Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, one of the most influential directors, theatrical innovators and acting teachers of the twentieth century, died Jan. 14 of leukemia in Pontedera, Italy. He was 65.
Grotowski was director of the Polish Laboratory Theatre (which he founded in 1959), and influenced generations of actors and directors through his teachings, his productions and his seminal book, "Towards a Poor Theater" (1968).
Two central concepts dominated Grotowski's ground-breaking work throughout his career: his notion of theatre as a ritualistic, communal religious experience, and his "bare bones" style, stripping productions of extravagant costumes, sets and lights. Instead, he'd shift the focus back to the actor.
Grotowski did not become widely known until 1965, after six years of experimenting in isolation with his troupe in Poland. In 1966, his production of The Constant Prince was seen at Paris' Theatre des Nations, which led to an invite to work with London's Royal Shakespeare Company, where he greatly influenced Peter Brook, a debt Brook acknowledges to this day. The publication of "Towards a Poor Theatre" in 1968, led to international tours by the Polish Laboratory, including his theatre's first visit to New York (bringing The Constant Prince, Akropolis and Apocalypsis cum Figuris).
By 1970, Grotowski had attained a legendary status in acting theory, not unlike Stanislavsky. Debates over his "methods" and approach blossomed all over America, with many actors and directors moving to Poland to seek his tutelage. Grotowski, like Stanislavsky, continuously denied his theatre had a method, instead emphasizing that his work and approaches to it were continuously shifting and changing. Grotowski actually moved to the States for a few years in the 1980's, teaching at Columbia University and the University of California at Irvine. In 1991, Grotowski was awarded the prestigious MacArthur "Genius" Grant. More recently, he had shifted his home to Pontedera, Italy where, up until his death, he continued his explorations into the nature of theatre.
As a theatre practitioner, Grotowski directly influenced the work of directors like Brook, Richard Schechner, Judith Malina, Julian Beck, Eugenio Barba, Joseph Chaikin, Andrei Serban, Andre Gregory, Lee Breuer, Ariane Mnouchkine and many others.
Various productions by Grotowski include adaptations of Wyspianski's Akropolis, Calderon's The Constant Prince, Byron's Cain,Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the original work, Apocalypsis cum Figuris.
-- By Sean McGrath