In a Perfect World…

Jerzy Grotowski was a revolutionary. He advocated for a call towards the Poor Theatre. Theatre that is stripped down to its essential element: the actor/audience relationship. The closeness of the living organism is the one thing that the film and television world cannot rob the theatre of.  The actor invites the spectator in by revealing, opening up, and emerging from himself. This total act is in fact the epitome of the actor’s deepest calling.

Towards a Poor Theatre gives me goose bumps when I read it. This was my second time- and I remember, it was about 6 years ago when I last read it. I had never heard of the man before. I remember being blown away by it- however, having no idea what it was really about. I’m not saying a I fully understand it now- but it definitely makes a LOT more sense to me, now that I am further along in my training (and especially seeing as I have taken a special leaning towards the movement side of theatre and the mind/body/soul connection).

The most profound image in this book for me (which I never noticed 6 years ago) is the idea of actor as sculptor. Our work as actors is similar to a sculptor’s work on a ‘block of stone with a hammer and chisel’. Whereas the painter adds to her art (with paint!) “the sculptor takes away what is concealing the form which, as it were, already exists within the block of stone, thus REVEALING it instead of building it up”.

In my opinion, the most important element of the work that Grotowski stressed was the courage for the actor to reveal herself.  We need to learn to let go of the thought that ‘learning’ is the process of accumulating skills. His was a technique of elimination versus accumulation. And isn’t this what we work so ‘hard’ for in theatre school?  Self-discovery and henceforth the discarding of our habitual patterns and societal masks? I agree that it is vital for an actor to chip away at herself until her truth and real self is revealed. And likewise, in performance, if the actor can reveal what remains of the vulnerable human being, this will suggest to the spectator a similar thing.

Grotowski didn’t believe in the ‘bag-of-tricks’ approach. And this is one of the major differences I see in my training. While we are heightening our self –awareness in this program, we are also learning new tricks to add to our already full bags. (And we furiously jot down notes and journal to make sure we remember them before they slip our minds!). It makes me wonder if it would be more beneficial to commit fully to one method of training over another- because according to the G man, they complicate each other.

What I know of Grotowski’s call towards a Poor Theatre fills me with boundless wonder. It turns me on. It makes me feel alive and hungry for the possibilities. Sadly (SO sadly) though, I don’t know if I could ever imagine it being a realistic approach here in Canada. Our society would have to take such a gigantic leap of faith to invest money in this work. As Grotowski said, his theatre was certainly NOT for all audiences. His was for a special one. One that has “ genuine spiritual needs and who really wishes, through confrontation with the performance, to analyze himself”. Life changing for someone like me and my classmates but HILARIOUS if I think about my conservative British father who enjoys listening to the Spice Girls and John Mayer (I’m not kidding). Imagining my father witnessing a Polish Laboratory Theatre production makes my skin crawl. There’s no way he would even sit through the whole thing. He had a hard enough time watching me in a show where I wrote a scene about my relationship with him: it came from an honest sincere (and fairly dark) place and he thought it was so hilarious  that he decided to turn his video camera on and tape it.
I’d give away my first born to be able to practice this theatre (or at least fully try).  Alas, I don’t believe our society would support that endeavor. It is such a shame.

I read I review of the Constant Prince and specifically Grotowski’s finest actor Ryszard Cieslak’s performance in it: he had “Never seen an actor so completely in control of their voice and body…he groans with a volume that is almost symphonic…[he has] the grace of a fine dancer combined witht the talent of a great tragic actor… [this is] a new language of body and sound”

I wanna witness THAT!

From this point forward, I want to chisel and carve away to discover and reveal what truths lay dormant deep down inside this body of mine.

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