Peter Brook from Archive to Action: Sedgehill Hub

Learning and Interpretation
December 18, 2015

This is a guest post by Grace Khoo. Grace  is currently pursuing her Masters in Applied Theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She has previously worked as a performer, puppeteer, production assistant and facilitator.  She graduated from the National University of Singapore’s Theatre Studies program. Grace is observing the work of Gemma Rowan, the Director for the Hub, as part of her degree. The Sedgehill Hub is made up of The Albany, the Horniman Museum and Sedgehill School. 

“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whist someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged”. These are certainly some of the most famous words uttered by the iconic director Peter Brook, a monumental figure that any theatre student like me would have encountered in our pursuit of knowledge in a field we are passionate about.

After passing through Sedgehill School’s very impressive high-ceilinged hall that could easily house hundreds for a rock concert, there is comfort to be drawn from the confines of a black box with 12 to 14 vaguely smiling faces and curious eyes. To ignore the rules of linearity and jump straight to the summation of the first day, allow me to reproduce this Facebook post made on the train ride home.

The Peter Brook Project (working title) Day One:

Q: What are the special qualities of theatre?

A: No adverts!

A: It’s not just about the performance. It’s also the audience. The people you watch the show with,

A: I don’t like people kicking my seat.

Q: Why do we applaud in the theatre?

A: We show gratitude and appreciation for the performers and those behind the scenes.

A: If we didn’t have a good time, we would still have to clap.

A: That’s kind of obligatory.

Q: Is theatre still relevant or needed?

A: When I watch something live, it gets stuck in my head much longer than when I watch something on the television.

A: It’s a risk to go to the theatre. You can’t watch it on the Internet.

A: You don’t know if it’s going to be good or bad.

Q: How does theatre go beyond theatre?

A: It goes into life.

A: Because we want to say something? We want to be part of something bigger than us.

A: I want to be noticed. To be visible.

A: It makes me go out of my comfort zone. It makes me develop myself and share our questions and worries with the world.

The next few months are going to be pretty incredible…

It was the first day of getting to know one another as the one company we are going to build together. Gemma, our leading facilitator, wasted no time in giving our participants the big loaded questions, as you can tell from my post. The answers, merely the highlights of what my brain managed to curate were absolutely insightful and brilliant. We are slowly and carefully building a unique space of imagination and discourse with very intelligent young people and therefore no questions were too difficult or simple. It was only natural that we followed up the second session contemplating the notions of free will, fate and destiny while scrutinizing the factors at play in Oedipus’ sorry predicament.

It was the first of days to give and receive respect by feeling each other out and sharing a common space. As we toss tennis balls to those we establish firm eye contact with, Gemma imparted to us the wisdom of receiving and releasing. Flexibility and openness are key foundational steps in the process of making engaging theatre.

As we instinctively and reactively move, rise and fall to the ground during physical warm ups, we prepare our bodies for the space, freeing up the potential of more sharing in the future. The youth of Sedgehill School were unstinting with their words and actions, refreshingly frank with their boundaries and limits. I could not ask for a more positive first day.

Rehearsal plans for Brook's production of Oedipus (1968) © Peter Brook/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Rehearsal plans for Brook’s production of Oedipus (1968) © Peter Brook/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

For the second session, the energies in the room were more charged. I could sense the soundless buzzing aura when I entered the room. It is always a treat to see new faces. Every workshop experience has its own DNA and it is very much participant-specific. The working process can be replicated but every experiential outcome varies, for the individual and for the group. The facilitator guides the process but it is the group’s contributions that hold the center of meaning-making. There is a sense of familiarity in meeting again and yet with that comes the cacophony of overlapping voices, when the desire to share is amplified after the first session.

Our company has grown and now we have the chance to subtly get to know this new group all over again. Trust exercises, to fall and to support each others’ bodies, are always good indicators of a group’s general attitude towards taking risks and they help the facilitators understand each participant better. For a creative space to remain safe and thriving, it is paramount for the comfort and boundaries of our young people to be understood and respected. Especially so if we are the same people to encourage and provide the room for failure. When we, as protectors preserve the sanctity of the space, trust is developed and we thus play freely. To relinquish control and to be provided with support; to give is to receive. The cliché is real.

Two sessions are just the beginning of my artistic adventure with the bright and generous young people of Sedgehill School. I have watched them inhabit an empty space, take risks on a bare stage, and boy was I truly engaged.

We are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their generous support of this project.


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