Jerzy Grotowski

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Statue of Jerzy Grotowski in Opole

Jerzy Marian Grotowski (born November 11 or August 11, 1933 in Rzeszów , Poland ; †  January 14, 1999 in Pontedera , Italy ) was a Polish director and theater director, methodologist, theorist and reformer. He is considered one of the leading representatives of the theater avant-garde, a co-founder of theater anthropology and, together with Henryk Tomaszewski and Tadeusz Kantor, one of the greatest artists of the Polish theater of the 20th century.


His family lived in Przemyśl until the beginning of World War II , and then they were separated. His mother moved with him to a small village and his father became an officer in the Polish army. After Poland surrendered in 1939, his father fled to England and became a soldier in a Polish division within the British army.

In 1955 Grotowski finished his acting studies in Kraków ( Cracow ) and then went to Moscow. There he learned the theatrical art of the Russian avant-garde, but also Stanislawski's acting training methods, Charles Dullin's "rhythmic exercises", Meyerhold's " bio-mechanical training " and Wachtangow's synthesis, which influenced him as much as Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud . In 1956, after a trip to Central Asia and China, where he studied Peking Opera , Indian Kathakali and Japanese No-Theater , he returned to Poland to the drama school in Krakow to begin studying directing, which he directed in 1960 -Diploma Graduated.

The Teatr Laboratory

While still a student, he and the literary critic Ludwik Flaszen (* 1930) took over Teatr 13 Rzędów, the theater of the 13 rows (with a total of 34 seats) in Opole (Opole), which was later renamed “Teatr Laboratorium 13 Rzędów”. Before that he had directed various stages and Polish radio. The theater of the 13 rows was an experimental theater and at the same time a theater laboratory for researching the arts of theater and acting. Between 1961 and 1968 Grotowski was mainly concerned with the training of actors , the body became the focus of his research through comparative theater anthropology . The connection between life and theater became more and more important, the role of the audience / actor was redefined and the venues were opened up. His concept of "poor theater" emerged.

The founding members included the actors Rena Mirecka, Antoni Jaholkowski and Zygmunt Molik, and later also Ryszard Cieślak (Award: best actor on Off-Broadway in the 1969/70 season in two categories; for the first time to an actor who does not play in English) , who was one of Grotowski's closest collaborators because he was the best at implementing his method, and Zbigniew Cynkutis. One of his students during his time in Opole was Eugenio Barba , who founded the Odin Teatret in Oslo on the basis of his work with Grotowski (see also: Street theater ).

On January 2, 1965, the theater moved to Wrocław ( Breslau ) and got the official status of an institute there. The full name was "Theater Laboratorium der 13 Riesen - Research Institute for Acting Method". From 1966 the thirteen rows in the title were deleted, from 1975 only "Institut Laboratorium". The above The actor base was expanded to include Elizabeth Albahaca, Andrzej Paluchiewicz and Stanisław Scierski. Irena Rycyk, Zbigniew Kosłowski, Teo Spychalski and Jacek Smisłowski joined them later, although it should be noted that there was a certain fluctuation among the actors in the laboratory. However, all those named in this article remained from their respective entry through the entire period of existence of the theater and in some cases also directed subsequent institutes.

After the end of the theater laboratory, Grotowski's temporary assistant Teresa Nawrot founded a school for drama and film in Berlin in 1984, "in which the training methods, the acting technique and the philosophy of Grotowski's theater laboratory are maintained, further developed and authentically passed on." Institutes that dealt with aspects of Grotowski's theater and actor work and disseminated them.


