Peter Brook/NY

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F R I E N D S,

I was a graduate student at George Washington University in the late 1970’s when I saw Peter Brook’s production of The Ik. It was based on the lives of a tribe of African hunters, whose land had been appropriated by their government, forcing them into a desperate daily search for food. I had never seen or experienced anything quite like this. The show was stripped down to its core drama. The actors were in perfect sync with the text and, through simple gestures and eloquent language, we, in the audience, grasped what it meant to be dehumanized by starvation. This was essential theater, honest without pretention, and imbued with a level of storytelling that demanded the full attention and commitment of the viewer. This was the theater I had been waiting for. This was, and is, the theater of Peter Brook. When I joined the staff of BAM a few years later, I was ecstatic to learn that BAM’s president and executive producer (and my boss for 20 years), Harvey Lichtenstein, was equally enamored of Brook’s work and was determined to bring it to BAM as often as possible. We brought The Mahabharata, created by Brook and his long-time collaborator, Marie-Hélène Estienne, to BAM in 1987. Harvey’s commitment to this piece was so strong we actually “renovated” or reinvented a 1904 old vaudeville theater, The Majestic Theater (now BAM Harvey Theater), near BAM to house the production. I can honestly say, Joe Melillo, who joined me as BAM’s executive producer (when I took on the role of president in 1999 following Harvey’s retirement) would agree that there has never been another piece of theater in New York, or anywhere else, that can match the dramatic power, depth and truth embedded in this nine-hour masterpiece. After The Mahabharata came Brook’s version of The Cherry Orchard, followed by The Man Who, The Tragedy of Hamlet, and many other important productions. Jeffrey Horowitz, Founding Artistic Director, Theatre for a New Audience, called to discuss Why?, a new piece co-commissioned by TFANA that Brook, now in his 90s, and Estienne created and hoped to play in New York. So I channeled Harvey and proceeded to do what he would have wanted—work with Jeffrey to help identify the financial resources and cultural partners to recognize the massive contribution Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne have made to New York and world theatre for over 60 years. With this in mind, we have created Peter Brook/NY, a full-on homage by three institutions of higher learning (Columbia, Juilliard and Hunter College) and four cultural institutions (TFANA, BAM, The Center for Fiction and WNET) as well as other colleagues to pay tribute to this enduring artist and master storyteller. We are deeply grateful to generous donors who have made Peter Brook/NY a reality, which can be experienced by all New Yorkers and lovers of theatre everywhere. Leadership support is provided by The JKW Foundation in honor of Jean Stein and The Lostand Foundation, with additional support by Paul and Caroline Cronson, the Evelyn Sharp Foundation, Jeanne Donovan Fisher, and John Lichtenstein. Sincerely,

KAREN Karen Brooks Hopkins, Executive Producer, Peter Brook/NY




AUGUST, 1953 | FILM The Beggar’s Opera: Directed by Peter Brook and produced by Laurence Olivier, the film had its New York premiere at the beloved Upper East Side Baronet Theater. OCTOBER, 1953 | THEATRE The Little Hut: Directed by Peter Brook, the play opened at the Coronet Theatre and was Peter Brook’s New York stage directing debut. (1) OCTOBER, 1953 | TELEVISION Omnibus: King Lear: Adapted and staged by Peter Brook for CBS Television, it starred Orson Welles. Orson Welles. Photo courtesy of the Welles-Kodar Collection, University of Michigan Special Collections Research Center.

(2) NOVEMBER, 1953 | OPERA Faust: Directed by Peter Brook, it was written by Gounod/Barbier/Carré and presented at the Metropolitan Opera. Victoria de los Angeles. Photo by Sedge LeBlang.

DEC, 1954 - MAY, 1955 | MUSICAL House of Flowers: Directed by Peter Brook, with book by Truman Capote and music by Harold Arlen, it was the first theatrical production outside of Trinidad and Tobago to feature the steel pan. The cast included Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Alvin Ailey, Geoffrey Holder, Ray Walston, and Arthur Mitchell (who co-founded Dance Theatre of Harlem). OCTOBER, 1957 | OPERA Eugene Onegin: Directed by Peter Brook, it was presented by the Metropolitan Opera. MAY - NOV, 1958 | THEATRE The Visit: Directed by Peter Brook and written by Freidrich Düerrenmatt premiering at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. This was the last time the American acting team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne appeared together on stage. DEC, 1959 - FEB, 1960 | THEATRE The Fighting Cock: Directed by Peter Brook, it starred Natasha Parry at the ANTA Playhouse.


(3) SEP, 1960 - DEC, 1961 | MUSICAL Irma La Douce: Directed by Peter Brook and produced by David Merrick, the “French fairy tale for wicked grown-ups” made its New York premiere at the Plymouth Theatre. Elizabeth Seal. Courtesy NYPL Performing Arts.

AUGUST, 1963 | FILM Lord of the Flies: Directed and adapted by Peter Brook, it was based on William Golding’s first novel.

