Grotowski’s Immersive Poor Theatre Techniques – 40 Explanations
Introduction to Grotowski
Grotowski is recognised as one of the great directors of modern theatre and a significant innovator of the experimental theatre movement. His techniques are easily grasped by school students because Poor Theatre can be performed in any bare space, so school drama departments with few resources often find this style of theatre attractive.
Grotowski coined the term ‘poor theatre’, defining a performance style that rid itself of the excesses of theatre, such as lavish costumes and detailed sets (hence ‘poor’). Poor Theatre pieces centre on the actor’s skill and are often performed with only a handful of props.
As a director, Grotowski preferred to perform works in non-traditional spaces such as buildings and rooms, instead of mainstream theatre houses with traditional stages.
Typically, the audience was placed on many sides of the action or in and amongst the action, itself.
Acting in the style of Poor Theatre emphasises the performer’s physical skill and uses props for transformation into other objects, sometimes of great significance.
The correct pronunciation of ‘Jerzy Grotowski’ is “yerr-shjer grrotoffskee“.
Reading this was fun and very enlightening, Thank you!
Hi, loved going through your website! I have a question though: What might you think influenced Jerzy Grotowski to create such a form of theatre? In the light of social, political, and/or historical references?
I believe his exposure to the World War could’ve also played some role in the invention of Poor Theatre, however, this is mere speculation. What are your thoughts?
God’s presence (not a christian god necessarily) was important to him, an inner religious drive, an endless spontaneity-creativity plus the effects of the war, I’ve always felt, were his main motivators. I was in Wroclaw in 1974-75 working with him and the company, especially during the theater of nations, when Andre Gregory came and went. Grot gave his full creative attention to me and everyone willing to keep up with him. Unforgettable.
Thank you so much for sharing, James. Incredible that you worked with Grotowski and his company in the mid-70s! Thank you for giving readers a glimpse into one of the most creative theatre practitioners of the 20th century. Much appreciated. – Justin Cash
hi I was just wondering?
How did Jerzy put the poor theatre method into practice, who did he work with and where?
Jono, give this article a read for your questions on Jerzy Grotowski – Justin
Hi Jacek, thanks for all your comments. I shall hit the books again and refine some of the content. “…few Poor Theatre works reached performance” is now out :-). I am not implying some of Grotowski’s works were bad by that statement. I wouldn’t be writing about him unless I revered him.
Your personal knowledge here is fabulous. Thank you for your insights. Readers will appreciate it!
And yes, culture.pl and grotowski.net are wonderful resources, especially grotowski.net. I did use these resources when constructing this article. A fantastic website with such rich material.
I found peculiar statements in the text: “Poor Theatre Conventions” by Justin Cash.
• few Poor Theatre works reached performance
• those that did were often performed only once before a small number of spectators
• paratheatre saw Grotowski experiment with actors in training programs and other non-performed works
• 1975 marked the end of all public performances connected to Grotowski
This was published many years ago, but still let me ask, could you reference sources of these statements? These statements are false. All Theatre Laboratory productions were performed. Processes of production in the Laboratory Theatre were long. This was not a repertory theatre. This was a center of theatre devoted to study and research the art and physiology of acting called also Institute for Studies of the Method of Acting. Small number of spectators was a choice made by Grotowski. These shows were not performed on regular stages. No once! Many times all around the world! Paratheatre projects were not related to “experiment with actors”! These projects were developed by separate team at the Laboratory Theatre. They were not actors and not acting techniques were used nor studied. Note please that at the same time many parallel projects were carried on. In some of these projects actors were involved. In some projects actors worked together with creators of “paratheatre projects”. Actors also continued acting trainings also open for participants from all around the world. But these were not “paratheatre projects”. Apocalypsis cum Figuris Grotowski’s last performance were carried on presenting until 1979. Later on Grotowski presented his other projects to limited and selected audiences. These were not theatrical performances.
There are a lot of sources online and in the libraries to learn this.
What do you mean by: ” few Poor Theatre works reached performance”? Could you refer to resources for this peculiar statement?
Jacek, my understanding is, as Grotowski was more concerned with process than product, actual performances from his Laboratory Theatre group were few and far between. Some works never reached the performance stage, and when they did, they were often performed before 100 people or less.
Hi Justin, thank you for responding. Yes, Grotowski’s Laboratory had not produced 12 shows per year, but this was not the goal. Where did you learn about “works never reached the performance stage”? What does this mean “some works”. The way you word it suggests or allow to understand that some productions were so “bad” that they did not reach the stage. Well, you could as well say that no one reached the stage. They were not performed on”regular” stage. Laboratory Theatre “stage” in Wroclaw is just a big room, not very big. Still is used and a lot of theaters from all around the word performs there.
What’s the pros and cons of Grotowski’s Poor theatre?
