Second open letter in response to FOIA about cutting the Arts:

Thank you for providing me with the all the information I requested.

I urge you to review your decision to cut A Level subjects from the options available for 2017/18. I appreciate that if you take each of the subjects individually the financial picture is a bleak one. In the current climate of chronic underfunding for schools, Drama would require 21 students in every cohort to break even. I’m not sure creative arts subjects have ever been celebrated enough by our education system to allow these kinds of numbers with any regularity.

Looking at these subjects in isolation does not give an accurate picture of funding across all subjects. The increase in numbers for other subjects that has been seen with the drastic increase in sixth form intake at Coopers’ will lead to some subjects making a “profit” for want of a better word. I believe that this surplus could and should be used to cover the cost of subjects with few students that do not benefit from the same institutional support. I have attached some basic calculations based on the class numbers provided, the average funding per pupil per subject in the sixth form being £900 and that a generous average teacher salary of £18000 per 10 hours teaching. These calculations put the overall deficit for all subjects at £8100. I understand the school is looking to cut costs but is this not a sum of money that is more manageable for the reward of offering a truly attractive, broad curriculum.

I would also like to question the perception of these subjects amongst SLT and governors. Are these subjects truly understood for what they offer? The minutes of your governing body meeting show that someone commented that “many of the talented musicians/actors do not study music or art [sic]” This seems to be a massive simplification of what these subjects offer students. Furthermore, the minutes reveal that the poor exam results are leading to poor uptake. A more vital question to ask than simply taking the action to scrap the subjects is how are they promoted? How do senior members of staff, leaders and teachers of other subjects talk about these subjects with prospective students? Is there a trend of influential people misinforming students that studying one of these subjects as a third A level choice would put their applications to top universities at risk. This is a harmful misreading of documents provided by Russell Group universities: whilst they do recommend students choose three ‘facilitating’ subjects if they want to keep their options open, they do explain that if a student knows they want to study an arts subject for example taking two ‘facilitating’ subjects and one relevant ‘non-facilitating’ subject would allow them to gain entry to those courses. I urge you to question how the culture of the school around options and particularly how information for parents and students is putting potential talented candidates off taking them at A level.

Your governor minutes also make reference to potential future competition with other local sixth forms. The decision to remove creative subjects from the A level curriculum has already had a detrimental to the reputation of the school. The story of the school’s decision has already received coverage in local and national news as well as social media outlets. This has led to over 8000 people have signed the petition against these subject cuts.

As someone who lives locally with young family I would not think of sending my children to a school that perceives the arts and creativity as reductively as ‘acting from a script’ or ‘playing an instrument’. The arts and creativity are so much more and they deserve a more concerted defence from school leaders than the one shown by the governors and leadership of Coopers’ Company and Coborn School.

 

 

An open letter to a school cutting the Arts

I am devastated to hear that Cooper’s Company and Coborn School has decided to remove Drama and Theatre A level and Music A level from 2018. The school’s phenomenal reputation in Havering and Essex for Arts education is put in jeopardy by this decision. The school is considered a leader in the local area and this decision will surely have a ripple effect on other schools. It will only be a matter of time before studying the Arts in sixth form will not be possible in Havering and South Essex.

If you remove Arts A levels it will lead to reductions in arts specialist teachers, perhaps not immediately but when current teachers leave they won’t be replaced. If Arts teachers go then you will have no one in your school whose sole purpose it is to advocate for Drama and Theatre or champion Music. Interest will wane and you will find yourselves in charge a school where the Arts is suddenly absent from the experience of most students.

I understand that the financial outlook is not good for schools because of government cuts. I appreciate that heads will be turned by financial incentives that encourage schools to push students to take subjects that are not suitable for them. However, it is your responsibility as governors to defend a broad and balanced curriculum. It is your duty to foster creativity and collaboration in your students.

I have no doubt that you will argue that there will be other opportunities to access the Arts within your extra-curricular provision but this is not good enough.