OCT - NOV, 1964 | THEATRE The Physicists: Directed by Peter Brook and written by Freidrich Düerrenmatt starring Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and Robert Shaw at the Martin Beck Theatre. This was Peter Brook’s final production created wholly for Broadway.

(4) MAY - JUN, 1964 | THEATRE King Lear: Directed and adapted by Peter Brook, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, it starred Paul Scofield and Irene Worth. This Beckett-influenced Lear opened at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center.

(5) DEC, 1965 - APR, 1966 | THEATRE Marat/Sade: Directed by Peter Brook and written by Peter Weiss, with music by Richard Peaslee, Brook’s emotionally harrowing, environmental staging of this work about revolution balanced the power of the characters Sade and Marat and permanently changed the public’s and the Marxist author’s view of the play. This production won Tonys for director, play, costume design and best featured actor in a play.

Paul Scofield and Jack McGowran. Photo by Angus McBean.

Jonathan Burn. Photo by Jesse Alexander.

FEBRUARY, 1967 | FILM Marat/Sade: Directed by Peter Brook. This award-winning film featured rising British stars from the Broadway production, Ian Richardson, Glenda Jackson and Patrick Magee.

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SEPTEMBER, 1967 | FILM The Benefit of the Doubt: The play featured Peter Brook and the cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s play US. Peter Whitehead’s film premiered at the New York Film Festival, and contains the only known record of US, Brook’s production about the Vietnam War. FEBRUARY, 1968 | FILM Tell Me Lies: Directed and adapted by Peter Brook, based on the play US by Denis Cannan, it was produced by Peter Brook and Peter Sykes and premiered at 34th Street East Theatre. NOVEMBER, 1968 | BOOK The Empty Space (New York, Atheneum, 1968), by Peter Brook. The highly influential work was based on a series of four lectures, with this memorable quote: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”

(6) JAN - MAR, 1971 | THEATRE A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Directed by Peter Brook, incidental music by Richard Peaslee, produced by David Merrick Arts Foundation and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Featuring Patrick Stewart and Ben Kingsley, this ground-breaking production opened on Broadway and transferred to BAM, marking the beginning of a long-lasting institutional partnership. John Kane and Ben Kingsley. Photo by David Farrell.

FEB - MAR, 1971 | TELEVISION Camera Three: The Magic of Peter Brook: Peter Brook and actors portrayed roles from The Tempest, it also included conversations with Margaret Croyden for CBS Television. NOVEMBER, 1971 | FILM King Lear: Directed and adapted for the screen by Peter Brook from the 1964 Royal Shakespeare Company production starring Paul Scofield and Irene Worth.

(7) SEP - OCT, 1973 | RESIDENCY The International Centre for Theatre Research at BAM: Theatre Days initiated impromptu workshops for theater practitioners and the Brooklyn community and continued to be a tradition in Paris at the Bouffes du Nord and in later engagements at BAM. The residency included performances of The Conference of the Birds, adapted from the poem by Farid ud-Din Attar by Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carrière. Peter Brook’s International Centre for Theatre Research included Helen Mirren and Elizabeth Swados. Peter Brook. Courtesy BAM Hamm Archives.

AUGUST, 1979 | FILM Meetings with Remarkable Men: Directed by Peter Brook, shot mostly in Afghanistan, the film was an account of the early life of Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. The cast included Terence Stamp, Athol Fugard and Natasha Parry.

(8) APR - JUN, 1980 | THEATRE Peter Brook Repertory Season: Directed by Peter Brook, produced by La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, it featured L’Os and Ubu (based on work by Alfred Jarry), The Ik and The Conference of the Birds. The La MaMa season marked Marie-Hélène Estienne’s first New York collaboration with Peter Brook. Andreas Katsulas and Malick Bowens. Photo by Jean-Guy Lecat.

(9) NOV, 1983 - APR, 1984 | OPERA La Tragédie de Carmen: Directed by Peter Brook, music and lyrics by Georges Bizet with book adapted by Marius Constant, Jean-Claude Carrière and Peter Brook. This elegantly streamlined 80-minute production was stripped of traditional scenery and set in an earthen bullring that transformed the Vivian Beaumont Theater into an intimate space. The four singers who alternate as Don José. Photo by Martha Swope, courtesy NYPL Performing Arts.

I N There was a heat wave in Paris on the night of the opening of Why?, but no air conditioning, of course, at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Audience members sharing my bench looked blasé. We fanned ourselves with our programs. “Renowned for its uncomfortable seats but loved for its ruined splendor,” with peeling crimson paint on the back wall, the hall reminded me of the BAM Harvey Theater, its New York replica. The houses’ identical features are signs of their common history, and marks of their mutual founder, Peter Brook. In Threads of Time: Recollections, Brook describes crawling inside the Paris hall on hands and knees to discover a “forgotten, battered shell, within which was a space that fulfilled all the requirements that we had discovered during our travels.”

It is an intimate space, so the audience has the impression that

it shares the same life as the actors; it is a chameleon space, for

it allows the imagination to wander freely. It can become a street

corner for rough performances or a shrine for ceremonies. It is

like an indoor and outdoor space all in one.

