Culture Hub


Open Access Open Access Translation Reviewed Translation Reviewed 1178 view(s) 1178 view(s) 1178

On the Long and Winding Road


Laboratory Theatre Teo Spychalski Jerzy Grotowski paratheatre Theatre of Sources active culture Art as vehicle training acting rehearsals counterculture Objective Drama Edward Csató Ryszard Cieślak Elizabeth Albahaca Sylvie Belai Serge Ouaknine François Kahn Waldemar Krygier Zygmunt Molik Rena Mirecka Jacek Zmysłowski François Liège Maro Shimoda Włodzimierz Staniewski Maud Robart Tiga The Constant Prince Gospels Apocalypsis cum figuris Akropolis Gospel of Thomas Holiday University of Research Mountain Project Vigils Tree of People Special Project Art of the Beginner Movements The Motions Brzezinka Ostrowina Wrocław La Tenaille Mexico Haiti Saint-Soleil vodou Carlos Castaneda The Solitude of Theatre USA Canada Montreal Theatre Prospero Groupe de la Veillée Gabriel Arcand Gdańsk Martial Law

Teo Spychalski worked with Jerzy Grotowski from 1967 to 1981. He studied literature and theatre at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń and wrote his Master’s thesis on the Teatr Laboratorium’s acting technique and productions. In 1967 he was invited to join the Teatr Laboratorium, first as an actor-apprentice and then as Grotowski’s assistant. From 1972 he directed the Teatr Laboratorium’s International Studio for foreign students/apprentices and work participants. He collaborated closely with Grotowski on various projects during the post-theatrical phase, up to and including Theatre of Sources and, during its realisation in spring and summer 1980, he conceived and led the branch of this work based in Ostrowina. He also took part in expeditions to Haiti (1979) and Mexico (1980). Since 1982 he has lived in Montreal, where, until 2010, he was artistic director of Theatre Prospero and the theatre company Le Groupe de la Veillée. There, he created various performance projects based on texts by Nijinsky, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Rilke, Céline, Knut Hamsun, and Gombrowicz, and staged plays by Strindberg, Kleist, Tankred Dorst, Per Olov Enquist, Dusan Kovacevic, and David Harrower.

The text is based on an interview held in Sopot on 25 November 2009, subsequently revised through email correspondence.

Grzegorz Ziółkowski: How did you find out about the Teatr Laboratorium? How did you get to know its work? And what were the circumstances of you joining this theatre permanently in 1967?

Teo Spychalski: In 1962, I began my studies in Polish literature and language at Toruń University, the same year Edward Csató – a prominent critic and writer from Warsaw – started guest lecturing there.[1] Surely it was a stroke of fate. He ran classes on dramatic analysis as well as Master’s seminars. In those days in Poland, it was a pioneering idea to create a specialisation in theatre, and later maybe even a separate university department of Theatre Studies. Csató was to be head of this department in Toruń, but, after his premature death from a heart attack on a train in April 1968, everything unravelled.

In winter 1965, I went to Wrocław with a fellow student, who was theatre-mad and spoke continually about this strange theatre in southern Poland in which actors threw benches and tables out among the audience. And so we spent three days in February in Wrocław shadowing rehearsals in Grotowski’s theatre. There were high fences in the room and below there was a semi-naked man struggling with the monologues of Prince Ferdinand (from The Constant Prince by Calderón/Słowacki). It must have been some kind of technical work: Ryszard Cieślak would often pause, trying to memorise the text and action.

Later, in 1966, when I had to decide on the subject of my Masters’ thesis, I mentioned the Teatr 13 Rzędów (Theatre of the 13 Rows, under which name this theatre was also known). Csató’s reaction was instant and decisive: yes, absolutely! So off I went on the night train to Wrocław. When I appeared at the theatre in the Old Town Square, it turned out that Grotowski worked at night and slept during the day at a hotel. At 9am, I went to the hotel reception. A phone call to his room. Where was I phoning from? Downstairs. ‘Come up’, was the answer. He was sitting on the bed in his pyjamas. The conversation lasted no more than two minutes. He agreed I could do my Master’s thesis [on the company] on condition that I would become a full-time apprentice in his theatre while I wrote it. I was to return to the theatre in a fortnight and to bring gym shorts with me. A rather strange outfit for a literature student.


Teo Spychalski during the 1960s. Photographer unknown; courtesy of the author.

On my return to Toruń, Csató exulted even more and immediately arranged for me to be exempt from all my classes so I could go and stay in Wrocław. I went there at the end of November 1966, and so began a really interesting and crucial year for me. For unknown reasons, I became part of a group of foreign apprentices at the theatre (perhaps northern Poland meant ‘abroad’ to those Galician artists?).[2] Anyway, I joined a group with Elizabeth Albahaca, Sylvie Belai, and Serge Ouaknine.[3] In the mornings there were plastique exercises with Rena Mirecka and physical training under the guidance of the company’s actors. And then rehearsals: for those days, an unconventional, amazing, and innovative approach to theatre work, to Ewangelie (The Gospels). I observed and described. But the object of study soon devoured the writer. What was happening in the theatre was so absorbing. I wrote at night while listening to the music from Hair, such as ‘Good Morning Starshine’, or to early Beatles songs – played through the night on Polish Radio. Enchanted, magical moments.

