Marco de Marinis: Grotowski and the Twentieth-century Theatre’s Secret
The Twentieth-century Theatre’s Real Revolution
But Can the Theatre Save Us or Help to Save Us (Save Itself)?
In order to follow the path towards this secret and so get to the heart of Grotowskian research, i will start from this embarrassing and almost improper, but perhaps now unavoidable, question. This question can be reformulated in an apparently easier but—as we will see—more ideological way: does the theatre improve those who make it (and in the end, those who watch it sometimes)? Can it make them better, happier, or at least more aware, of the self, of others, of the world? a lot of clichés circulate around this issue, some of them even quite prejudiced (such as ‘actors are happy because they rarely think or read, and they are often not very intelligent’). But there are also some less obvious considerations, emphasizing the benefits of a profession which involves the continuous intertwining of physical and mental work, the permanent soliciting of the imagination and so forth.
The Stanislavskian idea and practice of ‘the actor’s work on the self ’ allows us to address this matter with more relevant and specific terms. In this way, we can reformulate our big (and improper) question: is the work of the actor on the self only for the self—exclusively or mainly aimed at self-improvement for both the human being and the artist? Or does it also have other functions and aims? And if so, what are these? We will have to go back to such questions in order to get closer to the heart of the secret, and because the actor’s work as work on the self is definitely one of the principal arterial routes that link together the different periods of Grotowski’s theatrical and post-theatrical journey. I believe, though, that first some preliminary considerations are needed, going back to my initial, naïve and adventurous formulation of the question: can the theatre save, or at least improve, those who make it (and ultimately those who watch it, or—better put—those who do theatre by watching it)? A lot of theatre that operates today (or has done so for years) in places of disadvantage, diversity and on the fringes of society would initially compel me towards a quick, short and positive answer. Instead, let us try to be more rational, avoiding taking anything for granted.
On the face of it, some facts are evident. If theatre means not so much watching performances but, rather, acting (even if only as spectators), it is having an experience with/inside one’s own body/mind/self—and the other from the self—which is an experience of fullness, wholeness, vital intensity: qualities that are no longer accessible in our everyday life. When the theatre becomes like this, then we can easily accept the idea that it helps us, that it can make us happy (at least as long as the experience lasts), even that it can cure us.
Jerzy Grotowski (1933–99) was a Polish stage director, theatrical theorist, and founder and director of the small but influential Polish Laboratory Theatre. Most of Grotowski’s theatre-making took place in this and similar small theatres and studio spaces, and as a result one of his central fascinations was the actor’s work within the context of an empty room. The essays in Grotowski’s Empty Room analyze how Grotowski’s explorations in the theater continue to challenge dramatists and directors. The contributors to this volume reflect with special insight on how theater scholars and practitioners can further Grotowski’s work and how his legacy will be developed in the theatre.
Among the contributors are Leszek Kolankiewicz and Zbigniew Osinski, his close collaborators; Marco de Marinis, Franco Ruffini, and Fernando Taviani, scholars who have followed Grotowski’s works from the fourteen years he spent in Italy; and Swedish filmmaker and writer Marianne Ahrne and director Eugenio Barba, who reveal the strong impression Grotowski left on all those who met him and express the challenge of those who must now work in the empty rooms he has left behind.
‘For Grotowski, theatre itself was a kind of religion. He described himself not as an artist, but as a craftsman, a spiritual instructor.’—Wojciech Krukowski