The idea that the knowledge that fuels creativity in the Arts can be accessed in other areas of the curriculum is simply not true. This presumes that every teenager will be able to tap into their instinctive creative urges and navigate and shape their ideas until they stumble across a piece of art. Whilst this may be true of an elite few, the many have to learn a way of crafting their creative instincts into art.

The knowledge that is taught on the Drama and Theatre A level and the Music A level introduces students to this idea of craft. They study examples of great artists who experimented and honed their craft. They experience live examples of beautiful art crafted by professionals as a regular and necessary part of the course. They are exposed to ideas, stories and cultures that are different from what they know already. And once they have acquired all that knowledge and experienced all that challenging live performance they then have to take inspiration from it and create something original. This may be the interpretation of a classic text, the reimagining of a great piece of music or it may be the composition of something completely new.

This creative composition and interpretation is often completed in groups, fellow students experiencing the high-stakes of public performance together. It is this live public presentation of coursework that really makes these subjects essential. Yes, creativity, empathy, teamwork, analysis, problem-solving can be found in other subjects but nowhere are these skills so concentrated, so essential to assessment or exposed live in front of an audience.

It is the combination of active analysis, historical awareness, cultural intelligence and creativity within the pressure cooker of a public performance deadline that will ensure that Arts students will be the most employable.

The internationally renowned theatre maker and opera director, Simon McBurney heard about Coopers’ Company and Coborn School via Twitter and this is what he said:

The arts are not an add on…. they are not a luxury…. They are not for the few… every word uttered is a creative act…. and just as language builds our conscious selves, music builds our unconscious. To abandon either is self harm. To deprive children of them is abuse.

The petition has gathered over 5000 signatures including some of the UK’s leading artists, critics and academics. I urge all in charge of leading Coopers’ Company and Coborn School to reconsider their decision to cut Arts A levels. The damage that this will do for Arts provision in Havering and South Essex will be devastating.

Grotowski’s Influence: Barba, Brook and Beyond

Interview with Paul Allain

Paul Allain is Professor of Theatre and Performance and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Since collaborating with the Gardzienice Theatre Association from 1989 to 1993 he has gone on to write extensively about the theatre. He has published several edited collections on Grotowski as part of the British Grotowski project.

Paul’s films about physical acting for Methuen Drama Bloomsbury will be published at Drama Online in Spring 2018 as Physical Actor Training – an online A-Z.  Draft films are currently available at the Digital Performer website.

email: P.A.Allain@kent.ac.uk


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

  • innovations
  • key collaborations with other artists
  • influence

PC: How have people been influenced by Grotowski’s work?

PA: People have been influenced in different ways; from someone who has only read Towards a Poor Theatre and then been inspired by it; to people who have perhaps seen a bit of The Constant Prince or Dr Faustus on film and used that to make their own physical theatre; to people who worked directly with him.

PC: You have mentioned Eugenio Barba a lot. How was he influenced by Grotowski?

PA: Barba always talked about Grotowski as his master; he was always very explicit about that relationship. Barba was his assistant director and apprentice for two years then set up his own company – Odin Teatret in Denmark. He used the training processes, starting from the same point as Grotowski but taking it in a very different direction. He was very much more about making theatre. Barba has kept that company together for fifty years, an extraordinary feat to keep an ensemble making theatre productions. He edited Towards a Poor Theatre and was crucial in introducing Grotowski to the world. He opened up Grotowski’s work in many different ways, the practice and the writing. He was very closely connected to Grotowski throughout his life.

PC: Peter Brook is someone we know well in British theatre. How was his work influenced by Grotowski?

