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On Grotowski and the Secrets of the Voice


Laboratory Theatre Zygmunt Molik Jerzy Grotowski acting voice paratheatre CPR Giving Voice Rena Mirecka Antoni Jahołkowski Gilles Petit Zbigniew Cynkutis Ryszard Cieślak Jacek Zmysłowski Tree of People Jerzy Radziwiłowicz Opole Wrocław Brzezinka


Zygmunt Molik (1930-2010) was for twenty-five years a principal actor at the Teatr Laboratorium. He performed in each of the company’s theatre productions and was fundamental in developing the company’s vocal training, following the initiation of this training by Grotowski. For Molik, the release of creative energy, and the search for the unity and connection between the body and the voice became the basis of the actor’s process. His work sessions, which he led for many years in Poland and abroad, focused on releasing the blocked voice, body, and energy. His book with Giuliano Campo, Zygmunt Molik’s Voice and Body Work: The Legacy of Jerzy Grotowski, with DVD-ROM, was published by Routledge in 2010.

This interview was originally published as ‘O Grotowskim i tajemnicach głosu’, Gazeta Robotnicza – Magazyn Tygodniowy, 121 (25 May 1990), 1 and 6-7, and was reprinted in the pamphlet Zygmunt Molik, ed. by Zbigniew Osiński (Wrocław: Grotowski Centre, 1992), pp. 9-11, as well as in Tadeusz Burzyński, Mój Grotowski (My Grotowski), ed. by Janusz Degler and Grzegorz Ziółkowski (Wrocław: Grotowski Centre, 2006), pp. 285-91.

Tadeusz Burzyński: It’s not easy to arrange a conversation with you – you are constantly on the road. Most recently, you ended up in Wales. What were you doing there?

Zygmunt Molik: I participated in an international theatre symposium in Cardiff. It was a meeting of specialists in voice training.[1] People shared different practical experiences. It was a sort of confrontation of various techniques. I presented my work there and got to know the achievements of others. I was impressed with the Frenchman, Gilles Petit, who uses Indian techniques that enable some marvellous vibrations in the voice. But getting back to your reproaches – I’m not that unattainable. I try to organise my work in such a way that I spend half the year in Poland, where I also lead my own work. I’ve just finished a course with puppetry students at Wrocław’s drama school...

Burzyński: Let’s return to Cardiff though. How was your work received? The underlying question here is: are Grotowski’s ideas still influential in the West?

Molik: I wouldn’t like to sound immodest or boastful but the trend that I represent…

Burzyński: ...that you co-created…

Molik: …that I represent – it dominated the symposium. It is a trend initiated by Grotowski that relies on drawing the voice from the body, on engaging the whole organism in action. Cardiff is not the only place where you can see how Grotowski’s ideas are still alive, current, and inspiring around the world. Paradoxically, this is least visible in Poland.

Burzyński: Together with Rena Mirecka and the late Antoni Jahołkowski, you were with Grotowski from the beginning. You comprised the core of the actors in the early stages of the company, with you as the leading actor for several years. How did it begin for you?

Molik: I met Grotowski in 1955 during a students’ field trip. We both studied acting at the time – he in Kraków and I in Warsaw. I took a great interest in his talk on the inner monologue. After my diploma, I worked in Łódź for a year, and for another year in the Teatr Ziemi Opolskiej (Opole Regional Theatre). To be honest, I wasn’t that interested in acting then. I was having a bit of fun. Acting was something I had a good deal of distance from, as if it didn’t concern me that much. I was waiting for something really important, something that would captivate me, become my life.

Burzyński: And then Grotowski arrived in Opole.

Molik: Exactly. He fished me out of the theatre…

Burzyński: …and offered you the chance to join a ‘monastery’.

Molik: People said various things about us. It’s true, the work was hard – sometimes simply murderous. But it wasn’t agony. Any work in which you engage yourself completely can’t be agony. It’s – and I don’t want to sound full of pathos here, but how can I put it otherwise? – it’s fulfilling.


Zygmunt Molik during a training session of the Teatr Laboratorium, mid-1960s. Photograph: Ryszard Cieślak.

Burzyński: Did you work for the idea, for fame, for money?

Molik: I’d put it more simply: I worked for Grot. This was crucial. Of course, I had a certain awareness of the purpose of our research but, in truth, Grotowski was always ahead of us. For my part, to a great extent, it was always trust in him.

