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A Word About Poor Theatre


Ludwik Flaszen Jerzy Grotowski Laboratory Theatre Poor Theatre theatre criticism theatre writing Młoda Polska Polish Romanticism Monumental Theatre Polish October Christian mysticism Hinduism mysticism gnosticism gnosis negative theology via negativa initiation occultism religious experience Kazimierz Wyka Konstanty Puzyna Tadeusz Kantor Miron Białoszewski Andrzej Towiański Adam Mickiewicz Stanisław Wyspiański Pedro Calderón de la Barca Ryszard Cieślak Dziady Performer Kraków Słowacki Theatre Opole Wrocław avant-garde Orpheus Cain Akropolis Dr Faustus The Constant Prince


Ludwik Flaszen was a co-founder and co-producer of Grotowski’s Teatr Laboratorium throughout its existence (1959-1984), and its director during the early 1980s. A critic, writer, and long-time partner of Grotowski in creative dialogue, Flaszen is also a practitioner who has led paratheatrical sessions and acting workshops in many countries. His volume of literary writings Głowa i mur (The Head and the Wall, 1958) was circulated underground in Poland due to its prohibition by the censors. He is author of Cyrograf (Pact with the Devil, 1971, 1974, 1996; in French, 1990), a collection of essays and short prose on the situation of the individual within totalitarian systems. A volume of his essays about theatre entitled Teatr skazany na magię (Theatre Sentenced to Practise Magic, 1983) contains texts related to his collaborations with Grotowski and his contributions in forming the creative approach of the Teatr Laboratorium. Since 1984, following the theatre's dissolution, Flaszen has lived in Paris. He debuted as a director in France with Les Rêveurs (The Dreamers, 1989) after Dostoevsky, which also toured in Italy, and he specialises in texts by Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Beckett. In 2014 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Turin. His collected writings were published in English as Ludwik Flaszen, Grotowski & Company, trans. by Andrzej Wojtasik with Paul Allain, ed. by Paul Allain with Monika Blige (Abingdon and New York: Routledge Icarus, 2013; in Italian and Polish, 2014).

This conversation was transcribed by Iwona Gutowska and edited by Monika Blige from a public event held at the Grotowski Institute, Wrocław, on 16 January 2007. It was originally published as: ‘Słowo o teatrze ubogim’, Didaskalia, 88 (2008), 73-80.

Leszek Kolankiewicz: Ludwik, a moment ago we heard your ‘Commentary on the Commentaries’, which has been prepared for the volume Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia (Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans) – the volume of which the first and not a small part constitutes a corpus of your texts about Grotowski’s and your theatre’s performances.[1] I will start with a neologism which you’ve used: ‘my theatre-writing’. You don’t say ‘my writing about theatre’; you don’t simply say ‘my writing’, but ‘my theatre-writing’. This can be associated with ‘life-writing’, which means a way of making art through words (I don’t say literature) that was characteristic of Edward Stachura,[2] and which is how it was described by Henryk Bereza.[3] Stachura formulated words with a such a profound connection with experience, with life practice, that it resulted in a tangle, an inseparable adhesion – life-writing. What about you? Firstly, therefore, I would like to ask about the sense of this adhesion in your case: how do you experience this theatre-writing after these years, how do you think about it now?

Ludwik Flaszen: It was Grotowski’s and my paleo-epoch. It was the time of Genesis. And this creature called a group, this creature called the Teatr Laboratorium, this creature called Grotowski emerged out of some kind of primeval mud, from the clay of Genesis. [When asked by the Grotowski Institute,] did I agree straightaway to publish these texts? Yes, because I thought ‘why not’? One day somebody will dig them out and publish them anyway. I didn’t want just to leave them in a file because academics often like browsing through files.[4] I look at this – as you can see – with distance and some sense of humour, but I would say that my approach is twofold. There is derision, irony, but also apotheosis, as in Grotowski’s performances. It is very useful that these paleo-texts have shaken off the archive’s dust. These writings are like fragments of discovered gospels, almost canonical. And they aren’t the gospel according to Judas.


Ludwik Flaszen and Leszek Kolankiewicz at the Grotowski Institute, Wrocław, 16 January 2007. Photograph: Łukasz Giza.

Kolankiewicz: What do you mean by ‘almost canonical’? Are you suggesting that ‘apocryphal’ means ‘almost canonical’?

Flaszen: I wouldn’t dare to say that this is a gospel, because Grotowski is not a gospel; it is apocrypha. And that is the only way to speak about it. But the fact that these paleotexts were taken out from the archive’s dust and that they are published in a volume is undoubtedly useful. This is evidence of our work with Grotowski. I was a persistent partner to Grotowski and some of the ‘magic formulae’, which have entered the history of the theatre, appeared in our dialogue with each other. For instance, ‘poor theatre’. This was a flash of insight. Grace visited me and one day I said, ‘a poor theatre’, as if of its own accord. I’m not making it up; there is quite significant evidence for this in Eugenio Barba’s writing.[5] When I look at my literary past – when I was a critic, an essayist, and a reviewer – I realise that I am actually an author of short and very concise texts. This is perhaps why, due to the density of the text, the meaning is sometimes obscure.

Kolankiewicz: What can be found in the volume of your writing – that is, the texts which were originally commentaries on the performances and were published in theatre programmes – is a new kind of writing. As you said, you had the tendency to write short texts. In writing about theatre, the short form fulfils its role extremely well: [your writing] is an indispensable commentary on the performance, obviously in various incarnations.

Flaszen: Thank you very much.

Kolankiewicz: As far as I know, nobody else does it like that – it is a kind of invention. But picking you up on an inconsistency, in your ‘Commentary on the Commentaries’, there is the sentence: ‘The prolific production of verbiage accompanied our theatrical activities from the very beginning’. And then you say at the end: ‘If these humble texts…’.[6] They are humble in terms of size, but there is quite a big collection of them… All of them are short. So what do you mean by ‘the prolific production of verbiage’ and ‘humble texts’? Perhaps your irony is not accidental when you say ‘prolific’. At the beginning, you [the company] weren’t some kind of avant-garde ‘appearing from nowhere’, you were a true avant-garde – you produced manifestos. But only at the very beginning. However, this was never ‘prolific production’. If it was some kind of production, it did not yet have the weight of your theatre-writing. Perhaps it could be said that in those days you gave up what was your literary calling. And let me quote another of your fragments: ‘And despite already being known in literary circles, sometimes, by dint of necessity, I had to relinquish the beauty of a text, signed by me, though all in a good cause. History has compensated me for my short-term literary sufferings’.[7] [The audience laughs.] This is a characteristic fragment pierced with self-irony. I would like you to speak about struggling with Grotowski over words – almost like in a boxing ring, at work, as workers of words. This is some kind of a paradox: as an eminent theatre and literary critic coming from the school of Kazimierz Wyka, you start to write at the beginning of this adventure and later, for the whole of the adventure, you write about a theatre on which it is so difficult to write.[8] About a theatre which is really difficult to define in words. This is a kind of destiny. Perhaps this is where the source of suffering lies.

Flaszen: Grotowski used to correct my texts and introduce a bit of clap-trap.

Kolankiewicz: They were too good…

Flaszen: I need to say here that Grotowski and I were connected by the fact that we were both castaways in those days. Something had ended in our lives. He was a castaway – how to put it – of a political nature. As an activist of the Polish October.[9] I was, in a way, a castaway as well. When I offered him the theatre in Opole, he immediately agreed. In return, I was at that time, in 1956, kicked out of [the journal] Życie Literackie (Literary Life) for defending – against the opinion of the main editor – the young radicals of the Polish October, of whom Grotowski was one of the leaders. I was lonely, unemployed.

But paths were open for me; I had work with Przegląd Kulturalny (Cultural Review), which was quite a decent journal in those days. But as I say, in the context of those days. There was a degree of freedom and some breadth of latitude. Among other places, there is evidence of the provenance of ‘poor theatre’ in Przegląd Kulturalny. In one of the columns, I quoted, in fact ironically, Stefan Świeżawski, a wonderful Catholic philosopher who published an article entitled ‘Środki ubogie w życiu Kościoła’ (Poor Means in the Life of the Church) in Tygodnik Powszechny (The General Weekly).[10] And there were ‘poor means’ and ‘rich means’. The poor means were persuasion and the rich means were force. This force meant an Inquisition. I liked that and it stuck in my memory. So, ‘poor theatre’…

A session of delegates of the Związek Młodzieży Socjalistycznej (Socialist Youth Association), January 1957. Jerzy Grotowski is standing at the rear, in dark glasses, to the right of the column. Photograph: CAF/PAP.