PA: Peter Brook is important because he was also looking for something, a fresh impetus; something more universal; something beyond language. He saw in Grotowski’s work a physical way of trying to do that using song, rhythm and musicality. There are lots of parallels between Grotowski and Peter Brook’s work. At the time when Grotowski was going into paratheatre, Peter Brook had left England to set up in France and do three years of research. Brook’s was a similar process of investigation, of taking theatre back to the community. The connection came out of Peter Brook having Grotowski and Cieślak do two weeks’ work on Brook’s production of US with the RSC in 1966. Brook’s collaborator Albert Hunt said it changed the work for the worse and made it indulgent and personalised, when he had wanted it to be political, ‘Brechtian’ if you like. He felt Grotowski took the piece in the wrong way. Peter Brook kept very close to Grotowski and employed Cieślak in the Mahabharata (1985) playing the blind prince. It was the only role that Cieślak did after he left the Laboratory Theatre before he died. Peter Brook also coined the phrase ‘Art as Vehicle’ that came to be used for Grotowski’s final phase of work. They both had an interest in G.I. Gurdjieff, the mystical philosopher. The film Meetings with Remarkable Men by Peter Brook was based on Gurdjieff’s book of the same name. Gurdjieff believed that “We’re sleeping all the time, we need to wake up.” He had these rigorous exercises to wake people up in their daily lives. We can see that idea in Grotowski and Brook too.

PC: How about Tadashi Suzuki? He is a contemporary of Grotowski’s that you have written about.

PA: Suzuki has been called the ‘Japanese Grotowski’. He actually met Grotowski for about three days once when Grotowski was in Japan in the 1970s. Again, he was inspired by what Grotowski was doing and Towards a Poor Theatre. Similar to Grotowski, Suzuki investigated what the body could do but he looked to his own traditions of Noh and Kabuki rather than looking at world traditions.

PC: It was quite a revolutionary time for theatre!

PA: When you think about Peter Brook, Barba’s Odin Teatret, the Living Theatre, and Grotowski, all at the same time in the seventies, breaking down the walls, breaking out of the theatres in an attempt to reestablish new relationships to the community; that whole community theatre movement is a major part of Grotowski’s work. It’s about re-establishing a relationship with the spectator, not just about the aesthetic or the training.

PC: Do you see that Grotowski has influenced Physical Theatre?

PA: Lloyd Newson, Artistic Director of DV8, has said that ‘physical theatre’ is a Grotowskian term. He locates this whole movement in the UK as starting with Grotowski. However, Grotowski didn’t call it physical, but psychophysical. He didn’t want to focus on the exterior or the virtuosity of it. Nevertheless, I can understand how Grotowski’s visits to the UK in the sixties and seventies influenced companies like DV8.

PC: How has Grotowski influenced training for theatre?

PA: I think the impact that Grotowski has had on training is massive. The ‘traditional’ theatre has in general been quite a sedentary form – the cliché of it being talking heads is too often true. Grotowski offered an alternative to that in terms of realising the actor’s full potential. Nowadays, even if you’re going to produce an Ibsen play you can start from physicality. The director Katie Mitchell, who is very interested in Polish theatre and Grotowski, has brought that sensibility of the importance of the ensemble, of the voice, of singing to her work, especially in its early phase. It is not just about speaking the text, it is about embodying something.

Full interview here:

Grotowski

Paratheatre: Finding the Desire to Change

Interview with Paul Allain

Paul Allain is Professor of Theatre and Performance and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Since collaborating with the Gardzienice Theatre Association from 1989 to 1993 he has gone on to write extensively about the theatre. He has published several edited collections on Grotowski as part of the British Grotowski project.

Paul’s films about physical acting for Methuen Drama Bloomsbury will be published at Drama Online in Spring 2018 as Physical Actor Training – an online A-Z.  Draft films are currently available at the Digital Performer website.

email: P.A.Allain@kent.ac.uk


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

  • key collaborations with other artists
  • methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • relationship between actor and audience in theory and practice
  • significant moments in the development of theory and practice

PC: Were there any major events that took place during this period?

