How to bring Grotowski into your Drama lessons.
Known for his unusual techniques, leading Polish theatrical director Jerzy Grotowski has always been seen as difficult and challenging practitioner who appears to be too complex to use in Secondary School based Drama. However, this perspective should be challenged as there is a lot that he can bring to your classroom.
As a practitioner, Grotowski preferred working with a bare stage with no scenery, little or no props, simple costume and stark staging with the audience sitting close to the action. In terms of his acting style, he was influenced by Stanislavski and the need for strong, real and tangible characters. However, he managed to achieve an acting style that was both passionate and emotional but at the same time disconcerting and often alienating. This came from his combination of the strong, tangible and naturalistic characters, inspired by Stanislavski, with his own style of physical theatre which was very acrobatic in nature. He would call on his actors to go through some quite extreme physical conditioning, which would result in them being in complete control over their bodies, so that even if a character is in ‘pain’ during a scene, it can seem almost beautifully controlled. His style, whilst unnerving and shocking, was also absorbing and enthralling.
There are lots of ways that his work can be brought into the classroom, but perhaps not necessarily as a form of performance but as a way of examining a text or scenario and helping students see them in a different light.
One way to start is by exploring characters in a physical and candid way. Focus on a character who the students know well, one that they have spent time examining and exploring using some character development exercises. Ask the students to a series of words that describe them and keep narrowing and drilling down into those words until you have just one or two. Physicalise and verbalise everything about that character using just that word. Experiment and explore how that adjective or adverb effects everything to do with the character, the words they say, the way they say the words, the way they move, make gestures, look around and use the space. Keep exaggerating this until it becomes almost like a grotesque caricature of the original character. Once the students have taken it as far as they can, then slowly bring the performance back to a point that they are happy with. Talk with the students about how that felt, where the motivations were, where the instinctive, dark or dangerous movements come from.
This exercise looks at helping students to understand where the characters instinctive, impulsive and passionate movements, gestures and voice come from inside the characters psyche. Another way to use that exercise is to explore the opposite or contradiction to the previous word as a way to explore the subconscious part of the characters psyche. To explore the characters flaw, be that their self-loathing or their hatred of others.
Another way of using the work of Grotowski is to look at his way of working to produce theatre. For instance, ask the students to create a scene where there is persecution taking place. Ask them to create this in as naturalistic a form as they can, performing it in linear order and without any additions such as monologues, slow-motion or still images. There is also no need to hold back on detail, the students can be as verbally and as physically aggressive or passive as they feel appropriate. Once created, ask them to adapt it to a resemble something that Grotowski would have staged. Consider the relationship between the action and the audience, how the actors would physically manifest the pain or anguish within the characters and, ultimately, how would the audience be shock or unnerved into learning from the scenario.
Many people are put off by elements of his practice which are hard to access or approach and, as a result, by pass the fact that he was considered such a revolutionary force in theatre that he caused the theatre community to reconsider the purpose of theatre. He took his influences from both Stanislavski and Brecht and there is a very visible influence of his work in modern theatre. Much more than you realise or he has been accredited for. Have a think about what his work stands for and consider how much Grotowski there is already in your drama studio and how much more there is you can include.
2 thoughts on “How to bring Grotowski into your Drama lessons.”
Thank you for your practical explanation