  • Orpheus after Jean Cocteau (1959)
  • Cain after Lord Byron (1960; considered to be the first significant performance; contains means of pantomime , satire and cabaret , fights with tennis rackets, rings and boxing)
  • Faust after Goethe (1960 outside of his own theater with other actors)
  • Mysterium buffo according to Mayakovsky (1960; also inspired by the text Das Schwitzbad by the same author, it is considered a biting discussion of bourgeois art)
  • Schakuntala by Kalidasa (1960 to fragments from the Kamasutra expanded, occupied by only a few actors like feature were artificial language and gestures, the costumes were designed by children of a school of Fine Arts)
  • The funeral celebration according to Adam Mickiewicz (1961; played for the first time between the audience, to which certain roles are also assigned)
  • Kordian after Juliusz Słowacki (1962; the setting is moved to a psychiatric clinic, there are several bunk beds on which the actors act in the midst of the audience and the audience sit)
  • Acropolis according to Stanisław Wyspiański (1st version 1962; the plot is moved to a Nazi concentration camp, the actors build an absurd framework of pipes during the performance: “Work makes you free!” Only to disappear into a symbolic gas chamber)
  • Acropolis (2nd version 1962)
  • Dr. Faustus after Marlowe (1963; the audience is guests at Faustus' farewell dinner, seated at tables on which the actors act)
  • Study on Hamlet after Shakespeare / Wyspiański (1964; is played in an empty hall, the audience sits on the walls)
  • Acropolis (3rd version 1964)
  • Acropolis (4th version 1965)
  • The steadfast prince after Calderón / Słowacki (1st version 1965; the action takes place behind four wooden walls, the audience has to look over them as if into a kind of "lions' den"; the parade figure of Ryszard Cieślak)
  • The Steadfast Prince (2nd version 1965)
  • Acropolis (5th version 1967)
  • The Steadfast Prince (3rd version 1968)
  • Apocalypsis cum figuris based on texts from the Bible / Dostojewski / Słowacki / TS Eliot / Simone Weil (1st version 1969; created under the working title Gospels , also influenced by Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus , the viewer takes on the role of “witness” Critics wrote: there are "six actors ... and the audience. Otherwise there was only a loaf of bread, a bucket of water, a knife, a towel, candles and two spotlights. That and only that."

The “after” shows that Grotowski never staged “off the sheet”, but instead used the templates through z. B. The actors “reinvented” free improvisations and associations; the different versions show that the productions were never completely finished, but part of a “living process”, according to Grotowski.

After that, Grotowski made long journeys, mainly with the actor who embodied his principles the most: Ryszard Cieślak, to test his theory and practice in lectures, seminars, tours and theater festivals around the world, such as the Theater of Nations in Paris in 1967 and 1975 in Warsaw or in the cultural competition that accompanied the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The "Special Projects"

In 1975 Grotowski took the most decisive step in his development: he consistently turned away from theater in the sense of a performance and only carried out so-called "special projects", i.e. paratheatrical experiments and self-awareness internships in which the participants encountered unexpected tasks and situations. These usually took place over several days in the wild and each had a motto, such as "Tree of people".

Further work phases

Grotowski portrait by Zbigniew Kresowaty, 1983

From 1976 to 1982 Grotowski worked with a multinational group of 36 selected people at the “Theater of Sources”, in which he was concerned with the origin of traditional techniques. His research trips took him again to India, Mexico and Haiti. In Haiti he went in search of traces of the Poles who had been employed as mercenaries by order of France from 1802 and noticed an image of St. Mary on numerous voodoo altars, which was incredibly similar to the icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa .

This was followed by the "objective drama" (Objective Drama, 1983 to 1986), a phase during which Grotowski studied theatrical elements such as dances, chants, incantations, rhythms and the use of space. The focus has been placed on extreme accuracy of artistic skills and the professional execution of every detail. The mediation took place through courses with largely elimination of the public.

He spent his last thirteen years at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards with the phase of "Art as vehicle, in which, as in certain old traditions, the attention for art goes together with the approach of the interiority of the human being" in Pontedera, where he also died.

Grotowski's goals

Grotowski wanted to achieve a return to the primordial foundation of the art of acting, cleansed of all excess of the theater apparatus (the “rich theater”). In his plea for a poor theater he designed a play that "can exist without make-up, without independent costumes and sets, without a separate performance area (stage), without lighting and sound effects, etc." (Grotowski, 1994 and earlier). In doing so, Grotowski tries to disinhibit the actor, to loosen his physique, to tear open his psyche and to take his mask off: the actor faces the audience almost naked - the audience becomes a witness. In doing so, Grotowski uses hard physical and psychological training because he demands that the actor “transcend himself”, as well as the precise analysis of the individual processes through special sciences. "At least in his role, the actor is creator, model and creation rolled into one," says Grotowski. The way of working and living of his ensemble corresponds to this claim, namely "voluntary renunciation of material goods, sect-like coexistence, collective invention, high ethos".