“We” in this statement refers to the International Center for Theater Research: a group of actors (Andrei Serban, Natasha Parry, Yoshi Oida, Malick Bowens, Helen Mirren – look up her memoir, In the Frame: the pictures are something special), musicians, a poet (Ted Hughes), a producer. Together they traveled to Iran, the Sahara Desert and sub-Saharan Africa to present theatrical work, sometimes rehearsed and sometimes improvised, often wordless. Addressing village leaders through an interpreter, Brook would present their aim as “trying to discover what basis there is to understand one another directly.” Beyond convention or cultural reference. Beyond language or myth or symbolism. When it opened in 1974, the Bouffes du Nord became the Center’s permanent home, a staging ground for “immediate theater,” as Brook calls it in his masterpiece and manifesto, The Empty Space. The ambition was to host performances in which the actors’ live relationships with the audience would diffuse a unique experiential joy.

O U R The Majestic Theater (known today as the BAM Harvey, in honor of artistic director Harvey Lichtenstein, who renovated it with Brook) opened 13 years later with The Mahabharata, a nine-hour adaptation of the Indian epic. By then, New York theatergoers had had an opportunity to engage with Brook’s vision at the Metropolitan Opera, in playhouses on Broadway, through workshops and experiments in drama schools and unconventional spaces, on television, at the movies and in the Lepercq Space (which now houses the BAMcafé). The BAM Opera House had hosted his watershed production of Shakespeare’s Dream in a white box, with actors flying off of trapezes in a forest of minimalist metal sculptures. In the winter of 1988, right after The Mahabharata, came The Cherry Orchard, which toured from Brooklyn to the USSR during Perestroika. I worked at BAM for nearly a decade, organizing discussions and literary events. In my first season, in 2009, BAM produced Sam Mendes’ Cherry Orchard. (The BAM Archive, which has an extraordinary online database, is full of images and testimonies of past adaptations of the same play, within the same walls. It’s a beautiful place to get lost.) Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne visited twice during my tenure. Both times, Peter Brook talked to the audience from the stage, telling stories about his life in the theater, inhabiting the space with an aura akin to that of a guru. The hall and its silence reverberated with an unusual quality of attention. The fact of Peter’s presence – the physical manifestation of his thoughts and experiences – seemed to echo a deep need in this New York audience. In a book of interviews, trying to respond to why theater is necessary, he evokes a walk in Central Park on Thanksgiving Day.

The town was quiet, empty, except for few people wandering

about peacefully… It suddenly struck me…that by popular

agreement, there are a small number of days when the town

stops—out of total necessity.

In Why? co-authors and directors Marie-Hélène Estienne and Peter Brook start mischievously with three actors – Hayley Carmichael, Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni – riffing on their craft. (Watching their performance at Theater for a New Audience – Brook’s most reliable producing partner in the United States in the last two decades – remember Hunter playing

H E A R T S Puck in Julie Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which inaugurated the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in 2013. Stages perpetually suggest evidence of the past.) From this lighthearted set-up, the play transitions into a story about the great Russian theater maker, Vsevolod Emilievitch Meyerhold, assassinated under Stalin for his anti-Soviet views. Meyerhold (1874-1940) starred as an actor in some of Chekhov’s most famous works under Stanislavsky’s direction, before breaking off from the Moscow Art Theater to create his own company, theater and vision. Against naturalism and its artificial method, Meyerhold strived to create a “theater of mood” and a system of actor training to widen the emotional potential of a theater piece. He emphasized the power of suggestion, favored a stage as bare as possible, advanced by paring down—all principles that run through Peter Brook’s career. “In the theatre, the spectator’s imagination is able to supply that which is left unsaid. It is the mystery and the desire to solve it which draw so many people to the theater” wrote Meyerhold. Peter Brook has mentioned Meyerhold as a model and an inspiration over the years, yet no moreso than Artaud, Grotowski or Gurdjieff. That Brook has chosen to return to Meyerhold now has deep political resonance. As if in response to the global resurgence of the far right and popular disenfranchisement, he and Estienne have chosen to portray theater as a form of truth-seeking with high stakes as a matter of life and death. When the answer to why is simply, Because we need truth. Not my truth, or your truth. The truth.

Here we were, wiping our foreheads, forgetting the embarrassment of our clothes clinging to our backs, slowly getting drenched in sweat. And here we were on June 20th, 1939. Meyerhold is arrested.

He is taken to the sinister Loubianka prison. In November 1939,

he is transferred to another prison, even more sinister—the Burtiky.

It is so cold.

Somehow a fur coat arrives. How did it get there? What miraculous

means did his daughter find to get the coat to him?

The coat will never leave him.

A chill ran down my spine. I was there. In the USSR, in December 1939, addressing a desperate plea to a head prosecutor out of Kafka’s Trial. “If the event has a future,” Peter Brook has said of performance, “this can only lie in the memories of those who were present and who retained a trace in their hearts.” Indeed, many of us do and will.

