Jerzy Grotowski
Materials - The Physical Training

Additional Contents

Editor (Owen Daly)>  We get email about Grotowski from time to time. It is safe to say that there are some misconceptions about Grotowski's work.

Q:   Well I got the book by Grotowski and my singing teacher told me that what she learned is that his method is to exhaust and then to perform? Is that was you mean by those long hours of hard work until you are ready to break to pieces..... be vulnerable?

A: (Owen Daly) I would disagree that this is an useful or accurate summary of Grotowski's technique. The physical exercises as part of his rehearsal process have two purposes. The obvious one is to help make the physical body stronger and flexible to make it more available to the actor. The second is, in my opinion, to contact the knowledge that comes from conscious physical action.

     The idea of the physical work as a way to break down and make the actor vulnerable is something that we explored in the first year of Pillory Theatre. The results were not what we, nor I believe Grotowski, was looking for. We found it to not be a useful approach.

     However, the concept of the actor who is in some sense 'holy' due to his dedication to the work, willingness to delve deeply and with attention into the process of discovery, including at times exhausting physical work, is valid. At a quick examination this might look like what your singing teacher suggests, but it is very different.

     Then what is the utility of this (sometimes exhausting) physical work? Grotowski does talk about repetition as part of the rehearsal process. In his discussions of this he uses the word 'practice' in the same way as it is used to describe day to day repetition of the yoga asana (exercises or poses) as a yoga 'practice'.

     The repetition in the rehearsal is done with careful attention as is yoga. I found that the yoga we did as part of our 'warmup' at the beginning of rehearsals, using (repeating) the physical yoga asanas done with awareness was a parallel to the repetition of our work-in-progress in the following rehearsal. This allowed us to explore more deeply into the work, and find new things which were then selected or rejected by the director based on his perception of their fit within the work as a whole.

     This evolutionary development of the work is an important part of Grotowski's work in the mid and late 60's.

     His work in the later 80's and 90's evolved to a theatre of Action, where the focus shifted from the effect of the work on the audience to the effect of the work on the 'doer', the actor. This gets more esoteric, and not, in my opinion, as available or useful to an actor not already immersed in the work.  I speak to this in the section on Grotowski and Yoga elsewhere on this web site

     The thread that I see running through all his work is the simple attention to the work. As in meditation, where one simply pays attention to the breath, letting other ramblings of the mind quiet down, so in rehearsal the actor is simply 'being with' the actions, sounds, words. The things that bubble up are often interesting, and sometimes useful theatrically. In meditation one continues to let these things go, coming back to the breath. In rehearsal, because it is motion and sound, they come out in these forms, available to the director to evaluate for their effect on an audience and the whole of the performance.

     For a performance, the process is different. The actor then does what is necessary to 'replay' the same thing by use of the physical actions. This is *not* a process of 'pumping up emotions' to perhaps recreate the internal state that first brought the action to the surface, but a replay of the physical result.

     Also see Steve Wangh's article on the interworkings of Grotowski's work with actors including the physical exercises.

ogd, revised May 21, 2009

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