Thoughts On
Jerzy Grotowski
The Training and It's Lasting Effects

Grotowski Directory

Editor(Owen Daly)>  Jeff got an email asking questions about the great Polish Theatre director Jerzy Grotowski.  Perhaps a fellow actor or director was looking for insight into a form of theatre that Jeff had devoted several years of his life to?   A small group of actors directed by Dr. Jacques Burdick spent over three years recreating and exploring Grotowski's ideas and techniques from 1968 to 1970. Pillory Theater created three major and several minor works, performing in the Northeast United States, and at Il Miedzynarodowy Festiwal Festiwali Teatrow Studenckich in Grotowski's Wroclaw, Poland.  Additional Grotowski source material - Grotowski Directory.

Question> In the writings of Grotowski how important is the actor in the theatre?

Jeffrey Spolan> Sine qua non.

I was trained for three years using his techniques almost exclusively.

My experience was profound.
Without an actor there is no theater...there is "literature" but
the word has to be made flesh. Literally.  Period.

You can think of the "text" as the skeleton.

It's about archetype and how one can reach that
level in performance.

A point overlooked is that he came from an Eastern European
tradition heavily steeped in Catholicism.

{Not a prerequisite for doing the work of learning but rather
a way to get into his mind.}

Without trying to sound too full of hubris on my part
I have to add that there is an enormous amount of commitment
required in the process.

His audience came to the theater with a shared tradition of
cultural Poles.

{Please note: I am neither Polish in my heritage nor Catholic.}

No such shared tradition/foundation exists in the mass
culture of the United States.

i.e. the soil is pretty thin.

The roots didn't take very deeply here... for many reasons.

But did cause a sensation...
In an article in the New York Times in 1970 the headline
in a story about his work read something like.

"This year Grotowski.. next year Zen."

He knew we were a culture of "fads" and his time
in the spotlight would be brief.

or as we put it: ... he had his 15 minutes.

He knew that.

That is what is beneath the quip about his work on my web page.

Those who know, know.

(Which will take you to a very interesting question:
"How do you know you know what you know?"

(which is actually very Greek)

and that is what my quip about "onions" is all about.)

The notion of Poor Theatre was not something
we, as Americans, were going to enamored with for very long.

Witness the plague of Attention Disorder Syndrome

Sorry. This stuff ain't easy.

 Q.> In terms of their presence, what the body is doing , how it influences representation? 

J.S.> During the rehearsal process - and I'm not speaking of
being indulgent - one discovers what is the Via Negativa:
resisting the resisting doing "it"

The "it" is then shaped by the director.


It's fair to say sometimes the body becomes the theater.

I will give you an example.

I witnessed a performance of Grotowski's company
at the Edinburgh Festival many years ago.

An actress stood in a  corner and began to sing
a sad lullaby.

What happened next was I had the sense of
hearing the vibratory rate of the sound she was
making at the base of my spine.

Her "song" was being heard through my back!
It was chilling.

The effect was made even more so because
the song was directed to her child who had been
murdered in a concentration camp - on stage.

The "child" was not a "child" but rather
some cloth that had been bundled together
to represent a child.
all murdered children.

Get my meaning?

It didn't matter that almost no one in the audience
spoke the Polish language... nor were familiar with
the song.

Her technique was such that the depth of her
intent was quite literally "felt" .

Sounds impossible right?


It can be done...

I will add one thing.

You could make the point that because I had
begun the work of learning something of the
training I was "open" to experiencing this.

When the play was over I discovered
many other people in the audience had
heard/felt what I had as well...

These were not cheap theatrical tricks he was
talking about creating.

Nevertheless... it's how they are used.


We will now entertain questions about Gun Control....
 Any info would be appreciated. 


Q>  Thank-you so much for the info on Grotowski.  I really appreciate it.  Have an essay due on Monday!! 

JS> Glad to help. Kick some butt!

Like any good artist G. allowed himself to be influenced by many sources and then came up with his own way of doing things.

The "work" in his theater was essentially non-verbal.

There had to be what we would call "trust" or "confidence" between the participants.

Otherwise "it" won't work.

An actor pursuing this line of development has to be willing to face some very
serious questions about "challenges" and resolve to explore the answers
that he/she comes up with.

In other words: one needs guts and grit and no shit.

I once heard Christopher Walken remark: "Actors will steal anything." (that works)

Then again, there is the Disney cartoon of the "Sorcerer's Apprentice"
which poses several questions:

{non verbally and cartoon-like} 

Among them:  "Now that I've got it, what do I do with it?"


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