Ziółkowski: And what about your thesis?[4]

Spychalski: Normally such theses were typed out on a typewriter, in three or four copies. All of them disappeared, even the one from the University, and my copy was supposedly taken out of the theatre’s archive in the old days. Only recently, in my family house in Gdańsk, did this rather candid (because youthful) work emerge from beneath piles of books and papers.

Ziółkowski: What were your duties when you were employed at the Teatr Laboratorium? You weren’t an actor.

Spychalski: No, I wasn’t an actor and I didn’t really have aspirations in this direction. Yet one day, during this happy spring of 1967, I had a premonition that I probably wouldn’t leave this place for some time. And in fact, not long afterwards, Ryszard Cieślak asked me on behalf of Grotowski about my future plans and whether I would consider staying with them. I stayed. In the beginning, I was still an ordinary apprentice and I even took part in some acting études, but it would be better to forget about this. And still I watched all the rehearsals.

Ziółkowski: The chronicles note that Ewangelie was presented only once, in a closed presentation on 20 March 1967.

Spychalski: Ewangelie was altered so much, it was almost mangled. Run-throughs took place frequently and in lots of different versions. It was a complicated structure with many people in it. There are descriptions of numerous montages of the whole piece or its halves in my notes from that time. And one day, at last, it was to be gloriously accomplished, and a poster was made by Waldemar Krygier, which listed the multitude of actors.[5] And then suddenly the decision was made to abandon Ewangelie. It was not an easy step. Inevitably, it caused a crisis in the company, as well as in relations with those in power and with the artistic milieu, because it was inconceivable that a respectable theatre hadn’t presented a new premiere for almost two years.


Production poster for The Gospels (1967), designed by Waldemar Krygier.

And then the process of ‘cleaning’ started – a real purge. Many people had to quit the theatre: almost all the Polish apprentices disappeared, and only Elizabeth Albahaca remained from the foreign group, becoming an important member of the main team. Grotowski probably realised that his plan of adding new people to the company hadn’t worked. The disparity between the actors from the main group and the younger apprentices was perhaps so great that no matter how intense the exercises were, they could not bridge this gap. As for myself, surprisingly I was told that I was to stay. When I asked Grotowski what for, he replied that I’d be ‘some kind of internal theatre researcher’.

At that time, Grotowski and I got to know each other better. I shared a flat with Zygmunt Molik. Grot often used to visit Molik after work at night and because I wasn’t asleep, he came into my room and there was an opportunity to talk. At that time I was the youngest in the company. Grotowski probably didn’t have much contact with the younger generation then, and so our night conversations began to grow longer. I felt like a small window through which the already great and important artist was looking at the younger world. With his dark glasses and in his black coat he looked like a rabbi or a Hasidic Jew wandering around Wrocław at night, puzzling about what was happening in his theatre – and in Poland. He asked me many questions and listened carefully. And I listened to him too and learned a lot. It was already winter, going into the early spring of 1968. Not an easy time for our country.[6]

Of course, the idea of ‘an internal theatre researcher’ was utopian; during rehearsals, quiet and calm were required rather than the rustling of notes and papers. Besides, I don’t think I had the right temperament for that. At the same time, I was to organise a kind of archive in the theatre. No great results with this either: someone or other would continually take away some cuttings or documents. Our Boss himself excelled in this, and then he would joke: ‘Again, a victory for matter over spirit’.[7] I was also in charge of the foreign candidates who wanted to become apprentices – Grotowski needed somebody to relieve him of these duties, so I was useful in this respect. I even worked out a three-week method of teaching people how to speak rudimentary, but communicative Polish. Many of our former foreigners probably still speak this peculiar Polish ‘dialect’.

Ziółkowski: What kept you attached to the Teatr Laboratorium?

Spychalski: Firstly, it was the atmosphere of intensity and the feeling of the essential importance of what was happening there. These people were searching with great concentration, in the quiet, in the calm, with an unusual focus and without unnecessary talking. The level and quality of presence were so high that sometimes it was almost hypnotising. For those who were there for only a brief period this could have been confusing; they would sometimes try to reproduce some of the external manifestations and expressions they’d seen in the Teatr Laboratorium work.

Secondly, it was because of the performance that was being presented then: The Constant Prince, which I saw many times. After witnessing something like that, it would be crazy not to want to stay with these people. Sometimes this performance made you shiver with emotion. It was the reaction of being faced with a fully accomplished, extreme work of art. Nothing sentimental – it was all existential and engraved in your body, brain, and tissue. At that time there was a strong emphasis on professionalism at the Teatr Laboratorium; amateurism was despised and any easy sentimentalism cursed. Later, there came Akropolis as well, because the decision was taken to revive this performance.[8] In a different way, it was a very deep, beautiful, and moving performance. And finally, there was the search for this new and difficult work Ewangelie, which later became Apocalypsis cum Figuris.

It needs to be said that each of these performances was very different, very distinct. Grotowski had this constant maxim (and it was addressed primarily to himself): ‘Do not repeat yourself!’ And another: ‘No half-measures!’ The rejection of both artistic repetition and the duplication of the company’s achievements, along with the radicalism of all the projects that were undertaken – all this was fascinating. A very Romantic approach, which in the long-run also implied certain dangers.