Violaine Huisman is a writer, translator and curator based in Brooklyn. She is the author of Fugitive parce que reine (Prix Marie Claire and Prix Françoise Sagan, 2018) forthcoming in the US from Scribner, and Rose désert, which came out in France in August. She is also the co-founder of The Floor, a community space merging wellness with culture and civic engagement.

On the night of June 20th, 2019, actors on stage held papers in their hands: not their programs, like us, but their scripts. The play they performed included neither dialogue nor stage directions, just paragraphs of text to be shared among the three of them. They were still memorizing their lines, or perhaps deciding who would say what. We were all waving paper. Rock-paper-scissors... Were they performing the child’s game as a theater exercise? I don’t remember for sure. I know I thought of it. The effect was that of synchronicity, of a visceral communion.




FEBRUARY, 1986 | FILM La Tragédie de Carmen: Directed by Peter Brook, this was one of three films he made of his theatrical version of Carmen. NOVEMBER, 1987 | BOOK The Shifting Point: Forty Years of Theatrical Exploration: 1946-1987 (New York, Cornelia and Michael Bessie Book/Counterpoint, 1987), by Peter Brook. (10) OCT, 1987 - JAN, 1988 | THEATRE The Mahabharata: Directed by Peter Brook with Marie-Hélène Estienne, adapted by Peter Brook and Jean Claude Carrière, designed by Chloé Obolensky. The BAM Majestic Theater in Brooklyn had been abandoned for over 20 years and for The Mahabharata, Peter Brook and Jean-Guy Lecat helped transform the space into one of NYC’s most loved venues. Richard Fallon, Georges Corraface and Jeffrey Kissoon. Photo by Martha Swope.


(11) JAN - APR, 1988 | THEATRE The Cherry Orchard: Directed by Peter Brook, this production dispensed with the scenery usually associated with the play, instead allowing the newly renovated Majestic Theater at BAM to serve as the set.

(12) MAR - APR, 1995 | THEATRE The Man Who: Adapted and directed by Peter Brook, inspired by The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, in collaboration with Marie-Hélène Estienne at the BAM Majestic Theater. Yoshi Oida. Photo by Gilles Abegg.

Linda Hunt and Kate Mailer. Photo by Martha Swope.

SEPTEMBER, 1989 | FILM The Mahabharata: Directed by Peter Brook. The result of eight years of work by Peter Brook, Jean-Claude Carrière and Marie-Hélène Estienne, it won the Performing Arts International Emmy Award in 1990. OCTOBER, 1993 | BOOK The Open Door (New York, Pantheon, 1993), by Peter Brook.

JUNE, 1998 | BOOK Threads of Time: Recollections, a Memoir (New York, Cornelia and Michael Bessie Book/Counterpoint, 1998), by Peter Brook. (13) APR - MAY, 2001 | THEATRE The Tragedy of Hamlet: Adapted by Peter Brook and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne at the BAM Harvey Theater, this adaptation reduced the classic to two hours. Adrian Lester and Naseeruddin Shah. Photo by Pascal Victor/ArtComArt.

MAY, 2004 | BOOK Conversations with Peter Brook: 1970-2004 (New York, Faber and Faber, 2004), by Margaret Croyden.

FEBRUARY, 2005 | BOOK Peter Brook: And the Way of the Theatre (New York, Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd., 2005), by Michael Kustow. MAR - APR, 2005 | THEATRE Tierno Bokar: Directed by Peter Brook and adapted by Marie-Hélène Estienne from Amadou Hampaté Bâ’s The Life and Teaching of Tierno Bokar: The Sage of Bandiagara. Presented by Gregory Mosher, head of Columbia University Arts Initiative in Partnership with Barnard College and the Harlem Arts Alliance during a month-long residency by the International Centre for Theatre Research. OCT - NOV, 2008 | THEATRE The Grand Inquisitor: Directed by Peter Brook and adapted by Marie-Hélène Estienne, this adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov featured a critique of religious extremism. It was presented by Theatre for a New Audience and New York Theater Workshop.

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(14) MAR - APR, 2010 | THEATRE Love Is My Sin: Conceived and directed by Peter Brook and presented by Theatre for a New Audience at the Duke on 42nd Street, the collection of 31 Shakespeare sonnets traced the arduous life journey of two lovers. Natasha Parry and Michael Pennington. Photo by Pascal Victor/ArtComArt.

(15) JULY, 2011 | OPERA A Magic Flute: Adapted and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne and presented by Lincoln Center Festival at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, this streamlined adaptation featured seven singers, two actors and one onstage pianist. William Nadylam. Photo by Pascal Victor/ArtComArt.

(16) NOV - DEC, 2011 AND MAY, 2013 THEATRE Fragments: Directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne and presented by Theatre for a New Audience at Baryshnikov Arts Center, this production was composed of five brief pieces by Samuel Beckett. Marcello Magni. Photo by Pascal Victor/ArtComArt.

