Polish theorist and practitioner Jerzy Grotowski (1933–1999) is today best known for his poor theatre form, The Laboratory Theatre and tiny Theatre of 13 Rows in regional Poland. But his poor theatre concept and practice were just one of many phases in a career spanning four decades. Much of Grotowski’s work with actors was never performed, and if it was, before modest-sized audiences. Poor theatre advocated the elimination of the excesses of theatre – no sets, few props, basic lighting and nondescript costumes. His was a holy and ritualistic theatre of reduction, where only the actor remained. – Justin Cash
Poor Theatre Resources
Jerzy Grotowski Biographies
An extensive biography of Jerzy Grotowski and the distinct phases of his work over several decades.
Encyclopedia.com biography of Grotowski and his work, outlining the principles of his actor training program.
Obituary of sorts from theatre academic Richard Schechner on the passing of Jerzy Grotowski in 1999. This offers a great insight into the man and his work (from TDR – The Drama Review).
Biography of Jerzy Grotowski from the Grotowski Institute, Poland.
Jerzy Grotowski biography and career outline from Wikipedia.
Brief Jerzy Grotowski biography from Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Phases of Grotowski’s Work
1959-1969 | Theatre of Productions
Poor theatre phase, Theatre of the 13 Rows, Akropolis (1962), The Constant Prince (1965), Apocalypsis cum Figuris (1968).
1969-1978 | Paratheatre
Exercises, improvisations and experiments without an audience, work on the self.
1976-1982 | Theatre of Sources
Period of self-discovery examining the sources of tradition and ritual via exposure in India, Mexico, Haiti and other countries, at the same time avoiding communist martial law in Poland.
1983-1992 | Objective Drama
Artistic-research-teaching phase at the University of California on actor training aimed at eradicating blocks and obstructions in the actor.
1991-1999 | Art as Vehicle
Continued research and actor training at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski at Pontedera, Italy. Art became a vehicle which allowed the actor to obtain another level of perception.
Actor Training and Conventions
An outline of the conventions and techniques of Grotowski’s work including movement, staging, text, actor-audience relationship, quotes, acting and characterisation from The Drama Teacher website.
Fantastic resource website devoted to Grotowski and his theatre, with video clips, terminology, productions, audio, research, image galleries, and more.
Excellent glossary of terms, phrases, people and titles connected to Grotowski and his work.
Excellent interview with a university academic and author of works on Grotowski discussing various aspects of Grotowski’s work over his lifetime, including his influences, major productions, connections with Antonin Artaud, stage design, and more.
Lee Strasberg on Poor Theatre – An excellent essay, detailing Lee Strasberg’s definitions of acting. Includes a useful section on performance styles outlining Grotowski’s Poor Theatre.
Overview of Grotowski’s influence on world theatre in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Article discussing the difference between spectacle and special effects in theatre and how Grotowski successfully created a spectacle in his work without any special effects at all.
A wonderful first-hand account of a Polish actress who worked in Grotowski’s ensemble in the Theatre of the 13 Rows, Opole, Poland, describing working with him in the original production of Akropolis.
Fascinating two-part podcast on Jerzy Grotowski and his work interviewing Thomas Richards, the co-founder of his work centre in Pontedera, Italy, and Paul Allain, Grotowski researcher and academic.
Easy to understand explanation of the relevance of Grotowski and his techniques to today’s actors.
Rare series of image galleries of Grotowski productions from the late 1950s to late 1970s.
Extensive encyclopaedia of terms, people and titles related to Grotowski and his work. Great for the Grotowski scholar who wishes to deepen their understanding of Grotowski’s principles.
Through the lens of one theatre ensemble and their dramatic work, this essay discusses the impact of using Grotowski’s techniques, such as psychophysical training, his plastiques and other exercises, to find the internal core at the centre of the actor.
Peter Brook’s account of the “Holy Theatre”, like that of Grotowski’s, in his seminal 1968 text The Empty Space.
Interview discussing the use of Grotowski’s “plastiques” and “corporeals” in physical theatre work.
Pillory Theater Interview with a member of a theatre company using Grotowski’s techniques.
Programme from the Grotowski Institute, Poland, which offers a synopsis of several films connected to Grotowski and his work.
Excellent collection of historical videos demonstrating Grotowski’s actor training techniques.
Owen Daly Grotowski’s set of acting principles.
Article about the actor’s body and the use of Grotowski’s plastiques.
A personal account of how Grotowski’s principles and methods have positively affected an actor.
Explanation of corporeal mime, a technique Grotowski used in his actor training.
Exploration of what constitutes corporeal mime from Wikipedia.
A brief explanation from the Grotowski Institute of the use of corporeal code in the physical training of martial arts.
Article outlining various scandals in Polish theatre, briefly discussing Grotowski’s Apocalypsis cum Figuris, after which Polish right-wing circles saw him as a charlatan and blasphemer. Includes a quote explaining the format of the work, with has “almost no literary script” to speak of.
Excellent first-hand account of Grotowski’s working methods and his production Apocalypsis cum Figuris.
Academic Papers and Journal Articles
An academic paper outlining the differing uses of a mask in modern theatre. Search for “Jerzy Grotowski: The Mask as Essence” to read an interesting section on Grotowski’s notion of the actor’s “mask” and the demands it placed on the actor.
Very informative Ph.D thesis which includes a chapter on Grotowski’s work on actor impulse and movement, clearly outlining the different phases of Grotowski’s career (PDF download).
Academic journal article examining the different phases of Grotowski’s work over the years.
Ph.D thesis on the work of Jerzy Grotowski and the many phases of his actor training process over several decades.
An interesting paper exploring the changing political landscape while Grotowski worked in Poland.
An excellent academic paper exploring Grotowski’s concept of poor theatre, the holy actor, use of montage, score and actor contact.
An academic study exploring Grotowski’s methods with pre-adolescent children.
An academic paper exploring how several Western theatre practitioners were influenced by the Oriental gestures used in Peking Opera, including Grotowski.
PowerPoint presentation on Grotowski’s life and works. Includes diagrams of actor-audience configurations for productions during his poor theatre phase.
Academic thesis on Grotowski’s work from a South African perspective. Includes very useful explanations of what Grotowski’s corporeal and plastique exercises entailed, his voice and breathing training, plus the major phases in his career.
Academic journal article exploring Grotowski’s evolving influence in Poland to this day.
Academic paper which includes a chapter outlining the similarities and differences between the work of Jerzy Grotowski and that of Antonin Artaud.
Introduction to Grotowski includes a series of actor exercises using his techniques on movement, physical actions and plastiques.
Article with tips on how to bring Grotowski into your drama lessons – includes exercises.
Useful PowerPoint presentations on Grotowski’s principles.
Theatre review of Grotowski’s productions Akropolis and Apocalypsis cum Figuris during his Polish Laboratory Theatre’s visit to New York City in 1969. The audience was limited to just 40 people.
The New York Times review of Grotowski’s The Constant Prince, October 1969.
Time Magazine’s theatre review of the 1969 production of Grotowski’s The Constant Prince in New York City.
Key Reference Texts
Grotowski, J, Towards a Poor Theatre (includes exercises).
Schechner, R, The Grotowski Sourcebook.
Slowiak, J, and Cuesta, J, Jerzy Grotowski – Routledge Performance Practitioners (includes exercises).
Allain, P (Ed.), Grotowski’s Empty Room.
Cynkutis, Z, Acting with Grotowski.
Richards, T., At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions.
Mitter, S, Systems of Rehearsal: Stanislavsky, Brecht, Grotowski and Brook.