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Friday, January 31, 2014

‘Peter Brook: The Tightrope’ Is A Rare Look At A Legendary Director

Theatre and film director Peter Brook, left, and his son, director Simon Brooks, pose during the 69th Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2012 at Venice Lido. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Theatre and film director Peter Brook, left, and his son, director Simon Brooks, pose during the 69th Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2012 at Venice Lido. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Peter Brook: The Tightrope” is a documentary about famed director and theatrical sage Peter Brook.

The film, directed by Brook’s son, Simon Brook, is a rare glimpse behind the scenes of a unique exercise called “the tightrope,” which Brook uses to help his actors give extraordinary performances.

NPR’s Trey Graham brings Here & Now a review of the film.




Peter Brook is considered one of the world's most revered directors. He made a name for himself on the stage with a legendary production of Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost," in 1946. He coached some of the best actors of the '50s and 60's, from Orson Welles to Laurence Olivier. But for 90 years, he never liked to let people watch him work - until now.

The new documentary "Peter Brook: The Tightrope" offers a look at just how much work it takes for an actor to look like he's not working, and how much difference a really sensitive director can make. NPR arts editor Trey Graham has more.

TREY GRAHAM, BYLINE: What's an actor's most important tool? The voice? A method? For director Peter Brook, it's the whole person plus a spark of creativity.

PETER BROOK: The particular gift of an actor is a certain link between the pure imagination and the body itself.

GRAHAM: To the beat of that drummer in a Paris rehearsal room, a tall, lanky performer walks a tightrope. But it's an imaginary tightrope. It takes effort seeing and feeling that wire, and crossing it convincingly step by step. And that's the point of the acting exercise that gives this intimate documentary its title. It's light, goofy fun at first and then, click by click, the stakes get ratcheted up.

Soon, the gaggle of actors in the room with Brook is work-shopping bits of "The Magic Flute," a scene from "The Tempest." And as their work intensifies, the metaphor of the tightrope gets extended until it means an intense focus on what's happening every millisecond of a character's moment-to-moment experience.

Now, this film can be a little precious, even a little esoteric. There are these odd, squishy, inside-baseball bits of technique-speak between actors and director that just don't make any sense to us civilians.

But stick with it and before your eyes, those conversations resolve into an almost non-verbal communication. Suddenly, everyone is on the same page and moving toward the place Peter Brook wants them to be. When the director's generally placid, watchful face breaks into a crinkle-eyed smile at some antic or another, it's like a choir erupting into song, or the sun breaking through a haze.


"The Tightrope" is one heck of a master class. It's also one really revealing window into why Peter Brooks' legend in the theater is such a large one. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Trey Graham.

YOUNG: And you can see a little bit of "The Tightrope" at

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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