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. New York: Routledge, 2008; pp. xvii + 196. $99.00 cloth, $33.95 paper.

Once inured to Thomas Richards's "personal terminology" in Heart of Practice: Within the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards, readers will surely intuit valuable insights into constructing actorly presence (64). Richards's linguistic predilections, though troublesome, present a distinct aspect of his approach—the creation of a poetics. In "The Edge Point of Performance," the first chapter of this "talking book" (three interviews), Richards's almost painstaking English usage sets precedent for his subsequent rhetoric with its peculiar verb–object constructions. Here Richards demonstrates that American artists remain hard pressed to give voice to their pioneering spirits due to the anti-intellectual nature of our national heritage. In this respect, Richards is a pilgrim in the poetics of actor training. When he announces that creativity "lies on the edge of the unknown," Richards announces his artistic undiscovered frontier (149). This quest distinguishes him from Grotowski, whose edge point was terra firma—first in Poland, and later as itinerant master teacher in a self-made no man's land with Polish signposts. Richards is the precise voice of an American-born itinerant theatre pedagogue, based in Italy, with no roads home, moving beyond the known to create art.

After training and collaborating with Grotowski in the US and Italy from 1985 to 1999, Richards was designated in his mentor's will as his heir. But those looking for a treatise on Grotowski's final years will not find it in "The Edge Point of Performance" (1995) or the other chapters, "As an Unbroken Stream" (1999) and "In the Territory of Something Third" (2004). Grotowski quotations are found easily in Richards's 1995–99 texts, the most salient from his 1997 College de France lectures—available soon in English in which he declares that actors' inner action continues after text ends (141). This Stanislavski-based pronouncement, foundational to Richards's Actions (the generic name for the Workcenter's work product), is useful for all actors.

Richards's book, however, presents problems for those unexposed to the Workcenter, since he only shows the work to select witnesses, not the general public. Most student actors have little experience with this performance genre; they rarely see films of Grotowski's work or travel to see Eugenio Barba, Peter Brook, Stacy Klein, Volodymyr Kuchynsky, Arianne Mnouchkine, or Wlodimierz Staniewski's work. Thus the discourse engendered by Grotowski's work and Richards's inheritance of his mantle might best be served by more descriptive exposition for uninitiated readers. Alternatively, interviewers Lisa Wolford, Tatiana Motta Lima, and Kris Salata are Richards's long-term devotees; their questions demonstrate their familiarity and subjective understandings of his work, but the book lacks detailed description, thus perspicacious readers may rightly wonder whether the interviewers scrutinize Richards's work critically.

Whether the book performs a professional service is questionable. Richards serves the profession from his isolated outpost in Pontedera, Italy, and only recently on limited tours as part of "Tracing Roads Across," a three-year project to travel to eleven nations (129). Like cloistered people of faith, praying anonymously for humankind too busy to pray for itself, Richards and his team do serve actors. He claims that the Workcenter's project is developing the ability for actors to maintain "their precision and truly alive process . . . [which] is the same for an actor in a public theatre and one who is doing this work" (13). Salata suggests that "Tracing Roads Across" serves simply by letting the Actions prepared at Pontedera to be seen by others: "Somehow I have the sensation that Action is for me, and that somehow it has to be for me in order to serve you" (153). Richards articulates his understanding of service as an act of being honest with himself: "I know that [Action] might affect you because it's real. . . . What we can do is make the work as present and articulate as possible for ourselves" (133). Richards and his team are an example of work on self that is beneficial for actor and...