While recently introducing Polish theatre practitioner Jerzy Grotowski to my Year 11 Drama students, we began by first understanding a key element of his practice – that of ritual.
Ritual was at the centre of much of Grotowski’s work, evident in:
- his influence of Eastern theatre styles (Japanese, Indian, Chinese)
- his methods of actor training – strict discipline, highly physical, long rehearsal periods
- his interest in theatre’s ritualistic beginnings
- the elimination of “the stage” as a performance area
- his concept of the “holy actor”
- nondescript costuming
- deliberate lack of elaborate sets and props in productions
- non-traditional performance spaces
- the “communion” between actor and spectator
- the shaman-like appreciation of him by those who knew and worked with him
- the utter devotion of his students and followers (disciples)
If young theatre-makers are to fully appreciate Grotowski’s theatre concepts and associated conventions, then a simple understanding of ritual is necessary. What elements of Grotowski’s actor training program, rehearsals and productions were ritualistic in nature? How can we incorporate some of these elements in our drama/theatre class work and/or performances when studying poor theatre?
I asked my Year 11 Drama class to look up multiple definitions of “ritual” and extract a series of keywords so they could have a better understanding of the characteristics of ritual in society. From spiritual tribal dances to how you put your clothes on each morning, ritual means different things to different people (and in different time periods, countries and cultures). Yet a number of common characteristics exist. Here is a mind map of my students’ findings: