|Editor(Owen Daly)> We
get email about Grotowski from time to time. |
Q: I am currently studying Grotowski
and his "Poor Theatre" acting
A: My (Owen Daly) experience with Grotowski's techniques were experiential, not academic. I can tell you what our rehearsals and performances were like. I can tell you what it felt like to visit and perform in Poland in 1969. I can also relate what it was like to work with the Performance Group, another Grotowski influenced group in NYC.
So to better address your question I called the director of Pillory Theatre, Dr. Jacques Burdick. His opinion is that Grotowski would certainly have known about Vakhtangov who was active in the early 1900's. In his personal discussions and correspondence with Grotowski, Dr. Burdick said that Vakhtangov's name never came up.
When I asked Dr. Burdick about any similarities between Grotowski and Vakhtangov he recalled a moment in a performance of the Habimah Theatre he saw on tour in NYC in the early 1960's. This group was formed in Russia and produced a performance of "The Dybbuk" by S. Ansky in 1922. Vakhtangov directed the original production. In 1928 the Habimah Theatre company moved to Palestine and continued to perform the same production. In the performance of "The Dybbuk" Dr. Burdick attended (of the same company, grown older) there was a section in the performance when the old rabbi is exorcising the foreign spirit from the young girl where the dramatic / physiological impact had the same qualities as he experienced with Grotowski's productions.
This is a tenuous thread, but it feels true to me. I experienced that there
is a focus on the physicality and wisdom / knowingness of the body in Grotowski's
work. His impact, going beyond words and concepts, is felt by the audience
as physical sensation. Jeff Spolan describes this in his interview on the
web site as, in one case, hearing the vibration
of the performer's song in the base of his spine. This dramatic / physiological
impact that Jeff experienced was quite real. He noted:
An email from Robert Ellermann (who trained with Lee Strasberg, Bobby Lewis, among others, and was artistic director of the Cactus Theatre in Chicago, and taught with Bobby Lewis in Los Angeles) points out a more tangible connection:
information you seek about Vakhtangov's influence on Grotowski is based on the
fact that when Grotowski went to the old USSR to study at GITIS his main teacher
was the great Vakhtangov disciple Yuri Zavadsky. Zavadsky was with Vakhtangov
from 1916 or so until 1922. Look into Zavadsky and GITIS for your answers.
Indeed, in his book Grotowski and His Laboratory, Zbigniew Osinski writes:
"Grotowski was enrolled in the G.I.T.I.S [State Institute of Theater Arts in Moscow] directing program from August 23, 1955, until June 15, 1956. Under the supervision of Yuri Zavadsky, he directed The Mother by Jerzy Szaniawski at the theater Institute. He was Zavadsky's assistant in the production of Zialpotov by L.G. Zotin, which opened on April 27, 1956 at the Mossoviet Theater. His professors left him free to accomplish his routine apprenticeship. He met Zavadsky ten years later in the hall of Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, where, during the season of Théâtre des Nations, the Mossoviet Theater of Moscow performed Gogol under Zavadsky's direction. The old man looked at Grotowski, took his glasses off, recognized him and opened his arms to him. (24) He also directed productions at the Mossoviet and Moscow Art Theater, and he studied the techniques of Stanislavsky, Vakhtangov, Meyerhold, and Tairov"
On a web page from Actors Studio, Lee Strasberg is quoted as saying, "If you examine the work of the Stanislavski System as made use of by Stanislavski, you see one result. If you examine it in the work of one of his great pupils, Vakhtangovwho influenced our thinking and activityyou will see a completely different result. Vakhtangov's work was skillfully done, his use of the Method even more brilliant and more imaginative that Stanislavskis, and yet Vakhtangov achieved totally different results."
Strasberg also says, "Vakhtangov says, 'If you had to do such and such a
thing, as Othello does, what would have to happen to you, what would motivate
you to do that?' In other words he places the aesthetic intention first and then
uses the technique as a way of carrying out the aesthetic intention. When
that is not done, often even in Stanislavskis productions, the work makes
the reality descend to the level of the actor, rather than helping the actor to
ascend to the level of the character."
All of this does not sound like 'grotesque' Commedia, which would seem to more closely related to Meyerhold's work.
Britannica.com has Vakhtangov 'bridging the gap' between Stanislavsky and Meyerhold, "Yevgeny Vakhtangov tried to bridge the gap between Realism and the avant-garde"... by use of his '"outer technique"' ... "While preserving a deep respect for the actor's art--something he learned from Stanislavsky--he brought bold gesture and vivid colour to his productions" http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/printable/4/0,5722,108434,00.html -broken link-
This, to me, seems to make sense, given the reputation of Strasberg and Actor's Studio.
Grotowski, in an article written in 1965 and published in his book of the same
name published in 1968, "Towards
a Poor Theatre" mentions Vakhtangov as one of his influences.
The link between Grotowski and Stanislavsky is defined more fully defined by Grotowski
a Poor Theatre. Lee Strasberg (Actor's
Studio, NYC) makes reference to this:
My take is that Grotowski departed from Stanislavsky in a direction not indicated by Vakhtangov, nor Meyerhold and Brecht.
In a biographical
sketch of Hanna Rovina, an original member of the Habimah Theatre the following
glimpse of Vakhtangov's directorial effectiveness emerges:
Is there a relationship between this 'ecstasy' of Vakhtangov's direction and the 'state of "trance"' described by Strasberg in Grotowski's actors? If so, it may be a key to understanding of the effects felt by Dr. Burdick at the Habimah performance in NYC in the early 1960's that felt the same to him as Grotowski's performances in Edinburgh in 1967-68.
comes up in Grotowsi's "Towards
a Poor Theatre" article as well.
These ecstasy / trance states could also be just different, independent means to a similar end. Grotowski had an interest in 'Hinduism and yoga' in his early life which preceded his interest in directing. See ( http://owendaly.com/jeff/grotowb.htm ) which presents Margaret Croyden's reporting of Grotowski's memorial service in NYC on January 14, 1999. Read Grotowski's taped remarks that were played at the opening of that service.
They go, in part, "When I was young I asked myself what would be a possible job that would enable me to look for the other one and myself, to look for a dimension of life that would be rooted in what is normal, organic, even sensual, but that would go beyond all this, that would have a sort of axis, another higher dimension that would surpass us. At that time, I wanted to study either Hinduism, to work on the different techniques of yoga, or medicine, to become a psychiatrist, or dramatic art to become a director."
In relating Grotowski's
early history Jennifer Kumiega writes in The
Theatre of Grotowski:
Like Stanislavsky, Grotowski investigated the mechanics and internal dynamics of performance. Starting from a base including Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Brecht, Vakhtangov, Dullin and Delsarte, my judgment is that Grotowski went his own way, as much influenced by the inner states and knowledge made available through his exposure to 'Hinduism and Yoga', as by the theatrical culture preceding him. Grotowski's work is related to Vakhtangov in some similarity of results obtained in performance, and thanks to Robert Ellermann, we have one clear link, the work Grotowski did with Vakhtangov's student Yuri Zavadsky in the USSR at GITIS in 1955-1956.
Owen Daly, revised May 5, 2005
A personal note: I find the parallels between Grotowski's approach to theatre and Yoga to be compelling. I have expanded upon this topic in Grotowski and Yoga. -ogd