restricted access Heart of Practice: Within the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards (review)
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Heart of Practice: Within the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards. By Thomas Richards. London: Routledge, 2008; 216 pp. $99.00 cloth, $33.95 paper.

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The title of this latest book from Thomas Richards is missing its definite article. Why not “The” Heart of Practice? What happened to “The?” The omission, far from accidental, makes a wonder of the missing function of “the” and points to the difficulty of identifying, summarizing, designating, or otherwise pointing at the object that constitutes both the book and the daily practice of the “doers” at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards.

This book is hardly likely to reveal the secrets at the heart of the practice at the Workcenter, though it is certainly forthright in detailing both history and practice. It at once answers and denies satisfactory responses to questions of appropriation, of hermetic remove, and of the guru syndrome that have trailed Grotowski’s legacy. And it most definitely resists the chronic desire, especially among academics, to identify the practices of the Workcenter in terms other than the work itself. What, one might still ask, are these strange locutions: organicity, verticality, Art as vehicle, doers, inner action, induction? The academic job, it often appears, is to translate, reify, define, identify, dismember, analyze, or critique, perhaps in the name of “doing justice,” but always presumably in service to greater understanding. What does one do with work that resists the very terms by which one understands “understanding?”

In outline, the book is clear, apparently simple. Three interlocutors ask questions of Richards, who responds in eloquent detail. Each is situated at a distinct point in the history of the Workcenter activity and each has a distinctive point of departure. The first, with largely historical reference to Richards’s work with Grotowski, is “The Edge-Point of Performance,” from Lisa Wolford (Lisa Wolford Wylam). This is a slight variation on her 1995 piece originally published in The Grotowski Sourcebook, which she coedited with Richard Schechner (1997). The second, “As an Unbroken Stream” with Tatiana Motta Lima, took place at Pontedera in 1999 and was part of Richards’s doctoral dissertation for the University of Paris VIII in 2001. This deals largely with questions of training processes. The third section, “In the Territory of Something Third” comes from Kris Salata, with questions about the more recent public showings from the Workcenter. Whatever the distinctive elements of each section, the book as a whole resists sharp distinctions between history, training, and reception. [End Page 180]

Wolford Wylam, Motta, and Salata were all part of the documentation team that followed the “Tracing Roads Across” project. Wolford Wylam has been something like the advance guard for American scholarship on Grotowski and the Workcenter and to a significant degree has helped set the agenda for study of the work. At one time a part of Grotowski’s work at U.C. Irvine, Wolford gives Richards the opportunity to provide something close to an historical context for the development of work between Grotowski’s Objective Drama at Irvine and that of Richards at the Workcenter. Implicit here is a concern with what happens when the master, the name that in some sense defines the practice, dies. If the work does not atrophy, how does it carry on and still retain the name?

Richards answers his interlocutors with a kind of radical specificity that resists a useful handle for encompassing the work or distinguishing the differences between Grotowski present and Grotowski absent. Such specificity tends to preclude the well-developed habits of academic research and transmission. The difficulty does not keep scholars from trying. Taking up the question of the relationship between a teacher and an actor, Tatiana Motta Lima asks if there is a way to create the conditions for creative work, implicitly asking for a portable principle. Richards neatly deflects the question to focus on the position of a “doer” who knows and does not know, and who relinquishes not just technique but the projection of knowledge before practice. In this section, the understandable wish for a teacher to know or to have a method, sanctioned by “Grotowski,” keeps reappearing. In responding to and...