Jerzy Grotowski’s poor theatre is an experimental concept which influences performers to go back to theatrical roots using the voice and body as the main production. Just like many avant-garde artists he strived to pull away from the regular theatre conventions through other influences. Grotowski’s main theatrical idea was depicted by the theatrical devices used throughout performance, such as lights, sound, sets, costume and makeup; the way which theatre is portrayed on stage was to compete with cinema and television which was perceived as Rich Theatre. Grotowski argued that if theatre “cannot be richer than the cinema, then let it be poor”. (Grotowski, 1968, p. 41) Stripping the stage of all its technical and aesthetic parts leaves just the actor and the audience; this creates a more emphasised performance for the audience as all their left to watch is the performance its self. Throughout this essay, I will be discovering how ‘poor theatre’ has impacted contemporary theatre practice.
Grotowski became a massive influence towards Peter Brook and through working together and discovering new exercises Brook learned how to make “poverty an ideal” (Brook, 1996, p.72) he saw firsthand just how his methods works with actors:
“To verbalise is to complicate and even to destroy exercises that are clear and simple when indicated by a gesture and when executed by the mind and body as one. ” (Brook, Grotowski, 1968, p. 13)
Grotowski believed that the actor should be fully aware of his own body making full use of gestures and facial expressions, and the use of costume, makeup and sound is just a mask covering what an actor can really produce. To further an actor’s technique requires Intense physical training which Grotowski concentrated more on the body and developing natural resonators. His exercises were given very little instruction in order for an actor to interpret them in their own way. In contemporary practice we can see how Grotowski’s physical ideas of performance has had its influence. Physical theatre groups such as DV8 has had a major impact through Grotowski’s methods. Lloyd Newson who is the founder of DV8 describes physical theatre as a Grotowski based term:
“DV8 were one of the first groups in Britain to call their work physical theatre, which is a Grotowski-based term” (Giannachi, and Luckhurst,1999, p. 109)
Many physical theatre groups work without money, in order to create their own scenery and props with their own bodies, just as Grotowski strived his actors to work on a bare stage, physical theatre could be seen as a concept of poor theatre.
Another of Grotowski’s techniques of poor theatre was the awareness between the actor and audience relationship, believing that theatre can exist without the set, costume etc. but it cannot exist without an audience. Grotowski wanted the actors to experiment with how the audience are perceived:
“The actors can play among the spectators… the actors may build structures among the spectatorsâ€¦the actors may play among the spectators and ignore them, looking through them. The spectators may be separated from the actors -” (Grotowski, 1968, p. 20)
He experimented with the space, shape, and size of the audience trying to find a both a spiritual and spacial awareness for the audiences relationship with the actors. Above all this Grotowski believed that an actor audience relationship was essential, his methods and ideas of the relationship can now be perceived as environmental theatre. (Slowiak and Cuesta, 2007, p. 12) However Grotowski believed the intention of the performance can distinguish the audiences involvement of the performance. As well as Grotowski, there are other practitioners such as Brecht and Artaud whose influence was to break down the fourth wall; in contemporary practice more theatrical groups experiment with this. Groups such as Théâtre de Complicité and kneehigh began to form through the eighties who based their performances with no fourth wall and full audience participation.
One of Grotowski’s major influences was Artaud, they both had ideas of how theatre should be depicted with symbolism, eastern theatrical and ritualistic senses. Grotowski used many oriental techniques throughout his exercises and workshops in order to bring out the best of body movement:
“Also particularly stimulating to me are the training techniques of oriental theatre” (Grotowski, 1968, p. 16)
His most undetermined pragmatic approach to eastern physicality was yoga which he used as the foundation for his physical exercises. However he became increasingly sceptical about the use of yoga throughout theatre and rather than disregard the yoga movements he adapted them. In more contemporary practices yoga is used between physical theatre groups. DV8 in specific use yoga using Grotowski’s exploration, where he insisted that the mood after yoga is one that puts you under rest; which generally destroys the enthusiasm for expression:
“Grotowski called it ‘an internal sleep, an inexpressive equilibrium, a great rest which ends all actions.'” (Callery, 2001, p. 27)
DV8’s analysis was also that yoga gave a different energy, but also that other physical exercise such as aerobics also gave a different energy. They therefore discovered their own means of physical exercise in order to find new potentials. (Callery, 2001, p. 27)
In conclusion, many contemporary theatrical groups and practices all use forms of Grotowski’s practices. Groups without money tend to form the black box stripped theatre in order to create poor theatre focusing mainly on body and facial expressions. Physical theatre companies also use the bare stage in order to create their own props and scenery through body language and movement. Also the spectator and actor relationship can be seen through many of today’s performances as well as other practitioners work. Grotowski’s physicality and experimental exercises can be seen through contemporary practice, but can only be portrayed through an actor’s own discovery.