A session of delegates of the Związek Młodzieży Socjalistycznej (Socialist Youth Association), January 1957. Jerzy Grotowski is standing at the rear, in dark glasses, to the right of the column. Photograph: CAF/PAP.

Kolankiewicz: You said that you were both at some kind of crossroads in life…

Flaszen: We were castaways to some extent. Something had to be changed. I had to find a job and that is how – for the second time, by the way – I went into the theatre, because I already had some theatre experience. One day, Życie Literackie’s editor-in-chief, Władysław Machejek, who was a communist from a peasant background, sent us editors who represented the intelligentsia to do some so-called fieldwork to make sure that our journal was not too elite and that it could connect with the lives of the people. So I said I would go to the Teatr Słowackiego (Słowacki Theatre), where rehearsals of Gorky’s Yegor Bulychov and Others were taking place, and would write about the artists there. And that is how I found myself at the Teatr Słowackiego. I watched the rehearsals eagerly. But after my stay there I didn’t write an article. In fact, I didn’t write anything at all – I got an offer to become their literary manager. It was 1954, probably autumn. Being a literary manager then was quite something! I was very talented then and I was successful, a bit like one of Napoleon’s marshals in their youth. Working at the Teatr Słowackiego was a very interesting experience. That is how I learned theatre. I wandered around backstage; I got to know all the actors. Among them were – so it turned out later – Grotowski’s teachers from drama school, and I used to drink vodka with them. It was an incredible experience to be at the Teatr Słowackiego, with all of its tradition. There are ghosts there. Wyspiański followed the plots of his plays backstage there, and this is where I soaked up the theatre. I would say that it was both positive and negative. I got to understand the mechanism of theatre and, I have to admit, it was a mixture of fascination and some kind of dislike. The issue of power, the issue of hierarchy – the collective organism, in the service of art. To put it briefly, it was an idiosyncratic leviathan.

Kolankiewicz: So was this the source of your dislike for the big cultural institution?

Flaszen: I thought that an artist needed to be free and alone. And a thinker, a critic, and even a reviewer, should be a klerk [an intellectual free from ideologies and political dependencies]. And in this, we operate together. The collective functions and various cliques play their games backstage. So I thought – I thought! – this was fascinating for me. Such a leviathan is a very interesting creature. I need to add that I was terribly naïve, I was a klutz. Of course, I was quite sharp, lucid, and clear in writing…

Kolankiewicz: And, as you said yourself, you were very talented…

Flaszen: Enormously talented, but so incapable in everyday life situations and a very poor diplomat. And I understood that theatre is a country, a polis – a very interesting phenomenon. Apart from that, I was – as a biologically overweight person – fascinated by the fact that this leviathan is corporeal. I had very interesting colleagues at work: Tadeusz Kantor, Andrzej Pronaszko[11] – who was the founder of Polish stage cubism and famous scenographer for Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) – and Karol Frycz.[12] You could imagine it was still Młoda Polska (Young Poland).[13] Also, Ludwik Solski, a legend of the Polish national theatre, was my colleague.[14] The one who played Wiarus in the historic premiere of Warszawianka (The Song of Warsaw).[15] He was almost a hundred years old then. Not long afterwards, I played the role of an honoured guard near his coffin. All of history was represented at the Teatr Słowackiego in those days. Therefore, I had direct and personal contact with Młoda Polska and with the avant-garde of the 1918-1939 period, as well as with young visual artists like Kantor. In spite of my duties as a member of the Kraków theatre management, I kept in close contact with them and they sneered at our esteemed venue…

Kolankiewicz: It was a wonderful pléiade of scenographers or rather, so to speak, ‘builders of stage backdrops’.

Flaszen: They were real artists. In fact, the visual artists were the real avant-garde; they were the searchers for the absolute in art. But wait a minute… Why was I a castaway? One day I handed in my notice. A division of the theatre had taken place, because during the Stalinist years it all had been one combine – all the theatres in Kraków had been connected, so that it was easier to control them. I was delegated to the so-called Teatr Poezji (Poetry Theatre) or Teatr Kameralny (Chamber Theatre). At the time of the thaw, when free choice was possible, I didn’t want – just for the sake of having a job – to support this theatre that I disliked. So, I was a castaway. I was disappointed with the Polish October. Very shortly afterwards, the censors confiscated my first book entitled – nomen omen – Głowa i mur (The Head and the Wall). Grotowski, whom I hardly knew then, and I were in a similar situation. And suddenly, a miracle! In spring 1959, because I was well-known in those days, I received an offer to take over the Teatr 13 Rzędów (Theatre of the Thirteen Rows) in Opole. A result of the thaw apparatchiks’ provincial ambitions! I was modest and said, as a non-theatre-practitioner, that I could take on the literary management, but I would find them a candidate for the position of director. And after giving it a moment’s thought, I suggested Grotowski. Grotowski was known as someone odd and not very talented. A very strange man, a fat baby with the mouth of a gourmet, and a rhetoricist. He was always carrying a briefcase. I could smell school on him. There was in him something of the teacher – which, by the way, he was. And that is how our destinies became connected. We immediately got on with each other and as it turned out, he – the educated Hinduist – was dreaming about his ashram. I also hoped that Opole would be some kind of a hermitage, the right place for a klerk, since I very much wanted to be one. I wanted to be an intellectual who is independent and who does not participate in earthly struggles, but who protects values. Values that can also be metaphysical… My ideal was Karol Irzykowski, a wonderful critic from the 1918-1939 period, who was referred to as a heroic klerk.[16]

Kolankiewicz: You belonged to a group of critics from Kraków which is legendary today, but which was already famous back then. By recalling just now your theatre experiences as literary manager at the Teatr Słowackiego – discovering theatre from backstage, from the perspective of rehearsals, from theatrical craft – perhaps you have provided an answer regarding your approach to the theatre, which is quite unusual for a literary man. Perhaps that is why you emphasise the connections with famous scenographers and that you came to theatre not through the word, not through drama, not even through playwriting.

Flaszen: I came to the theatre through playwriting as well, since during the thaw period the texts of Beckett and Ionesco – inventive writing for the stage – started to arrive in Poland.

Kolankiewicz: I think that this connects you somehow with Konstanty Puzyna,[17] who also learned theatre from behind the scenes during the management of the Teatr Wilama Horzycy in Toruń.[18] Puzyna, a specialist in Polish literature who published Witkacy, also dealt with what he called ‘writing on stage’.[19] I want to ask you about your attitude to words in the theatre – while we are talking about avant-garde theatre – I want to ask about your attitude to the plays that were discovered then: because it was a great discovery in the middle of the 1950s which was vitally connected to their being staged. But you already had your own complex approach to this matter.

Flaszen: Yes, it was an approach that was complex or rather delicate, as they say today. A very delicate matter. I was a close friend of Puzyna’s, we studied Polish literature together and he was already a great theatre critic then. He had started when he was seventeen and he was wonderful at it. A theatre expert. A proper critic. He was, in a way, Horzyca’s theatre student. By the way, Horzyca was also my colleague at the Teatr Kameralny in Kraków. So, with Puzyna, we spoke a lot about theatre while wandering around Kraków at night. I think I owe something to those conversations.

Kolankiewicz: And now please tell us about your attitude to the avant-garde and to words.

Flaszen: Puzyna was an advocate of the theatre as an autonomous art. And in those days, theatre was a machine to stage dramatic literature… Later it turned out that Mrożek, who had been writing theatre reviews for [the newspaper] Echo Krakowa (The Kraków Echo), had moved to Warsaw and was looking for a successor.[20] So I became a reviewer. Some of the reviews are published in my Teatr skazany na magię (Theatre Sentenced to Practise Magic).[21]

Kolankiewicz: That book is a collection of reviews.

