17 April 2011

“The Stone in the Soup” – Excerpts: Part 2

by Tom Crawley

[Below is the conclusion of the excerpts I took from “The Stone in the Soup,” Tom Crawley’s journal of Jerzy Grotowski’s first American workshop. I pick up with notes from the sixth session.]

The body must not get in the way, either by a lack of control or by being over-controlled. There should be a series or set of impulses which are themselves invisible; but by their operation, they become visible. Then it is not simply the body that is being seen and being responded to by an audience or another actor, it is the series of impulses. The actor’s body then becomes the language, as he said the other day.

This physical “language” is not imposed on the body as a highly controlled sequence of moves (or even as a sequence of uncontrolled moves). The language which the actor becomes is a complex and transient phenomenon composed of personal association, external contact, emotional and physical impulses, and the details of whatever form is being executed.

Pantomime, like the Oriental theater, is an art of signs and signals; our theater is not. When an actor here throws an arm into the air, the movement itself is not as important as the impulses that run through the arm. The raising of the arm is not an arbitrary signal; the gesture is inseparable from the impulses, the emotions and the contact that generate it.

As actors we need to be able to make many kinds of movements, we need to have a great deal of control, so that the impulses triggered by our associations (physical, emotional or imaginative) may have these channels to flow through, if they choose or if our external contact directs them there. Again, spontaneity and technique.

We work to expand our physical abilities so that the body is free, unblocked, for the impulses to inform it. When this takes place, there is not a series of impulses and a gesture to express them, the expression is impulse made visible. So that, later on, one does not merely say, “Oh, what a beautiful gesture;” but perhaps, “What a beautiful moment,” or “The feeling was so clear,” because the movement can not [sic] be separated from the motives and the impulses that drive it. The gesture is not just a gesture, it is the emotional moment (VI.1-VI.3).
Leo Shapiro (who begged off yesterday [Mon., 14 Nov.]) did a scene with Richard Schechner—the Hamlet-Polonius Scene—they’re not actors, either one of them, but directors. Grotowski insisted on their participation, however (VI.4).
. . . a director cannot direct, a scene cannot have fullness, unless the actors are allowed to create. The director must have something to shape (VI.13).
And Clyde’s [Burton] work was remarkable, thinking about some past event—as directed previously—and comparing it with the words and the situation of the scene, he was clearly a distracted and obviously a preoccupied man saying Hamlet’s words.

Grotowski commented, saying that Clyde was working very exactly in the first part of the scene, but then began to play the present scene as though they were his own.

“Clyde, do not identify,” he said. “These are not your words. They are someone else’s words. Compare the experience with your own, compare the two” (VI.16).
He [i.e, student Clyde Burton] was not to identify; he was not to imitate Hamlet or pretend that he was Hamlet because he is Clyde; and to pretend to us (or to anyone) that he is Hamlet is a lie (VII.2).
He [i.e., Grotowski] conferred with Cieslak, who said that it is impossible to be unaware of the audience, ever, in this kind of work (VII.3).
The first thing that is necessary on the stage, he said, is that we do not imitate a character because this is a lie; do not pretend to be someone we are not, or do not try to show an audience we are someone who we are not. If we pretend that something which does not exist does exist, this is a lie. If a child is thoroughly and naively convinced of having something he does not have, this is not a lie, but a dream.

On stage, we are to utilize ourselves and reveal ourselves. We are to find a process, an activity of our own, similar to those that he has been having us go through—a process of our own that will actually be working, that will make the scene go, that will make it true.

We do not engage in the process of questioning for narcissistic reasons. We are not doing it simply to find answers or emotions that are satisfying to us as people. We are not trying to find a pride in ourselves. What we are doing is posing these questions for the sake of the work, in order to find our relation to other people, in order to find our external contacts. Narcissism is the great danger of this process, falling in love with ourselves and not pursuing the work as we should be doing.

Secondly, once we find an answer to these questions we must either look for answers in smaller details or change the question. By question-and-answering, Grotowski does not simply mean making an interrogative statement; placing hands on somebody can be a question: how was a contact in my past like this? The actual placing of the hands us the question and the contact is the answer.

However, we must not attempt to find, we must not be looking for, final answers. He used the image of man as an onion (from Peer Gynt) that we peel layer after layer off. We must go on beyond answers, must constantly pose questions and constantly work.

The third element of Grotowski’s description and summation for today [Wed., 15 Nov.] was courage. These investigations must not begin or end in lies, so a great deal of courage is required to probe ourselves truly and profoundly. If there is no courage, the questions will not be significant and the answers, if any come, will be lies. In asking ourselves such questions as the ones he drove Lynn [Norris, partner of Clyde Burton] to ask herself in the Hamlet-Ophelia scene, any answer we finally state or formulate will only be words, not an actuality or a reality.