Ziółkowski: So you observed the rehearsals for Apocalypsis...

Spychalski: Almost to the end. But during the last three weeks before the premiere, the tension within the company reached the stage when it was decided they would work without any observers. At last, the so-called ‘premiere’ came on 19 July 1968. The performance of this version was presented only once. I saw it. It was a piece born out of tiredness and torment, which still wasn’t very legible and was almost lifeless – perhaps because of the fact that everyone was worn-out by the continuous rehearsals lasting many hours prior to the premiere. Members of the local government attended along with the chair of Wrocław City Council Bolesław Iwaszkiewicz, who was very supportive, and they were probably content that the theatre had at last shown a new performance.

Soon afterwards, the company went on a foreign tour (the Olympics in Mexico) and had time to gain some distance and to think things through.[9] As a result, further changes were introduced, even in the cast (only one Mary Magdalene was left, performed by Elizabeth Albahaca).[10] And over half a year later, after the second and ‘real’ premiere on 11 February 1969, the performance was very different from before; it had as powerful an effect as The Constant Prince, though in a very different way. This version was fully accomplished, very vivid, and again it was theatrically revealing.

The performance then matured for a few years. It ripened. This was a good sign, a sign of its richness and its multiple levels, which were gradually being revealed. The process of self-discovery and self-enrichment continued. And later still, as is known, there were further changes to the performance, which were associated with entering the paratheatrical phase [of the company’s work]. The benches were removed, the spectators were seated on the floor, and the white, soiled costumes were abandoned.[11] I missed these costumes because to my mind they were better than the supposedly ‘personal’ ones that were used later on. But the changes in fact had a more profound meaning. After 1970 and 1971, Grotowski significantly altered – or attempted to alter – Apocalypsis’ existential perspective and consistency. He wanted to include an element of hope and some kind of acceptance, a lighter perspective in this work, which was initially bitter and consisted of a cruel – though accurate – view of our civilisation, an act built upon the impulse of rejection. He wanted this work not only to be the work of an ending, but also a beginning, a passage to a second stage, to a new life. Arcadia after the Apocalypse? This wasn’t easy. There were no changes to the structure or text, at any level. A lot could be said about this. It was a bit like seasoning mustard with honey. It was related to the state of Grot’s spirit as an artist and philosopher of life at that moment, so to speak. To the self-transformation he was undergoing then.

Apocalypsis was performed for a long time, with periods of ups and downs. There were various reasons for the long lifespan of the performance. Perhaps it was too long? But it’s a pity there is no well-made film recording of this performance.[12]

Ziółkowski: Let’s go to the beginnings of paratheatre, when the farm was bought in Brzezinka and when you were refurbishing it. I’m also curious about when Ostrowina appeared.[13]

Spychalski: In autumn 1969, the theatre at last went to the United States, on a very successful tour.[14] During that period, I had the task of finding new people in Poland. So, I travelled to cities and met various theatre groups. But when the company came back from the USA, it appeared that Grotowski needed something different already. What he and his actors had encountered in the United States had made a great impression on them; it became clear that the searching should be done in other areas, in the potential Polish sub- or counter-culture, rather than among actors.

So the work of a new phase of recruitment began. We decided to use the media, the press, the radio, the TV; we were modern! A rather cryptic message was formulated so that the authorities wouldn’t be suspicious about its subversive nature, but also to make sure that those to whom it was addressed could easily catch our drift. From the hundreds of letters we chose a few dozen candidates and invited them to Wrocław in November 1970. And there was a very noisy one-day meeting, during which Grot chose about ten people. This new group became known as the młodziaki (youngsters), and the directive was to avoid putting them in touch with the old group in order to ‘prevent them from being contaminated’ – as Grotowski ‘elegantly’ phrased it then. This worked for a while.

These young people played instruments, sang, moved, and danced – all of it was as lovely and as nice as it was naive, but no matter. Grot was getting to know them; he observed them and immersed himself in their youthfulness. From that first group of ten, only a few people remained,[15] as well as Włodek [Włodzimierz] Staniewski who joined the group after he was discovered elsewhere.[16] Grotowski later added some members from the old company and prepared [the event] ‘Holiday’ [Święto].[17] This group – along with me, who was in between these two generations – set out to clean the proverbial stable and pigsty by clearing out the rubble in Brzezinka. Later on, I ran a month-long work session with them and the next stage of selection followed – a slightly phoney one, because I was aware in advance who Grotowski was interested in. And after this session, which was in fact my first paratheatrical work, our Boss told me that from now on I would be working alone with the foreigners. This was soon named the ‘International Studio’. In these activities, water, earth, fire, hay, and stones appeared – all the paraphernalia of that time. Grotowski gave me a lot of freedom. Of course, we spoke and from time to time he would come along, observe, and comment on the work – usually concluding that there was too much ‘theatre’ in it. He suspected himself of the same thing, and this was one of the reasons why he didn’t continue with Święto.

