- Voices from Within: Grotowski’s Polish Collaborators ed. by Paul Allain and Grzegorz Ziółkowski, and: Acting with Grotowski: Theatre as a Field for Experiencing Life by Zbigniew Cynkutis
As Paul Allain and Grzegorz Ziółkowski point out in their introduction to Voices from Within: Grotowski’s Polish Collaborators, Jerzy Grotowski the individual is typically conflated with what was actually a deeply collaborative history of collective laboratory research, performance practice, and evolving theory. This slippage is typical in discussions surrounding auteur directors such as Grotowski, Joseph Chaikin, and Ariane Mnouchkine, and is a particular problem in the case of such company-based artists. Allain and Ziółkowski’s casebook addresses two significant gaps in the English literature on Grotowski: first, the book provides a diverse chorus of [End Page 180] first-person reportage by the director’s long-term collaborators (mostly translated from long- available Polish sources); second, it captures specifically Polish voices, and through them a glimpse into the larger Polish context for the work.
Pride of place is rightly given to literary director Ludwik Flaszen, the cofounder of the Laboratory Theatre and Grotowski’s offstage intellectual partner in Opole and Wrocław, whose role in defining the principles of “poor theatre” and the company’s complex critical engagement with Polish culture has often been overlooked abroad. Together with Flaszen, Grotowski and the Laboratory Theatre combined a radical questioning of conventional practices in acting and scenography with a dramaturgy that interrogated spiritual and philosophical questions alongside specifically Polish ones. In this phase, Grotowski and the company collectively functioned as engaged public intellectuals, expressing bitter and corrosive cultural critique through highly distilled theatrical analogy and metaphor. This dimension of their work is richly documented in Flaszen’s Grotowski and Company (published in English in 2010). Grotowski’s emigration from Poland in 1982 notably marked both the end of his collaboration with Flaszen and of his life as a public intellectual.
Actors are predictably the largest group represented in Voices from Within. The original actors were all of Grotowski’s generation (born in the 1930s, and children or adolescents during World War II), but their individual histories and perspectives are highly varied. Ryszard Cieślak, Zbigniew Cynkutis, Rena Mirecka, and Zygmunt Molik represent actors with the highest international profile within the company. Along with Mirecka, other women representing the acting ensemble include Maja Komorowska and the younger Irena Rycyk-Brill (b. 1950; active with the company starting in 1970). Komorowska left the company in 1968 and went on to become one of Poland’s best-known stage and film actors, and a professor of acting at the Warsaw State Drama School (Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Teatralna, or PWST). Komorowska’s presence at PWST represented one of the rare inroads made by Grotowski’s methods into the curricula of the country’s drama schools. One younger contributor, Przemysław Wasilkowski, only had contact with Grotowski at his Workcenter in Pontedera, Italy, in the 1990s, and enjoys an ongoing career in Polish theatre and contemporary dance.
The actors vividly describe the intensity and challenges of the work environment at the Laboratory Theatre: physical and family stresses resulting from long hours and Grotowski’s personal preference for working through the night; poor compensation and living conditions alongside the apparent privilege of working in a state-subsidized company (life as an artist in a second-world economy); performing for nearly empty houses in provincial Opole while enjoying growing renown elsewhere (cultural production in a command economy, increasingly for export). Perhaps most surprising are the accounts of serious injuries endured by the members of a company famous for physical virtuosity, with the worst stories involving Cieślak. While these accounts tend to be highly anecdotal and contain limited detail about the working...