Flaszen: I became a fighter for the autonomy of the theatre. I used to read Craig and Meyerhold, whose work I dug out from the storerooms of the Jagiellonian University. I need to say that, like Grotowski, I wasn’t immediately a member of the avant-garde. There are my texts, which were published again a few years ago in a book Cyrograf (Pact with the Devil), and they represent some of the dilemmas of the Polish intellectual who needs to choose between social duty, national responsibility, and a duty to art.[22] The problem was Gombrowiczian and it concerned how to be an individual, how not to depend on institutional and civic duties, simply how to be an artist.[23] This, in fact, was an idea from Młoda Polska. Because we used to meet the ghost of Przybyszewski.[24] Also, Kraków and Wyspiański – all of this was in the air. I would say that Grotowski and I were children of Młoda Polska. In those days, you weren’t allowed to say that. But it is clearly visible today that Awangarda Krakowska (the Kraków Avant-garde)[25] – Przyboś, Peiper, Tytus Czyżewski[26] – continued the ideas of Młoda Polska. Those poets tried to overcome the słowolejstwo (‘wordwaffling’) that is associated with Młoda Polska, but in fact this primeval loam gave birth to the modern outsider, the modern artist on the banks of the Vistula River and under Wawel [the Royal Castle in Kraków]! I think I’m speaking ‘in Gombrowicz’ now. Let’s not disturb Przybyszewski’s demon.

The element of rebellion can also be found in Wyspiański’s work. If we read Akropolis carefully, to devout ears this play appears as something terrible. What happens [in the play]? There are some lovers who are hiding in the side naves of a cathedral in order to make love. Is that right, Professor Kolankiewicz? And at the end, there is a coffin falling apart, which contains the remains of Saint Stanisław, and this coffin is being dropped by angels who say: ‘O, jakże ręce, ręce bolą dźwigać we wiecznej męce’ (Oh, how the hands ache lifting this in everlasting torture). And there is Christ/Apollo who appears at the end as a symbol of power, brightness, solar divinity, so to speak. This is a different Christ – one who doesn’t suffer, doesn’t worry. As literary historians know, Akropolis was considered the first counterpart of futurism. It was a fertiliser for futurism in Poland. How does it happen that faithfulness to tradition in Poland is connected with rebellion and heresy? ‘Poezjo, jesteś tyranem’ (Poetry, you are a tyrant) – throw out these poets, enough is enough, enough books and literature. By the way, the same thing occurs in Mickiewicz’s work…

Kolankiewicz: You’re talking about something that is a Romantic ‘wing’ in you…

Flaszen: This is rather more neo-Romanticism.

Kolankiewicz: Even if you’re neo-Romantic, you don’t stop being Romantic…

Flaszen: I want to emphasise here: I’m neo-Romantic.

Kolankiewicz: You’re also a Romantic – you need to be a rebel. Faithfulness to the Romantic tradition means rebellion.

Flaszen: Yes, it does. And I think that Grotowski’s practice has proved this. We really were (or are?) – and the traces of this are in the book – the legitimate sons, the legitimate children of Romanticism.[27]

Kolankiewicz: Even if you [the group] are interested in avant-garde texts, you still represent the Romantic approach. Then you recognise this wholly, you stop denying this and you take the texts of Marlowe, Wyspiański, and Calderón (although in Słowacki’s translation). You yourself recognised this in one of your texts, which is a wonderful analysis entitled ‘Po awangardzie’.[28] But what do you do? You bring something essential to this whole current in Poland and in the twentieth century. And what you bring is something that chimes with what appeared in Polish art after 1956, particularly in Białoszewski’s work.[29] That is, this kind of deconstruction of language that appears in Białoszewski’s work – a turn towards colloquial speech, in which Romantic myths are realised. For instance, his Szara msza (Grey Mass): a domestic and popular mass, which nonetheless is a vehicle for myths; also his Osmędeusze, as some kind of backyard Dziady.[30] Poetry as a ceremony. If you practise words in your theatre, these Romantic words, you do it in a ceremonial way, and your rituals are blasphemous – but at the same time they are also domestic. And this is where you encounter Białoszewski. This is our Romantic tradition, intimate and limited to a small room, to a tiny chapel, to some kind of alleyway. This isn’t monumental theatre, this is not what was dominant in the first half of the twentieth century.

Flaszen: I have an awful answer for this.

Kolankiewicz: Say it! [The audience laughs.]

Flaszen: Our theatre, ‘poor theatre’, is a ‘mini-monumental’ theatre, because this theatre is indeed monumental. This is not a chamber theatre.

Kolankiewicz: ‘Mini-monumental’ sounds like an odd idea.

Flaszen: Yes, mini-monumental. You see, I came prepared for this [the audience laughs], because I knew this problem would arise.

Kolankiewicz: Ladies and gentlemen, although appearances would suggest otherwise, we haven’t pre-arranged this.

Flaszen: There is continuity – Dziady, Wyspiański, and so on, up to Grotowski. Building poor theatre means making monumental theatre in a small studio, and that room in Opole was smaller than this one here. It was like a miracle. Even on film, you can still see that this is a monumental theatre.

Kolankiewicz: But in what way do you mean that?

Flaszen: Monumental means done with sharp tools, it means great expression. There are signs and structures, great scores. 

Kolankiewicz: So, your theatre is not intimate in the sense that it stages – for instance – American drama.

Flaszen: But equally this is not theatre in a room at home. [The latter] happened mainly during Martial Law.[31] Or even much earlier, during the Partitions.[32] That was simply ‘home theatre’. In people’s living rooms, so-called images of life were presented and they had a patriotic goal.

Somebody from the audience: Białoszewski had his home theatre...

Kolankiewicz: It was the Teatr na Tarczyńskiej (Theatre in Tarczyńska Street) and later on Mokotowska Street, but also Kantor in Kraków during the war with his Balladyna and The Return of Odysseus [Powrót Odysa].[33] What then would you call Kantor’s Return of Odysseus – is this monumental theatre or chamber theatre? I would like to make sure that we understand you properly.

Flaszen: In this case, we are dealing here with the avant-garde theatre and this is something slightly different. I don’t know, Kantor’s legendary Wyspiański… We would need to see it from the other side of the ontological curtain possibly… I don’t know what Kantor’s Wyspiański was. Based on photos, I can only imagine that this was a quasi-monumental theatre, but probably with an emphasis on words, and it was very small due to the conditions of the occupation at that time.

Kolankiewicz: I think we probably understand each other now. You mean that this is theatre to which the spectator cannot go with impunity, as was written on the door of Magdalena Stryjeńska’s flat in Kraków, where Kantor presented The Return of Odysseus.[34]

Flaszen: But avant-garde in the classical sense meant something different. It wasn’t monumental theatre, but experimental theatre, zero theatre, anti-theatre…

Kolankiewicz: You’re obviously talking about Kantor – about Witkacy in Kantor’s theatre.

Flaszen: Not only. These small avant-garde theatres constitute a separate category. I would say that Kantor returned to monumental theatre with his production of The Dead Class [Umarła klasa].[35] It was again a monumental theatre in miniature. A mini one.

Kolankiewicz: If I understand you well, you’re talking about the vehicle of myth. A myth appears in The Dead Class thanks to Schulz: this reality of a small class in some kind of village school is elevated to become a myth. Concurrently, it is a degraded reality – as is usual in Schulz’s and Kantor’s work.[36]

Flaszen: This is the poetry of the theatre, but not an intimate theatre.

Kolankiewicz: Perhaps for you intimate means devoid of the mythical layer, and monumental theatre has some mythical content.

Flaszen: Intimate could also mean connected with words and recitation. The theatre of recitation, like for instance Kotlarczyk’s Teatr Rapsodyczny (Rhapsodic Theatre).[37] A theatre of words, or even a theatre of reading. This is a different genre.

Kolankiewicz: This is clear: your reference to myth cannot be realised in words. Your theatre is autonomous and it is based on the experience of theatre artists from the first part of the twentieth century like Wyspiański, Leon Schiller,[38] but it is also limited to more modest dimensions, and, as a result, it is of a greater charge, it’s more explosive.

Flaszen: You’ve put it accurately. This is, without a doubt, a theatre of a very specific energy. Grotowski’s actor is – so to say – an energetic actor. He is not an actor of expression and form, even though he has a precise form and unusual expression. The actor’s actions function as a transformation of energy. This appeared quite early on.

Kolankiewicz: Where would you locate that, in which performance?

Flaszen: It began in Dziady or perhaps even earlier, in Shakuntala, which was a theatre of signs, an ironic [version of an] oriental theatre, with a precise score of the body and voice. Here, we are close to the domain of pure theatre. Grotowski and I had an argument, which took place secretly, because we had agreed before that we would be honest only with each other. Our argument grew from the fact that at the beginning, Grotowski, despite the poor conditions in Opole, nevertheless made rich theatre: with a soundtrack from a tape recorder, with stage lights and costumes…

Kolankiewicz: You are talking about Orpheus and Cain.