PA: They did the Theatre of Nations project in 1975 and invited Eugenio Barba, Peter Brook, Luca Ronconi, and André Gregory. They all came and there were workshops and talks. Five thousand people participated in the various projects. It was a very broad frame of activities that Grotowski oversaw as an ‘über-director’, if you like. Not really leading practical sessions himself, though some of them he would, but really letting the others develop their work.

PC: That sounds huge. Where did these explorations take place?

PA: They restored the barns in Brzezinka outside Wrocław as a natural location, away from the city, to do this work. They did projects like the Mountain Project that was outdoors. They would spend two days in nature and people would immerse themselves in water and in grain in non-urban spaces. Very experiential, we’d possibly call it therapy today, but it was never couched in that way. It seems very much of its time, in terms of the hippy culture, but in fact in Poland this only became more established later; so it was quite innovative for Poland then.

PC: Did these projects tour like the productions?

PA: Yes, some of the projects went to Australia, to France; they weren’t all located in Poland. At the same time as the active culture activities were going on, Apocalypsis cum Figuris was being shown as a performance. Grotowski used it as a way to meet people and bring them into the paratheatre work.

PC: Was that anyone of any ability?

PA: Yes. He advertised on the radio, he sent callouts via socialist youth networks. So in some ways, it was everyone, but it was also people who had a need for it: a desire. Again, some people have called it elitist, but it wasn’t elitism based on wealth or money or privilege, it was really an elitism of whoever wanted strongly enough to be there and to participate.

PC: Was there any selection process?

PA: Yes, because if you’re going to spend two days with someone, living together, running through the woods, doing these experiments, you need to iron out people who might be difficult: people who were there for egotistical reasons. I can understand the need for a selection process. It was inclusive but not totally inclusive; it was guided. They were trying to find people who had a real desire to change.

PC: It sounds quite religious, is there a connection with religion? You mentioned he was thought of as a guru.

PA: He was avoiding that, but I think that people invest what they want. The activities had a parareligious aspect to them I suppose. Anything where people are brought together, where they sing together, can become religious; but for him it was never about a god or divinities. That’s one of the things that Grotowski would have weeded out; people who were investing too much in him as a figure who would save them. He was very careful not to create an alternative religion at a time when cults and that kind of behaviour were being widely adopted or created. They did draw on religious iconography, like grains of wheat for example, but it was more in a very functional, practical way. There was some religious symbolism but equally he was inspired by a very broad range of cultural references such as from Sufism, Indian culture and Catholicism.

PC: How did the paratheatre phase of work come to an end?

PA: In 1976 they were in Venice, at the Biennale and Włodzimierz Staniewski, who went on to set up Gardzienice, had a bust up with Grotowski and left. He thought that the work had lost its point: it had become nebulous, too self-indulgent and lacked direction. He exposed the flaws that Grotowski later looked back on and thought were legitimate issues with the work. The next phase of work overlapped with paratheatre – Theatre of Sources. This went to a much more technical level, finding people around the world who had technical expertise and looked at the sources of theatre from different cultures in terms of ritual and musical practices and dance. All this was an attempt to understand where theatre begins.

Full interview here:

Grotowski

Paratheatre: What is Beyond Theatre?

Interview with Paul Allain

Paul Allain is Professor of Theatre and Performance and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Since collaborating with the Gardzienice Theatre Association from 1989 to 1993 he has gone on to write extensively about the theatre. He has published several edited collections on Grotowski as part of the British Grotowski project.

Paul’s films about physical acting for Methuen Drama Bloomsbury will be published at Drama Online in Spring 2018 as Physical Actor Training – an online A-Z.  Draft films are currently available at the Digital Performer website.

email: P.A.Allain@kent.ac.uk


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

  • artistic intentions
  • theatrical purpose
  • key collaborations with other artists
  • methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • relationship between actor and audience in theory and practice
  • significant moments in the development of theory and practice

PC: What is paratheatre?