He quoted Lao Tse: when the true tao is spoken, it is not the true tao. The true tao is that which is unspoken. So that any of the words he himself has used, any of the descriptions, any of the ways of working, any of the exercises, these are formulations. What likes important is what lies beyond and inside them, beyond and inside ourselves—the plunge into the unknown. This is to continually work beyond ourselves; and even saying this is a formulation.

We are not to do what the words say, we are to engage in an inner pursuit of our true identity for the sake of contacting others, so that there is not a division between our true selves and the lies we tell ourselves, or a division between what we know ourselves to be and what we are trying to indicate or demonstrate to other people.

In trying to show a contact or an emotion we really do not feel causes a division, a split in ourselves. The actor must be single, identified with the process he is engaged with, and must not lie. He must be what he does (VII.5-VII.8).
Any actor—at whatever stage he is—must go beyond himself, must plunge into the unknown. So there is no such thing as an actor, really an actor, with savoir faire. If he knows techniques, skills and tricks which he uses exclusively, then he is lying, he is false. What he does not know is where his creativity takes place—outside his abilities and beyond his techniques, the only place creation can occur.

There is no such thing as a mediocre artist. A mediocre engineer is bearable, but a mediocre artist is a misery (VII.9).
As a witness, I must say the man [i.e., Grotowski] has prerogatives. . . he does not merely ascribe them to himself, he does not merely take them. He has them. When he goes into a script, or when he works with anything I’ve seen him do, he is like the monarch invading territory that belongs to him by reason of his power. He is not simply a clever director; he is a man of skill, intelligence, power, passion and genius (VIII.4).
“In order to play this scene, in order to relate to Brutus or Bill [Lafe] as a friend, either you [i.e., Stacey Hines as Cassius] are colleagues rather than strictly friends, the relationship has to be built along one of three lines,” he said. “One, either you ask yourself how you would act if you were his friend. Two, if you have another friend, if your Cassius has a friend, then you have a specific person to project on Bill . . . a specific relationship which you can use in this scene—I act toward my friend this way, so I will act toward Bill (Brutus) in this way. Three, your Cassius has no friend at all, but he has a notion of ideal friendship, a notion of what he would like friendship to be, and he will act in accord with this” (VIII.5-VIII.6).
“The only thing I can tell you is that once you have an answer, once you know how to do something, then you’ve stopped creating.

“You must go beyond that point. Continue searching and asking questions because answers are not fruitful, only questions are. Once you find an answer you’ve reached a point of stopping and must begin again” (X.2).
“A director, when he begins to work on a show, thinks first of blocking and a set, perhaps costumes, then lighting. I myself began that way, used to work that way; but you know, if the director doesn’t go beyond this, the actor is simply an object that he lights, that he costumes, that he moves in such and such a way. And you can derive certain effects and get certain results from this kind of approach.

“If this is all the director does, then the director is in an infant stage—he’s an infantile director. A great director—and there are very few (as there are very few great actors)—encounters his actors; and out of this encounter, this give and take, they embark on an adventure, a discovery, a creation. They find in their contact something real, true . . . the human element . . . that the infantile director doesn’t concern himself with because he’s involved with the elements of a spectacle” (X.6-X.7).
Grotowski said there is nothing in life without danger, without risk, except mediocrity.

“There will be risk. You must take the risk. If, after taking the risk, your whole nature says this is impossible, this goes against yourself, then it’s not for you. But take the risk first, take the chance in looking” (X.8).
He does not want us to use these things for self-punishment; he does not want us to be over-precise and cautious; he does not want us to concentrate on the word “truth” or on any word fetish, but to explore ourselves, to confront ourselves, to ask ourselves questions.

“If it’s a habit of mind, a habit of thought, to investigate yourself, then do it; but internal investigation for its own sake is infantile. What the actor needs to be concerned with is not the indulgence of his feelings and emotions, but the investigation of one’s self in order to give one’s self.”

The deeper an actor goes into himself and the more profound the questions become, the more his whole being engages in the pursuit. And this questioning becomes a physical act. If, for example, you touch your arm with your hand, you ask, “How have I done this in the past? Why did I do it?” And when an answer comes, question it, explore a detail that the answer does not cover, or change the question. The answers are not fruitful, only the questions are.

The more fully an actor engages in this, the fuller is his whole being, his whole physical action. At the height of his work, when the actor has matured and his whole self is an active posing of the question, answers come from his whole being.

