[In 1967, the renowned acting theorist Jerzy Grotowski (1933-99) and Ryszard Cieslak (1937-90), Grotowski’s principal actor, taught a four-week “methodology” workshop, Grotowski’s first in the United States, from 6 to 30 November at NYU. The sixteen sessions involved 18 actors, four directors, four observers (including Richard Schechner and NYU theater program director Theodore Hoffman), Grotowski, Cieslak, and, since Grotowski spoke French in class, a translator (principally Jacques Chwat). One of the actors, Tom Crawley (1940-95), kept a daily journal during the workshop.
[Entitled “The Stone in the Soup: Jerzy Grotowski’s First American Workshop” (unpublished typescript, Thomas P. Crawley, 1978) after an anecdote Grotowski used to illustrate his basic training philosophy (related below), Crawley’s journal is a detailed and precise daily account of the workshop (each chapter recounts a single session). The text has not to date been published, though Crawley apparently intended it to be; this remarkably clear and succinct account of Grotowski’s early work, before he turned away from public performance, may eventually be available to readers. Until it is, I’ve decided to publish on ROT extensive excerpts from my notes to disseminate this glimpse into Grotowski’s early teachings and theories.
[Among the participants in the workshop were Leonardo Shapiro, the stage director about whom I’ve written on ROT in the past; Stephen Wangh, an author, NYU acting teacher, and former dramaturg for Moisés Kaufman’s Tectonic Theatre Company; and Larry Pine, an actor whose name some readers may recognize. The typescript, readers should note, is paginated by chapter—hence the somewhat idiosyncratic page references I’ve included. When Crawley quotes Grotowski's own words, they’re enclosed in quotation marks.
[Wangh, who included some of the material in “The Stone in the Soup” in his book An Acrobat of the Heart: A Physical Approach to Acting Inspired by the Work of Jerzy Grotowski (Vintage Books, 2000), described the start of the workshop in his Preface:]
When we were all seated, Ted Hoffman, Richard Schechner . . ., and several other N.Y.U. dignitaries ushered in two men who sat down behind the table along the wall to our right. One of the two was pale and rotund. He wore a blue suit and dark glasses; his face was expressionless, but there was something imposing and enigmatic about his presence. The second man looked younger, more physical, his eyes were alert and intense.
. . . . The enigmatic man in the blue suit . . . was Jerzy Grotowski, the famous Polish director. The younger man was Ryszard Cieslak, the leading actor of Grotowski’s Polish Laboratory Theatre.
. . . .
While we sat bewildered . . ., Cieslak silently stripped to his shorts, went to the middle of the empty studio and proceeded to demonstrate the “impossible” for us. With incredible ease and precise physical control, he performed a series of headstands, rolls, and backbends, each flowing into the next, each completely centered and yet somehow off-balance and dynamic. His body seemed to be made of liquid muscle, enormously powerful, yet utterly soft and supple. He moved with the strength and precision of an accomplished gymnast, yet there was something in his face, in his searching eyes, that removed his work entirely from the world of gymnastics. It was as if the enormous muscular energy we witnessed was merely the exterior emanation of an even more intense inner life.
. . . .
Cieslak, for his part, demonstrated impossible exercises. And we Americans tried to emulate his work . . . until we began to understand that “emulation” was not what this class was about.
At first many of us were so overwhelmed by the pure physical challenge of Cieslak’s exercises that we could not see beyond the technical difficulties we encountered. Our headstands were wobbly, and our leaps were hesitant. When Cieslak demonstrated his “rivers” of “plastique” body isolations, kinetic and dramatic impulses seemed to flow through his entire body as if it were made of molten metal. When we tried, our rivers alternately surged and froze, creaking through our torsos by rusty jerks. The infinite agility, the intense concentration, and the wonderful precision with which Cieslak glided seemed entirely beyond our abilities.
* * * *These meetings ranged over strenuous physical exercises, vocal work, scene work and monologues, with Grotowski illustrating his “non-method” approach to the actor’s metier (2).
¤The plastiques, articulating the parts of the body; The Corporals, exercises engaging the entire body (2).
¤“I can give you no positive techniques,” he said. “No tricks or systems to use. Only a negative training to remove personal blocks you might have in expressing creative acts.”
. . . .
“There are, however, three principles in this negative approach.
“The first principle is the use of the person, the use of yourself.”
“Whenever an actor comes to a part, he should not construct gestures and vocal inflections out of the air. Nor should he concentrate on the character—where the character is coming from, what his objectives are, what he is wearing, what room he is in, etc.”
. . . .
“The actor should concentrate on what he, the actor, is personally revealing or displaying. The first consideration is the personal experience, the life and energies of the actor himself” (I.3-I.4).