PA: Para means beyond; it is theatrical but was not using the same forms. It was beyond theatre.

PC: Why did Grotowski make the shift away from productions to paratheatre?

PA: After Apocalypsis cum Figuris he said,

Some words are dead, even though we are still using them. Among such words are show, theater, audience, etc. But what is alive? Adventure and meeting.

Grotowski, J. (1973) Holiday: The Day That Is Holy. TDR, 17(2) p113–35.

For him this new language meant paratheatre, which is all about active culture. He believed everyone has innate creativity: rather than just watching other people acting; rather than reading books that other people have written; rather than watching other people on stage and films, we can all be active creators. Thousands of people participated in this programme of ‘active culture’ as it was also called. We might call them workshops but these were very different, very intensive workshops. No one was allowed to observe, they all had to participate. It was a completely different direction.

PC: It seems quite abrupt. What made him shift direction so drastically?

PA: He looked back at his work and felt that he had manipulated spectators, forcing particular psychological situations. He had set up these configurations where he asked them to imagine they were witnesses or be present in a concentration camp, watching people die. He felt uncomfortable with such manipulation of the form and the theatre. Instead he wanted to go back to questions about the human spirit: What is human nature? What is creativity? It was interesting because a lot of people were taking work into communities then: Eugenio Barba with Odin Teatret started doing ‘barters’ in the 1970s and the Living Theatre had come to Europe. These companies were similarly going beyond theatre.

PC: What kind of activities did paratheatre include?

PA: It was a very wide programme of activities: Ludwik Flaszen led text and voice workshops, Zygmunt Molik did voice therapy sessions and acting workshops. Cynkutis led what we would call ‘acting classes’. There was environmental work, there was the mountain project, there was Vigils, Beehives, all these participatory activities where no one was allowed to observe. Everyone had to participate fully on the same terms. It was an investigative process, very exploratory; there were structures, but usually the structure was never explained. For example, in a Beehive, you can imagine this sense of people working through the night, in a swarm of activity, led and directed by the Laboratory team but open for people to propose things as well, open to things emerging.

PC: How would such an open exploration begin?

PA: Ludwik Flaszen would begin his Meditations Aloud with silence. He’d force people to be in that silent space. It would reveal all these behavioural ticks and traits: there was the awkwardness of silence, and people wanted to fill the space and do things or thought that it was perhaps a prompt to do something. The Laboratory members were applying some of the skills of the training but in a much broader way.

Full interview here:

Grotowski

Grotowski’s Context: Sickness, War and Oppression

Interview with Paul Allain

Paul Allain is Professor of Theatre and Performance and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Since collaborating with the Gardzienice Theatre Association from 1989 to 1993 he has gone on to write extensively about the theatre. He has published several edited collections on Grotowski as part of the British Grotowski project.

Paul’s films about physical acting for Methuen Drama Bloomsbury will be published at Drama Online in Spring 2018 as Physical Actor Training – an online A-Z.  Draft films are currently available at the Digital Performer website.

email: P.A.Allain@kent.ac.uk


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

  • artistic intentions
  • theatrical style
  • key collaborations with other artists
  • methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • significant moments in the development of theory and practice
  • social, cultural, political and historical context

PC: You have mentioned how important the imagination and associations are when the Theatre Laboratory were developing their work. These are very subjective connections that cannot be separated from context. What was the context and how is it revealed in his productions?

PA: It is a really important point, as I think the context is often overlooked. Grotowski was working in Poland until he started to tour internationally. His work was then picked up by Eugenio Barba with the production of Dr Faustus which, like all his productions, was performed in Polish. People sometimes say that Grotowski was dismissive of language but it was the Polish language and it was very beautiful language, often recited or sung very fast. He was working with beautiful text and the dramaturgical work was important. People who don’t know Polish overlook the textual elements, that’s why they focus on the physical aspects too much.

PC: What other contextual reference points were there?