(17) JAN - FEB, 2013 | THEATRE The Suit: Directed and adapted by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, this music-filled adaptation of South African writer Can Themba’s story was presented at the BAM Harvey Theater. The story follows a woman caught cheating on her husband; she must carry her lover’s suit as penance. Nonhlanhla Kheswa. Photo by Richard Termine.

SEPTEMBER, 2014 | BOOK The Quality of Mercy: Reflections on Shakespeare (New York, Theatre Communications Group, 2014), by Peter Brook.

(18) SEP - OCT, 2014 | THEATRE The Valley of Astonishment: Written and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne and presented by Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center. This play— whose protagonist has synesthesia and sees words as pictures—explores the processes of the human brain.

(20) NOV - DEC, 2018 | THEATRE The Prisoner: Written and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne and presented by Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, it is inspired by an encounter from Brook’s travels in Afghanistan, centering on a criminal whose punishment is to serve his sentence outside a prison.

Kathryn Hunter. Photo by Pascal Victor/ArtComArt.

Peter Brook, Hiran Abeysekera and Marie-Hélène Estienne. Photo by Joan Marcus.

(19) SEP - OCT, 2016 | THEATRE Battlefield: Adapted and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, it is based on The Mahabharata and the play written by Jean-Claude Carrière. Staged at the BAM Harvey Theater, this return to The Mahabharata, with four actors and a single musician, runs a little over an hour. Sean O’Callaghan, Carole Karemera and Ery Nzaramba. Photo by Richard Termine.

SEPTEMBER 2017 | BOOK Tip of the Tongue: Reflections on Language and Meaning (New York, Theatre Communications Group, 2017), by Peter Brook.

(21) SEP - OCT, 2019 | THEATRE Why?: Written and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne and presented by Theatre for a New Audience in a co-production with C.I.C.T./Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord; Theatre for a New Audience; Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw, National Performing Arts Center; Taiwan R.O.C. – National Taichung Theater; Centro Dramatico Nacional, Madrid; Teatro Dimitri, Verscio; Théâtre Firmin Gémier, La Piscine. Presented at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, it explores ideas posed by theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold. Marcello Magni. Photo by Simon Annand.



Peter Brook never liked the term “director”—too bossy. In his opinion, the word “distiller” might describe the profession better. Brook himself became one of the most influential directors—“distillers”—of the twentieth century. In search of answers, he turned to the seminal theatre experimenters of his time: Brecht and Artaud, Grotowski and Beckett, and, inevitably, to the legacy of Russian theatre. For it was in Russia, at the turn of the century, that world theatre had reached a crucial turning point, with Konstantin Stanislavsky’s founding of the Moscow Art Theatre. That company started its life with The Seagull, Anton Chekhov’s play/manifesto. Stanislavsky played the world-weary fiction writer, and Meyerhold played the young and innovative playwright. These two artists, Stanislavsky and Meyerhold, experienced quite differently the ordeals of the century that followed. Stanislavsky, religious and not a communist, was canonized by the Soviet state during his lifetime. Meyerhold, one of the most celebrated communist directors, and one of the first artists to eagerly accept the Russian Revolution, was publically discredited, and his theatre company was dissolved. On June 20, 1939, the disgraced director was arrested, subjected to excruciating torture, and, on February 2, 1940, executed in the basement of the notorious Lubyanka prison. His body was thrown into a mass grave for “enemies of the people.” The purges of the Great Terror had their own twisted dramaturgy. Meyerhold was arrested in Leningrad in June of 1939. Less than a month later, in Moscow, two killers broke into his apartment through the balcony and stabbed Zinaida Raikh, his wife and the leading actress of his theatre, seventeen times. There were rumors that the nighttime visitors had committed a crime of Shakespearian proportions. Meyerhold’s friend, the playwright Yury Olesha, recorded in his diary, “I was told that they gouged out her eyes. The dark eyes of Zinaida Raikh—those demonic eyes that seemed both obedient and childlike.” Officially, Meyerhold was accused of spying for Japan and collaborating with Trotskyites. Zinaida Raikh was killed with no explanation. However, one quite banal motive soon became apparent when Meyerhold’s apartment in downtown Moscow was taken over by the secret police. There is no direct answer to the question of why they needed to kill Meyerhold and Raikh in such a bloody, theatrical, and perverse manner. Neither do we know why, in a similar way, they exterminated the brilliant actor and artistic director of



