Discovering Grotowski and Pushing Yourself

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.



Part 1: Discovering Grotowski and Pushing Yourself

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

  • theatrical purpose

PC: What led you to the work of Jerzy Grotowski?

PA: When I was at secondary school in the late seventies we went down to Ashby-de-la-Zouch and had a whole weekend doing Grotowski-based training with RAT Theatre; very rigorous, very demanding. We saw them perform on the Friday night. I had no idea what to expect and these guys were basically whipping and beating each other. I later found out that these actors did this thing where they didn’t decide who was going to be the one whipping or who was going to be the one being whipped until just before the performance. RAT Theatre had taken the Grotowski thing in a way he wouldn’t really have liked.

PC: Did you study Grotowski when you went on to university?

PA: Absolutely. When I went to Exeter University in the mid-eighties my lecturers had been inspired by Grotowski in the seventies; people had gone over to Poland and returned and put it into practice. Exeter was a very practical course and our first project was working ten to ten every day, six days a week with someone who had worked with Grotowski. My friend and I used to look at Towards a Poor Theatre and impersonate it; he looked a bit like Ryszard Cieślak, so I used to pretend to be Grotowski. I got really into pushing myself, acrobatics etc.

PC: When did you formally start to write about Grotowski?

PA: I did a PhD on Gardzienice, another Polish theatre company. Their director, Włodzimierz Staniewski, had worked with Grotowski in the seventies. The only way I was allowed to research them was to actually be there training. It was later that I came back to Grotowski, to see what was behind the work I had been doing. I did the British Grotowski Project between 2006 and 2009. I saw that there was then very limited access to audio/visual material about Grotowski. I knew it existed but most of it was in Polish and quite difficult to get hold of. I wanted to spread the word a bit and make stuff available.

PC:  What was the main way of accessing Grotowski’s work before that project?

PA: Most people accessed Grotowski through Towards a Poor Theatre. It was really influential in the late sixties and seventies after it came out in 1968 but there are lots of issues with it. It is badly translated; it calls Grotowski a ‘producer’, never a director and there are lots of other aspects of it that are not accurate. It only covers the Theatre of Productions but that is only one period of Grotowski’s work. Paratheatre, Theatre of Sources, Objective Drama and Art as Vehicle are the others.

Up Next:

Part 2: Grotowski’s Reply to Stanislavski

Part 3: Grotowski Burning at the Stake After Artaud

Part 4: Grotowski’s Significant Productions

Part 5: Grotowski and Gurawski: Configuring the Space

Part 6: Grotowski Inspired Creativity and Outrage

Part 7: Grotowski’s Work with Text

Part 8: Grotowski’s Communication with Spectators

Part 9: Acting for Grotowski: What is it to be Human?

Part 10: Grotowski Composes Associations: Plastique and Corporal Exercises

Part 11: Grotowski’s Voice Work: Connecting Body and Voice

Part 12: Grotowski’s Context: Sickness, War and Oppression

Part 13: Paratheatre: What is Beyond Theatre?

Part 14: Paratheatre: Finding the Desire to Change

Part 15: Grotowski’s Influence: Barba, Brook and Beyond


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