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Reviewed by:
  • Grotowski's Empty Room
  • Kermit Dunkelberg (bio)
Grotowski's Empty Room. Edited by Paul Allain. London and New York: Seagull Books, 2009; 233 pp.; illustrations. $29.00 cloth.

Grotowski's Empty Room, edited by Paul Allain, is an anthology of essays unified by a central idea: instead of the four periods that Grotowski and others frequently delineate to discuss his work, it should instead be considered as a continuum from Theatre of Productions through Art as vehicle.1 In the chapter that lends the volume its name, "The Empty Room: Studying Jerzy Grotowski's Towards A Poor Theatre," Italian theatre historian Franco Ruffini undertakes a close reading of the seminal 1968 book to demonstrate an absence at its core: Towards A Poor Theatre, Ruffini notes, conspicuously excludes any description of Grotowski's rehearsal process with Ryszard Ciešlak in preparation for the 1967 premiere of the Polish Laboratory Theatre production of Calderón's The Constant Prince. This process is significant, for as Ruffini argues, it marked a new direction toward the "inner path" of the actor/doer (108): a path that eventually led Grotowski to his work on Art as vehicle. As he poetically concludes, within the "big house" of Towards A Poor Theatre there is an "empty room": "In the empty room is the 'process,' the living stream of impulses; in the big house there is performance with its craft and skill [...]. The empty room takes its leave from public performances, and already introduces the Workcenter of Grotowski's final years" (110).

This evocative thesis implies a symbiosis between Grotowski's Theatre of Productions and Art as vehicle, between performance and the work on "Performer" (see Grotowski [1988] 1997). Paul Allain, professor of theatre and performance at the University of Kent, Canterbury, England, and director of the British Grotowski Project from 2006-2009, has collected (and had translated) an important collection of essays, each of which supports Ruffini's central thesis. The volume is handsomely produced as part of Seagull Press's Enactments series, edited by Carol Martin and Richard Schechner. The cloth edition is well bound and durable, the layout appealing to the eye, with 17 photographs.

In Part I, Eugenio Barba's letter to Grotowski (written on the occasion of Grotowski receiving the Golden Pegasus International Award from the Italian Region of Tuscany in May 1988) subtly announces the book's main theme. "Your solitude has always been active," Barba writes to his teacher (4). Marianne Ahrne's fictionalized account of her experience in Paratheatre (excerpted from her autobiographical novel Katarina Horowitz) seems out of place in a book of analytical essays, but her interview with Grotowski, which serves as an appendix, is informative.2 Ahrne's unassuming questions elicit heartfelt and precise responses from Grotowski. The reader senses his personal warmth as he discusses complex subjects in terms even the uninitiated can understand.

Part II makes available in English some of the work of two major Polish Grotowski scholars: Zbigniew Osiňski and Leszek Kolankiewicz. Osiňski's "Grotowski and the Reduta Tradition," is an abridged version of several essays by the chronicler-in-chief of Grotowski's Theatre of Productions period. It focuses on the interwar theatre that Grotowski frequently referred to as an ethical predecessor to the Polish Laboratory Theatre. Kolankiewicz's essay, "Grotowski and Flaszen: Why a Theatre Laboratory?" is oddly titled, given that he barely mentions Flaszen. But Kolankiewicz—a performance anthropologist and head of the Institute of Polish Culture [End Page 207] at Warsaw University who worked closely under Grotowski for a decade during Paratheatre and Theatre of Sources—brings both personal experience and interdisciplinary acumen to his critical-historical analysis of Grotowski's life and practice. Kolankiewicz touches on many points, notably Grotowski's relationship to Gnosis (which he has elaborated upon even more fully in a longer essay from a 2001 book that unfortunately remains untranslated into English).3 Rounding out Part II is Czech dramaturg and critic Zdeněk Hořínek's rare contemporary account (from 1967) of an early version of Grotowski's last stage production, Apocalypsis cum Figuris, from when it was shown in open rehearsals as The Gospels (Ewangelie).

Part III includes...


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pp. 207-209
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