Flaszen: Yes, I mean those pieces. It was rich theatre and the tape recorder was very important then. [The audience laughs.] But the mystery play was there from the very beginning.

Kolankiewicz: Mystery Bouffe by Mayakovsky?

Flaszen: No, not only. I mean the mystery play as a genre. If you take Orpheus – you can relate it to a mystery play.

Kolankiewicz: But this is only a theme.

Flaszen: Yes, the staging was slightly different, however the final… We need to publish in Poland this early work of Grotowski-as-dramaturg. The Italian edition is already published, with my commentaries.[39]

Kolankiewicz: Are you talking about Jean Cocteau?

Flaszen: ‘World, thank you for existing | Thank you’ – it was Grotowski who changed Cocteau. ‘World, thank you for existing | Thank you for being an infinite and eternal dancer | Thank you for dancing your chaos...’, and so on.[40] It was very Młoda Polska-like. I think that Grotowski’s writing was quite Młoda Polska-like.

Kolankiewicz: Excuse me, what do you mean by ‘Grotowski’s writing’?

Flaszen: I’m talking about what he wrote at the time, also including the earlier poems. All of it was in the Młoda Polska style. Now, I will talk precisely about – how to put it – the origins of Grotowski’s worldview. It was indeed Młoda Polska-like, because his Hinduism was the Hinduism of Młoda Polska, inspired by the sources of that period, from books, from publications of Polish modernism. All those pranas and yogas…

Kolankiewicz: And tantras…

Flaszen: Yes, there was something like tantra as well…

Kolankiewicz: But all this was because of Józef Świtkowski – that is, because of the occultism of that period.[41]

Flaszen: This was also connected with Ludwik Szczepański.[42] I knew him personally, just imagine. As a young marshal in Życie Literackie, I didn’t publish his texts because they were terribly old-fashioned, they were badly hand-written in an old exercise book. Szczepański, a gentleman with a bald head and in a black jumper, used to come to the editor’s office on Basztowa Street. He was about eighty years old then. And I didn’t even realise it was him – the patron of the Młoda Polska manifestos, the founder of Kraków’s Życie. I think it was a certain missed opportunity in my life that I didn’t become friends with him. Occult knowledge. Ludwik Szczepański can be identified also with Młoda Polska’s protest, as he was against living in uniforms – against mediocrity, the grey crowd, mechanisation, and uniformity. Genius and individualism were needed. This closely resembled our later doctrines.


Jerzy Grotowski and Ludwik Flaszen against the backdrop of the set for Mayakovsky’s Mystery Bouffe (1960). Photograph: Leonard Olejnik.

Kolankiewicz: So we’re talking about outsiderism here and this makes sense. Because you were in Opole as in some kind of exile – totally in the provinces, although I don’t want to reduce the role of this important cultural centre. It was outsiderism. But also, was this connected in part with the bohemians being against the philistines?

Flaszen: Of course, against the philistines. That is the meaning of Dziady – an outstanding individual who is trying to overcome mediocrity, and mediocrity means the world of business, rationality, and reason. So this Kordian, or this Konrad/Gustaw, in the so-called ‘normal’ world, are simply madmen.[43] And Jesus is also a madman; this is probably how he functioned in ancient Jerusalem. A miracle. Those characters were emblematic already in Młoda Polska and, later, in the counterculture in which Grotowski and I played our particular part.

Kolankiewicz: Through Saint Francis the Poor Man of Assisi. In this gesture of the renunciation of the world, of the duke’s origins, of throwing off the garments, of laying oneself bare…

Flaszen: Laying oneself bare. If, for instance, you take Grotowski’s readings such as The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, [the book by] Paul Brunton…

Kolankiewicz: A Search in Secret India...[44]

Flaszen: Eduard Schuré’s The Great Initiates, and many other similar books…

Kolankiewicz: In The Great Initiates, Jesus appears simply as one link in the chain of the world’s greatest initiated.

Flaszen: In addition, there were the works on hypnosis. Grotowski studied this diligently.

Kolankiewicz: In order to hypnotise the audience.

Flaszen: I think there is such a book by Ochorowicz on hypnosis...[45]

Kolankiewicz: It would be useful to examine the occultist leitmotifs in the book Towards a Poor Theatre, which has just been published in Polish.[46] There are some very interesting traces.

Flaszen: Of course, such as ideoplasty. This, I think, comes from Świtkowski. The notion is very old and it suggests that through the concentration of the mind we can directly affect the material world. I must say that, strangely enough, I associate ideoplasty with Stanislavsky. This has to do with physical actions – the actor is supposed to cause a visible transformation in their partners, in their surroundings. And also telepathy, radiation. Astral bodies, subtle bodies… These are useful things and pragmatically functional – in work with the actor and in the actor’s work.

Kolankiewicz: But this is also at the same time a bit Nietzschian, isn’t it?

Flaszen: Of course, and Schopenhauerian, and even Bergsonian. This is the same fellowship. I used to ‘Bergsonise’, following Stanisław Brzozowski, who is also from Młoda Polska.[47]

Kolankiewicz: Ludwik, I would also add here Andrzej Towiański.[48]

Flaszen: Certainly, he is a master.

Kolankiewicz: In what sense is Towiański a master?

Flaszen: The Romantic tradition reached us through Młoda Polska, which we used to encounter in our grandfathers’ flats. The Młoda Polska artists were strongly influenced by Towiański. Wyspiański was interested in Towiański. Irena Flaszen and I own the works of Towiański, which were published in the 1920s. They have Grotowski’s signature on them. It’s a gift from him. Usually, if Grotowski was keenly interested in something, he used to damage books, cross things out, tear them…

Kolankiewicz: He would take pages out...

Flaszen: Yes, I have such books from him. To me, a book is something sacred, but Grotowski treated books in a utilitarian way, he fed himself with them. So, for us, and especially for Grotowski, Towiański was a master, but in a funny way somehow. There was a dichotomy: a maestro for sure, but also a comical person. Towiański didn’t write well, you can hardly read his work.

Kolankiewicz: But as we know, his most important text is Biesiada z generałem (A Wassail with the General), which is a spoken text.

Flaszen: Yes, this is orature.[49] Grotowski probably didn’t use this volume that we are talking about, as there are no scribblings or missing pages. When we read this today, it is clear that Towiański was a listener, that he perceived things aurally. He could hear the cosmic harmony. He is a witness to the fact that cosmic harmony exists. I think it was Orpheus-like…

Kolankiewicz: And to make a tone [ton]. And to find a tone.[50]

Flaszen: To find a tone. And later, ‘pot ducha’ (the soul’s sweat). These are fascinating things – pot ducha. It sounds grotesque, but we watch [Ryszard] Cieślak in Grotowski’s The Constant Prince, even on the film recording, and this notion isn’t preposterous. There is no division between a physiological and spiritual act, this is like one and the same thing, two aspects of the same substrate.

Kolankiewicz: And this is the effect of ‘God’s Work’ [Sprawa Boża].[51]

Flaszen: I will confess here that, already in Opole, Jerzy and I searched for an appropriate figure for ‘the master’. There was an acting task: how to be a Master from the outside. Eventually, Waldemar Krygier designed this outfit [for Jerzy]. [The audience laughs.] It was – how to describe it – an ascetic tunic, almost like a monk’s tunic, but one you could wear for a social occasion. Towiański existed to us more like a kind of phantom than a direct inspiration, because our direct inspiration was Mickiewicz – Master Adam – and Brother Juliusz [Słowacki].[52] Rather it was them.

Kolankiewicz: In Mickiewicz’s statement, which is very Towiański-like – ‘It is more difficult to live the day well than to write a book’ – you are Towiański-like yourself.[53] This has to do with continuous work on the spirit, it is about this pot ducha.

Flaszen: And about ‘putting pressure on yourself’ [dociskanie się].[54]

Kolankiewicz: ‘God’s pressure’ [docisk boży].

Flaszen: Yes, ‘let’s put pressure on our spirits’. By the way, Grotowski and I wrote letters to each other in this kind of vein. It was one of our language games. 

Kolankiewicz: For you, Romanticism wasn’t The Word, it wasn’t about poetic logos.