Burzyński: Wasn’t it an unsettling experience for you when, at various stages, your position as the lead actor was taken first by [Zbigniew] Cynkutis, then by [Ryszard] Cieślak, and then in the post-theatrical phase when Jacek Zmysłowski started to become a key figure?

Molik: Not at all. Absolutely not. I simply didn’t differentiate between my own interests and those of the group. And I understood that for different tasks and phases of Grotowski’s research, each individual could contribute more or less at different times. Sometimes I had serious problems keeping up with Grotowski. During the first stage of the paratheatrical research that was led in Brzezinka, I couldn’t find myself for many months. So for a year I served as a driver and a supplier instead.[2] I needed that much time to break through my actor’s ‘crust’ and to retrieve an elementary, pure, human sensitivity that was crucial in this work. But it was worth it. The work in Brzezinka gradually revealed completely new, previously obscure, areas of reality for me.

Burzyński: When I mentioned the ‘monastery’, I was thinking of the various, significant sacrifices: real poverty, lack of time for your families...

Molik: As you know, I have a normal family – two children, a grandchild. Jahołkowski was similarly fortunate. But it wasn’t easy for our wives for the first ten years. Their lives were a bit like those of seamen’s wives. One difference was that at least sailors bring in a fair amount of money, whereas our families literally lived from hand-to-mouth for a long time. Often we didn’t have enough to secure the most basic items. There were long periods when we didn’t eat butter, not to mention ham or other such goods. But, after all, this doesn’t define the quality of your life. In any case, my wife, Teresa, understood this well.

Burzyński: There had been so much hard work and sacrifice, and when you became famous and started to earn decent money – at least by Polish standards – Grotowski suddenly left you. He undertook Theatre of Sources with an entirely new, international group, and then moved away even further into his mysterious solitude. Didn’t you feel betrayed somehow?

Molik: Many people have asked about this, without understanding what is obvious for me. In a certain phase of his research, Grotowski had to associate with new people who had different experiences and different capacities. It wasn’t that he abandoned us. He’d prepared us for it and supported us on our new paths, which were increasingly independent and individual. After all, we did Tree of People as if we were already beyond Grotowski. You could say it was then that we reached our full maturity. From then on, everyone set out on their own paths.

Burzyński: Your path is a particular kind of pedagogy, is that correct? Who is Zygmunt Molik, Grotowski’s former actor, today?

Molik: I work in Poland and abroad with various groups – mostly actors, although not exclusively – conducting a sort of training. In doing so, I draw on both the experiences of the theatrical phase and the later stages of our work in Brzezinka. But it isn’t pedagogy in the strict sense of the word. In this work, I play the role of a kind of guide in the domain of body and voice – perhaps a strange kind of ‘obstetrician’. I assist in the birth of the Voice. I mean the Voice that isn’t just a sound consisting of different tones and vibrations, but a carrier of energy and of quality – that is, a manifestation of a particular individual’s personality. The sources of this Voice are often deeply hidden, blocked. And these are very creative sources: vital, important in the life of each human – not only actors – although in the case of actors they are crucial and useful in the profession.

Burzyński: And [Jerzy] Radziwiłowicz says that you are... cruel.[3]

Molik: He did a workshop with me in the 1970s. Quite recently he told me he’d never experienced a drill like that in his life. But he worked brilliantly. He’s an outstanding actor who really searched – not only during that workshop – who searched to move beyond accepted standards and conventional limits. You can see the results in his performances.

Burzyński: I also went through the Teatr Laboratorium ‘drill’ several times – I even think of a workshop in Brzezinka as one of the most important experiences of my life. Thank you for this conversation.

Translated from Polish by Duncan Jamieson and Adela Karsznia


  1. ^ Molik is referring to ‘Giving Voice’, organised by the Centre for Performance Research in Cardiff, Wales. Molik led a workshop there from 19 to 25 April 1990. Eds.
  2. ^ Molik drove work participants by van to and from the premises owned by the Teatr Laboratorium near the village of Brzezinka, and also made supply runs to obtain food and other items. Trans.
  3. ^ Jerzy Radziwiłowicz (b. 1950) is a well-recognised Polish actor, best known for his roles in the films of Andrzej Wajda. Trans.