Avant Garde Theatre, 1892-1992

By Christopher Innes | Go to book overview
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Grotowski’s approach aroused considerable interest among the major avant garde directors in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Among those he has worked with are Barrault and Brook, as well as Joe Chaikin and Luca Ronconi, all of whom also participated in his 1975 ‘research university’ in Wroclaw, together with his leading disciple, Eugenio Barba. Brook, who arrived at a parallel concept of theatre as ‘the terrain of self-discovery’ during his African tour, has held joint workshops with him; and Grotowski’s influence is directly responsible for the various ‘theatre laboratories’ that sprang up in the early 1970s. Typical of these are the Théâtre Laboratoire Vicinal in Brussels, where discursive speech was rejected for ‘poor’ language limited to ‘the cry, the shout, the litany or the chant’, and the plays produced were textless, structured solely by ‘certain fundamental rhythms that [supposedly] every man may feel’, and appealing ‘to the unconscious of the spectator’; 1 or the Atelier de Recherche Théàtrale Georges Baal in Paris, where a bare stage, and the absence of costumes or pretence, was united with themes from Artaud, and an attempt to liberate audiences by breaking taboos; or Terayama’s Tenjo Sajiki Laboratory in Tokyo, where extreme means were used to destroy the ‘artificial frontiers’ between drama and reality, with performers being subjected to real physical violence and spectators being overcome with claustrophobia, assaulted, or even burnt (at the 1973 Shiraz festival, Terayama’s actors exploited the audience’s fears by continuing without a break, and jabbing flaming torches toward their faces after people in the front rows had been badly singed by a fireblowing circus act, although Terayama later tried to fend off criticism by claiming the ‘incident’ was accidental).

Grotowski himself rejected such direct attempts to create audience participation as ‘a new myth’, pointing out that true intimacy is more likely to be achieved through physical distance. He also attacked many of those (particularly in America) who claimed to be following him, for lack of


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