Our Philosophy and Theatre Group spent most of the winter studying the perplexing work of Jerzy Grotowski. As I’ve mentioned before, Grotowski had many ideas about the nature of theatre, performance, humanity and its essence. At a certain point, we decided that we needed something concrete to get a better grasp on what we’d read, so we turned to Akropolis. Carlos Franke, Philip Cherny and myself discussed the play earlier this month, and PEL Citizens can find it and our other talks here.
This Akropolis is Grotowski’s adaptation of a modernist drama by Stanisław Wyspianski. In the original work, biblical and cultural myths depicted in a series of artworks come to life and act themselves out, some of which you can hear Philip describe at the beginning of our talk. Among the more formal changes that Grotowski made, his major alteration was to transpose the setting of the play from a Polish castle to Auschwitz, and to have his actors play the camp’s prisoners reenacting their own versions these myths. According to Grotowski (quoted here), his mission was:
To put two opposite views on the stage, to create brutal confrontation in order to see if these past dreams are concrete and strong, or only abstractions. In otherwords, we wanted to confront our ancestral experiences in a situation where all values were destroyed, and that is why we chose Auschwitz.
Grotowski recognized how crude it would be to try to represent life in a concentration camp on stage in any realistic way. The issue of representation is salient in this play in several aspects, and it took up a large part of our discussion. For example, many of the objects on stage are reconfigured by the actors throughout the play to create new arrangements and forms. Carlos helped to explain tendency of contemporary theatre to treat the stage self consciously, and Philip was able to help us compare Grotowski’s use of objects on stage to the methods of other artists and artistic movements.
This month we’re reading selections from Philip Auslander’s From Acting to Performance: Essays in Modernism and Postmodernism. New members are always welcome, and if by chance you’re not a PEL Citizen yet, sign up here.
– Daniel Cole