Jerzy Grotowski
Jan Kott's Last Interview
Excerpted comments on Grotowski and Cieslak

Editor: (Owen Daly) Allen Kuharski is a Professor of English and Director of Theater Studies at Swarthmore College. This interview with Jan Kott (1914 -2001), Polish critic and theoretician of the theatre, was conducted in 2001. This short excerpt includes his recolections and comments on Grotowski. The full interview is published in New Theatre Quarterly (2002), 18:103-120

Raised and Written in Contradiction: Jan Kott's Final Interview

With Allen J. Kuharski
Transcribed by Helena Morawska White
English Translation by Michal Zadara
English version edited by Allen J. Kuharski

Note: The following text is based on a series of interviews conducted by Allen J. Kuharski with Jan Kott at his apartment in Santa Monica, CA, on March 31 and April 1, 2001. Jan Kott died after a long illness on Dec. 22, 2001.


Q:   In the Polish theatre, you knew such directors as Kantor and Grotowski very well. They were known in Poland as well as abroad, in America. It must have been a challenge to be friends with both Grotowski and Kantor.

A:   Grotowski respected Kantor, but Kantor hated Grotowski. I remember Kantor's last speech at the Congress of Polish Culture in 1981. At that time it felt like the Soviet Army was going enter Poland any minute. In that tense atmosphere, standing at the lectern, Kantor said: "Grotowski is a swindler." That gives you some idea of the relations between them.

      I was in Opole with Grotowski when he was beginning his work. Back then, in that small theatre, there were three or four people in the audience. And the actors looked at Grotowski as if he were God. He demanded incredible things, an unknown kind of acting. There was a different relation between the actor and the audience. For Grotowski, acting was like being struck by lighting--that's my description, but I think that it is appropriate for Grotowski. Right now, the Center for Research on Grotowski's work in Wroclaw has published the fourth or fifth incredibly interesting booklet containing the memoirs of people who worked with Grotowski in Opole and in Wroclaw. These memoirs are important if you want to understand Grotowski's relations with his actors. I will write about it some day. I remember that when I went to Opole, the performance made a huge impression on me. I knew that this was new, but I did not then understand the extent to which this new thing was revelatory, really shocking. Until I saw Apocalypsis cum figuris for the last time. At that point, I understood that this is great theatre. That was Grotowski's last production, one could say that Grotowski's theatrical work ended there. He later told me and others that for him it was the end--anything after that would have only been a repetition. Grotowski was a man of great vision, great courage, unwilling to make any kind of compromise.

     As I have said, the closeness of the actor and the audience member was one of Grotowski's principles. In The Constant Prince, Cieslak was almost tortured on stage, with the audience watching. Grotowski created Cieslak and ultimately made him unhappy, as well. I saw in him later on, in Apocalypsis cum figuris. In the opinion of many besides myself, Cieslak became one of the world's greatest actors.


excerpted from:
New Theatre Quarterly (2002), 18:103-120 Cambridge University Press Copyright 2002 Cambridge University Press DOI 10.1017/S0266464X02000192

In Polish in:
"Wychowany i piszacy w sprzecznosciach: Ostatni wywiad z Janen Kottem," KRESY
(BORDERLANDS; Lublin) 54-55 (2-3, 2003): 107-123.


Jan Kott, born in Warsaw in 1914, was the Polish critic and theoretician of the theatre who was best known around the world. He had lived in the United States and lectured at Yale and Berkeley since 1966. A poet, translator, and critic of literature and the theatre, he was also one of the finest essayists of the Polish school. He died in 2001.

Additional Information on Grotowski

E-Mail:Owen Daly  
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