Grotowski Inspired Creativity and Outrage

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

  • artistic intentions
  • relationship between actor and audience in theory and practice
  • influence
  • social, cultural, political and historical context

PC: How did spectators respond to Grotowski’s productions?

PA: A lot of people found it impenetrable and they found that kind of work too difficult; but it was work you had to go back to. It was not served up on a plate, it was difficult and dramaturgically complex. What the actors were doing is extraordinary. It is not something that you got in the first sitting. Grotowski was demanding something of the spectator just as he demanded of the actors; he demanded something of all his participants.

PC: Why did he make theatre productions then?

PA: It was a laboratory process, it wasn’t about making productions. Productions were the tool with which he investigated something. People measure it by the yardstick of theatre production and the people who funded him did as well. It was very hard for him to create an ensemble investigating something within the constraints given to him. Luckily his success and the relative security that gave him meant he could do that later on.

PC: Was it always successful with audiences?

PA: It is very hard to ascertain the audience response: a very small total number of people saw the work. One thing that does come across is that a lot of people who did see it were changed, they were touched. Even if they didn’t like it, they could see that he was trying to push theatre into a different possibility, extending Artaud’s work for example. If you look at The Grotowski Sourcebook, Eric Bentley is very critical about Grotowski, his ‘guruness’ and his claims about what he was trying to do. People from a more literary background didn’t always like his text work: it wasn’t for everyone. Lots of people, inevitably, were disgusted by it and thought it was blasphemous. The Primate of Poland tried to stop Apocalypsis cum Figuris being presented, because one of the actors masturbates into a loaf of bread; this is very blasphemous, partly as the piece was indirectly about Jesus. Despite these controversies, or maybe because of them, it became hugely popular, with, for example, people paying two hundred dollars to get tickets for the performances in New York. That’s not really the essence of what Grotowski was trying to do though. It is hard to talk universally about critical response: lots of people were against the work but it equally inspired people, particularly practitioners and theatre-makers.

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