¤What should an actor do with the role of Hamlet, then? “His own creative work is not to reproduce Shakespeare’s projection of himself, but to use this mythic creation for expressing himself, the actor’s own deeply-rooted self.”
My impression: to act a given character is to perform a totally personal, self-revealing piece of creation. In this sense, acting is not imitation (I.5).
¤“The second principle in this negative process is the organization of the units of the actor’s art.
“The unit of a musical score is a single note or pitch. The unit of the actor’s art is a unit of exchange, in which the actor gives something to his partner, to an object, or to some personification, and gets something back.
“It is a unit containing a giving and a taking. Such units exist not only in the processes of the imagination, but in the physical and vocal processes as well” (I.5).
¤As I understand it, an intonation, a response, a gesture or an emotion eventually becomes fixed, “scored,” as a unit of giving-and-receiving.
This second principle, organization, crystalizes [sic] or concretizes the actor’s personal energies. Spontaneity is not the key, although it is the content, because each “use of the self” becomes a specific, repeatable element of the performance (I.6).
¤Grotowski’s third principle is the overcoming of obstacles.
“A sculptor does not create something from wood or stone by toying with the surface. He must hammer and carve to overcome the material. He must struggle with the element out of which he will forge his creation.
“The actor, also, if he is to reveal something significant, personal and profound—that is, deriving truly from the use of self—must reach into the depths of himself, through whatever psychic or physical blocks that impede such expression.”
This means that an actor must not be satisfied with a facile gesture, statement, movement, inflection, etc.; but, by contending with resistances in his body, psyche and emotions, will touch what is truly creative and real.
“We will not imitate the gestures of another actor who has played Othello, for example, but will find by overcoming his resistances the gestures that his Othello would make under these circumstances.
“He will do, in public, what is considered impossible” (I.6-I.7).
¤This man [i.e. Ryszard Cieslak] seems to be an accomplished gymnast with a control of his body so complete as to frighten any actor who is sloppy about his physical condition.
He stripped to his work shorts, agilely performed a series of difficult-looking exercises—the Corporals—and then invited us to do them. The impossible was upon me.
We stripped down and tried them. First, a “whip” of the head and torso in a full, deep circle from the hips. Then, two head stands, one with the hands flat on the floor, the other with hands clasped behind and supporting the head.
We tried a three-point shoulder stand and a kneeling, back-bending thigh-stretch. Finally, the resting squat.
While doing the Corporals, we were asked to examine our own body’s limits and to push a bit beyond them (I.7-I.8).
¤When Cieslak laid down a thick, black tumbling mat, we formed a line and ran, one after the other, into a somersault; then a one-handed somersault, then no hands. Finally, we ran and dove into a somersault while Cieslak stood in our way until the last minute—ducking or jumping out of our way.
Here we had a physical, working model of what an actor does: committing fully to an action in the face of an obstacle (I.9).
¤It is clear to me that this work is not calisthenics, not mysticism, not therapy. It is a radical investigation of the actor’s only instruments: his body, his voice, his spirit.
Out of this flows actions and objectives, the engagement with another, and character work (I.10).
¤The objective is to be without trying to be like. If one is functioning as a particular animal or physical phenomenon—”Consider your voice as water, your body as wind”—one is not “imitating.”
If an actor is functioning as a given character, then, he will not imitate but will find the character within himself. The manifestation will be from the inside out (I.12).
¤“Creation involves effort, obstacles, something achieved. It is not something simply avoided or arrived at by whim. It is an effort brought out of commitment, risk and, in many cases, pain” (I.14).
¤There seems to me, now, no war between Grotowski and Stanislavski, only another approach, a different mode of beholding.
In An Actor Prepares, Stanislavski concentrates on the actor’s inner creative state. In Building a Character, he focuses on the outer creative state, linking this with the inner in the “general creative state.”
Grotowski begins here—with the whole actor, body and spirit, on the mat (I.14).
¤Today Cieslak began with a general warmup for the “plastiques.”
These are not gymnastics nor mime movements, but are individual manipulations of specific parts of the body, from the head to the feet (II.1).
¤After we had done them for a while, loosening up, we were told not to do them automatically or “symmetrically.” We were not to do them simply as exercises, but were to make contact with a partner outside ourselves, either another person we imagined or some imaginary object (II.1).
¤The whole body performs these things, the whole body responds to an image. The hand may be the specific point of contact, but it is a contact the whole body makes. I may be fondling a woman’s breast instead of an apple. And if that is the case, then the body posture, the body engagement, is totally different from that of stroking an apple on a tree.
