2012-03-11
2015-05-05

paratheatre

a specific period in the activities of Jerzy Grotowski and his collaborators, lasting from 1969 to 1976 (although these dates are the subject of ongoing debate), connected, on the one hand, with the openly declared resignation from preparing further performances (‘leaving the theatre’) and, on the other hand, with the search for the appropriate means of making accessible to as large a number of people as possible the experiments of Grotowski and his group. The main ideas inspiring the paratheatrical work were: active culture and overcoming the division between participants and spectators; working towards suspending social roles and instead finding the human dimension of one’s existence in action and experiment; encounters involving other people and nature (Holiday/Święto); and gradually leading to fundamental transformations in culture. Paratheatre was closely connected to the cultural-historical context (counterculture), as well as to Grotowski’s objective of transitioning from theatre work to actively researching and testing the possibilities of deepening and broadening (also involving others) the experience of the encounter with indestructible life, which provided the core of the total act. The fundamental principle of paratheatrical work, which was also crucial in determining the direction of this phase in the history of the Laboratory Theatre would take, was the principle of gradually opening up the experiments and including in them ever more groups of people expressing an interest in them. In this sense, this was the most consistent period of aiming towards breaking with the exclusiveness of the work and its outcomes, while also making it as broadly accessible as possible. Key turning points in the activities of Grotowski and the Laboratory Theatre, which also provided starting points for the paratheatrical phase, were Grotowski’s appearances in New York in December 1970 (Święto/Holiday) and the radical changes in the company’s organisation involving starting work with a new group of people. In September 1970, an open letter appeared in the Polish press signed by Grotowski titled ‘Propozycja współpracy’ (A Proposal for Working Together). Over three hundred people replied to the invitation, with seventy chosen on the basis of their applications and invited to Wrocław for a meeting with Grotowski and Teo Spychalski in November 1970. Following auditions, nine people were chosen, who then worked with Grotowski and Spychalski for a year. Nine invited people were: Irena Rycyk, Małgorzata Niklasz, Bruno Chojak, Ryszard Gizowski, Wiesław Hoszowski, Zbigniew Kozłowski, Aleksander Lidtke, Marek Musiał i Wojciech Rawecki. After a while Małgorzata Niklasz (31 XII 1971), Ryszard Gizowski (15 I 1972), Bruno Chojak (w maju 1972), Marek Musiał and Wojciech Rawecki left. Parallel to this, individuals encountered in various circumstances were also invited to collaborate, including actors selected from other theatre companies. As a result, a group of seven people was formed that included four from the ‘recruitment’ (Wiesław Hoszowski, Zbigniew Kozłowski, Aleksander Lidtke and Irena Rycyk) and three ‘found’ individuals (Jerzy Bogajewicz, Teresa Nawrot and Włodzimierz Staniewski). This group worked separately, initially in Wrocław, before moving in March 1972 to the ‘forest base’ close to the village of Brzezinka, near Oleśnica. It was not until 15 November 1972 that this group was united with some of the existing actors of the Laboratory (Elizabeth Albahaca, Ryszard Cieślak, Antoni Jahołkowski, Zygmunt Molik, Andrzej Paluchiewicz and Teo Spychalski), with the entire group then beginning joint work (Rena Mirecka, Zbigniew Cynkutis and Stanisław Scierski were not part of the paratheatrical group). Following several months of collaboration in Brzezinka and Wrocław led by Cieślak (Grotowski’s participation was not constant owing to trips abroad), the first attempts were made at opening up the prepared experiments to outside participants. In June 1973 in Brzezinka, the first open paratheatrical training took place and it lasted three days. Some of its participants were invited back for further work with the group (Jacek Zmysłowski was one such person). Further paratheatrical activities were organised in Poland in the following months and were also included in the programme of foreign tours. In October and November 1973, during another of the Laboratory’s visits to the United States, selected individuals were invited to participate in activities which were called Special Project by Grotowski. These took place in a village, selected following a long search, that was isolated from any other human settlements, with some of the participants chosen from amongst audience members who came to Apocalypsis cum Figuris. Somewhat different principles were applied when organising the ‘paratheatrical training’ sessions during tours of France, with Cieślak leading what was known as Large Special Project and Grotowski Narrow Special Project in two small localities in Brittany following performances in Paris. The results of these experiments and trials provided the foundation for the intensive work to which the group dedicated itself during the 1974/75 season, when it was preparing for what was to be both the most important event in the paratheatrical period as well as the most significant opening up of the experiments being carried out at the time – The University of Research of the Theatre of Nations. Following its completion, one further attempt was made at staging a similar event– The University of Research II, which took place in autumn 1975 as part of the Biennale di Venezia. During the event, however, the first traces of crisis appeared (including conflict with Włodzimierz Staniewski). From around 1976, Grotowski began to withdraw gradually from paratheatrical work (the term active culture was used more commonly and more willingly at the time) and moved towards a further, more hidden, closed-off and craftsman-like phase of experiments – the Theatre of Sources. Parallel to this, members of the Laboratory, with his permission and under his aegis, carried out further experiments of a paratheatrical nature. A significant portion of them around that time were led by Jacek Zmysłowski, who carried out activities within the Vigils cycle and was also responsible to a significant extent for Mountain Project (1976–77). The open and broadly-defined concept of paratheatre included various training exercises and forms of activities located somewhere between workshops and rehearsals for performances, which were led by particular members of the Laboratory company (Cynkutis did Zdarzenia [Events], Flaszen Meditation Aloud, while Molik’s Acting Therapy, conducted in collaboration with Mirecka, Scierski and Jahołkowski, could, to some extent, also be included in this). The synthesis of these activities came in Tree of People. Grotowski never returned to paratheatrical activities and years later would issue a negative assessment of them (‘In the first years, when a small group worked thoroughly on this for months and months, and was later joined by only a few new participants from the outside, things happened which were on the border of a miracle. However afterwards, when, in light of this experience, we made other versions, with a view to including more participants – or when the base group had not passed first through a long period of intrepid work – certain fragments functioned well, but the whole descended to some extent into an emotive soup between the people, or rather into a kind of animation.’, ‘From the Theatre Company to Art as Vehicle’, tran. Thomas Richards, Michel A. Moos and Jerzy Grotowski [in:] Thomas Richards, At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions, London/ New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 115–135, p.120). However, work of this type is continued by some of his former collaborators, including, above all, Rena Mirecka and Ewa Benesz.