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Apocalypsis cum Figuris

Keywords

Laboratory Theatre Stanisław Scierski Jerzy Grotowski acting ensemble rehearsals études corporels plastiques Polish theatre Apocalypsis cum figuris Gospels Samuel Zborowski Wrocław

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Stanisław Scierski (1939-1983) was an actor with the Teatr Laboratorium from 1964 until his suicide on 11 July 1983. He performed the roles of Don Enrique in The Constant Prince (1965), Laban and Paris in the fifth version of Akropolis (1967), and John in Apocalypsis cum Figuris (1968/69). He co-created the paratheatrical project Tree of People [Drzewo ludzi] (1979), participated in Polish Thanatos [Thanatos polski] (1981), and led numerous work sessions internationally. In March 1993 his drawings were exhibited at the Na Odwachu Gallery in Wrocław and were published in Poland by Jan Bortkiewicz and Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz two years later.

This interview was originally published in Odra, 6 (1974), 85-86, and reprinted in Teksty (Texts) (Wrocław: Instytut Aktora – Teatr Laboratorium, 1975), pp. 81-88.

Krystyna Starczak-Kozłowska: I would like to ask you – as an actor in the Teatr Laboratorium and especially as John in Apocalypsis cum Figuris – about your method of work on a performance, on a role, and about your work on Apocalypsis in particular.

Stanisław Scierski: I don’t think there was any preconceived method behind the whole process of creating Apocalypsis. Nothing like it – no plan, no outer framework, no assumptions. And so, maybe there was a kind of calling from outside that was tapping at us from within. And the creation itself? It is perhaps a journey, a wandering. One that goes within us, into our essence. Because when we are really wandering  just simply going  ‘for’ or ‘towards’ ourselves, then we can end up anywhere, as if unconcerned about the outer destination of our journey. And yet, having finally reached this ‘towards’, or simply having reached our ‘selves’ – it turns out that we have arrived at a certain specific place, with a landscape that we didn’t know before. What is within us and what is within this landscape intersect, as if we’d entrusted something to each other. And a new calling can be heard within this landscape... Perhaps this metaphor is the most appropriate way of describing the nature of our path towards Apocalypsis. Because apparently there was a kind of initial outline – a rough draft of the text – that Grotowski prepared, based on Samuel Zborowski.[1] It also included suggestions about the casting of the roles, and there was even a sort of discussion about this draft: What is it for us? What within it is contained in each of us? What is alive within it that comes to me? What is alive within me that I can bring to it? However, when we began to work on our individual and collective études – without using the text from this draft, not even as a ‘support’, just keeping it as if on the fringes of our memory – it emerged that the seed, the essence of these études was leading us away from Samuel Zborowski and towards the Gospels. Not in terms of the Gospels’ literary or religious dimensions, but in terms of what was alive in them that was present within us – just as time is alive in us, in a human way. And this was the direction we took.

Stanisław Scierski as John in Apocalypsis cum Figuris in 1979. Photograph: Maurizio Buscarino, courtesy of the Grotowski Institute.

Stanisław Scierski as John in Apocalypsis cum Figuris in 1979. Photograph: Maurizio Buscarino, courtesy of the Grotowski Institute.

Starczak-Kozłowska: And what was Grotowski’s role in this search?

Scierski: Grotowski was entrusted with shaping the course of this collective search. He helped to develop the études – respecting our right to take risks – and he selected and often completely inspired them. In a word, he watched over the riverbed that we were collectively bringing into being. It should be emphasised that many of the études were improvisational in nature.[2] This is how the performance under the working title of Ewangelie (The Gospels) came into being. There were even several performances with invited audiences.[3] After one of these, we concluded, with Grotowski, that a completely new construction had emerged – but one that was rooted in familiar territory, and that, roughly speaking, several traces of our previous accomplishments could be detected within it. Thus, we decided to give it up, while keeping with us everything that we felt was fertile in it. And then we saw the essential perspective for us that, as it turned out, would eventually lead to Apocalypsis. From the études we’d presented to Grotowski, and from those he’d prepared with us since the beginning, he put together a new whole. For those études that didn’t contain any text but which obviously required some, Grotowski – together with the actors – proposed some new suggestions. In addition to Dostoevsky, he included texts by T.S. Eliot and Simone Weil – writers he knew to be familiar and close to us. All this work was an experience that was exulting and dramatic for me in equal measure; at the same time bringing a sense of understanding of this particular communion in which the proximity of someone close to you brings you unforeseen hope and strength. And in no way would I be able to relate it to ‘theatricality’ – even in its most authentic sense – or even to ‘artistic experience’.

Starczak-Kozłowska: What is the purpose of the research in the Teatr Laboratorium – the Actors’ Institute?