the Jewish Theatre, Solomon Mikhoels, whose interpretation of King Lear was legendary. Mikhoels was sent on a business trip to Minsk, where in the middle of the night he was run over by a truck, his disfigured body later brought to Moscow and buried with great pomp. Why did Meyerhold once declare the theatre a “dangerous weapon”? What was so dangerous about it? The twentieth century provides numerous examples of the most gifted artists being seduced by regimes that promised heaven on earth. It is difficult to imagine the fascist ideas of the Third Reich without Leni Riefenstahl, or Stalin’s socialism without the talented poets, composers, and actors, who gave inspiration to the “red idea.” Without those artists, millions would not have followed. Meyerhold was a symbolic figure of the avant-garde, and he also became a symbolic sacrificial lamb of what we might call the theatricalization of evil. In 1923, he staged The Earth in Turmoil and dedicated that production to the Red Army and its heroic leader Leon Trotsky. Trotsky’s own assassination by ice pick in Mexico occurred just a few months after Meyerhold’s execution in Moscow and was staged in the same style of bloody political theatre practiced by Stalin. It is not impossible to imagine that Meyerhold’s dedication to Trotsky may have triggered the twisted mind of the paranoid dictator, spurring his invention of an atrocious death for the stage director. In the mid-1930s, the public political trials began in Russia. The proceedings took place in the Hall of Columns in Moscow’s House of Unions. Everything was planned and rehearsed: “the enemies of the people” were first tortured and then rejuvenated, their bruises covered up by make-up, before they were brought into the Hall of Columns. There, they all would admit their “crimes” and publicly repent. Leading actors and writers, even foreign ones, were invited to be in the audience to observe the proceedings, not unlike the opening night of a show. Around this time, the title of “People’s Artist of the Soviet Union” was established, a parallel to Nazi Germany’s “State Artist.” Meyerhold’s name was not on the list. “This is how the State is indicating its direction,” was the reaction of Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, the co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre and Meyerhold’s teacher.


G R E AT Meyerhold was the Director of the Revolution, and Vladimir Mayakovsky was its Poet. Extremely gifted artists, these men were also world-famous proponents of the great utopia. Mayakovsky wrote, “I, from poetry’s skies, plunge into communism because without it, I feel no love.” While Mayakovsky took his own life in 1930, Meyerhold tried to delay the end he saw approaching. In early 1936, he even gave a public talk titled “Meyerhold against Meyerholdism.” It did not help. In despair, Zinaida Raikh wrote a letter to Stalin. “In my mind, I am constantly talking to you,” she wrote, “pointing to your occasional misunderstanding of the arts... Pardon my audacity... I am the daughter of a proletarian, and I believe in my class instinct.” She did not tell Meyerhold about the letter; she loved him, she owed her acting career to his dedication to her. She never received a reply, but Stalin had indeed read her letter: the original copy bears his annotations. In 1930, Meyerhold’s theatre company was permitted to go on its last tour to Paris and Berlin. The Russian émigré press was surprised by this communist director’s interpretation of the iconic silent tableau at the end of Nikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General: his staging was seen as a kind of prophecy. For a few seconds onstage, actors mixed with mannequins, people indistinguishable from puppets. In a pallid light, the image of an ice-bound, dead country emerged, with life forever frozen beneath the frigid gaze of insanity. While in Berlin, Meyerhold and Raikh met with Michael Chekhov, who at that point had left the Soviet Union for good. The brilliant actor warned them: “Do not go back; they will destroy you.” Meyerhold was taken aback; Zinaida Raikh suspected a betrayal and attacked her old friend: “This is a trap! How could you!” In the most decisive moment of their lives, her “class instinct” did not help. Peter Brook’s father was a member of the Menshevik party, but the family managed to leave the Russian Empire just before the Revolution. Fate protected this son of immigrants from the lure of the communist utopia. Unlike Meyerhold, Brook never had to denounce his “-isms”; he was not driven to self-flagellation in front of his actors. His arms were never broken, nor he did he have to drink his own urine, as Meyerhold described in his letters from prison to Prime Minister Molotov. Three weeks after the letters

U T O P I A were sent, Meyerhold was executed. His family was told that he had been convicted to ten years in a labor camp without the right to correspondence. Meyerhold always dreamed of staging Hamlet. He even jokingly proposed that his tombstone should read, “Here lies the director who wanted to stage the play about a Prince of Denmark, but never did.” Stalin despised that play. Brook, in a sense, finished the job for Meyerhold. In the mid 1950s, just after Stalin’s death, he staged his version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece with Paul Scofield in the title role and brought that production to Moscow. Brook’s Hamlet and, later, his King Lear in many ways determined the future of the Russian contemporary stage for many years to come. In 1996, after Gorbachev’s thaw, Peter Brook and his wife, Natasha Parry, came back to Moscow. They performed Beckett’s Happy Days at the Moscow Art Theatre. As their host, I gave Natasha a tour of the theatre’s historic lobby. We stopped in front of the photograph of the company visiting Anton Chekhov in Yalta. All of the stars of the Moscow Art Theatre are in that photo: Stanislavsky, Gorky, Anton Chekhov. The spring that year was unusually hot, and Olga Knipper, Chekhov’s future wife, has a folded parasol in her hand. Meyerhold, her classmate and partner onstage, is reclining at her feet. After Meyerhold’s death, to erase any memory of him, this historic photograph was doctored: Knipper “opened” her parasol just a bit, and for many years, Meyerhold disappeared from view. Natasha Parry, Winnie in Happy Days, kept silent in response to my telling of that story. In her beautiful dark eyes, I could read a question: “Why?” This same question gave the title to today’s show written and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne.