Flaszen: It was rather about the sound in the air.

Kolankiewicz: The tone.

Flaszen: Yes, the tone. But also it was about the tone of a Polish human being. If somebody is Polish, it is like being a person without a will, being somehow weak, being flabby. Enough of this, we needed tone. Power was needed. This is Wyspiański.

Kolankiewicz: Yes, Wyspiański. Particularly his Wyzwolenie (Liberation).[55]

Flaszen: Of course, Wyzwolenie. There is a problem of power, a problem of an act, a deed. Art is an act. It is more difficult to live the day well than to write a book. This is the spirit of surpassing art, going beyond art; it is also a Polish Romantic gesture. It is like with Mickiewicz, who broke his pen. Later, in the modernist period, the world-famous spiritual gesture of Leo Tolstoy in his book What is Art?, I would say, was a kind of aesthetic nihilism.[56] This varied in Poland, just as it did in Russia. Polish aesthetic nihilism was connected with a certain ethical and moralistic inclination. It had to do with the fact that there was so much suffering around and people, in this suffering, dealt with some kind of beauty, with worthless issues. Something different was needed; I cannot name it right now.

Kolankiewicz: Your nihilism is perhaps more profound, it is not simply aesthetic. Your approach was extreme. You weren’t just outsiders, you were extremists of the soul.

Flaszen: Well, I was more moderate.

Kolankiewicz: It was some kind of agreement between you and Grotowski… This is, in fact, a leitmotif that appears in the history of the Teatr Laboratorium. It has to do with the fact that Grotowski was to be Faustus and your role was to be more modest, like Wagner (to recall Marlowe here). Or perhaps simply, as in ‘A Commentary on the Commentaries’ – the role of Serenus Zeitblom, the narrator of Dr Faustus, who says: you see, the bombs are exploding here, the German towns are falling and I am telling you the history of our Faust, his ups and downs.[57] You, Ludwik, are granting yourself the more modest role of a critic and narrator.

Flaszen: Yes, actually Grotowski and I played around with this. I would say to him: ‘you are a genius’, and he would say: ‘yes’. And I would say: ‘I am your friend; you are a cruel genius, because you break through existence, fascinated by power and you need to fulfil yourself. This is infernal. And I am here, your partner and friend, Serenus Zeitblom’.

Kolankiewicz: A humanist.

Flaszen: A humanist, a man of literature.

Kolankiewicz: And a man of values.

Flaszen: Of values and a man of books. ‘I will be the one to write your biography’.

Kolankiewicz: Your collective rebellion was extreme. It wasn’t perhaps only aesthetic nihilism. I think that your negation of the world that you’d found was more radical. You rejected the world in what was then its current form.

Flaszen: This negation was Gnostic.

Kolankiewicz: It is true that there is a fall and that metaphysical experience goes with it. Everything needs to be rejected; everything needs to be completely cleansed; it needs to be burned up.

Flaszen: And this was conscious from quite an early stage. I call it ‘apocalyptic sensitivity’. And Grotowski, who was always more expert in Hinduism than I was, used to say that this was kali yuga, that we were living in the kali yuga period. Kali yuga means…

Kolankiewicz: The age of the fall…

Flaszen: The end of a cosmic cycle and that the fire of the universe will follow and that this universe will be reborn. Kali yuga. We have a kind of catastrophism here. This is what Grotowski said in one of the texts that you edited. Or perhaps it was in ‘Holiday’ [Święto], which you didn’t edit.

Kolankiewicz: No, I didn’t edit ‘Holiday’.

Flaszen: It was me then, as a scribe – a humble Serenus Zeitblom.

Kolankiewicz: Although the fact that you edited ‘Holiday’ wasn’t known, so there we go: a piece of information for the historians.

Flaszen: It was a period when we suddenly broke with the theatre. We live in the age of the fall, the time of a breakthrough. The problem is not how to save the theatre; I’ve just reminded myself of a quote, which is probably known to you – but the problem is how to save yourself. Grotowski used the word ‘save’, but what he really meant was redemption. So it was not about how to redeem the world, but how to redeem yourself. This thought can be found in my paleo-texts, it can be deduced from there. Let’s quote the last sentence from ‘A Commentary on the Commentaries’.

Kolankiewicz: I’ll do it right now. Would you like to read it or shall I do it?

Flaszen: You will do it better.

Kolankiewicz: I’m not sure, but here we go: ‘I must confess that some of my own texts surprise me today. For example, my commentary on Cain (December 1959) proves that Grotowski and I wrestled seriously with Gnostic inspiration. Gnosticism? Gnosis? The Heresy of Marcionism?’[58]

Flaszen: I will quote one more sentence: ‘For Byron, Cain was a noble rebel fighting against divine will and a world order that he found cruel and unjust. Cain stands for human dignity humiliated by the Godhead, in the name of reason that is, under the pressure of fear, limited with impassable boundaries. The murder committed by Cain of his brother is nothing but an extreme consequence of the world’s moral order: after all, the austere God of the Old Testament enjoys bloody sacrifices’.[59] This is probably Marcionism. This motif appears in almost all of Grotowski’s work, this is the motif of – how to put it – mocking creation. This is a kind of dialogue with the Creator: look, this is your work, look at these poor creatures, look at your crooked children. The world as a creation is an unsuccessful work. It would be Gnosticism, not Gnosis. A practical conclusion: the human being is not ready; the human being is yet to be born. And this can be done only through their own efforts. This is also ‘pot ducha’. Perhaps, God needs some help? He has left some work unfinished and we will pick up these sparks.


Jerzy Grotowski, Zbigniew Cynkutis, and Ludwik Flaszen receive state distinctions on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Teatr Laboratorium. Wrocław, 16 November 1979. Photograph: Jan Krzysztof Fiołek.

Kolankiewicz: This motif is also Hasidic.

Flaszen: Yes, but not only, because this is Gnostic. Of course, there would also be other motifs. Mocking the human creature, mocking God’s creation. I wrote about this earlier in a review of Camus’ Caligula,[60] which was published in Teatr skazany na magię.[61] Caligula’s excess is based on the mocking of creation. That is where the impetuosity of the expression and the shock come from. To be born. What does it mean? Father, mother, brother – what does it mean? This is inside us, perhaps an inner Christ. Once, decades ago, I spoke in a discussion organised by Dialog based on the idea that Romantic performance is an initiation through shock.[62] If this is only words and the beautiful delivery of text, and a great intellectual fight with God, there is no power of initiation. Grotowski’s performances were like a way, a labyrinth, they were initiatory experiences. I don’t know whether you, the audience, know, but some people, those who deal in spiritual matters not with matters of art, know that you go through very difficult experiences on the way to initiation.

Kolankiewicz: This is why you’re talking about the labyrinth.

Flaszen: But perhaps this isn’t enough. In fact, Cieślak ran this workshop called Labyrinth. It is an initiatory experience. But I think that there is no labyrinth in the performances of Grotowski and the Teatr Laboratorium. Rather more, there is something like in Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings – a narrow channel with some light at the end of it.

Kolankiewicz: We have this image in front of our eyes – The Ascent of the Blessed: a narrowing spiral tunnel with a light where the souls fly away.

Flaszen: The initiatory experience. You can, as an anthropologist, say what this experience is in primeval cultures – these are cruel things. By the way, Grotowski was very interested in this. He told me once that he went near the Himalayan Mountains or the Gobi Desert and he witnessed dead bodies left on a field being pecked and eaten by birds. And a young Buddhist monk was to hold a vigil at night among these decomposing corpses and their guts, and was to meditate alone; he was to pass alone through such an experience. This is the experience of death, the so-called initiatory death. Grotowski said he saw it. It was during one of our first meetings when we discussed the shape of our future theatre, in May 1959. I read about it in Alexandra David-Neel’s book Magic and Mystery in Tibet.[63] Not long afterwards, the Teatr Laboratorium performances became these kinds of initiatory experiences that work through shock, through transgression, and through terror. You need to experience dread. This is like the dark night associated with St. John of the Cross. All mystics know this, including those Christian mystics.

Somebody from the audience: Does this apply to Mickiewicz’s Zdania i uwagi (Statements and Remarks) as well?

Flaszen: Of course, they were using spiritual pressure in this circle [the Circle of God’s Work]. And it is not known whether master Andrzej [Towiański] was a typical sadist or whether he provoked such abrupt reactions in people and so they had to accept them as an experience on the spiritual journey.