Finally, two kilometres from Brzezinka in Ostrowina, there was a small, empty, foresters’ lodge with a cowshed which was allocated for the use of my foreign group. We prepared a workplace there and it gradually became a parallel site to Brzezinka. Three months later the activities of The University of Research of the Theatre of Nations [Uniwersytet Poszukiwań Teatru Narodów] took place, also in Ostrowina.[18] My foreign group and I organised actions in which the participants of the University would arrive by train at a village far from our place and walk for about half a day through the woods to Ostrowina. There would be many paratheatrical surprises and meanderings on the way. Such were the Grotowskian people’s games and pursuits in those days.

Ziółkowski: Throughout the whole paratheatrical period, Grotowski’s and your own work developed simultaneously, alongside one another. How did you know what you were supposed to do?

Spychalski: Did I know? Or did he know? If I knew, I knew it in my bones, through induction. Of course we had contact with each other and he was probably pleased that what we did somehow functioned, that people were eager to come in large numbers and take part in what we called ‘active culture’, and that it gave them something. And this lightened Grotowski’s load. Yes, it happened through induction. He imposed nothing. It was like rubbing against each other at a distance. And guessing. He called out the wolves and other animals from the woods – his famous ‘challenges’ – and we were to chase and tame them. This was what our collaboration looked like in those days – but also later on.

So, I ran something like a separate institution within the institution; it was independent from other activities and I could realise my ideas freely. This evolved, and later they melted together into Theatre of Sources. Grotowski took from everyone whatever he needed. He drew on everything: fragments of conversations, allusions, and observations.

Ziółkowski: You said in Kraków during the Solitude of Theatre conference [in 2009][19] that the series of work sessions at the French abbey La Tenaille in Saintes in summer 1976 was a turning point for you.[20]

Spychalski: It was indeed the beginning of a fruitful time. Paratheatre had already revealed all its limits and mirages: its excessive playfulness, the general getting together and fraternisation, the burnout of energies. At Abbaye de la Tenaille – along with Maro Shimoda from Japan, my friend and fellow collaborator since 1974, and with François Liège from France, who subsequently joined us there – we started to discover new possibilities based on a specific understanding of presence and movement, on a kind of non-habitual spontaneity. It raised questions, or rather gave answers: how was movement being born in us and from outside of us, beyond the intervention of our usual ‘controlling willpower’? What was its yeast, its raising agent? From what level of our attention did movement emerge? How did movement grow out of a spiral of ‘arousal’ and renunciation? Movement that opposes itself but that yields, still at the beginning, in status nascendi. No emotions, no sentiments, no illusions in it, only the gradual rising of a crystal lucidity. It is comparable, in a way, to perpetuum mobile: never-ending movement, where the flow of time is altered. No fatigue, no refusal. All this was opposed to the previous paratheatrical habits.


Teo Spychalski at The Solitude of Theatre conference (2009). Photograph: Francesco Galli, courtesy of the Grotowski Institute.

Grotowski appeared at night like a spirit among the participants and observed, listening deeply with his ears, eyes, and skin. Many things came out of this experience. Some months later there was a reading of The Gospel of Thomas and a ‘cross-fertilisation’ with the explosive words contained within it.[21]

Ziółkowski: In spring 1977, Grotowski handed to you and asked you to read a French edition of this apocryphal gospel.

Spychalski: This text made a big impression on me then. It revealed so much and in some particular aspects reaffirmed our path. Wanting to understand it better, I quickly translated it into Polish. I read that French version of the text for the first time in silence on the carpet in Grotowski’s flat on Kościuszko Street in Wrocław, under his vigilant watch. There were no chairs or tables, just this little carpet on which Grotowski exercised. There was also a gramophone on which he listened to what was quite strange music for him, by Marek Grechuta,[22] Maryla Rodowicz,[23] Zhanna Bichevskaya,[24] and George Harrison. It seems he was impregnating himself with the pop culture of those times.

Ziółkowski: In late autumn 1977, you met each other in the United States.

Spychalski: I was in Oregon and Grotowski arrived there from Haiti.[25] He was fascinated by that place and by its tradition. It was as if he had jumped headfirst into a big new river and the raging current was carrying him away. With great respect, but greedily nonetheless, he fed himself with this experience. It deepened and made more precise his notion of ‘sources’, and its connection with a specific new understanding of the theatre.

His fascination with Carlos Castaneda’s literary visions came even earlier. From Oregon, we went together to San Francisco, and in Berkeley Grotowski made me contact various people, professors and anthropologists (as his English wasn’t good enough then, especially on the phone). But he never admitted that it was all about meeting with Castaneda. All those phone calls seemed like hunting for somebody in hiding or who didn’t even exist (by the way, we seriously suspected Castaneda of this). In the end, I never knew whether Grot met him or not. If so, they probably took a pact of silence and nobody will ever know. The Gospel of Thomas, the meeting with the Saint-Soleil group in Haiti, and Castaneda’s shamanic fantasies, which Grotowski actually made fun of, saying ‘This is all very improbable, but still completely true’ – were the foundations of this new undertaking.[26]

Ziółkowski: What were the origins of the Motions exercise and other Theatre of Sources activities?[27]

Spychalski: Once, when I was with them in the Brzezinka group, I started talking about my last two years of activities in Ostrowina and I mentioned that I’d elaborated a series of exercises – a vague mixture of some yoga, tai chi, and some personal imaginings about the attentive quality of birds – which I unpretentiously called ‘Movements’ [ruchy]. Grotowski immediately ordered me to introduce the whole Brzezinka group to them, without even checking what these exercises were like. Only later on, during an expedition to Mexico in 1980, did he ask François Kahn to show them to him.[28] Our contact with the Huichols had been unsuccessful, so we had to fill the time somehow. From then on, these ‘Movements’ started functioning in two different versions. During the open phase of Theatre of Sources, they were done in both ‘Ostrowina’ and ‘Brzezinka’ versions. Then my original (maybe primitive?) branch of this activity vanished, just as our ‘neanderthal ancestors’ gave life to a more sophisticated and more homo sapiens-like, version, inclined towards the sacred: Motions.

