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  • Living TraditionContinuity of Research at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards
  • Lisa Wolford Wylam (bio)

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Figure 1.

(facing page) Thomas Richards and Mario Biagini in Action at the Church of John the Baptist, Cappadocia, Turkey, 2005. (Photo by Frits Meyst; courtesy of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards)

In order to continue the investigation of someone else we should know in practice what he already found.

—Thomas Richards (1995:105)

On 14 January 1999 Jerzy Grotowski, in the words of Richard Schechner, "passed from activity into history" (1999:5). Mortality had eclipsed the Polish director's pronounced tendency to remain a resisting subject, one who shifted incarnations and positionalities in ways that consistently frustrated the efforts of taxonomic historians. This ongoing metamorphosis can in a sense be seen to parallel Konstantin Stanislavsky's continuing self-revision, his willingness to surrender [End Page 126] initial precepts as practical research uncovered new possibilities that called into question the efficacy of prior approaches. However, such a process of "permanent self-reform" (Grotowski [1969] 2008b:33) has substantial implications vis-à-vis historical interpretation and assessment, because those attached to the outcomes of earlier phases of creative research are often reluctant to modify their approaches in light of subsequent findings. As Sharon Carnicke lucidly demonstrates in her study of the markedly disparate constructions of Stanislavsky's teachings in Russian and American theatre cultures, such mutations are fueled not only by poor translation and overt censorship, but by the structures of feeling dominant in a given time and place (see Williams [1961] 2001), along with the idiosyncrasies and relative competencies of individual instructors purporting to represent a particular approach (Carnicke 1998). Grotowski found kinship with the Russian master not only through his practical investigation of Stanislavsky's precepts—most significantly the method of physical actions—but also in regard to their shared history of problematic appropriation.1 "I think of [Stanislavsky] often," Grotowski remarked, "when I see what kind of confusion one can cause. Disciples... I think it also happened to me" ([1969] 2008b:31).

Almost 40 years have passed since the height of the international furor surrounding the Laboratory Theatre, and the 50th anniversary of that celebrated company's founding in 1959 fast approaches. Some might wonder how much cultural cachet remains attached to Grotowski's name, at least in the US, where according to Stephen Nunns (1999), Grotowski long ceased to be relevant and the approaches that seemed so revolutionary in the '60s have since been revealed as quaint and naïve. In light of such an assertion, it's intriguing to note how liberally Village Voice writers in the intervening years have tossed about the appellation "Grotowskian" or dubiously hailed as "heirs of the Grotowski method" companies ranging from the North American Cultural Laboratory to Poland's Teatr Piesn Kozla. Contrary to Nunns, 21st-century theatre artists continue to promote their work by emphasizing a linkage to Grotowski, whose status in the highest echelon of the canonical avantgarde offers significant allure for those attempting to persuade funding agencies and presenters of the significance of their own experimental theatre work. Arts organizations in Britain, Poland, Italy, France, Crete, and North America regularly host paratheatrical events and/or workshops in Grotowskian technique, making it possible for affluent students and aspiring practitioners to spend their summers shuttling among picturesque locales in pursuit of embodied experience (or, as Antonio Attisani jokes, "initiation"). Boston's Pilgrim Theatre claims a "unique [...] artistic legacy from those members of Jerzy Grotowski's company with whom [they] trained in Poland"; in 2006 they offered workshops at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst on "Encountering the Legacy of Grotowski's Polish Theatre Lab" (KO Theater Works 2006). A recently published book by James Slowiak and Jairo Cuesta intended as a primer on Grotowski's work includes various exercises and activities representative of the authors' own independent practice alongside those actually derived from Grotowski, a [End Page 127] blurring of boundaries certain to confuse novice students (see Slowiak and Cuesta 2007).2 Pre-tour publicity for Theatre ZAR of Poland's engagement at UCLA aggressively promotes the group as "second generation disciples of...


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