“This is transcendental. This goes beyond ourselves and in that sense is religious. It isn’t a matter of believing in God because both of these are abstractions. In my case, I do not. We know deep down that the final answer rests somewhere else, whether we believe in God or not.

“It is possible to look upon these things as a religion, to use these elements and these investigations as a ritual, as a cult: Do these things, say these words, and you will be released from work. This is wrong. The work is most important; and to work is to do things to the end, to do something totally and completely.

“In the ancient sense, etymologically, the word religion means to be in relation to and when you relate to the God in you, both its depths and its heights, this can be called a religious experience in the broadest sense of the word” (X.8-X.10).
“. . . you can’t learn formulas or recipes for creativity. There are none, because creativity is working with the unknown.

“Instead of doing Hamlet, for example, to express something you know, come to Hamlet not knowing until you’ve done it. Having this search to carry out, having a question and not an answer to express, is why many actors are better in rehearsal than in performance. They search in rehearsal, find the answers, and then perform their answers. This is not creative.

“Treat your performances as rehearsals, and at the end of a performance of Hamlet, you will know something. If you know it beforehand, it won’t be creative. The search is the most important part of all this” (X.18).
“When we look at our own small, private needs and impulses, we will find things in common with the world. We will find in our wounds, if they are truly our wounds, the wounds of mankind. But if were go to principle first, we won’t get anywhere” (XII.1).
You need to ask the question for yourself: what is my reason for doing this? This may seem amoral, but nature is amoral. You may be ethical, and that’s good. If you are ethical and have ethical principles then you fight for them certainly. But ask yourself, why do I fight for these? The answer will be something other than the principle (XII.3).
In order to work as actors, in order to create and go beyond ourselves, we will have to look more deeply into ourselves . . .—once we find our adversaries, find that in ourselves w has to be passed, which we must go beyond. “Creation is not an avoidance of ourselves, not a denial of ourselves, but a going-beyond ourselves in some way” (XII.9).
As a director and as a teacher, Grotowski is concerned about the secrets in each of us. In exploring our secrets, he can use us as a screen for his own secrets and problems. . . .

As a director and as a person, he works with somebody until he finds the secret, until the person is no longer a mystery. Then Grotowski’s use of this person as a screen, as a help to unravelling [sic] has own mystery, has been accomplished.

So, he said, the work of the actor and the director really is not different at all. If a director simply dresses an actor in the director’s own thoughts, ideas and notions, he is imposing something on him he has known before, and is not creating at all.

In order to be creative, a director comes to the actors and works out his own secrets, his own problems, his own self, just as they do. Then there is not contradiction in the work they do together. Such a meeting in such an adventure—this attempt to find out about themselves and about things they do not know, this going beyond themselves—is a truly creative endeavor (XII.10-XII.11).
“What comes of this approach is really an amour fati, a love of our fate, and not an attempt to escape it. Although it is almost self-evident, I will say anyway: in our metier there is a combination of wounds and the search for light; the wounds are the stimuli to go toward something else—something we had lost or that we had wanted, something we wished to rid ourselves of, something that was missing or painfully present or possible or a hindrance to ourselves.

These wounds and this search for wisdom or enlightenment, something beyond, are the two driving forces in our work” (XII.12).
“Wounds are important, limitations are important, and questioning them, overcoming them—the reaching beyond them—is an artistic gesture” (XII.13).
“There’s a difference between imitating a savage reaction and finding primordial reactions, feelings and responses inside ourselves. There can be no spontaneity that isn’t based on discipline. Objective elements, such as the exercises, are necessary if there’s going to be any point of departure for being spontaneous” (XIII.2).
The inner aspect of this work is not psychic, profound, mystic or religious, but is only the process of association. “To pretend that it’s anything deep and profound is really to be hypocritical. It is a training in form and surprises, not in personal confession—it’s a kind of game” (XIII.3).
“Work simply and with a sense of humor, using your sly side. One of the physical elements is in reality its own search for association and justification. Watch for the play in common with or against a partner. Or, you may even play against the exercises, but play! And if you lose an element, do without it; but look for your partner. Make contact and look for justification” (XIII.4).
. . . “Art is the destruction of life’s illusions. And whatever we do in our social life—however we smile and converse with people, whatever social mask we put on—on stage we need to do without it and go toward what is really true. Chaos is not expressive, and spontaneity is never chaotic. If there’s no structure, there’s nothing. If you keep the elements and the structure and look for associations, you’ll find spontaneity. In order to destroy anything, you must have built something—structure, the elements” (XIII.4).
“Do what a director gives you, however bad. Master the details of it, but destroy the director’s logic and replace it with your own. He will be disarmed because you will be doing precisely what he told you to do. He’ll know something is wrong, but he won’t be able to do anything about it” (XIII.9).
“It is in the eyes of others that we are strong or weak. The same eyes can change, as though possessed by another spirit, make you (or le moi) like the sun and then like a candle” (XIV.2).
“It’s in the little things,” Grotowski said, “in specifics, not in the great movements or gestures or sounds that our work is found” (XIV.3).
“Avoid correctness. Don’t treat any role as something that must be correct, like homework. Take the risk. We may fail, we may triumph, but everything that is correct is most dangerous” (XIV.14).
“Your [i.e., Larry Pine’s] social mask is very close to your profession—the mask is one of an intelligent, cultured actor who moves in society. And within this mask, there is a certain amount of freedom of movement so you look upon what you have trained yourself, and your mask, to do as liberating. But this mask locks the actor’s deeper and more personal responses.

