Grotowski’s Vision for a Theatre Renewal
by Cole Matson
From Jerzy Grotowski, “The Theatre’s New Testament”, in Towards a Poor Theatre, ed. Eugenio Barba (London: Methuen Drama, 1991), pp. 50-51:
From where can this renewal [in the theatre] come? From people who are dissatisfied with conditions in the normal theatre, and who take it on themselves to create poor theatres with few actors, “chamber ensembles” which they might transform into institutes for the education of actors; or else from amateurs working on the boundaries of the professional theatre and who, on their own, achieve a technical standard which is far superior to that demanded by the prevailing theatre: in short, a few madmen who have nothing to lose and are not afraid of hard work.
It seems essential to me that an effort be made to organize secondary theatre schools. The actor begins to learn his profession too late, when he is already psychically formed and, worse still, morally moulded and immediately begins suffering from arriviste tendencies, characteristic of a great number of theatre school pupils.
Age is as important in the education of the actor as it is to a pianist or a dancer – that is, one should not be older than fourteen when beginning. If it were possible, I would suggest starting at an even earlier age with a four year technical course concentrating on practical exercises. At the same time, the pupil ought to receive an adequate humanistic education, aimed not at imparting an ample knowledge of literature, the history of the theatre and so on, but at awakening his sensibility and introducing him to the most stimulating phenomena in world culture.
The actor’s secondary education should then be completed by four years’ work as an apprentice actor with a laboratory ensemble during which time he would not only acquire a good deal of acting experience, but would also continue his studies in the fields of literature, painting, philosophy, etc., to a degree necessary in his profession and not in order to be able to shine in snobbish society. On completion of the four years’ practical work in a theatre laboratory, the student actor should be awarded some sort of diploma. Thus, after eight years’ work of this kind, the actor should be comparatively well equipped for what lies ahead. He would not escape the dangers that threaten every actor, but his capacities would be greater and his character more firmly moulded. The ideal solution would be to establish institutes for research which again would be subject to poverty and rigourous authority. The cost of running such an institute would be a half of the amount swallowed up by a state aided provincial theatre. Its staff should be composed of a small group of experts specializing in problems associated with the theatre: e.g. a psycho-analyst and a social anthropologist. [What about a theologian? – Cole.] There should be a troupe of actors from a normal theatre laboratory and a group of pedagogs from a secondary theatre school, plus a small publishing house that would print the practical methodical results which would then be exchanged with other similar centres and sent to interested persons doing research in neighbouring fields. It is absolutely essential that all research of this kind by supervised by one or more theatre critics who, from the outside – rather like the Devil’s Advocate – analyse the theatre’s weaknesses and any alarming elements in the finished performances, basing their judgements on aesthetical principles identical to those of the theatre itself.
Is this something we can, or ought to, do as Christians in the theatre? What would a network of small ensemble theatres made up of spiritually- and artistically-motivated Christian actors/pedagogues/researchers look like?
Would it be a network of Christian “theatre monks”?