PA: The Second World War was another key contextual reference. Grotowski was born in 1933, so he was six when the war started in his country. Hel peninsula was invaded by the Germans and they took over Poland within six weeks. He was used to deprivation, violence and fear at a very young age. His mother was key in bringing him up through that. She educated him, and was very interested in Hindu and Indian culture. He was also very ill and was told that he had a year to live, but somehow he survived to the age of sixty-six. He had recurring health problems and it is interesting thinking about the impact this might have had on him as someone who is working beyond their own life expectancy. Did it impact the urgency, the rigor, the intensity of how he lived; of what he expected from other people? He never had children; never married. It perhaps explains his transience, for he was very much a wanderer later on, absorbing different source cultures.

PC: How did the work change as he moved?

PA: Poland in the 1960s was a very isolated, Soviet occupied country, behind the iron curtain. He lived in the tiny town of Opole before he moved to the bigger city of Wrocław where he became well known. In Opole, it was a very marginal, experimental theatre where he’d sometimes perform just for two people. In the seventies, when people could travel more, he became an international figure. It was quite a big transition from Opole to Wrocław to the Edinburgh Festival; in 1969, he was suddenly on the international stage. There was a lot of interest in Polish theatre at that time: figures like Tadeusz Kantor started making an impact on the world stage. There’s something about the difficulty of their working environment: the poverty. ‘Poor theatre’ is a phrase that Ludwik Flaszen coined for the work with Grotowski; but it was also poor economically and in its material resources. If you see the Apocalypsis room, as the main space in Wrocław is called, it’s not a very big studio. This is someone who’s an international figure, but he had very simple means. He’s a very political person and I think this is often overlooked. With something like The Constant Prince, although it is inspired by Calderón de la Barca’s seventeenth century play, in Poland the implications of seeing someone being tortured by the Moors to the point of death meant something very particular. People tend to think that Grotowski’s work wasn’t very political but for his local audiences it was extremely political; they understood this was Poland being sacrificed to the Russian oppressors. They had that allegorical meaning but it didn’t necessarily translate to other countries. When it was shown in New York or Manchester there was a whole different set of expectations and people focused more on the aesthetics. The context is absolutely vital; it’s very Polish but it also became very international.

Full interview here:

Grotowski

Grotowski’s Voice Work: Connecting Body and Voice

Interview with Paul Allain

Paul Allain is Professor of Theatre and Performance and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Since collaborating with the Gardzienice Theatre Association from 1989 to 1993 he has gone on to write extensively about the theatre. He has published several edited collections on Grotowski as part of the British Grotowski project.

Paul’s films about physical acting for Methuen Drama Bloomsbury will be published at Drama Online in Spring 2018 as Physical Actor Training – an online A-Z.  Draft films are currently available at the Digital Performer website.

email: P.A.Allain@kent.ac.uk


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

  • key collaborations with other artists
  • methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • significant moments in the development of theory and practice

PC: Voice is another element that I think gets forgotten. It is given a lot of space in Towards a Poor Theatre. So how did that translate to the training and productions?

PA: Zygmunt Molik had been to drama school and led a lot of the exploration in voice, working with the resonators. Just as they were pushing the body in terms of its acrobatic potential and its flexibility, its strength and balance, they were also pushing the voice. They explored the head resonators, doing animal noises. They wanted to find a voice that was rooted in the body; the whole body needed to be making the voice.

PC: You have spoken about the score and musicality; how does the voice work fit in with that?

PA: Grotowski said that he later looked back at his early performance work and saw that it was sung. What is special about singing? Singing is something we don’t do all the time. We speak, we don’t sing. So when do we sing? We sing when we’re happy, we sing when we’re sad, we sing at demonstrations. Song is tied up with identity and national identity. It is very powerful, it is very physical and has a range which goes beyond daily talking. Song is important and interesting because it is not about speaking, it is not conversation. That is why in the last period of his work (Art as Vehicle), he looked at the quality of Afro-Caribbean vibratory songs and the impact they have on your energy. He was investigating how the voice, the song, can change what you’re doing. Just as what you’re doing changes the voice. It is about finding that absolute connection between body and voice. You start with the body and then you find the voice.

