Peter Brook from Archive to Action: Chiswick School Hub

This is a guest blog post by Danielle McIlven. Danielle is an experienced Community and Youth Theatre Director working in the UK and Internationally. She is the Director for the Chiswick Hub of the Peter Brook Schools Project, which is comprised of Chiswick School, Watermans and Gunnersbury Park Museum.

The scope of this project is immense; the Peter Brook Archives and our stimulus Lord of the Flies, our performance sites of the V&A, Waterman’s Art Centre, Gunnersbury Park Museum and Chiswick School and of course the creative team made up of a class of year 12s, their teacher and myself, a director.

There is always be a starting point to any project, even if this is merely a time and space that won’t necessarily be visible in the final performance. In this case it was a visit to and exploration of the Peter Brook Collection at Blythe House.

The content was fascinating and triggered many questions about Brook’s process, both professionally and creatively. Of equal fascination is the archive itself- particularly when thinking about theatre which is by definition transient and over as soon as it begins. To gain insight into what is so often an almost secret process makes us part of a larger process and theatrical heritage.

The students were not only humbled and inspired by the collage of information about his life and work, but reflected upon their own ‘archiving’.  Is archiving in fact an act that we engage with incessantly today?  Via social media are we continually and copiously archiving our experience? If this is virtual will it ever become ‘concrete’ and sit in an archive collection in years to come?  This seemed the most acute way in which the group connected with the material.  Could these questions also become part of our process and final piece?

V&A Blythe House Storage Facility © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

V&A Blythe House Storage Facility © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Next up have been practical sessions with the group. They know each other well so already have a sense of comfort and ease with one another. Yet this can and should always be pushed or even mixed up in a creative process, and initially was done so through movement work and introducing one of Brook’s core tenets- movement as meaning,  communication, and a conveyer of experience. Over five sessions the body has become an instrument to express space, context and relationships.

Our central question has been; how might we contextualise this tale so it is as vivid and shocking to a contemporary audience as Brook’s film was in the 1960s? Here, we unknowingly returned to the point of connection made at our first session in the archives- the virtual experience itself that is inescapable now for young people in this country. With this framing device we are exploring the story, or as Brook declared it, ‘the potted history of mankind’. The virtual world of gaming unleashes ideas and desires from our unconscious. This seems remarkably akin to the territory of theatre making and drama.

We will continue to work on how we tell the story in a specific context so it becomes the story of our actors’ and audiences’ today. The scope of this project still feels as immense as the list of partners suggests, but finding the links and connectivity in these places and organizations, through the imaginations of this brilliant company of young actors from Chiswick School, is what makes this project such a unique and engaging process to be part of.

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