To practice? A con is that it is very impractical 🙂 Grotowski was very well subsidized by the Polish government. If you have a rich aunt, go for it. Pros, well there was and still is the “Theatre of the Eighth Day” which uses this acting technique. They are radical fighters for social change. Their shows were and I believe still are extremely expressive. Well, they are not in theirs thirties anymore. And some of them joined Grotowski in the grounds of eternal hunting. If you aim to yell and to move strongly emotions of your audience this could be for you.
In response to the question about the impact of Grotowski’s work upon the public and the ensuing discussions – it may be important to note that in South Africa, Grotowski’s Poor Theatre techniques became pivotal to work done during the Apartheid era. Non-white theatre received no funding from government and Grotowski’s Poor Theatre techniques became an essential core for a body of work that was also created through Workshop Theatre – BECAUSE the performers and practitioners did not have financial resources. I am aware this was not the intention of Grotowski’s work, but it definitely played into the reality of artists who were, indeed, poor in resources.
Nice comment, thank you!
What impact did poor theatre have on the public when it was first performed
Hi Deanne, this is a really good question, as very few people actually witnessed an authentic Grotowski-directed performance, due to the nature of his work which deliberately limited access in terms of number of performances and people present. This article at Grotowski.net may shed some light on it for you. This website is the single-best source on Grotowski and his work available on the Internet. – Justin
Hi Justin, this website is fabulous! I am happy I stumbled here by some kind of accident. Thank you for putting so much work into research and for publishing so broadly on so many topics. Well, I am not a scholar but I grew up working with Grotowski’s actors and participating in his paratheatrical projects.
There is one more thing I would like to bring your attention to. You mentioned: “lighting typically flooded the acting area with no use of spotlights or focus areas”. Well…. I can’t tell about all Grotowsi’s shows. I had seen just the last one. The lighting did not “flooded the acting area”. Not all the time. If I remember well, there was one reflector used (maybe two…) kind of similar to Parabolic Aluminized Reflector lights, or PAR lights. It was on most of the time, but the light was changing. Not by technicians but by the actors using theirs bodies. They covered and uncovered the light when they needed it. Important, this was done in the midst of the action, actors did this as a characters this was a part of this amazing theatrical language. At to this naket sweating torso in convulsions. The entire room was in convulsions. The interplay between the shadow and reflections and vibration of the body in the strong physical act was amazingly charged emotionally, and we the audience were in the middle of that, surrounded by that. The motion of the lights around us spoke, screamed and wiped. Then one more. There was also darkness. And there was also the light of the candles with a very strong focus on very limited parts of the actors’ faces and bodies.
Jacek, thank you for your kind comments and for your wonderful description of Grotowski’s work in performance. How fortunate you were to be participating in this! The action seems very ritualistic. Could you describe in more detail the relationship between performer and audience during that performance? I am most interested in the physical arrangement. Were performers and audience members sharing the same space (from memory, Grotowski referred to it as a “communion” between the two). Were you seated on chairs? Was the performance happening all around you? I would love to hear more…
For each show, Grotowski and his space and stage arrangement assistant Gurawski created new space arrangements and performers – spectators relationships. Always actors and audience were in the same space, the same room. You can find diagrams and descriptions in “Towards a Poor Theatre” and in many other publications. https://grotowski.net/en/encyclopedia/gurawski-jerzy. In Apocalipsis cum Figuris audience was seated along three walls of the room, on the floor, no chairs. I found an interesting video of “Apocalipsis”. There were two reflectors. This video (link below) was recorded on the tour. The room was very different from the one in Wroclaw. I see there windows and some “stuff”. In Wroclaw it was empty space with covered, invisible windows. The walls were bare stripped of parget, naked bricks with the history of the building revealed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc9_DIem82M
This recording is very peculiar. I did not know it existed. It looks like done with almost no audience. Probably was done not for public to see.
Thank you this may have just saved my dissertation
Ah, good to hear, Niamh! – Justin
I like his style of theatre
This is very informative and I want to take some notes from this for my assignment, how do I reference from this?
Anele, reference as such:
Cash, J, 2014, Poor Theatre Conventions, date accessed, < thedramateacher.com/poor-theatre-conventions >
Hope this helps – Justin
at first i thought poor theater was made by poor people to make money then i read this page very informative
Very informative, thank you. these notes really assisted me in preparing for a lesson on Poor Theatre and Grotowski. Main points and ideas beautifully captured! My learners are enlightened.
Thank you so much for your kind feedback, Nothando. – Justin
thanks for making my assignment easier mate
Thanks for your feedback, Mr Styles!
thank youuuuuuuu cheers mate
Thank you its did help when I was preparing for my assissment
Thanks heaps Justin, big help and lots of clear information.
Thanks for your feedback, dad!
