In many ways, the work of Jerzy Grotowski parallels Peter Brook’s search for a theatre of myth through a return to ‘roots’, exploring the fundamentals of stage performance. Grotowski had already developed his ideas and distinctive style, cut off behind the Iron Curtain, before there was any direct contact between them. However, Brook realized the potential of Grotowski’s work for his own research as soon as the Polish Laboratory Theatre reached the West, and invited Grotowski to conduct a three-week workshop for his acting group as early as US in 1966. Even if never direct collaborators, they appeared at several of the same theatrical forums over the next decade; and their approach was similar enough for Ryszard Ciéslak, the star example of Grotowski’s training methods in the 1960s and early 1970s, to fit in with Brook’s troupe when he produced The Mahabharata in 1985.
At the same time, their careers have been widely different. Beginning in small-scale counter-theatre, Grotowski’s stage work was effectively limited to a bare handful of productions over a single decade from 1959 to 1968, although his final production of Apocalypsis cum Figuris continued to evolve in a series of transformations until 1980. Where Brook only turned to Indian sources at a late point in his development, one of Grotowski’s earliest experiments was Shakuntala (based on Kalidasa’s Siakuntala from the fifth century AD); and in contrast to Brook’s eclecticism, the distinguishing mark of Grotowski’s approach has been rigorous internal consistency. So, while each used almost exactly the same terms to describe what they were doing, the directions they pursued were widely different. Brook wrote of an ‘Empty Stage’ and a Theatre of Roots’, Grotowski of a’Poor Theatre’ and a ‘Theatre of Sources’. Yet where Brook’s interest was in discovering mythological archetypes, and led towards spectacle, Grotowski’s quest was spiritual therapy. His emphasis was on ritual forms (instead of mythical material) that became an exclusive focus on drama as ‘process’ (in place of ‘product’) and resulted in his complete withdrawal