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The Laboratory Theatre


The Laboratory Theatre LogoThe name Laboratory Theatre refers not only to the institution directed by Jerzy Grotowski, but also to the entire so-called 'theatrical' period of his activity, which focused on the realisation of theatrical performances (1959–1969), as well as to the period of 'active culture' and Theatre of Sources (1970s and the beginning of the 1980s).

The artistic institution in Opole, whose management was taken over by Jerzy Grotowski and Ludwik Flaszen in 1959, was originally called 'The Theatre of 13 Rows'. In March 1962, the word 'Laboratory' was added, giving the official name: Laboratory-Theatre 'of the 13 Rows'. In time, the hyphen and inverted commas were abandoned, and eventually the name was shortened to the 'Laboratory Theatre', a name that was to become a part of theatre history.

The institution working formerly in Opole had been founded by a married couple – Stanislawa Lopuszanska and Eugeniusz Lawski, who had both been members of Reduta before the war, and who were both actors in the State Theatre in Opole. They suggested that the municipality of Opole establish a studio theatre as an alternative performance venue. The name '13 Rows' refers to the number of rows of chairs that could fit into the space they obtained, which measured 72 square metres. The first, unofficial premiere of the new theatre, Freuda teoria snow [Freud’s Theory of Dreams] by Antoni Cwojdzinski and directed by Stanislaw Igar, took place on the 13th May, 1958. The second premiere, on 8th November 1958, was Pechowcy [The Unlucky Ones] (based on the drama by Jerzy Krzyszton, Bogowie Deszczu [Gods of Rain]), directed by Jerzy Grotowski – before he took over the management in July 1959. The founders of the theatre, discouraged by the ever-worsening economic conditions and administrative problems, moved from Opole to Katowice. Mieczyslaw Borkowski, who acted as a director, requested that the renowned theatre critic from Krakow, Ludwik Flaszen, should take over the artistic management of the Theatre 'of the 13 Rows'. However, Flaszen being a non-practitioner, refused, and instead proposed Jerzy Grotowski for the post (who was at that time the main director of the theatre), with himself as literary director.  Mieczyslaw Borkowski then assembled the first team of performers of the renewed Theatre 'of the 13 Rows' – mostly from graduates of the State Theatre Academy in Krakow: Barbara Barska, Rena Mirecka, Tadeusz Bartkowiak, Antoni Jaholkowski, Adam Kurczyna (the only actor to remain from the former ensemble) and Zygmunt Molik. Later, the composition of the team changed many times. In the Opole period, there were: Andrzej Bielski, Ryszard Cieslak, Zbigniew Cynkutis, Ewa Lubowiecka, Maja Komorowska, Aleksander Kopczewski, Maciej Prus, Stanislaw Szreniawski, as well as Mieczyslaw Janowski, Jerzy Paszula and Stanislaw Scierski, who were formerly connected to the Krakow Theatre 38. Amongst the new employees of the theatre, there was also Waldemar Krygier, a director and visual artist from Theatre 38, who would create costumes and posters for the Laboratory Theatre.

On 8th October, 1959, the first premiere of the renewed Theatre 'of the 13 Rows' took place: Orpheus, written and directed by Jerzy Grotowski, based on the work by Jean Cocteau, and featuring Adam Kurczyna in the title role. From that time on, the Theatre 'of the 13 Rows' was recognised as an institution by the Ministry of Culture and Art, and provided with a licence. Its main repertoire included the following premieres: Cain, based on Byron's text (30th January, 1960); Mystery-Bouffe, after Mayakovsky (31st July, 1960); Shakuntala, after Kalidasa (13th December, 1960 – when Grotowski began an ongoing collaboration with the architect Jerzy Gurawski); Forefathers’ Eve, after Mickiewicz (18th June, 1961); The Idiot by Dostoyevsky (22nd October, 1961; this was the only performance included in the main repertory line that was not directed by Jerzy Grotowski – its director was Waldemar Krygier); Kordian, by Slowacki (13th February, 1962); Akropolis after Wyspianski (first version, 10th October, 1962 – second version, 24th November, 1962; both versions were realised by Grotowski, together with Jozef Szajna and Eugenio Barba as assistant directior); The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, after Marlowe (23rd April, 1963 – the Polish premiere); Hamlet Study, after Shakespeare and Wyspianski, and the third version of Akropolis (10th June, 1964).