PC: How does text fit in with that process of discovery?

PA: You don’t suddenly stop what you’re doing and look at the text, you find a continuum between working with the body and voice before then bringing in text. This is why they sounded the text or recited it very fast.

PC: Did they ever use the voice without language?

PA: Yes, in Dr Faustus for example, the actor creates the sound of when he’s being drowned by Mephistopheles. You can hear he’s created the sound of going under water and coming back up again for air, the sound of spluttering. You haven’t got any taped or recorded music so the actor is creating the mise-en-scène: the wind, the atmosphere. They were always pushing the actor to find a voice which wasn’t their natural register.

Full interview here:

Grotowski

Grotowski Composes Associations: Plastique and Corporeal Exercises

Interview with Paul Allain

Paul Allain is Professor of Theatre and Performance and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Since collaborating with the Gardzienice Theatre Association from 1989 to 1993 he has gone on to write extensively about the theatre. He has published several edited collections on Grotowski as part of the British Grotowski project.

Paul’s films about physical acting for Methuen Drama Bloomsbury will be published at Drama Online in Spring 2018 as Physical Actor Training – an online A-Z.  Draft films are currently available at the Digital Performer website.

email: P.A.Allain@kent.ac.uk


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

  • innovations
  • key collaborations with other artists
  • methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • significant moments in the development of theory and practice

PC: What were the plastiques exercises?

PA: Plastiques are distinctively Grotowski’s idea. Beginning with isolation, isolating the wrist or the hand or the elbow, you start to rotate and flex it and explore its possible movements. Then you see where that takes you, where the wrist leads you; the wrist is moving you through the space. You can then start to have one part of the body doing one thing in dialogue with another part of the body; the wrist in dialogue with the left knee. Then you open that up to a partner, a key aspect of Grotowski’s work. Plastiques are always done in relation to a partner: the partner could be the wall, it could be the floor, it could be an object. Plastiques are about building a flow where you can move from the wrist, perhaps to the knee, to the elbow, but all the time it has to be unplanned and it has to be impulsive; not rationalized, not conceived, but responsive. Cieślak talks about it is as though the nerves are on the outside of the body, as though you haven’t got any skin. How do you wake up your nerves so that you’re that sensitive that impulse becomes action immediately?



PC: What about corporeals?

PA: Corporeals take the same principles adjusted to more dynamic, gymnastic-like movement. You can think about it in terms of a jump: if you dive into a forward roll, once you commit, you can’t stop halfway through. If you do, you bang your head, so you have to commit. Impulse has to become action. Then you might do the jump or the roll, not just as a task in a gymnastic way but because someone is chasing you or because you’re getting over a river or there are hot flames. Both the plastiques and the corporeals are really about developing associations and waking up the imagination.



PC: How important were the imagination and associations for the actor?

PA: I think that this is one of the problems that Grotowski identified with people imitating the work. People can watch exercises in a film called Letter from Opole, a thirty minute film about the early training or they can watch Cieślak training; but they can’t necessarily understand the connection to the inner work or associations, as Grotowski called it.

PC: Can you give a practical example of these types of associations?

PA: If you’re reaching up with your arms, don’t just lift your arms up in a way that doesn’t have any imaginative connection: What are you reaching up to pick? An apple? It is a Stanislavskian idea: you’re reaching for something but you’re not anticipating, instead the imaginative connection constantly changes: does the apple become something else? Or the tiger exercises where you’re being a tiger. It’s not about imitating the tiger, it is finding the essence of tiger; trying to get to the heart of tiger. To put it in a slightly banal way: how do you become different on stage? Grotowski talks about people imitating his work in Reply to Stanislavsky, and that they saw it as being acrobatic and virtuosic. He said that this is not what it’s about; it’s really about the inner process. It’s about finding that connection, that association between feeling and the physical score you create.