We repeated the plastiques, taking care to avoid the mechanical and autonomous, to relate the movements to a person or an object (II.1-II.2).
¤All this physical activity is to be directed outward—the whole body is functioning when a finger is moving, when a hand is moving. Contact is made with some outside point by your whole self (II.2).
¤“Look for an answer by an indirect path.” When you try to solve a problem in its own area, when you look directly at the problem, you don’t find the answer. Look in the opposite direction, somewhere else. Proceed by indirection (II.4).
¤Just as the physical exercises are artistic rather than gymnastic only when there is a contact or an image, an external point or partner that is utilized and related to, so also in voice production. The voice is only being artistically utilized and employed if it’s making contact with some external point or person (II.7).
¤After stressing the contact principle—that the body and the voice need a partner or an image, a point of contact outside in order to operate fully and correctly—Mr. Grotowski urged the class to master the details of the exercises we’ve done, that it is very important to do so. Not for their own sake, but because these exercises are the stone in the soup—in the story of the gypsy and his stone soup.
Mr. Grotowski told us the story. A hungry gypsy came upon a housewife and asked her for a stone because he wanted to make some soup. The housewife was intrigued and she gave him a stone. He put it in a pot and then asked for some water, which the housewife provided. He put the water and the stone on the fire and began to stir it and brought it to a boil. Then, he tasted it and asked the housewife for some butter, then for some beef, then some vegetables, then potatoes. Finally, he took the stone out, threw it away, and ate the soup. The housewife was amazed and told all of her friends that she had witnessed a gypsy who made soup out of a stone.
The exercises we do are the stones in the soup; the creative acting work is really found in the spices and the accessories we bring to the exercises. They themselves become less and less important. Their real value lies in our not being able to do them—we have an obstacle, our body is getting in the way. The body becomes an inhibitor; there are some things we cannot do because our bodies limit us. We must get rid of these limitations so that we can feel free to express, from inside outward, using the body, the whole body to make a contact; so that the whole body is alive (II.12-II.13).
¤An isolation is movement of one part of an otherwise still body (III.1, note).
¤This set of exercises called collectively The Cat, are movements an actual cat might make if it had a human body. The actor does not pretend to be a cat, does no “magic if” in his mind, but actively looks for the cat-in-himself becoming physically aware of the world around him.
Here, in miniature, we have what Grotowski is constantly insisting on: an actor functioning inside a physical-image structure, focusing on and making contact with external reality through a series of specific movements (III.2).
¤We were now warmed up and ready for the plastiques.
These are specific and isolated articulations of the body, . . . but they are to be done—as the cat is to be done—with accents.
An accent is an abrupt, momentary and unpremeditated freeze in the action. Flow and accent combine in the plastiques so that the movements are neither mechanical nor autonomous; are, rather, both impulsive and shaped.
These exercises are also to be done with personal associations, and imaginary partner or object you are looking at, following, touching, etc.
If the association [is] of a person, say, it must be a real person the actor knows by name and calls up in front of him. This is not the ghost of a person, a “friend-in-general,” but a specific, personal and immediate relationship.
Although Grotowski and Cieslak want us to be able to do the exercises completely and exactly; we do them, not in order to be technically exact, but to express something personal about ourselves. We are to combine technique with spontaneity.
. . . .
These exercises are really explorations, done most fruitfully as a physical search and examination of emotional images and associations.
For instance, moving a shoulder up toward the ear or down blow its normal level, moving it back and front, then articulating it in a circle through all these specific points may call up events and feelings from one’s life (III.3-III.4).
¤Cieslak and Grotowski have made a major point of courage, physical courage, in our sessions together. Take the risk, go to the point of pain, they say; overcome the obstacle (III.14).
¤In doing these exercises, Mr. Grotowski said, we are not to be students who get everything correct. A good student cannot be creative, because he takes down the details, he remembers the details, but he does not work through the details for personal expression. We must not think like students: we are artists. There is organization and discipline in what we do, but this is the stone in the soup. You don’t get the soup unless you’ve got the stone (III.15-III.16).
¤Mr. Grotowski cited great writers as an example of what great actors need to do. He said that average writers, ordinary writers, have something to say and some point to make; they looked around and chose a way to express it. But great writers actually uncover or discover a great deal of what they communicate in the process of writing, in the process of communication. The way they say something becomes part of what they have to say (IV.3).
¤He asked, what are the tools of an actor’s expression? What constitutes his language? The units of contact, the giving and the taking. If we have a contact, if we intend to have a contact, in order to show it to somebody else—in other words, if our attention will be divided in much the same way as an average writer’s attention is divided between message and medium. He urges the actor to have the contact—actually call up the person, actually relate to the external contact; do not attempt to show that we have one.