I believe in great directors and have studied them, but I have my own theory of acting as actor/director for the last 60 years though I started as an amateur. It is an individualistic belief and confidence process. Acting in my view is the expression of lines in a play totally meaningfully and effectively that creates images that survives in the audience minds throughout in life. I totally believe that theatre is far superior to cinema and TV and its an art of the poor but rich what it conveys if its on humanity and on life. Theatre can be on any space and entertain even an audience of one if it projects theatrically on life humanely.
please can you give me an example like physical exercise about his theoriez
you can google any question you have 🙂
These two links appeared after a minute search. Give the search ten minutes and you will be set for the next hours of study.
Observe your use of language. Do not engage in language that unconsciously instils poverty consciousness, A ‘poor’ theater is not an ‘impoverished’ theater. On the contrary. Theater can certainly ‘compete’ with cinema and TV. But according to its own terms of reference. Honor your own terms of reference. No matter that theater remains technologically ‘inferior’. Theater is humanly superior to cinema and TV. By definition. Beyond the audience – unlike cinema and TV – the living human is the very substance of theater. That makes cinema and TV humanly inferior to theater. And that, surely, is the point?
How can I cite this page?
Maria, for citing provide website author (Justin Cash), website name (The Drama Teacher), page URL, and date accessed.
Holy actor ?
I have been doing that Justin. But I really need some concrete basis on these methods as I seek myself in the path of more of physical theatre (poor theatre/body movement/mime)
Please guide me to take it to next level i.e from amateur to professional level.
Sorry Kanchan. Wish I could help, but can’t on this occasion.
Thanks for the guidance,:)
I have done that before and people do help me. But I was wondering if I should go for a technical learning for physical theatre and if yes please suggest me some good courses.
I qm looking for a long run for it as a part of my life dream
I found that Anne Bogart work has some similarities. Also, there is Double Edge Theater which refers also in some ways to the tradition of Poor Theatre (but also to the work of Gardzienice Theatre which was founded by artists involved in “paratheatrical” work of Grotowski.
Perhaps approach some local theatre companies with your ideas Kanchan and see what they say?
Hi Justin, an eye opener for me who has always been thinking my financial lackings as a barrier for theatre.
Some times a lot of concepts come.across my mind and even I develop them in my mind as a performance. But I am going through a lot of pain in terms of approach and getting started as I am not a learned actor.
Please guide me.
Thank you so much, this helped a lot with an assignment I’m doing.
Great, Suni. Glad it helped.
Sir/mam I wanna learn the acting
My no 9971718160
i like cheese, also this is really helpful, it saved my life, thank you, btw i like cheese
No worries. And I’m glad you like cheese, Matt 🙂
Wao.. This is really really wonderful… I love this style of theatre..
This post would be useful to me kos i was asked to do a close study of Grotowski theatrical practices and develop a four paper page….
Theoretically yes anyone can voice act but it’s more a matter of can you voice act well. As a matter of fact sometimes when I’m feeling a little down on my abilities I imagine in my head of my performance fueled by study and passion vs a performance of someone who is only in it for a quick check and their name in the credits. My skills may be amateurish but atleast there is room to improve.
I really appreciate your spirit, Andrew. Never stop looking for the space to evolve.
i would like to thank the great thinkers or philosophers like JEZERY GROTOWSKI to bring change since change is reveals growth,multiplication and addition.I find it more intrestin when one is in the theatre where he or she hav to use magination.
yeah no definetley good point mate
Thanks Justin. That is exactly what I did. I gave them Ted Hughes adaptation of Oedipus. Thanks again for your help.
Do you have a script excerpt you have given to a Theatre Studies class to interpret using Poor Theatre?
Please can you give a reference for the quotes used, I would like to cite it in an essay I am writing 🙂
Rachael, references and page numbers for quotes used are now included in this post – Justin.
hey this was very helpful but I would like someone to explain to me what this thing is about, im doing a drama assignment for Rebecca roth and she has explained nothing so im really just looking for a helping hand.
please and thankyou
I completely agree with this concept that howsoever theatre tries ,it can’t compete with the t.v. and cinema.. But in a reaction going to such an extreme that not even using appropriate costume or not even needing a text for a theatre performance , seems to be a bit of overreaction.
love this method, more study in grotowaski & search in video
The Grotovask’s work on Theatre is a milestone every theatre worker should go through this work,to enlighten themselves with new ideas
I love Grotowski’s work – in part because as you say, it’s better to have minimal props in the room, which is great for under resourced schools!
I find as a theatre goer, I don’t want the actors to tell me what they are feeling through words, I want them to SHOW me through their performance! I don’t need to see real beer in a glass, I want them to show me, and my imagination will fill in the rest. That’s what good theatre is about for me – the opportunity to use my own imagination, and have it sparked by something truly incredible.