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.


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:


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