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Jerzy Grotowski

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Editor: (Owen Daly) Artaud and Grotowski were both originators, explorers in the theatre. This email gave me a chance to address the similarities and differences in their work.

Q:   I was wondering if you could give me any information on the work of Antonin Artuad and Grotowski, I want to know about theraputic theatre in perticular( or the Holy theatre) Thank you! Allison

A:    For Grotowski's thoughts on Artaud you should read his article from 1967 published in "Towards a Poor Theatre", (pp. 117-125) entitled "He Wasn't Entirely Himself".

     Artaud died when Grotowski was about 14 years old, so they clearly never met.  Grotowski knew about Artaud and his theory of a Theatre of Cruelty well before it was used as the guiding technique of the Royal Shakespeare Company's highly acclaimed production of Marat/Sade in 1964(written by Peter Weiss and directed by Peter Brook), a time when Grotowski's work was beginning to receive wide recognition in the theatrical world.

    Grotowski was not a surrealist, as Artaud is often described.  Some common ground might be found in the concept of symbolist drama, but I believe their approaches were very different.

    My take on Artaud is that he was very 'out there' with the idea of living life to the fullest, and that led him into cruelty because as you observed it or reacted to it you were at least vitally alive.  Many consider that Artaud's creativity was closely aligned with his mental illness.

    Grotowski was in comparison a very reserved man, and was considered as sane as anyone involved in theatre can be.  Grotowski was interested in archetypes; movements, sounds and situations basic to the human condition and broadly understandable across human cultures.  He used them as powerful tools for his actors to communicate with the audience at a very basic level. Perhaps this is similar to Artaud's symbolist drama, perhaps not.  Both Grotowski and Artaud looked to symbolism and ritual as theatrical sources, but they developed and employed them differently.

    Artaud's theatre might be seen as therapeutic because it entails 'acting out' and might be cathartic for the actor or the audience, breaking free of restrictions that keep one from being fully alive.

    Grotowski's technique of working with the actor who 'makes a gift of himself' is reminiscent of psychoanalysis, as the patient freely talks about whatever enters his mind, but this is not what working with the technique was like in practice, nor would Grotowski agree that this was in any way an objective of the work.  In rehearsal the actors work from within themselves, concentrating on the physical movements in an almost meditative manner. Grotowski, as the director, would suggest and guide, and would ultimately select the movements and sounds that would continue to be part of the work in progress.  I believe he was fascinated with this creative aspect of the rehearsal process, and as he moved more away from directing public performances after 1973, he was ultimately more interested in the rehearsal process than the performance.

    In reference to the idea of 'Holy' as applied to theatre, again they had different approaches.  Artaud's 'Holy Theatre', to me, seems holy in the way that the Hindu god Kali is holy, an awesome power that is both creator and destroyer.  Grotowski's reference to 'Holy Theatre' generally applies to the dedication of the actor, in giving himself as a gift, an almost saintly holiness which carries over to a performance which is transcendent in a much more subtle, human sized way.

-Owen Daly

-Thanks to Anna Antaramian, Professor in the Communication, Media, & Theatre Department of Northeastern Illinois University for correcting my mistaken reference to Peter Weiss as the Director of Marat/Sade. -od

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