In actually making the contact, the actor will become his language; will become in fact, a living, breathing, incarnation of what he is expressing. There will be no separation between what is being said and the way it is being said. There will be no separation between the actor’s contact and communication of that contact. If the body is making a specific contact, if the hand is making a specific contact, if the voice is, the whole body will adapt by itself, to the external stimulate the actor has conjured up (IV.3-IV.4).
¤At some point today [Thur., 9 Nov.], Mr. Grotowski told us a story from the Middle Ages, “Our Lady’s Juggler.” A juggler leaves the circus and becomes a monk. Being uneducated, not knowing the prayers, the rituals or the language as well as his fellow monks, he is at a loss how he should pray. So in the middle of every night, he leaves his cell, without telling anybody, and goes to the chapel. His fellow monks become curious about this and mention it to the abbott [sic]. The abbott conceals himself in the chapel one night and watches as the juggler-turned-monk enters the church, goes to the statue of the Blessed Mother, kneels down, takes juggling balls from under his robes and begins to perform before the statue.
The abbott becomes enraged and interrupts this blasphemy. But while the abbott is reprimanding the juggler, he becomes aware if movement in the statue. The Blessed Mother comes down from her pedestal and wipes the sweat from the juggler’s brow.
The point of the story is that the juggler, not having words, made a direct contact with a specific person through a physical action. The contact was truly made and a miracle happened.
In the same way in our work, Mr. Grotowski said, if we actually reach out beyond ourselves to make the contacts we want and need—instead of trying to demonstrate that we have them, or trying to indicate that they are present—if we do this, miracles will happen in our own work (IV.5).
¤Our concern is to be with a revelation of ourselves, of our own experience, by combining spontaneous memory with a predetermined series of technical moves.
The elements of these physical exercises are pretexts for association and not the other way around—we should not call up an association in order to find a sensible way of doing the exercises, but the exercise should, themselves, trigger memories, persons and places that activate our bodies and emotions (IV.6).
¤He summed up the day. Creation is discovery. And discovery is of something that we did not know before. If we attempt to totally control a process or a drift of association, of we try to determine at the beginning what will happen at the end or at most of the moments throughout what we are doing, we will go astray. Creation is a plunging into the unknown; it is a going beyond our own limits and that is why we drive ourselves through these physical exercises. Certainly not for themselves but to get control of our bodies and, through that, control of our voice. Here is the core of the theatre as Mr. Grotowski sees it: the actor’s body and his voice (IV.7).
¤To pretend . . . that the past events and emotions are happening in the present, is to lie. The greatest secret, the basic need of our craft, Mr. Grotowski said, is elementary truth: doing, feeling, operating in a way that is true at the moment for the one who is acting. However he is revealing himself and his own experience, the actor must not lie; he must not show or demonstrate something, but must engage himself with the actual and the immediate (V.2).
¤Grotowski said he wanted to show us various ways of working through our scenes, and, I think no one of them can be called a method, or rather his method. I see mainly his concern with “de-blocking” an actor, as he said in the beginning, and finding ways to effect this so that the actor can operate truthfully and reveal himself through whatever material he is working on.
For instance, Betsy’s searching her memories, with Lee as a screen to project them on, differs significantly from Stanislavski’s sense memory. One major difference is the external contact with Lee; the other is Grotowski’s emphasis on the search—the process that is actually occurring within the actor—rather than on the results of the search (V.3-V.4; Betsy Lumpkin and Lee DeRoss did the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet).
¤Then he told a story of seeing a hunch-backed boy, a child, playing with friends. Aware of their eyes on him, he was very lumpish. But when the boy was alone, Grotowski saw him play and run and jump as though he had no hump, pretending it was not there. Grotowski said he saw in this the birth of art.
In order to act and to present beauty when one feels that it is not there, one should not attempt an elaborate and glamourous [sic] make-up job because this is a lie. What you should do—as in the case of the boy—is to act the daydream, play the daydream with the total naivete and commitment and belief that a child does—so that there is no doubt about its truth (V.5).
* * * *
[The 1967 workshop met for five hours a day, Monday through Thursday (Friday, 24 November, was substituted for Thanksgiving Day). Crawley’s journal was probably typed from contemporaneous notes 11 years after the classes. There are occasional hand-written corrections and emendations which I incorporated directly into subsequent quotations without comment. I left all idiosyncrasies as they appeared in the original, however.
[I don’t want to trim the excerpts I took from “The Stone in the Soup,” so I’m splitting them into two parts. Come back to ROT in a few days for the remainder of my notes from this remarkable document.]