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Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego
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Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999)

Polish theatre director, cultural practitioner and thinker, researcher of human behaviour under ‘extra-daily conditions’.

Along with Ludwik Flaszen, Grotowski took over the Theatre of the 13 Rows in Opole in 1959. Together, they transformed it into the Laboratory Theatre, in with which they realised their conception of ‘poor theatre’, most extensively articulated in the classic volume Towards a Poor Theatre, edited by Eugenio Barba in 1968. This idea emphasized the essential element of any theatre event: the intensified participation of actors and spectators in a shared space, which was shaped anew for each meeting between them. Peter Brook called Grotowski ‘unique’ – because ‘no-one else in the world, […], no-one since Stanislavski, has investigated the nature of acting, its phenomenon, its meaning, the nature and science of its mental-physical-emotional processes as deeply and completely as Grotowski’. The Laboratory Theatre, led by Grotowski and Flaszen, was not theatre in its usual meaning, but rather an institute for research into the domain of theatrical art, and the art of the actor in particular. Its line of work centered on the great classical texts (by Polish Romantic authors: Mickiewicz, Slowacki, and Wyspianski, as well as by Marlowe and Calderon) whose function for Polish culture was close to myth. Grotowski’s performances consisted of vivisections of those myths.

Grotowski emphasized the elimination of blocks rather than the accumulation of skills and named this approach via negativa. By means of this ‘negative path’ a human being could achieve ‘a total act’, about Grotowski said: ‘It is the act of laying oneself bare, of tearing off the mask of daily life, of exteriorizing oneself. Not in order to "show oneself off", for that would be exhibitionism. It is a serious and solemn act of revelation. The actor must be prepared to be absolutely sincere. It is like a step towards the summit of the actor’s organism in which consciousness and instinct are united’. The most advanced realizations of this phenomenon were his works with Ryszard Cieslak on The Constant Prince (1965) and with the whole ensemble on Apocalypsis cum Figuris (1968/69). 

Grotowski pushed the boundaries of theatre in the paratheatrical projects of the 1970s. There, the separation between actors and spectators vanished, creating a shared domain of active culture. The main premise of this phase of work was a search for the conditions in which a human being can act truly and with the whole self – fulfilling his or her individual, creative potential.

In the late 1970s Grotowski explored ritual techniques connected to diverse source traditions. Working in his Theatre of Sources project with an international team of practitioners, every member of which was ‘rooted in his native background related to tradition and culture’, Grotowski aimed at examining ‘techniques, archaic or nascent, that bring us [those actively involved] back to […] organic primary experience of life. Existence-presence’. His approach in Theatre of Sources made Grotowski among the first to theorize the intersections between theatre and anthropology.

From 1986 until his passing in 1999, Grotowski dedicated himself to a research that came to be known as Art as vehicle. This research focuses mainly on ‘actions related to very ancient songs which traditionally served ritual purposes and so can have a direct impact on – so to say – the head, the heart and the body of the doers, songs which can allow the passage from a vital energy to a more subtle one’. Grotowski also wrote, ‘When I speak of […] Art as vehicle, I refer to verticality. […] With verticality the point is not to renounce part of our nature – all should remain in its natural place: the body, the heart, the head, something that is "under our feet" and something that is "over the head". All like a vertical line, and this verticality should be held taut between organicity and the awareness. Awareness means the consciousness which is not linked to language (the machine for thinking), but to Presence’.

In 1996,
Grotowski changed the name of the Workcenter ‘To Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards’, acknowledging the unique importance of his collaboration with the latter. In this final phrase of his life’s research, Grotowski was concerned with transmission: ‘The nature of my work with Thomas Richards has the character of "transmission"; to transmit to him that to which I have arrived in my life: the inner aspect of the work’. Today, Richards leads the Workcenter, continuing and developing its research. Mario Biagini, a key member of the Workcenter since shortly after its foundation, has been the Workcenter’s Associate Director since 2003.

Before the end of his life, Jerzy Grotowski traced back over the trajectory of his life and work as a Professor at the Collège de France,  in a series of lectures entitled The ‘organic line’ in theatre and in ritual (1997–1998).