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.


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: