It is good to ask basic
questions. They are often illuminating. 'What is theatre
for?' is such a question.
From my experience, theatre
was a priori. It existed and continues to exist
and does not have to explain itself, so your question is
somewhat 'new' to me.
Theatre is an instance of people getting together with a
common or shared purpose. It is not dissimilar in structure
to going to church. A religious service, especially the
Roman Catholic mass with which I grew up, is a performance
with settings, costumes, actors and audience.
A banquet is in many ways a performance. There is often
a head table or head of the table to which primary attention
is paid, but there is a more participatory construction
to the event, food and conversation is shared and each participant
has the option of taking the spotlight for at least a brief
time. It is also more improvisatory and multi-focused than
your typical play or church service.
So theatre is not an isolated cultural structure, but lies
in a continuum of related human activities which include
some recognizable structure, and people participating as
'doers' and 'observers'.
This would cover the range from the spectacle of Gladiators
in the Roman Coliseum, to the structured improvisations
of Commedia del l'Arte, to Shakespeare's plays, to the Vaudeville
performance that balances twenty spinning plates simultaneously,
to the modern spectacle of a World Cup Football match.
Grotowski did differentiate his concept of theatre from
that of 'performance' and 'spectacle'. It is not just going
through an animated presentation of a set piece, nor a presentation
that captures the audience by huge effort or sparkling effects.
When Grotowski talked about his theatre he stressed the
individual actors, individuals trained and prepared to present
something at once intimately personal and at the same time
archetypal or universally recognized, often at a deep psychological
level, by the audience. I would say it was a sharing of
'secrets' that the audience already knows at a deep level,
but may have forgotten in the press of everyday events.
Grotowski's works were not considered 'finished'. Rehearsals
continued after the 'opening', and the show would go through
changes, phases, and re-openings as it evolved. This continued
work of exploration between the actors and the director
would, in my opinion, keep the work 'alive' and immediate.
I have recently been tangentially involved in a Broadway
musical type production of "Some Like It Hot' and have
had the opportunity to see the performance several times
over two periods about a month apart. The actors wore microphones,
the music was amplified, the lighting and sets were elaborate
and complex, and thus had many of the trappings of 'spectacle'.
Even though in theory the performance was 'set' by opening
night it continued to evolve, due at least in part to the
efforts of the lead producers of the show, who earlier in
his career was a member of Pillory Theatre and worked along
the lines of Grotowski. I was also drawn to the performances
by something else, something beneath the lines, the singing
and dancing. The individual actors were each in their own
way putting themselves on display to the audience in their
sincere efforts to make the production, and especially their
part of it, work theatrically. To my eyes, there on stage,
beneath the performance and spectacle were actors, real
people, putting themselves on display in an effort to communicate
something very basic to the audience.
So when you ask me what I think is the purpose of theatre,
"What is theatre for?', I would answer that it is to
provide a forum, a structure for people to interact in a
special way, where there are 'actors' that are observed
by the 'audience'. Where the actors purpose is to share
something basic about the human condition, to touch the
members of the audience by the simply and consciously acting
out portions of themselves for the audience to see, hear
and have a reaction.
I think Grotowski would have a similar, more refined take
on your question. I think he would be able to far better
than me put into words just what is being communicated and
why we humans have continued to crave that enough to keep
theatre alive in it's many forms and permutations over the
past many centuries.
I would also direct you
to a recording of Grotowski that was played at the memorial
service in NYC in January of 1999 in which he spoke, among
other things, of what he was looking for as he chose to
make a career in theatre.
You might also look in
the first chapter of "Towards
a Poor Theater" where he says, "We are seeking
to define what is distinctly theatre, what separates this
activity from other categories of performance and spectacle...
Our productions are detailed investigations of the actor-audience
relationship. That is, we consider the personal and scenic
technique of the actor to be the core of theatre art."
-Owen Daly 6/30/2004