy theatre, not only the actors, but also the audience, are affected/infected.
  • Theatre involves the audience sensuously (seeing, hearing), emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually (Cf. Aristotelian catharsis).
  • Danger! Total involvement may cause incapacity to get out!
  • Borderline artist¡Xyou submit to a higher power, you relax, you leave behind your reason and sanity (Artaud ended up in a mad house; so did Vincent van Gogh).
  • Name an experience (of being wholly moved by a performance).
  • Audience-oriented¡Xsome people are more open, more sensitive, more accessible; others are more tight, closed, stubborn.
  • For common audience, there could be moments like this in a given performance, but to make this your goal is hard, too idealistic.

The Rough Theatre

  • The rough theatre refuses illusion and involvement. It features detachment and alienation.
  • The rough theatre is not so much physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual¡Xbut intellectual.
  • It is an opposite pole to the holy theatre (sense and sensibility).
  • It is in line with the post-modern spirit¡Xinquisitive, rebellious, anti-authoritarian, reflexive, meta-narrative.
  • We are probably more familiar with this than the other kind¡Xwe are very tightened and closed, frigid, cold; without the help of alcohol or drugs, we can't let go easily, can't get in touch with the holy; we don't easily fall in love.
  • Name an experience with the rough, the intellectual, the alienated.




  • The ultimate goal is a "living, non-deadly theatre." It can be holy, rough, or whatsoever.
  • The "immediate theatre"¡XBrook's own practice and experience. He tries to make an un-deadly theatre (using games, experiments, interaction, etc.)
  • No principle works permanently and universally¡Xtheatre is in present tense, ongoing, always changing.


  • What is this performance about?
  • The mopping is unbearably long, and intentionally unbearable.
  • It visualizes t he unbearable regularity, repetitiveness, and boredom of everyday life.
  • It shows the division between everyday life and theatre.




  • We saw three versions of Romeo and Juliet last week (film, ballet, Taiwanese opera).
  • Do you like/dislike them? Why?
  • Which is more physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological, spiritual?
  • Which is more immediate? Why?
  • Which one is more Shakespearean? Is it a good thing? Is it necessary?

© 2005 by Bi-qi Beatrice Lei. All rights reserved.