PC: What do you mean by ‘score’?

PA: They created a score like a music score; he uses that word. When we see musical notes, it is very clear that those notes have a certain rhythm and time; but how you play the instrument, how it fits with the other parts is so variable. He used lots of images about the actor’s score, it being like the banks of a river, for example: what’s important is the water that is flowing between the banks; or the score is like a candle in a bowl and the inner life is the candle flame, flickering. It’s the inner life that gives meaning to the action, that makes the score come alive. That often gets forgotten about Grotowski’s work.

Full interview here:

Grotowski

 

Acting for Grotowski: What is it to be Human?

Interview with Paul Allain

Paul Allain is Professor of Theatre and Performance and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Since collaborating with the Gardzienice Theatre Association from 1989 to 1993 he has gone on to write extensively about the theatre. He has published several edited collections on Grotowski as part of the British Grotowski project.

Paul’s films about physical acting for Methuen Drama Bloomsbury will be published at Drama Online in Spring 2018 as Physical Actor Training – an online A-Z.  Draft films are currently available at the Digital Performer website.

email: P.A.Allain@kent.ac.uk


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

  • theatrical style
  • theatrical purpose
  • key collaborations with other artists
  • methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • significant moments in the development of theory and practice

PC: What was acting to Grotowski?

PA: Grotowski thought acting isn’t about going to drama school and learning a set of skills; instead it should be about learning who you are; being yourself and then bringing that to the task. In some ways we hear about that in drama schools: in the first year you get broken down. But it is much more subtle than that: it’s not about breaking down and rebuilding, it is really just a process of investigation: what is it to be human?

PC: Did he often begin the investigation one-to-one with the principal actor?

PA: Grotowski always worked with a significant other (whether it was Zbigniew Cynkutis in Dr Faustus or Cieślak in The Constant Prince and then Thomas Richards later) who’s epitomizing his working process and really taking it forward. He worked with the whole group but there was always this individual who was the protagonist, if you like. They would spend months working one-to-one on their personal score. He then brought in the ensemble, the chorus, to the work they had done. Grotowski needed to have that framework of the individual actor who’s at the heart of the play before they could add in the montage and the interactions. It would be different for every production but there was usually a protagonist and a chorus.

PC: How did they begin the broader training?

PA: It was quite mechanical at first: they learnt how to do mime walks like the moon walk; they learnt how to do isolation from mime exercises; they used ballet techniques, music and they explored Chinese vocal resonators. Eugenio Barba was in India watching Kathakali dance, where he learned how to do the eye exercises and brought that back. They drew upon different sources as a way of working on themselves. Grotowski wanted to know: if you’re not working on character and if you’re not trying to represent a character, then what are you working on? He was trying to find a new way of creating theatre and the best way to do that is to start to work on the actor. Grotowski was finding a way of waking the actors up, voice and body.

PC: How did the training develop after that early mechanical phase?

PA: Space was integral to Grotowski’s work with the actor; each different actor/spectator relationship sets up different problems for the actor. He took aspects of Meyerhold’s Biomechanics further. He used yoga but they found that when they did yoga it made them too introspective; so they used yoga asanas but called it ‘dynamic yoga’. They put yoga into a flow; you can see that in the Cieślak training video where he’s training two of Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret performers. He emphasizes that it is what happens between the exercises that counts.

PC: Did all the actors in the Theatre Laboratory contribute to the training?

PA: Yes, it was about building a group culture of the ensemble as well: creating adaptability and flexibility in performers who weren’t actually trained. Particular actors focused on different areas: Zygmunt Molik focused on the voice; Rena Mirecka focused on the plastique exercises.

Full interview here:

Grotowski

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:

Grotowski