Dr. Anatoly Smeliansky is theatre scholar and writer. Moscow Art Theater Associate Artistic Director (1996 -2018). Dean of the Moscow Art Theater School (2000-2018). Founder of the joint program between the MXAT School and Harvard University. Published numerous books, including The Russian

Theater After Stalin (Cambridge University Press) and Is Comrade Bulgakov Dead? (named among the best theater publications in 1995 by American Theater magazine).

C A L E N D A R WHY? U.S. PREMIERE Written and Directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne Featuring Kathryn Hunter, Marcello Magni, and Hayley Carmichael Presented by Theatre for a New Audience Sep 21 - Oct 6, 2019 (opening Sep 26) Polonsky Shakespeare Center 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn Tickets, starting at $20, at, 866.811.4111, and the Polonsky Shakespeare Center box office Why theatre? What is it for? What is it about? Why? takes these questions, and many others, on a journey that is both dramatic and joyful. This piece allows us to discover that we are not alone in asking these questions and that many great theatre practitioners have been inspired by the exploration of these questions. “Theatre is a very dangerous weapon.” These words were written in the 1920s by one of the most creative and innovative directors the theatre has known: Vsevold Meyerhold. Meyerhold saw the menacing dangers that the theatre, and art in general, were facing in 1930’s Russia and saw “the writing on the wall.” This did not deter him in his work as he held onto the hope that the revolution could win. Support for the production of Why? is provided by the Trust for Mutual Understanding, the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.

Why? is presented as part of Crossing the Line Festival. Crossing the Line Festival is produced by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF).


Kathryn Hunter. Photo by Pascal Gely.

Sat, Sep 28 at 3:45pm Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne in conversation with Dr. Anatoly Smeliansky about Vsevolod Meyerhold, one of the most creative, most innovative directors the theatre has known. He was executed by Stalin in 1940. Dr. Anatoly Smeliansky is a theatre scholar and author. He was Associate Artistic Director (1996-2018) of the Moscow Art Theater, Dean of the Moscow Art Theater School (2000-2018) and founder of the joint program between the Moscow Art Theatre School and Harvard University. Sat, Oct 5 at 3:45pm A conversation with Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, moderated by Jeffrey Horowitz.





Fri, Sep 27

Mon, Sep 30 at 11am

Hunter College Department of Theatre (Gregory Mosher, Patty and Jay Baker Chair) hosts a three-hour workshop with Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne.

Peter Brook will work with a selection of singers from Juilliard’s Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts and actors from its Drama Division in a two-hour, multi-disciplinary rehearsal session.

Thu, Oct 3 BAM Rose Cinemas 7pm (conversation, followed by screening)

This event is not open to the public.

BAM hosts a special screening of Marat/Sade, Brook’s film adaptation of Peter Weiss’ play which originated from his 1964 theatrical production with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In a pre-screening conversation, Brook will address with theater director Anne Bogart the way he translated his legendary production from the stage to the screen and the influence of Brecht and Artaud in his intense, profound and provocative exploration of human nature. In addition, a featured collection of all of Brook’s work at BAM will available to explore in the Leon Levy BAM digital archive.

This event is not open to the public.

WNET’S ALL ARTS PROGRAMMING Sun, Sep 29 ALL ARTS presents a night of Peter Brook programming in recognition of the prolific director’s work. The program block includes the ALL ARTS Big Event on the evening of Sunday, September 29, kicking off at 8pm with a 1967 interview from the WNET archives featuring Peter Brook with Theater critic Elliot Norton in discussion about Brook’s career and his interest in Shakespeare. It’s followed at 8:30pm by the US premiere of Peter Brook: A Filmed Workshop, which shows Brook instructing French theater students in acting techniques and imparting wisdom for life beyond the stage. At 10pm, ALL ARTS will then air Lord of the Flies, the classic 1963 film directed by Brook, and at 11:30pm ALL ARTS will air Brook’s production of the Hindu epic, The Mahabharata. ALL ARTS will also broadcast a new interview with Peter Brook fifty-two years after his discussion with Elliot Norton, at a date to be determined.

TFANA YOUNG DIRECTORS’ WORKSHOP Tue, Oct 1 During the run of Why? at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne will lead a workshop with an invited group of some of the most promising young directors working today. This workshop will be a rare opportunity for participants to engage in constructive discussion with the legendary director, and to gain perspective on their own work by discussing their ideas and the challenges they face with the group. This event is not open to the public.


Visit for tickets


THE CENTER FOR FICTION TALK AND FILM EVENT WITH PETER BROOK Wed, Oct 2 at 7pm On Wednesday, Oct 2, at a special event introduced by Peter Brook/NY Executive Producer Karen Brooks Hopkins, clips from The Mahabharata—the film version of the Hindu epic directed by Peter Brook—will illuminate a discussion with the director about his original 1985 stage play of the same name. Fri, Oct 4 at 7pm Three writers and artists, including Paul Auster and others, will consider Peter Brook as one of the century’s greatest and most innovative storytellers and speak about their experience of his work on stage, on screen, or on the page, after which Brook will join them for a conversation.

