Before I tell you about me watching an imagined Grotowski’s production, let me tell you a short version of his theatre. Grotowski’s theatre was characterized by a number of aspects. First it was about the performing space, so intimate that there would be no escape neither for the actor nor for the audiences. The space would also be flexible, not the fixed and common stage-auditorium model, because it would serve not only the story in the play, but most importantly it would serve the relationship between actor and audience. They would be either sharing the same space, or the audience would be watching the performance from the most unusual angle, what would make them see the performance differently. Grotowski’s theatre was not made for the masses, but for a chosen few.
Then there were the actors. Trained like Olympic athletes, Grotowski’s actors would form his laboratory (space sounding like a scientific experiment to keep the Communists’ intrusion at bay). The body of the actor would be transformed in the sole means of the performance. Nothing else mattered, just the training for complete control of the body. When the perfection was achieved, actors were supposed to wander about and only come back when they would feel that they were no longer perfect to start training with hunger again. Discipline, silence plus spontaneity were the form of Grotowski’s laboratory, where they would search for one’s soul not one’s psyche.
Lastly, there was the setting in the space. Grotowski’s Poor Theatre meant getting rid of everything that was superfluous and this is also known as Via Negativa, because his technique would be getting rid of things instead of acquiring them, as he would realize in rehearsals what was truly needed and what was just filling up the stage without making really any sense. He wanted to observe the actors work in the beautiful emptiness, which would be filled by the imagination of the spectator who is invited to do so by the actors in action, in movement.
So, here I am, watching an imagined production by Grotowski… Due to the intimacy of the playing space where performers and audience members merge, as a privileged audience member I imagine the sounds coming from the silence: Sounds of the bodies moving, of the bare feet touching the ground, the sound of the costumes, the sound of the breathing. I could also almost hear the sound of fear of some audience members of looking the ‘wrong’ way in the ‘wrong’ moment (when they are not aware that there is no right and wrong anyway) or making some sort of sound in the worst imaginable moment. I smell the actors’ sweat and see the drops of it touching the floor. I catch some of the spit coming from the actor’s mouth by talking so passionately. I am somehow terrified by the idea that I will be called to do something on stage, since this is where I am, sharing the playing space with the actors.
The experience is intense, fearful and above all hypnotic for having awakened some feelings that I was not used to experience in every day life. It is impossible to think about anything else other than the performance and once it is finishes, it is a shock and the feeling of walking out to the real world feels like landing a plane in slow motion. It is very surreal and unique, but I am still not sure how I feel about it. It is such a strong experience that I need some time to digest it. It is very powerful and truly unforgettable. It is not just the performance’s silhouette that stays long after the show has finished, but the details of it: the smell, the sounds, the sights, the fear…
Luciana B. Veit