There were few men who were seen as key figures in the 20th century in terms of furthering the actor’s technique, and Jerzy Grotowski was one of them. Grotowski was a Polish theater director and innovator of experimental theater, the “theatre laboratory,” and “poor theatre” concepts. On August 11, 1933, Grotowski was born in Rzeszów, Poland, and he died in Pontedera, Italy on January 14, 1999 at age 65. During World War II, Grotowski’s family got separated. His father went to fight in the war and was stationed in England. However, Grotowski escaped the Nazis with his mother and his brother. The three of them went to live with his aunt and uncle on a farm in Krakow where he learned spiritual advances from his uncle, who was a Bishop. These spiritual awakenings led to his ideas about the theater. In 1955, Grotowski graduated from the State Higher School of Theatre in Krakow with a degree in acting. Immediately after graduating he moved to Moscow to study the styles of directing at the Lunacharsky Institute of Theatre Arts. It was at this institute that he learned about the acting techniques and artistic approaches of Stanislavsky, Vakhtangov, Meyerhold, and Tairov’s work. Stanislavsky was a socialist and portrayed that in his work. He believed that every actor should show real emotion and realism. “His plan was to realize all the intentions of dramatists, to create a literary theatre” (Grotowski 56). Grotowski also studied Vakhtangov, who was a student of Stanislavsky’s. Grotowski made his directorial debut in 1957 with the production “The Chairs”. By 1959, he achieved artistic directorship of the Thirteen Row Theatre in Opole where the beginnings of his new vision began to grow. However, Actors’ Institute – Laboratory Theatre did not become the official title until 1971. The Laboratory Theatre, Grotowski’s institute, was devoted to researching the art of theater with specific focus on the actor. Grotowski and his ensemble were well known in the 1960s and the 1970s when they toured the world participating in many major theatrical festivals. The world was surprised and intrigued with Grotowski’s new ideas on how theater should be interpreted. Grotowski pursued his actor-spectator interaction in a more direct manner. He believed the producer must always remember that he has two ensembles to direct: the actors and the spectators. In many of his plays, the audience came to embody a character. Grotowski has written of his theater: For Akropolis, it was decided that there would be no direct contact between actors and spectators: the actors represent those who have been initiated in the ultimate experience, they are the dead; the spectators represent those who are outside of the circle of initiates, they remain in the stream of everyday life, they are the living. (Grotowski 63) He intends for the separation between the two ensembles to show that the dead are born from a dream of the living. The main goal for Grotowski’s experiments was to question the nature of theater and discover new forms of expression for the actor in a way that the body and the voice can confront their true nature.
By 1968, Grotowski had written a book called Towards a Poor Theatre, where he disagreed with the idea that theater should compete with television and film. He, instead, believed that theater should simply continue to have an actor perform in front of spectators. Even though the rest of the theatrical experience, including costumes, props, set, etc., was important, it was not necessarily required. By stripping away all that is unnecessary in theater, a vulnerable actor is all that is left. He abandoned complete sets and costumes, preferring a plain black set and actors dressed in plain black rehearsal clothes during rehearsals. He wanted to ensure that the actor maintained complete control over the body and the voice by participating in a series of difficult exercises. In his book, Grotowski...
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