Kolankiewicz: It had the nature of an initiatory experience because it was connected with the renunciation of oneself in the form in which this self exists, both for the world and in the world – it was connected with humbling or self-humbling.

Flaszen: Self-humbling, kenosis.

Kolankiewicz: Exactly, heautón ekénosen – he stripped himself of everything, literally: ‘he made himself empty’ – the bare Christ, humbled and therefore following him in a humble way as in the Orthodox jurodztwo (foolishness for Christ, holy idiocy) and what you called via negativa, which denotes by means of a negative way to God, through denial: this isn’t it, this isn’t it still, and still this isn’t it.[64]

Flaszen: Imitatio Christi, the imitation of the passion, the carrying of the cross. The carrying of the cross is an initiatory experience – this is how it can be interpreted. And I believe that this is how great mystics interpreted it, and how stigmatics did – those who suffered enormously and were happy because of these sufferings – because they believed that this would lead them to see God face-to-face. And what transpires is – as you wrote – metánoia.[65] St. John of the Cross called it transformación: a transformation. This is simply an act of new birth. In order to fulfil oneself, one needs to be born again. This is somehow connected to [G. I.] Gurdijeff, and so on.

Kolankiewicz: How does it appear in Mickiewicz’s Zdania i uwagi? ‘You believe that God was born in Bethlehem | but woe betide you, if he has not been born in you’.[66]

Flaszen: Yes, the Inner Christ. The Way of the Cross is like the via negativa in mysticism. As regards Grotowski, I have this hypothesis that he didn’t feel good in his own body. He searched for a new incarnation. He was almost aware of it. He needed a partner for this transformation, to get to this incarnation through an alter ego. Ryszard Cieślak was that partner. Grotowski said that there was Eros and Caritas in it, that it was a new birth. We could say that this statement is not without the risk of honesty, but also of a conceit. That is what I would say as advocatus diaboli (devil’s advocate). This is the role Grotowski assigned me – to be advocatus diaboli.

Kolankiewicz: This is what always happens with mysticism. The dialectics of mysticism – there is a stripping away and a resignation, the renunciation of everything; and, on the other hand, there is the accomplishment of wholeness. And because of this accomplishment, there is the danger of a conceit.

Flaszen: Yes, this is a never-ending process, it is almost a self-propelling process. Grotowski wanted to incarnate himself anew; he wanted to be born again. This comes from Hinduism, but is also Christian. And what is theatre in this ontological and biological undertaking, what is it in this forcing its way towards the impossible? An insignificant game. You’re right: metánoia. I think this has to do with transferral into a different dimension; it has to do with a change of perception of the world. La vida es sueño. Reality is a dream.[67] And, indeed, the silence in the audience after Grotowski’s performances demonstrates this well. In the silence following Akropolis, The Constant Prince, and Apocalypsis cum Figuris, both the actors and we are like phantoms. We do not know what kind of material we are made of.[68] It is like air vibrating with silence. Or it is, as in Słowacki’s work, that we hear the sounds from an invisible harp, suspended in the air. Or like this [phrase], ‘a ringing reached me’ [dźwięk mnie doleciał].

Kolankiewicz: You mean ‘a ringing roused me’ [dźwięk mnie uderzył] – as in Mickiewicz’s [poem] ‘A Vision’ [Widzenie].[69]

Flaszen: That is the experience and it happened in this room.[70] When I participated in this, or when I was a witness, I always used to have the impression that I was dreaming. This also happened during Tree of People [Drzewo ludzi] – an hours-long paratheatrical experience in which I had the opportunity to be part of the group leading the work session. It was a different type of listening. Sound. The silence of the heart. Everything fell silent. But sounds existed. We opened the window in the early morning and we could hear the sounds of the city, the awakening city. It sounded like a harmony. A cosmic harmony. It was beautiful. But now I wonder whether this life is a dream? Is this maya? One that is provoked. Is this maya or the cosmic illusion provoked by a certain ritual, or is this the Real? Forgive me. ‘Performer’.[71] We were going to talk about something…

Kolankiewicz: No, no, it’s fine. We’re talking about the right thing, indeed. You said maya. We obviously recognise this Sanskrit term signifying a great cosmic illusion. But maya is also an artistic illusion. In this case, a demiurge acts as a great artist, as an exemplar for the artist. But there is absolutely no need for Hindu concepts, as you said: La vida es sueño – words from Calderón. This means that life is a dream, from which we wake up, from which we are able to wake up; this also means that the whole created world is like a dream. Or is it like Shakespeare who talks in The Tempest about the ‘baseless fabric of this vision’, about the ‘insubstantial pageant’. This can be a sensation, simply a sensation, when after very intensive work you open a window in the morning and hear the sound of the world. We do not need Sanskrit terms for that.

Flaszen: And also there is no need for great masters for that.

Kolankiewicz: You talk about the silence of the heart. Is there, in this silence, space for a word? This is an important question. If we remember the prologue of the Gospel according to St. John, where it is said ‘En arché én ho logos’, ‘In principio erat verbum’ – ‘In the beginning was the Word’.[72] Is this word the silence of the heart? In the birth of a new person – is there a word there?

Flaszen: I have a great dilemma, because it seems to me that there both is and isn’t. These things are known from esotericism, and also from the Gospel according to St. John, which says that ‘the word became flesh’. What does it mean that ‘In the beginning was the Word’; the sound? It means that the sound, the voice created the world. A vibration created it. And what is the word? The word is a vibration. This kind of vibrating word can achieve a curious quality, which is conducive to a transformation. And this vibrates materially. The ‘word-vibration’ touches us wholly, as Grotowski would say. I think that the word stimulates the experience. This goes against what Grotowski often used to say: that it is not a discourse, not a word… He said that you reach verbal formulae a posteriori – after the experience. There are ‘words/energies’, ‘words/keys’. Grotowski called it intentional language and he used it in work with the actors. This language may be incomprehensible to others, but it stimulates activity. And this is action with words. Action with words: an image, a sound, visual associations, gestural associations, a reaction, or a glance. But also the word which is at the beginning. You’re right to push me for this word. However, I am not so crazy as to judge or not judge anything in this regard, do you hear? I can hear a bard’s harp ringing in the air. That of Gombrowicz. But I am the author of a text which is called ‘The Book’ [Księga].[73]

Kolankiewicz: That’s right!

Flaszen: I’m a man of letters – a traitor.

Kolankiewicz: Does this somehow touch your guilty conscience?

Flaszen: Very much so. I sinned. But I’m not sure whether I feel great repentance. I need to work on myself to be able to experience it fully. But where am I going with that? I want to say that manifestos appear in the hunch of a specific practice. Sometimes they appear after, sometimes before, but they contain a response. This is similar to the Theatre of Cruelty or the V-effekt (alienation/distancing effect). These are words that open something up. Via negativa – this opens something up. Poor theatre – this also opens something up. In my opinion, the things that will remain after Grotowski, over many centuries – apart from those faded film testimonies – are these few words, which are no longer comprehensible but which sound enigmatic.

I want to add something with regards to the text, ‘Performer’, while we are in a murky and sinful domain. There is the possibility of a misdemeanour against reason, and also various kinds of sect-like, religious, and metaphysical abuses. Spiritual immodesties. And most of all, a fundamental mistake, so to say, a ‘cosmic’ mistake, which can wrongly influence the whole matter. There are two birds, one who picks and the other who looks on.[74] This is a curious ‘self’, a doubled ‘self’. Let us look at the evolution. Long ago, master Grotowski spoke of a handicapped, multiplied, and divided ‘self’; the crucial act was to connect them all in one, global, ecstatic ‘self’, which was simultaneously spiritual and corporeal. Grotowski spoke about this beautifully here from the film screen the day before yesterday.[75] And in ‘Performer’, in Grotowski’s last creative journey, twoness appeared, twoness instead of oneness. A human being who has at their disposal the doing. There is the doing and there is an eye that looks on. An eye that is difficult to define. This is some kind of an authority in us, but at the same time it is an objective being – as I understand it. This is a type of looking glass that observes the entirety of what we perceive. Everything flows and the only constant thing is this looking glass. This ‘self’ that looks on is probably eternal.

Two birds. I think that during the period of our actual kali yuga, these two birds picked at each other instead of coexisting in harmony. Perhaps they still do so. Let’s end here: two birds that pick at each other – this will make a good ending.