“There is an automatic conjunction between the body and the psyche. The way the body moves is in fact a description of the way the psyche is moving. Or perhaps the body moves in a pattern to cover, to counter what the psyche is feeling, but there is a deep connection between the body and the psyche” (XV.2-XV.3).
“We all find masks to protect ourselves from the world. In order to work with this carefully constructed and well-trained mask, you need to follow the character of the mask.” That is, behave naturally; because when Larry behaves naturally, his mask is operating.

“Behave naturally, but ask yourself, when the mask is operating, what it’s hiding—what you want from others, what you want to suppress in yourself. This plunge into the personal is necessary for your acting.

“Sometimes a mask contradicts what’s inside: a thoughtful mask may hide a person unsure of himself. This might seem a frightful situation. We might be afraid to work with ourselves below the level of the mask if we are not sure of ourselves, say intellectually, and so, we present an intelligent mask.

“But when we admit to ourselves that we know nothing, then we are very close to Socrates, who said he know nothing and was always looking for answers. At those moments, he was his wisest.

“At these moments of questionning [sic], you will be able to construct characters as a kind of game; but these characters will have roots in a personal search within and below the mask.” . . . .

That is the first step. “The next step is to penetrate below the mask, to do without the mask in your acting. You may keep it in social life if you want, because there is a distinction between the way we live in society and the way we live in our art. But when you have analyzed the mask, you will be able to use it as an instrument if you choose, or you may choose to do without it.”

The mask will no longer be leading him, but he will be using it. Then, at the summit of his acting, he will be able to do without the mask entirely and to attack what is most personal (XV.3-XV.4).
. . . Grotowski distinguished between a gesture and an impulse.
“A gesture is done only by actors or by people who act too much; a gesture begins at the tip of the fingers or slightly lower. With an impulse, the movement in the fingers or slightly lower is really the end of a wave, the end of a reaction that begins in the chest or in the spine. It isn’t a gesture, but simply the completion of this impulse. It’s the same with movements of the head, the feet, and so on.
“If the movement is rooted in our attitude and begins higher or lower than the move itself, it’s not a gesture but an impulse—and gestures will come of themselves. To act with the hands, begin in the spine; to act with the feet, begin in the head or the hands” (XV.5-XV.6).
. . . “Look for your associations and your memories and your partner while you’re working, not before—not apart from the work, but in action. And then you’ll have the greatest chance if finding them.”
Grotowski then clarified associations. “Whenever you talk about them, you seem to consider them as emotions or as thoughts. But by associations, I mean body associations, not sentiments, not thoughts.
“In a scene, how do I see my partner’s eyes? What eyes did I see in this way? How did I defend myself? What did I do? Not what did I think but how did I physically respond” (XV.6)?
Art is a kind of cleansing, a kind of purgation, for the artist as well as the viewer; and if you deal with personal, private things but deny the purgative process, the art itself is debased (XVI.6).
Jerry Mayer then asked about working with fixed points—fixing a “score” and working from it. “If you work this way, the points you fix should be emotional keys for a cycle of contact. You should write down—you very often have to write down—these things; but use a word which would be incomprehensible to another actor or to another person.
“These are not complete literary statements but simply stimuli. There should be no objectivity in their formulation. It might be the first name of a woman, for example. The fixed points of the score should be emotional keys” (XVI.6-XVI-7).
Somebody asked about a work of art being used for protest. Grotowski said, “A work always functions in context, and a great work always finds its context. The work itself will protest” (XVI.7).
* * * *
[Crawley, whose widow, Linda Segal Crawley, gave me access to the typescript, died before completing a series of interviews of former classmates which he intended to accompany the published journal. Linda Crawley was contemplating completing her husband’s work.]


  1. Thanks for this!
    Brilliantly useful and very much appreciated!

    1. Thank you, PJM. I think so, too.