Scierski: A figure who stands out for us, Professor Kotarbiński,[4] once quoted Michelangelo: ‘We shouldn’t make light of trifles, as trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle’. I think I’ve quoted him correctly. Returning to your question, if I were to respond with this quote, I’d only keep the part about the ‘trifles’, because I don’t think the Teatr Laboratorium would ever allow itself the luxury of a search for some kind of generally understood ‘perfection’, in a direct or smug way. Even less so in terms of a discursively defined objective. And the trifles – yes, these have been dealt with very carefully in the Teatr Laboratorium, and I could say that among them there has never been room for building up a kind of ‘stock means of expression’, for any knowledge of how (to do), for any chance of knowing (how to solve something in advance), for any kinds of prescriptions. This ‘knowing’, whenever it emerged, was in that very moment called into question. Was it therefore only an eliminative, negative ‘programme’? No. There was a positive one, too, although it was never formulated straightforwardly. It was underground in some way – more like water that is absorbed by the earth than understanding through words. We could speak here about the desire – different for each actor/human being – to liberate their innate possibility for opening up, for completeness, for wholeness. His or hers – this Concrete Human Being. We could speak about moving beyond oneself, in the sense that we open up what is most essential for us, and what is the unity in the human being. What I’ve just said is very general, but at the same time very ‘tangible’.

From the left: Zbigniew Cynkutis (below), Zygmunt Molik (above), Antoni Jahołkowski, Stanisław Scierski, and Elizabeth Albahaca in Apocalypsis cum Figuris. Photograph: Maurizio Buscarino, courtesy of the Grotowski Institute.

From the left: Zbigniew Cynkutis (below), Zygmunt Molik (above), Antoni Jahołkowski, Stanisław Scierski, and Elizabeth Albahaca in Apocalypsis cum Figuris. Photograph: Maurizio Buscarino, courtesy of the Grotowski Institute.

Starczak-Kozłowska: What preparatory exercises did you do when you were undertaking this programme?

Scierski: We’d been doing exercises – there were many of them, even – before three basic sections emerged: corporel, plastique, and vocal. In any case, these were in a state of constant searching, of change. The searching in this area was simply logical when you consider that the exercises were aimed at ridding our bodies of inertia, of laziness, in order for us to be able to reveal ourselves in our human, physical totality – so that the body didn’t present an obstacle, and didn’t separate a person from their self. So the exercises couldn’t become set, they couldn’t congeal into a form – if they became rigid, they would no longer awaken anything within us. Such as they were, they never turned into gymnastics for example, which repelled me. But neither were they – nor could they be – some kind of automatic device for producing a particular state [...]. In fact, we completely ruled out the notion of a given ‘state’ – it simply didn’t have the right to exist. Furthermore, no one could ever allow themselves to look for a certain ‘state’ while in the action. It was always kept very down-to-earth. Because it wasn’t about generalities, which in any case are elusive, it wasn’t about a ‘state’. Maybe this will help clarify the matter: the action doesn’t just come from within a human being [człowiek], it doesn’t take place within a bubble, in isolation, precisely ‘in a state’ – which can be caused variously by being too full of yourself, or shining with a sterile, professional perfectionism or a kind of self-induced ‘intellectual’ pathos. Rather, it is towards  not even for, but towards – Him or Her, towards the Present One. If I were to try to dispel any ambiguity here, I would have to say: I am from You. On many levels I am Your co-existence, Your co-runner, Your co-blood – or, if you prefer, Your reflection. I want to reach a moment in which I can meet You as I am, in all that is most essential within me; that is, in You too. In You; that is, in me. And I don’t know if it’s in joy or in sorrow – it’s in existence, full existence.

Starczak-Kozłowska: Are the terms often used to describe types of acting in contemporary theatre such as ‘experiencing’ and ‘mimetic’ acting [przeżywanie i odtwarzanie] – unsuitable for your theatre?[5]

Scierski: Actually, we are trying to limit the possibilities for them to be able to function as a ‘screen’, or as a sort of ‘casing’, an externally demonstrated form of action – in fact, as a way of hiding oneself.

Starczak-Kozłowska: What about the role of improvisation within a finished production?

Scierski: Improvisation is indispensable within the score of a role, which – like the score of the whole performance – is a riverbed, in which a constantly new river is flowing.

Starczak-Kozłowska: The last, and most essential matter: who, for you, is the spectator?

Scierski: We won’t call them a spectator, but rather a human being who has come here. I think we come together to confide in one another: him, me, her, again him. If there is still a ‘spectator’, the greater is my fault for allowing them to be a mere spectator.

Translated from Polish by Duncan Jamieson and Adela Karsznia


Notes

  1. ^ The Teatr Laboratorium worked on an adaptation of Juliusz Słowacki’s Samuel Zborowski from 8 December 1965 to 31 May 1966. Trans.
  2. ^ Following the period of work under the title Samuel Zborowski, throughout summer and autumn of 1966 the actors worked on ‘cycles’ and ‘études’ until the work came under the project title Ewangelie, beginning from the rehearsal on 19 November 1966. Trans.
  3. ^ Ewangelie was presented to an invited audience on 20 March 1967. Eds.
  4. ^ Tadeusz Marian Kotarbiński (1886-1981) was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw, then Rector of the University of Łódź (1945-1949) and a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences (1957-1962). Trans.
  5. ^ The Polish term przeżywanie is etymologically related to the Russian term employed by Stanislavsky – perezhivanie. The latter has been translated into English variously as ‘living through’, ‘experiencing’ and ‘revivification’, among others. Trans.