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  • Grotowski and the Grotowskian
  • Richard Schechner


Jerzy Grotowski died in 1999 but his influence continues to grow. UNESCO has designated 2009 as the "Year of Grotowski." We can expect a lot of symposia, performances, publications, and revaluations of the Polish master's work. For all that, it will be next to impossible to pin Grotowski down. His influence does not rest like that of Brecht in plays frequently performed, in detailed Modelbücher describing particular productions, or in loads of theoretical writing. Nor does Grotowski closely resemble Stanislavsky, a mentor Grotowski acknowledges. In his books, Stanislavsky attempted to chart a systematic and in some ways technical approach to acting.1

Grotowski's writings, both technical and inspirational, often originate from carefully edited transcriptions of talks given in diverse situations. Because these writings originated as speakings, they are differently organized than ordinary writing. Grotowski had his own style of communicating whether speaking or writing. His public talks often had the quality of prepared texts. Grotowski worked closely with his colleagues at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards in Pontedera, Italy, preparing translations of his texts for publication. As long as he had the strength to do so, Grotowski worked phrase by phrase, word by word. He knew how peculiar some of his utterances sounded (even in Polish). It was very important to him to transmit his own highly personal idiom, style, sound, and meaning. As his theatre work shows, Grotowski was exquisitely literate and a master of montage. In his writings, he wanted to be as clear as possible, avoiding double meanings to guard against misinterpretations. After Grotowski's death, Mario Biagini and Thomas Richards continue to get Grotowski into print, trying their best to intuit how Grotowski himself might accomplish this difficult work.

As I see it, Grotowski wanted to transcend writing; as in Art as vehicle, he wanted to reach a higher plane.2 Grotowski's utterances aspire, pardon me, to the Gospels: words of the master are argued over, closely guarded, and released to the public only when deemed ready. As we know from editing this issue of TDR, each phrase or word, however peculiar in English, is as crucially important to Richards and Biagini who are entrusted with Grotowski's writings as they were to Grotowski himself.

All this extreme care about what is published points to another big difference between Grotowski and Stanislavsky. Even during Stanislavsky's life, and increasingly after his death, a number of people claimed to know what Stanislavsky "really meant." There were those who taught the System and those who taught the Method...and so on. And once Stanislavsky was gone, his work developed on its own with many contestations and reinterpretations. None of these were authorized by Stanislavsky to be the sole or even primary bearer of his work. Stanislavsky never designated any one person to receive the "transmission" of his performance knowledge. The variations of the Stanislavsky heritage resulted in a very rich living Stanislavskian tradition that remains open and cogent, if also partial and even mistaken. Artistic originality paradoxically sometimes flourishes in the midst of, or even because of, mistakes. [End Page 7]

Also, decisively, Grotowski did not establish a more or less permanent theatre to perform his repertory—as the Berlin Ensemble and the Moscow Art Theatre do.3 Grotowski's repertory—both in his Poor Theatre phase and after—was intentionally made to be performed and then vanish, like the Cheshire Cat (leaving us to wonder what that evanescent smile means). Grotowski meant only for his final phase—Art as vehicle, the work with Thomas Richards—to last. Grotowski chose Richards to receive "the process of transmission in the ancient, traditional sense of the word" (Workcenter 1998:13). Grotowski transmitted to Richards what he could, intending full well that the work should not be frozen, not become a museum. Grotowski wanted Richards to continue developing the work in a dynamic way: "What will remain after me cannot be of the nature of imitation but of surpassing" (in Thibaudat 1995).

Of Grotowski's work other than Art as vehicle, there are various records—films, photographs, descriptions, and memories—but nothing exact, public, or institutionalized and...


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