In fact, Grotowski never saw me doing my Movements. He took on this exercise through a third person.

Ziółkowski: Among the Theatre of Sources expeditions, the one to Haiti in summer 1979 seems particularly important.[29] Grotowski had experienced something there during his previous visit that had been exceptionally inspiring and essential for him.

Spychalski: Certainly. He took us there as though on a journey to Mecca. Everything was well organised, unlike with the trip to Mexico. We met the Saint-Soleil group at their premises in Saisson-la-Montagne, near Port-au-Prince. We also went north to see Eliezar Cadet, a very unorthodox vodou priest. But it must be emphasised that just as Mexico wasn’t about experimenting with peyote, the Haiti expedition wasn’t about experiencing being possessed. Besides, Saint-Soleil wasn’t a religious vodou group; they practised a different kind of group movement connected to singing, which later – in 1980 – they cultivated daily over several months in Brzezinka. Before leaving for Haiti in summer 1979, Grotowski chose fragments from The Gospel of Thomas and gave one to each of us, asking us to create our own melody for it. It was to be our gift to the Haitians as a thank you for their singing and movements, because we did not have any activities of our own to share at that time.

Ziółkowski: During the conference in Kraków in March 2009, you said that Theatre of Sources had a ‘concentric structure’, with the work of the Haitians at its centre.

Spychalski: There were many activities in Theatre of Sources – some similar to what we’d done before in Ostrowina. Others were inspired by Castaneda’s books (hanging from trees, slow walking etc.). Apart from Movements, I proposed a circling, marching-dance in a regular rhythm that was kept by somebody playing on a tree stump placed at the centre of the circle – this was reminiscent of what I’d seen in 1977, among the indigenous Canadians in a reservation on the island of Manitoulin. But there was also quite a bit of casualness around this work and some activities were created quite randomly, without a sufficiently solid foundation. All these were the outer circles of work that surrounded the group of Haitians with Maud Robart and Tiga, which was so crucial for Grotowski.[30] Without a doubt, Maud Robart’s participation had a fundamental meaning for him. Without her, what followed later wouldn’t have been possible. As we know, the Haitian songs and the Motions remained essential elements of Grotowski’s later work.

Ziółkowski: At some point the idea of creating a branch of the Teatr Laboratorium in Gdańsk cropped up. Where did this come from?

Spychalski: This was by no means Grotowski’s first attempt somehow to disconnect himself from his institution – from his Institute, his Teatr Laboratorium, which was so strongly connected to him. It may be difficult to imagine this today, but earlier on he had already tried to liberate himself from his theatre. This fantasy tormented him, if not all the time then at least occasionally, for sure. The desire to distance himself, to go on a journey, the dream of a new beginning. The syndrome of a patriarch leaving his family, his clan? It was impulsive and it returned in waves. Who wouldn’t be familiar with this…? At the same time, in his situation it was completely unrealistic, unfeasible. The first case of this that I am aware of occurred in 1969, when Grotowski wanted to pass on the theatre, or the main part of it, to a young theatre director, who refused however. But those were the old days.

Then at some point in spring 1976 he surprised me greatly by announcing that he was planning to hand over the direction of his whole institution to one of us: either to me or to Jacek Zmysłowski, and he asked me what I thought about it. I told him that in my opinion, for many reasons, it should be Jacek. Probably this decision determined who would do Mountain Project in 1977. Jacek led this and I went on my first long American journey. Yet for various reasons, the theatre wasn’t passed on to anyone. Grot had something else on his mind then – he was already thinking about Haiti and Theatre of Sources.

A bit later, this idea returned in a different version – as a branch of the theatre in Gdańsk under Jacek’s and my leadership. This was to happen after 1980, after Theatre of Sources. Although the idea of sending us on an internal emigration had probably already come up in 1978. The theatre led a series of activities in Gdańsk: Jacek ran The Vigils [Czuwania] at the Pałac Opatów (Abbots’ Palace) in Gdańsk Oliwa, I made my own work, and there were some activities in the forests in Kaszuby.[31] This was at the same time as Grotowski announced the opening of Theatre of Sources at the seminar ‘Art of the Beginner’ [Sztuka debiutanta] in Warsaw.[32] Later on, Apocalypsis was presented at Gdańsk’s Muzeum Narodowe (National Museum). In addition, I had a friend from my schooldays who was the manager of the Gdańsk Council’s Culture Department, so I contacted him. I even looked at a few places in and around the city. But I wasn’t keen to move back to my childhood landscapes, so I only agreed to help organise it for a year or two. But Jacek’s personal fate, his illness, as well as the fate of our theatre and our country, altered our plans. And finally, by the same twist of fate, it so happened that it was not one of us young ones, but Ludwik Flaszen, the oldest member and co-founder of the Teatr Laboratorium, who ran the company in the final stage of its existence.[33]

Ziółkowski: At the same time as Theatre of Sources, you took part in Tree of People.

