Friday, October 11, 2013

Grotowski's lab

A friend of mine recently drew my attention to this clip from a film made in the early seventies about Jerzy Grotowski's theatre lab. Now, I realize that many, if not most people in the world, would dismiss what they see as flaky, but we who come from a theatre background are supposed to be more open-minded than that. And I've tried to be, so watch it with as much of an open mind as you can muster, and then I'll say what I think.

Okay, so here's what I think: First of all, I recognize the value to a performer of feeling expressive vitality throughout the body, but this strikes me---as a lot of Grotowski's stuff always did---as pretentious and obscurantist. "If this precision is absent, then the result is useless..." says the narrator near the end. And yet, it's not clear to me what the intended theatrical "use" of this sort of thing ever was. You could defend it by analogy with theoretical physics, I suppose, but the body is not abstract, so that argument would be straining for validity. Relevance seems a fair issue to ask about. Those hand movements resemble something encountered in Kathakali training; but absent the tradition, what would be the point of such specificity of gesture? Are we really to accept on faith that it is all preparation to convey some aracane code, "signaling through the flames" (Artaud) about some inner truth? The meaning is somehow thrown back on some vague organic feeling of rightness for the performer, but what could it communicate to the greater world? We know (v. the film "My Dinner With Andre," where Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory discuss this at length) that Grotowski ended up turning his back on theatre and channeling his energies into a sort of quasi-religious isolated community---a cult.

Now, there have been plenty of people who have embraced cults, and who have found therein for themselves a tremendous existential sense of purposefulness. But my beef with cults is the same as my beef with any ideology: part of our life is---must be---irrational, but as soon as you exclude rational argument, doubt, and evidence from any project altogether, it becomes a vehicle for our broken, limited selves, and refuses to engage with what we might be.

Moving one's hand into a difficult and painful position can undoubtedly strengthen the hand and even the self; but I feel such acting exercises should never entirely lose communication with rationality. And when I look at this clip, I see Grotowski's lab well on its way down such a path.

1 comment:

Jane Brody said...

I am in total agreement! Growtowski finally entered the realms of insanity. However, we must not throw out his earlier work and the essential ideas of working through physical discovery and the sacred nature of the theatre.
As far as I can see, if one marries Growtowski ideas with those of Stanislavski, psychophysical action becomes an actual phenomenon.