Grotowski’s Communication with Spectators

Connections to the IB, GCSE, AS and A level specifications

  • methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • relationship between actor and audience in theory and practice
  • influence
  • significant moments in the development of theory and practice
  • social, cultural, political and historical context

PC: Were there stories that Grotowski returned to that fit his way of constructing productions?

PA: The story of Jesus and his disciples was a reference point throughout Grotowski’s work. He was very inspired by Ernest Renan’s book The Life of Jesus, as an archetypal figure that we associate with – a person who goes out on a limb, one who’s followed but who is then betrayed.

PC: Can you explain what you mean by archetypes and why they were important?

PA: The idea of archetype is important because it is not stereotype, it is not character, it’s what we can readily associate with. It was Jung’s idea. We recognize the martyr figure in The Constant Prince and Dr Faustus. We recognize the mother taking the Constant Prince in her arms like the image of the Pietà. We can understand these archetypal figures even beyond language, which is probably why his theatre was internationally so successful.

PC: That links back to what Raymonde Temkine said about the “structured composition of the role into a ‘system of signs'”.

PA: Yes, I’ve heard people talking about ‘signs’ quite a lot. It fits in with a semiotic understanding of theatre [a focus on the meaning of the images created] at that time but it is a bit limiting. For me, the embodied experience is so much more important; there is this montage of images, of signs, of symbols, of archetypes but at the same time we are experiencing that work very viscerally. If you try and read Grotowski’s work in a purely semiotic way, you’re only getting a very small part of the story.

PC:  Does that visceral experience, the sense of truth, come out of the physical repetition, the exhaustion, the score of signs? For example, was the pain that they were trying to present of Auschwitz in Akropolis somehow captured through the physical intensity of the performance?

PA: Peter Brook’s introduction to the film of Akropolis is very interesting. He says that it is not a documentary or a recreation of Auschwitz; he feels it’s like black magic happening in front of the you: the spirit of it or the rhythm, the sounds, the energy, the fear is conjured up before you. He says that this is what is distinctive about the theatre. It can do that because it is not referring to the past, quoting the people who were there, it’s in the here and now and you are a witness to it. He feels that this is what Grotowski has done so brilliantly in that performance: he’s somehow brought some essence of it to life.

PC: How did he get to that essence of life?

PA: Grotowski understood that it isn’t about shaping a dance or external pattern, it is actually about letting the actors find their innermost feelings. Not just splurging those out in a very indulgent way, but really precisely shaping them. It was a rigorous exploration of their innermost feelings.

Full interview here:


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