Grotowski's charisma quickly made him a new theater guru, who aroused disapproval and even disgust in the conventional theater audience, but which the young actors followed in the spirit of the youth movements of 1968 like Jünger. Through his writings he also created the theoretical basis for his work, which called for a “poor theater”, that is, a theater that was freed from all superfluous props and limited only to the actor and his art. His teaching still exerts a great influence on many actors, directors (especially: Peter Brook ) and independent theater groups .

Memorial plaque for Grotowski in Breslau


  • State Prize 1st class of the People's Republic of Poland in the field of art
  • Full professor at the Ecole Supérieure d'Art Dramatique in Marseille
  • Honorary Doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh
  • Merit Diploma of the National Museum of the USA / Smithsonian Institute in Washington "for the outstanding contribution to the development of world theater"
  • 1987: Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 1991: “Fellow” of the MacArthur Fellowship
  • 1998: Honorary Citizen of Wroclaw



  • Manfred Brauneck : Theater in the 20th Century. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1982, pp. 412-421 and 471-476, ISBN 3-499-16290-3 .
  • Tadeusz Burzyński and Zbigniew Osiński: The Theater Laboratorium Grotowski. Interpress publishing house, Warszawa 1979.
  • Thomas Richards: Theater work with Grotowski on physical actions. Alexander, Berlin 1996.
  • Barbara Schwerin von Krosigk: The naked actor. The development of Jerzy Grotowski's theater theory. Publica, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-89087-022-8 .
  • Wallace Shawn and André Gregory: My meal with André. A script. Alexander, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-89581-103-3 . (Screenplay of the film of the same name by Louis Malle , in which two men - one of whom was just visiting a “Special Project” by Grotowski - talk about the meaning of life and the project).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Tadeusz Burzyński and Zbigniew Osiński: Das Theater Laboratorium Grotowskis, Warsaw 1979, page 9, and Manfred Brauneck: Theater im 20. Jahrhundert, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1982, page 471
  2. Grotowski Institute ; Henning Rischbieter (ed.): Theater-Lexikon, Zurich and Schwäbisch Hall 1983, column 558; Uwe Steffen: Register volume to Piper's Encyclopedia of Music Theater, Munich and Zurich 1997, page 274; Paul S. Ulrich: Biographical Directory for Theater, Dance and Music, Berlin 1997, Volume 1, Page 660 with further references
  3. ^ Cornelia Adam: Ang Gey Pin - Theater after Grotowski and Richards? Diploma thesis at the University of Vienna, March 2010. A PDF can be downloaded from the Vienna University Library .
  4. Reduta-Berlin, school management ( Memento of the original from June 24, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , last accessed on September 18, 2012 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. a b Brief History - Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards in the Internet Archive of February 15, 2012
  6. WDR 5 : Doc 5 - The Feature: “The Vodou Icon - The Black Madonna of Częstochowa between Poland and Haiti”, Deutschlandfunk Kultur / WDR 2017; For the history of the Poles in Haiti, see also: War travelers: "The great deception - The Polish Legion in Haiti."
  7. For a more detailed overview: Michael Hüttler: “For a theater of cultures.” In: Michael Hüttler, Susanne Schwinghammer, Monika Wagner: Aufbruch zu neue Welten. Theatricality at the turn of the millennium. IKO, Frankfurt am Main / London 2006, ISBN 3-88939-546-5
  8. Theater Lexicon. Henschelverlag Art and Society, 2nd unchanged edition, Berlin 1977
  9. ^ MacArthur Foundation, Fellows List 1991 , last accessed on September 18, 2012
  10. Zasłużeni dla Wrocławia (Polish)