Kolankiewicz: Ludwik, on behalf of all of us here, I would like to thank you for this wonderful ‘meditation aloud’.[76] I must say that this was a wonderful spiritual feast. I feel like that bird who picks, I feel fed and satiated by your words today.

Flaszen: Thank you very much, Leszek. I would like to thank the hosts of this space for the invitation. I feel at home here, although I am only a guest. Because this earth is only...

Kolankiewicz: inn on this great journey.

Flaszen: An inn on this great journey.[77]

Translated from Polish by Justyna Drobnik-Rogers


  1. ^ Flaszen’s text was published in English as: Ludwik Flaszen, ‘A Commentary on the Commentaries’ [Komentarz do komentarzy], in Grotowski & Company, pp. 54-57. The Polish volume mentioned by Kolankiewicz is Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, ed. by Janusz Degler and Grzegorz Ziółkowski (Wrocław: Grotowski Institute, 2006). Eds.
  2. ^ Edward Stachura (1937-1979) was a poet, outsider, wanderer, and prose author. Stachura was known for living his life as much as writing it, for his aspiration was to connect life and literature as much as possible. Trans.
  3. ^ Henryk Bereza (1926-2012) was a Polish literary critic, long-term editor of the Warsaw literary journal Twórczość, and one of the publishers of Edward Stachura’s collected writings. Eds.
  4. ^ An ironic reference to the secret services’ files, a hot issue in Poland. It was, for example, the subject of a performance by Polish group Teatr Ósmego Dnia (Theatre of the Eighth Day), in Teczki (The Files, 2007). Eds.
  5. ^ See Eugenio Barba, Land of Ashes and Diamonds: My Apprenticeship in Poland, trans. by Judy Barba (Aberystwyth: Black Mountain Press, 1999).
  6. ^ Flaszen, ‘A Commentary on the Commentaries’, pp. 54 and 56. Eds.
  7. ^ Ibid., p. 28.
  8. ^ Kazimierz Wyka (1910-1975) was a famous historian, literary critic, and professor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Trans.
  9. ^ A reference to the radical changes in Poland that took place during the second half of 1956 and involved the taking of power by a reformist faction of the Communist Party, led by Władysław Gomułka. These events, often named the ‘Polish October’, resulted in the regime’s temporary liberalisation – the ‘thaw’ after the harsh ‘winter’ of Stalinism in Poland. Trans.
  10. ^ See Ludwik Flaszen, ‘Pisane w upale’ (Written in the Heat Wave), Przegląd Kulturalny, 29 (18-25 July 1957), 3.
  11. ^ Andrzej Pronaszko (1888-1961) was a painter and scenographer and a well-known representative of the Polish avant-garde and the modernist style in the 1920s and 1930s. Trans.
  12. ^ Karol Frycz (1877-1963) was a scenographer, painter and theatre director, considered to be the founder of modern Polish stage design. Trans.
  13. ^ Młoda Polska (Young Poland) is a term used to describe the modernist period in Polish visual arts, literature, and music, covering roughly the years 1890-1918. Trans.
  14. ^ Ludwik Solski (1855-1954) was a famous actor, theatre director, and theatre manager of various theatres in Warsaw and Kraków. He is now patron of the Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Teatralna in Kraków (State Higher Theatre School). Trans.
  15. ^ Warszawianka is the title of Stanisław Wyspiański’s play from 1898, which refers to the November Uprising of 1830 during the Partitions, when Poland was divided up between Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The play-title was a direct reference to a song written in support of the Uprising. Trans.
  16. ^ Karol Irzykowski (1873-1944) was a Polish writer, literary critic, and film theoretician. Trans.
  17. ^ Konstanty Puzyna (1929-1989) was a famous theatre critic, essayist, and poet. He studied at the Jagiellonian University and represented the Kraków school of literary criticism. He worked in various theatres as literary manager and later became firstly the Deputy Chief Editor and then the Chief Editor of the renowned Polish theatre journal, Dialog, a prestigious monthly founded in 1956, dedicated mainly to contemporary playwriting. Each volume contains new Polish plays, translations of plays from other languages, interpretations, and essays. Trans.
  18. ^ Wilam Horzyca (1889-1959) was a theatre manager, writer, translator, critic, and director, who created Polish Monumental Theatre. Trans.
  19. ^ Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz a.k.a. Witkacy (1885-1939) was a playwright, novelist, painter, photographer, and philosopher. He was one of the main representatives of the avant-garde of the twentieth century, known for creating a theatre theory of czysta forma (pure form). Trans.
  20. ^ Sławomir Mrożek (1930-2013) was a Polish dramatist, writer and journalist, whose writing is associated with the theatre of the absurd. His most famous plays are Tango (1964) and Emigranci (The Emigrants, 1974). Trans.
  21. ^ Ludwik Flaszen, Teatr skazany na magię, ed. by Henryk Chłystowski (Kraków and Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1983). This volume is not translated into English, although many of the texts included in the collection appear in Flaszen’s Grotowski & Company. Eds.
  22. ^ See Ludwik Flaszen, Cyrograf (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1996; revised and expanded edn.). Eds.
  23. ^ Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) was a famous Polish novelist, playwright, and essayist. Trans.
  24. ^ Stanisław Przybyszewski (1968-1927) was a novelist, decadent poet, and symbolist dramatist who wrote in Polish and German. Trans.
  25. ^ Awangarda Krakowska was a group of innovative poets and avant-garde writers associated with the Kraków literary magazine Zwrotnica from 1922 to 1927. Eds.
  26. ^ Julian Przyboś (1901-1970), Tadeusz Peiper (1891- 1969), and Tytus Czyżewski (1880-1945) were among the main representatives and leaders of Awangarda Krakowska. Peiper, who founded the journal Zwrotnica in 1921, was the author of the group’s programme. Eds.
  27. ^ The book reference is to Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Trans.
  28. ^ Ludwik Flaszen, ‘After the Avant-garde’, in Grotowski & Company, pp. 115-20. Eds.
  29. ^ Miron Białoszewski (1922-1983) was a poet, novelist, playwright, and actor who in 1955 co-founded a ‘home theatre’ in Warsaw, the Teatr na Tarczyńskiej (Theatre in Tarczyńska Street), where he staged his own experimental and avant-garde plays. In 1958 he founded the Teatr Osobny (Separate Theatre) in his own flat on Dąbrowski square in Warsaw. The theatre, which existed until 1963, was a private and independent artistic initiative – unique under the communist regime. Eds.
  30. ^ Osmędeusze is a neologism invented by Białoszewski. Its precise meaning is untranslatable into English. Trans.
  31. ^ Martial Law was introduced in Poland on 13 December 1981. Trans.
  32. ^ The Partitions is the term used for when Poland was divided up between Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire – a period that lasted from 1792 until 1918. Trans.
  33. ^ Kantor staged Słowacki’s Balladyna in 1943 and Wyspiański’s The Return of Odysseus in 1944. Trans.
  34. ^ This is a reference to Tadeusz Kantor’s well-known phrase: ‘Do teatru nie wchodzi się bezkarnie’ (One cannot enter the theatre with impunity). Trans.
  35. ^ The Dead Class (1975) is Kantor’s best-known performance. Trans.
  36. ^ Bruno Schulz (1892-1942) was a Polish Jewish writer, artist, literary critic, and graphic designer. Trans.
  37. ^ The Teatr Rapsodyczny was founded as part of the underground in 1941 in Kraków and was led by Mieczysław Kotlarczyk (1908-1978). The most famous of its actors was Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II. The theatre, which focused mainly on oratory, operated until 1967. Eds.
  38. ^ Leon Schiller de Schildenfeld (1887-1954) was a theatre director, critic, theorist, and one of the representatives of the Polish monumental theatre of the interwar period. After the Second World War he ran Teatr magazine, was provost of the drama school in Łódź and in 1952 founded Pamiętnik Teatralny (Theatre Memoir), a distinguished journal devoted to the history of the theatre. Eds.