In 2005, a Columbia University School of the Arts Peter Brook residency centered around the U.S. premiere of Tierno Bokar, a theatrical exploration of the life of the 20th century Muslim spiritual leader. In recognition of that production and its former School of the Arts Theater Professor Andrei Serban’s long relationship with Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, TFANA will make tickets to Why? available to Columbia theatre students, and Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger will host a dinner in Brook’s honor after the final performance of Why?. Guests will include Peter Brook, Marie-Hélène Estienne, the company of the play, and invited donors, friends, and presenters/producers in the theatrical community. This event is not open to the public.




Peter Brook was born in London in 1925. Throughout his career, he distinguished himself in various genres: theatre, opera, cinema and writing. He directed his first play there in 1943. He then went on to direct over 70 productions in London, Paris and New York. In 1971, he founded the International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris with Micheline Rozan, and in 1974, opened its permanent base in the Bouffes du Nord Theatre. Most recently, he has directed The Suit (2012), The Valley of Astonishment (2014), Battlefield (2015), and The Prisoner (2018).

America’s oldest performing arts institution, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is recognized internationally for innovative dance, music, theater, and cinema programming— including its renowned Next Wave Festival. BAM’s mission is to be a home for adventurous artists, audiences and ideas The organization is led by President Katy Clark and Artistic Director David Binder.

One of the oldest public colleges in the country (1870) and the largest senior college in the City University of New York, Hunter College awards undergraduate and graduate degrees in more than 170 areas of study and is famous for the diversity of its student body. Most Hunter students are the first in their families to attend college, and many go on to top professional and graduate programs.



The Center for Fiction, now located in downtown Brooklyn, is a vibrant, 18K-sq. foot home for readers and writers to connect over a shared love of literature. For nearly 200 years, the literary nonprofit has offered a wide array of resources to the public, including workshops, reading groups, events, and meaningful opportunities for K-12 and early-career writers. Visit for more information.

Founded in 1905, The Juilliard School is a world leader in the performing arts, educating gifted musicians, dancers, and actors from around the world so that they may achieve their fullest potential as artists, leaders, and global citizens. Located at Lincoln Center in New York City, Juilliard offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in dance, drama (acting and playwriting), and music (classical, jazz, historical performance, and vocal arts). Beyond its New York campus, Juilliard is defining new directions in global performing arts education for a range of learners and enthusiasts through The Tianjin Juilliard School and K-12 educational curricula.

ABOUT MARIE-HÉLÈNE ESTIENNE Marie-Hélène Estienne joined the CICT in 1976 – and since then has never left. From press secretary to Peter Brook’s assistant, she has worked on many shows including casting the pieces. In time, she became Peter Brook’s collaborator, adapting texts, writing alone or with him and finally participating in the staging of the shows. Their recent work includes The Suit, The Valley of Astonishment, and The Prisoner.

ABOUT TFANA Founded in 1979 by Jeffrey Horowitz, Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) celebrates its 40th Anniversary this season. TFANA’s home is Polonsky Shakespeare Center. Through its productions of Shakespeare and other new plays, humanities and arts education programs in NYC Public Schools, TFANA creates adventurous dialogues with us, a diverse national audience. WHY? is the seventh production directed by Peter Brook or Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne TFANA has presented.In 2001, TFANA became the first American theatre invited to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon.

ABOUT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY Among the world’s leading research universities, Columbia University in the City of New York continuously seeks to advance the frontiers of scholarship and foster a campus community deeply engaged in the complex issues of our time through teaching, research, patient care and public service. The University is comprised of 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, and four affiliated colleges and seminaries in Manhattan, and a wide array of research institutes and global centers around the world. More than 40,000 students, award-winning faculty and professional staff define the University’s underlying values and commitment to pursuing new knowledge and educating informed, engaged citizens. Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.

ABOUT WNET’S ALL ARTS WNET’s ALL ARTS is an unprecedented new broadcast channel, streaming platform and website dedicated to arts and culture 24/7. Programming is available on the website, streaming apps on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV and on television channels in the greater New York area.

ABOUT FRENCH INSTITUTE ALLIANCE FRANÇAISE’S CROSSING THE LINE FESTIVAL Crossing the Line is a citywide festival that brings together international artists and New York City audiences in engaging and diverse interdisciplinary works that give new perspective on our changing world. Crossing the Line is produced by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) in partnership with leading cultural institutions. This year’s edition of the festival is curated by FIAF Artistic Director, Courtney Geraghty.

THANK YOU Leadership support for Peter Brook/NY is provided by The JKW Foundation in honor of Jean Stein and The Lostand Foundation. Additional support is provided by Paul and Caroline Cronson/Evelyn Sharp Foundation, Jeanne Donovan Fisher, and John Lichtenstein. This publication is made possible by a grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding.


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