Spychalski: At various stages, Grotowski had the ‘strategic’ need to organise mass events that functioned alongside our more specific research. These projects often had English titles, which were sometimes meaningful, sometimes strange or provocatively hollow: The University of Research, Special Project, Active Culture, Openings, Mountain Project. They were, among other things, to prove that we weren’t exclusive, that we were open and made our theatre accessible to people. They were also to prove that we had some developed techniques that could be passed on further. And people came from around the world. Tree of People was the last of these mass events. Even the theatre’s older members were invited into this project, which in fact had the character of paratheatre once again, with many of the associated traps. It quickly became an ordeal. Of course, some pleasant moments did occur in the end, mainly after a so-called ‘second wind’ and after crossing the threshold of energetic exhaustion. Some members escaped from the project under any old pretext. Well, it’s not a pretty image, but in order to think and talk openly about our great, long-term adventure, we shouldn’t close our eyes to its downside and to its traps.

Ziółkowski: Theatre of Sources continued to exist through 1981 and 1982.

Spychalski: Without me. Soon after the summer 1980 [stage of] Theatre of Sources, I went with my family on a three-month trip to Venezuela that we’d planned. I went by cargo ship from Gdynia to Caracas, and then I was going to return to Poland via Montreal. I could never have imagined emigrating! I had a return ticket for the flight from Montreal that I didn’t use in the end. But for sure, over the middle of the Atlantic I thought affectionately about Witold Gombrowicz, who left Poland for Argentina by cargo ship just before the Second World War, planning to come back three weeks later – and who never returned.

Grotowski started sending us messages and discouraged us from returning. He feared there would be a tragic denouement to the political situation. At the same time, in December 1980, he asked me to go to New York to join Jacek Zmysłowski, whose health was deteriorating. For the whole of 1981, I organised workshops with Jacek, in order to raise money for his treatment and to keep him busy. Then, that fatal winter arrived... When I was just about to go back to Poland via Montreal, I learned on the Canadian border what had happened in Poland on 13 December.[34] Again the wheel of fate turned and prompted me to begin a second life, which has in fact lasted longer than the first one in the Teatr Laboratorium.

Ziółkowski: From the end of 1982, Grotowski stayed in the United States while you lived in Canada. Were you in touch? Didn’t you talk about continuing the collaboration?

Spychalski: Everything was vague and uncertain in those days. Before Martial Law, I met Grotowski once in Montreal in 1981, and he said in passing that he would like me to travel around the world on his behalf, meeting people with whom he could work in a secluded place somewhere. A bit afraid of this prospect, I gasped and muttered that maybe I’d had enough travelling. This idea was similar to that of the ‘internal theatre researcher’ or the ‘branch in Gdańsk’. Besides, everything was falling down around us, and every three days or so all our plans and ideas had to be altered. Eventually the Teatr Laboratorium ceased to exist. And I found myself over there, on the other side of this ‘big pond’ where for some years I continued various activities similar to ours in the Laboratorium, with friends from Le Groupe de la Veillée founded by Gabriel Arcand ten years before.[35] At the same time I started creating theatre performances and humbly directing and training performers in acting workshops.

Ziółkowski: You worked at the Teatr Laboratorium for almost fifteen years.

Spychalski: You call it work… It was a ‘long and winding road’. At each turn of this laborious and magical journey, like in an ancient fairytale, we ran or sometimes dragged ourselves along behind our rowdy and idealistic ‘Robin Hood’, who would shout either beautiful or strange commands at us, and who would occasionally rage and scream: ‘I won’t wait for you!’, ‘Don’t repeat yourself!’, ‘Let’s go into the unknown!’. He would sometimes give orders whose meaning wasn’t easy to decipher, so we had to keep on guessing. Various curious travellers, visitors from around the world, would appear and join us in this cortege. They would come along and then disappear. We had to face various ‘tasks’ and ‘challenges’, which, like strange unknown creatures, would emerge from the dark forest and you couldn’t be sure whether they were laughing or wanted to devour you. That is to say, you had to invest yourself in it totally. It wasn’t a dream or an illusion but sharpened lucidity. This was the landscape in which we followed the one who ‘cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills’, as King Solomon describes the ‘beloved’ in the Song of Songs. And truly he was, in his own very particular way, a great lover of life.

