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:


Kneehigh’s Influence on British Theatre

This is the final part in a series of interviews about the history of Kneehigh with Dr Duška Radosavljevic. The interviews provide an introduction to the company and an academic’s outside eye on Kneehigh as a devising ensemble.

Do use the Kneehigh Cookbook and their Vimeo site for more free online digital resources from the company. In addition there is a fifteen minute audio clip of Emma Rice ‘On Directing’ that I believe captures the spirit of how Kneehigh currently work.

Dr Duška Radosavljevic is a Reader in Contemporary Theatre and Performance at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her research interests include contemporary British and European theatre practice as well as more specifically, ensemble theatre and dramaturgy.

Duška has worked as the Dramaturg at the Northern Stage Ensemble, an education practitioner at the Royal Shakespeare Company. As a dramaturg, she has worked with various local, national and international theatre artists and organisations including New Writing North, Dance City, Dramaturgs’ Network, National Student Drama Festival, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Circomedia. In 2015 she was the dramaturg on Robert Icke’s Oresteia at the Almeida. Between 1998 and 2010, Duška was a member of The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence panel of judges at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has written hundreds of theatre and dance reviews for the Stage Newspaper. She also writes for Exeunt.

Duška’s academic publications include award-winning Theatre-Making (Palgrave 2013), The Contemporary Ensemble (Routledge 2013), Theatre Criticism: Changing Landscapes (Bloomsbury Methuen 2016) as well as many chapters in various collections including one on Kneehigh in Liz Tomlin’s British Theatre Companies: 1995-2014 (Bloomsbury Methuen 2015).

PC: You mentioned the collaboration with Northern Stage — what similarities do you see in the two companies’ work?

DR: I think that Northern Stage and Kneehigh collaborated because they were both ensemble companies from geographically marginalised places. Both served their own communities firstly but both had international ambitions. Northern Stage were based in Newcastle and, under the leadership of Alan Lyddiard, they were very much immersed in their local context. Alan’s ambition was to have all these Geordie artists that he brought together into an ensemble working shoulder to shoulder with internationally renowned artists. So he brought into Newcastle Peter Brook, Robert Lepage, Lev Dodin and Calixto Bielto in order to facilitate those sorts of exchanges. Northern Stage as an ensemble from Newcastle wanted to define themselves in relation to the rest of Europe rather than to London. Meanwhile Kneehigh has built an international reputation by touring, not only in Europe but in the Americas too. Neil Murray, who was a designer and Associate Director at Northern Stage, continued working with Emma Rice after the co-production of Pandora’s Box. He was nominated for an Olivier for his design of Brief Encounter. And as a director himself, he has spoken of being influenced by Emma’s methods of working with actors.

PC: Would you be able to pinpoint any specific company that Kneehigh has influenced?

DR: Stylistically you could talk perhaps about some other companies being influenced by Kneehigh or being freed up to experiment by Kneehigh’s successes in merging genres, reanimating certain traditions for the 21st century or reinventing the musical, for example. You could make connections between Kneehigh and the whole gig theatre trends that we are witnessing now.

PC: Your main area of research is ensemble theatre, what have you learnt from researching Kneehigh’s ensemble work?

DR: I guess the whole idea of ensemble research that I have engaged in culminated for me by concluding that often the desire to work in the ensemble is motivated by essentially wanting to create communities. Bringing artists together in the ensemble but also making the audience part of the ensemble. That is a distinctive feature of theatre as an art. That is one of the unique selling points of theatre. Theatre actually engages the audience in a live event. That’s where I think Kneehigh really capitalise on the potential of theatre. Kneehigh’s work is often driven by a desire to engage an audience in some sort of temporary community or some sort of shared experience.