  39. ^ Il Teatr Laboratorium di Jerzy Grotowski 1959-1969. Testi e materiali di Jerzy Grotowski e Ludwik Flaszen con uno scritto di Eugenio Barba, ed. by Ludwik Flaszen and Carla Pollastrelli, in collaboration with Renata Molinari (Pontedera: Fondazione Pontedera Teatro, 2001; 2nd edn. 2007).
  40. ^ In Polish: ‘Dziękujemy ci świecie, że jesteś | Dziękujemy ci, że jesteś tancerzem nieskończonym i wiecznym | Dziękujemy ci, że tańczysz chaos swój […]’. See Jerzy Grotowski, ‘Inwokacja dla przedstawienia Orfeusz’ (Invocation for the performance of Orpheus), Materiały – Dyskusje, 1 (October 1959). Eds.
  41. ^ Józef Świtkowski (1876-1943) was a theosophist, photographer, translator, and editor of many books on yoga, magic, and the occult. Eds.
  42. ^ Ludwik Szczepański (1872-1954) was a poet, a representative of Polish modernism, and founder and editor of Kraków art and literary magazine Życie (Life, 1897). Interested in occult studies, he wrote Dziwy medyumizmu (The Wonders of Mediumism, 1921). Eds.
  43. ^ Kordian is the title character of Juliusz Słowacki’s drama (1834) and Gustaw-Konrad is the main character of Mickiewicz’s Dziady (1820-1832). Trans.
  44. ^ The literal translation of Brunton’s book in Polish is ‘On the Paths of Yoga’ (Ścieżkami jogi). Eds.
  45. ^ Julian Ochorowicz (1850-1917) was an inventor, philosopher, and psychologist, who researched and published extensively on occult phenomena, hypnosis, and telepathy. See for example his Odczyty o magnetyzmie i hypnotyzmie (Lectures on Magnetism and Hypnotism) from 1888 and 1889 published in Kraków in 1890. Eds.
  46. ^ Ku teatrowi ubogiemu (Towards a Poor Theatre) was published by the Grotowski Institute in Grzegorz Ziółkowski’s translation in January 2007. The Polish edition was prepared by Leszek Kolankiewicz. Trans.
  47. ^ Stanisław Brzozowski (1878-1911) was a Polish philosopher and political writer. His major achievement was the elaboration of a philosophy of work. Trans.
  48. ^ Andrzej Towiański (1799-1878) was a controversial Polish philosopher, charismatic mystical leader and founder (1842 in Paris) of the sect Koło Sprawy Bożej (Circle of God’s Work), who greatly influenced Polish Romantic writers such as Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, propagating messianic ideas. Followers of Towiański believed that the new era was coming which would open the doors to God’s Kingdom on earth. They severely criticised institutionalised religions, especially the Catholic church. Eds.
  49. ^ This term denoting oral literature was introduced by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o in his book Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: James Currey, 1986). It was first used in relation to Grotowski’s work by Richard Schechner in his text ‘Exoduction: Shapeshifter, shaman, trickster, artist, adept, director, leader, Grotowski’ in The Grotowski Sourcebook, ed. by Lisa Wolford and Richard Schechner, 2nd edn (London & New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 460-94. Eds.
  50. ^ The idea of ton (tone) was central to Towiański’s teaching. Eds.
  51. ^ See note 48. Eds.
  52. ^ Flaszen is referring here to the Koło Sprawy Bożej’s terminology, where Adam Mickiewicz was regarded as a Master-Bard and Juliusz Słowacki was one of the followers, i.e. brothers. Eds.
  53. ^ In Polish: ‘Trudniej dzień dobrze przeżyć niż napisać księgę’. This quotation comes from Zdania i uwagi (Statements and Remarks), Mickiewicz’s poetic aphorisms extracted and paraphrased from works by Jacob Böhme, Angelus Silesius, and Louis Claude de Saint-Martin. The author worked on 163 aphorisms from 1833 to 1835. Some of the distichs were published in 1836 and 1844, and the whole selection appeared in 1869 in Paris. The first part of the distich reads: ‘W słowach tylko chęć widzim, w działaniu potęgę’ (In words we see only willingness, in action we see power). Eds.
  54. ^ The idea of docisk (literally ‘pressure’) was essential in Polish mystical Romanticism. Docisk meant a challenge or obstacle which God places in front of a human being’s soul in order to activate it on its path that leads towards him. Eds.
  55. ^ Wyzwolenie is a play by Wyspiański written in 1902 and published the following year. The main character in the play is Konrad, taken from Mickiewicz’s Dziady as Wyspiański’s response to gaining the status of the nation’s wieszcz (bard-prophet) after his publication of Wesele (The Wedding) in 1901. The action of Wyzwolenie takes place on the stage of a Kraków theatre. Trans.
  56. ^ The original Russian title is Что такое искусство? (Chto takoe iskusstvo?, 1897). Trans.
  57. ^ A novel by Thomas Mann which was a point of reference for the Teatr Laboratorium’s Apocalypsis cum Figuris. Eds.
  58. ^ Flaszen, ‘A Commentary on the Commentaries’, p. 57.
  59. ^ Flaszen, ‘Cain – Some Information’, in Grotowski & Company, p. 60.
  60. ^ Directed by Lidia Zamkow-Słomczyńska (the Teatr Kameralny, Kraków, 1963). Eds.
  61. ^ Flaszen, ‘Kaligula, wielki i papierowy’ (Kaligula, Great and Made of Paper) in Teatr skazany na magię, pp. 206-11.
  62. ^ Translated as ‘Eclecticists or Doctrinarians’, in Grotowski & Company, pp. 124-27.
  63. ^ This book was first published in Poland in 1938 as Mistycy i cudotwórcy Tybetu (Tibet’s Mystics and Miracle-workers). Eds.
  64. ^ The phrase heautón ekénosen comes from Philippians 2.7.
  65. ^ See Leszek Kolankiewicz, ‘L’art de comédien selon Grotowski’ / ‘Acting according to Grotowski’, Le Théâtre en Pologne/The Theatre in Poland, 3 (1994), 14-18.
  66. ^ In Polish: ‘Wierzysz, że Bóg się zrodził w betlejemskim żłobie, | lecz biada ci, jeżeli nie zrodził się w tobie’.
  67. ^ Flaszen is referring to Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s play of 1635-1636, Life is a Dream. Trans.
  68. ^ Flaszen is referring to Prospero’s monologue from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (published 1610-1611). Eds.
  69. ^ ‘A Vision’ is a mystical poem by Adam Mickiewicz written around 1835 and first published in 1861 (after the poet’s death); see Mickiewicz, ‘A Vision’, trans. by Dorothea Prall Radin, The Slavonic and East European Review, 17.49 (1938), 17-19. Kolankiewicz claims that this was Grotowski’s favourite poem of Mickiewicz’s output – see Leszek Kolankiewicz, ‘Grotowski w poszukiwaniu esencji’ (Grotowski in Search of the Essence), in his Wielki mały wóz (The Little Big Dipper) (Gdańsk: słowo/obraz terytoria, 2001), pp. 249-339 (p. 325). Eds.
  70. ^ The interview took place in what is called the ‘Apocalypsis’ room at the Grotowski Institute, where this performance was created and used to be presented. Eds.
  71. ^ Flaszen is referring to Grotowski’s text, ‘Performer’, in The Grotowski Sourcebook, pp. 376-80. Eds.
  72. ^ John 1.1.
  73. ^ See Flaszen, ‘The Book’, trans. by Duncan Jamieson and Adela Karsznia, in Grotowski & Company, pp. 131-34. Eds.
  74. ^ See Grotowski, ‘Performer’, passim.
  75. ^ Two filmed interviews with Jerzy Grotowski that were recorded for American television by Margaret Croyden (with simultaneous and live interpretation from French into English by Jacques Chwat), were presented on the eighth anniversary of Jerzy Grotowski’s death on 14 January 2007 at the Grotowski Institute in Wrocław: Jerzy Grotowski with Margaret Croyden, dir. by Merrill Brockway (Creative Arts Television, 1969) and a document from the series ‘Conversations about theatre, part 1’, Jerzy Grotowski, dir. by Merrill Brockway (Camera Theatre, 1973). Flaszen is referring to the first of these films. Eds.
  76. ^ See Flaszen, ‘Meditations Aloud’ in Grotowski & Company, pp. 135-50.
  77. ^ Flaszen and Kolankiewicz are quoting from the Polish version of The Constant Prince prepared by Juliusz Słowacki, after Calderón. (Flaszen: ‘Bo ta ziemia to…; Kolankiewicz: ‘…gospoda w ogromnej naszej podróży’; Flaszen: ‘...gospoda w ogromnej naszej podróży’). See Książę Niezłomny, II, verses 540-41. Trans.