Translated from Polish by Justyna Drobnik-Rogers


  1. ^ On Edward Csató and his influence, see the interview with Stefania Gardecka, ‘He Smelted Gold Out of People’, elsewhere in this volume, pp. 141-49 (p. 143, n. 5) <>. All footnotes in this text are by the editors.
  2. ^ Galicia is a region encompassing much of southeast Poland, including Kraków, and what is now western Ukraine.
  3. ^ See Serge Ouaknine, ‘Théâtre Laboratoire de Wrocław. Le Prince Constant. Scénario et mise en scène par Jerzy Grotowski d’après l’adaptation par Juliusz Słowacki de la pièce de Calderón’, Les voies de la création théâtrale, 1 (1970), 19-129.
  4. ^ Teatr Laboratorium. Założenia i realizacja (Teatr Laboratorium: Some Premises and a Realisation), unpublished Master’s thesis (Toruń: UMK, 1967).
  5. ^ As detailed on the poster: Antoni Jahołkowski (Bedrock), Zbigniew Cynkutis or Zygmunt Molik (Lazarus), Stanisław Scierski (John), Maja Komorowska and Rena Mirecka (the two Mary Magdalenes), Sylvie Belai and Elizabeth Albahaca (The Girls), Ryszard Cieślak (The Beloved). Mieczysław Janowski and the following apprentices also took part: Ewa Benesz, Bernadette Landru, Czesław Wojtała, Andrzej Paluchiewicz, and Henryk Klamecki.
  6. ^ In March 1968, Poland went through a severe political crisis initiated by student demonstrations in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Kraków and Poznań (with students fighting for freedom of speech), which were brutally pacified by the milicja (the semi-militarised police). Among the victims of this unrest were Polish Jews, many of whom were abused, persecuted, and forced out of the country.
  7. ^ Boss is an affectionate term for Grotowski used by his close collaborators. See Gardecka’s and Mirecka’s pieces in this collection for further comment on this. Eds.
  8. ^ This was the fifth version of the performance, which premiered on 17 May 1967.
  9. ^ The company also visited Edinburgh and France.
  10. ^ After the performances in Munich at the Cultural Olympics (22 August to 4 September 1972), Rena Mirecka joined the cast, substituting for Elizabeth Albahaca who was expecting a baby. The production reopened with Mirecka on 23 October 1973. From the tour in Australia (26 March to 11 June 1974), the two actors performed the role of Mary Magdalene on different nights.
  11. ^ The white costumes for the first version were designed by Waldemar Krygier. The second version, without benches and with actors in ‘personal’ clothing, was addressed to a younger audience. It opened in June 1971. For some time, however, the production was performed both with and without the benches, as in Munich in 1972.
  12. ^ Grotowski planned to film the performance and invited the distinguished Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda to do so. Wajda was keen but their schedules never met. See Zbigniew Osiński ‘Niezrealizowane projekty filmowe Andrzeja Wajdy o Teatrze Laboratorium. Korespondencja Wajdy ze Zbigniewem Cynkutisem i Jerzym Grotowskim z lat 1963–1964, 1970–1972 i 1975–1979’ (Andrzej Wajda’s unrealised film projects on the Teatr Laboratorium: Wajda’s correspondence with Zbigniew Cynkutis and Jerzy Grotowski from the years 1963-64, 1970-72, and 1975-79), Pamiętnik Teatralny, 3-4 (2003), 235-63. In the end the Italian film director, Ermanno Olmi, was invited to document the performance. It was filmed in a television studio in Milan, without an audience, in 1979. The film was produced by the Italian television company RAI.
  13. ^ On Brzezinka and Ostrowina, see ‘Introduction: Voices from Within’, elsewhere in this volume, pp. 8-15 (p. 13, n. 14) <>.
  14. ^ The theatre had been refused permission to enter the USA in 1968 because of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact countries.
  15. ^ These were Irena Rycyk, Wiesław Hoszowski, Zbigniew Kozłowski, and Aleksander Lidtke.
  16. ^ Staniewski was chosen after Grotowski saw his performance work with the Teatr STU, an alternative student theatre group in Kraków where he was an actor. Staniewski later left the Laboratorium and founded Gardzienice Theatre Association in 1977. For more on Staniewski see Irena Rycyk Brill, ‘I Had Four Fathers’, elsewhere in this volume, pp. 106-19 (p. 111, n. 24 and 25) <>.
  17. ^ Święto was the first name of a paratheatrical event later called Grotowski Special Project or Narrow Special Project (to differentiate them from Large Special Projects or Special Projects led by Ryszard Cieślak). The first Święto was carried out in June 1973 in Brzezinka and included Elizabeth Albahaca, Jerzy Bogajewicz, Ryszard Cieślak, Jerzy Grotowski, Wiesław Hoszowski, Antoni Jahołkowski, Zbigniew Kozłowski, Aleksander Lidtke, Zygmunt Molik, Teresa Nawrot, Andrzej Paluchiewicz, Irena Rycyk, Stanisław Scierski, and Włodzimierz Staniewski. See Zbigniew Osiński, ‘Występy gościnne Teatru Laboratorium, 1959-1984. Kronika działalności 1978-1984’ (Touring Performances of the Teatr Laboratorium, 1959-1984. A Chronicle of Activities 1978-1984), Pamiętnik Teatralny, 1-4 (2000), 627-90 (p. 643). The text titled ‘Holiday’, which corresponds to this period of Grotowski’s work, was based on his public talk at New York University on 13 December 1970, prepared for print by him in collaboration with Ludwik Flaszen and Spychalski, and published first in Polish by Odra (June 1972) and then in English.
  18. ^ Between 21 June and 6 July 1975, Spychalski ran a series of paratheatrical 'actions' in Ostrowina entitled Song of Myself, in which 62 people took part. See Zbigniew Osiński, Grotowski i jego Laboratorium (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1980), p. 375.
  19. ^ On 27 March 2009 in Kraków, during the conference ‘Grotowski: samotność teatru. Dokumenty, konteksty, interpretacje’ (Grotowski: the Solitude of Theatre. Documents, Contexts, Interpretations), a meeting devoted to Theatre of Sources took place at the Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Teatralna im. Ludwika Solskiego (Ludwik Solski State Higher Theatre School). Renata M. Molinari, Jairo Cuesta, Pierre Guicheney, François Liège, and Spychalski took part in a discussion led by Leszek Kolankiewicz.
  20. ^ The project at La Tenaille was one of the largest and most sustained actions in this period of the company's work. See Osiński, Grotowski i jego Laboratorium, p. 377.
  21. ^ According to Leszek Kolankiewicz, Grotowski became interested in The Gospel of Thomas after reading the opening quotation (its 22nd logion) in R.D. Laing’s The Bird of Paradise, fragments of which were published in Polish translation in Literatura na Świecie (Literature in the World), 11 (1976). Grotowski then explored this apocryphal gospel and included fragments of it in his work in Theatre of Sources, Objective Drama, and Art as vehicle.
  22. ^ Marek Grechuta (1945-2006) was a very popular Polish songwriter, singer, composer, and lyricist.
  23. ^ Maryla Rodowicz (b. 1945) is a popular Polish singer.
  24. ^ Zhanna Bichevskaya (b. 1944) is a Russian composer and folk singer, best known for her interpretations of Russian ballads.
  25. ^ Grotowski went to Haiti for the first time on his own at the end of 1977. He later visited the country several times.
  26. ^ Saint-Soleil was a Haitian artistic community founded by Maud Robart and Jean-Claude Garoute (Tiga) in Saisson-la-Montagne near Port-au-Prince in 1974. The leaders encouraged rural communities to express themselves, mainly through painting. The group and its work, inspired by vodou, became famous when André Malraux wrote enthusiastically about them in L’intemporel, the third volume of his La métamorphose des dieux (1976), after visiting the community in 1975. The group disbanded after several years, but its primitivist style of painting continues. Grotowski most probably found out about the group from Jean-Marie Drot, a French filmmaker who collaborated with Malraux on the documentary Le dernier voyage. Saint-Soleil en Haïti (transmission on French TV on 2 May 1978), and made two films on Grotowski: Jerzy Grotowski et son Théâtre Laboratoire de Wroclaw. Grotowski ou... Socrate est-il Polonais? (1967), and Jerzy Grotowski, ou… Socrate est-il Polonais? (1977).
  27. ^ On the Motions, see I Wayan Lendra, ‘Bali and Grotowski: Some parallels in the training process’, in The Grotowski Sourcebook, ed. by Lisa Wolford and Richard Schechner (London & New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 310-25, and Thomas Richards, At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions (London & New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 52-55.
  28. ^ From 1-29 January 1980, Grotowski and a team of seven people (Jairo Cuesta, Dominique Gérard, Elizabeth Havard, François Kahn, Zbigniew Kozłowski, Teo Spychalski, and Jacek Zmysłowski) visited Mexico thanks to an invitation from Universidad Naciónal Autónoma de México, where Grotowski had visited previously in 1976. He was interested in Huichol culture and inspired by Barbara G. Myerhoff’s Peyote Hunt: The Sacred Journey of the Huichol Indians (New York: Cornell University Press, 1976). On the expedition to Mexico, see Nicolás Núñez, Anthropocosmic Theatre: Rite in the Dynamics of Theatre, trans. by Ronan J. Fitzsimons, ed. and with a foreword by Deborah Middleton (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1996).
  29. ^ 18 July to 8 August 1979.
  30. ^ Maud Robart (b. 1946) is an artist and teacher whose work is based on her direct experience of Haitian traditional practices. On her work, see sources in Italian: a special issue of Biblioteca Teatrale, 77 (2006) and a special section in Culture Teatrali, 5 (2001), 69-100. Tiga (Jean-Claude Garoute, 1935-2006) was an outstanding Haitian artist: a painter, sculptor, potter, pedagogue, and founder of several artistic groups, such as Poto Mitan (1968), Poisson Soleil (1972), Saint Soleil (with Robart, 1974), and L’Oeil du Soleil (1989). He also directed, choreographed, sang, wrote poetry, and designed fashion. Grotowski collaborated with Robart and Tiga in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Theatre of Sources and Objective Drama; and with Robart in Pontedera on Art as vehicle, from September 1987 until the end of 1993.
  31. ^ Kaszuby is a province in north Poland, southwest of Gdańsk.
  32. ^ The symposium took place in Warsaw and in Grzegorzewice, from 4-7 June 1978. See Jerzy Grotowski, ‘Art of the beginner’, International Theatre Information (spring/summer 1978), 7-11.
  33. ^ See also Rycyk-Brill’s piece in this collection for further information on this. Flaszen took over in 1980.
  34. ^ On 13 December 1981, the head of the military government General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared Martial Law, which lasted until 22 July 1983.
  35. ^ Gabriel Arcand worked with Spychalski in Poland in 1973 and 1975, first in Spychalski's group of stagiaires and then within the University of Nations programme. For further details on Le Groupe de la Veillée, see <>.