Jerzy Grotowski

Jerzy Grotowski -Theatre Practioner - Acting Method

Jerzy Grotowski was one of the most important European theatre practitioners of the 20th Century.

Jerzy GrotowskiIf you are currently preparing for LAMDA Acting Grade 8 you will need to know and understand the key principles and influences in the process of acting for one of the following practitioners: Constantin Stanislavski, Bertolt Brecht or Jerzy Grotowski. Here we look at Jerzy Grotowski.

Jerzy Grotowski was a theatre director, educator and creator of acting methods. He was born in 1933 in Rzeszów in Poland and died in 1999 in Pontedera, Italy. He is considered to have been one of the great reformers of 20th century theatre.

He was known for his intense actor training in Poland in the 1960s and 1970s.

Jerzy Grotowski and his small groups of actors were known for experimenting with many different aspects of theatre: spiritualistic, ritualistic and physical and also the nature of role and the relationship between actor and spectator. His acting system is probably the most complete approach to role since Stanislavski.

He invented the term 'Poor Theatre': a style of performance that got rid of all extraneous parts of theatre. This meant there were no lavish costumes, complicated props or detailed sets.

Relied on skill of actors and required only a few props.

Grotowski enjoyed working in unconventional spaces. He liked the audience to be all around the performance area or in amongst the actors.

He used the physical skill of his performers rather than costumes and minimal props to become other significant objects; building on Brecht's thoughts and ideas on performance.

Essential Grotowski

  • Main influences: Brecht, Stanislavsky and Meyerhold.
  • Focused on actor training and probably most intensive actor training since Stanislavsky
  • Poor Theatre gets rid of excesses of theatre
  • Opposite to commercial theatre - the complete antithesis of the star-led shows you often see in the West End
  • Grotowski believed theatre could never compete with television and film so it shouldn't attempt to
  • The majority of Poor Theatre works never made it to performance
  • The ones that did were performed only once to a very small audience
  • The word 'paratheatre' is often used in relation to Grotowski - 'para' meaning 'beyond'
  • With 'paratheatre' Grotowski experimented with actors in training programs and other non-performed pieces.
  • The 'paratheatrical' phrase is generally believed to be between 1969/70 and 1975/1976
  • The Poor Theatre phase was between 1959 and 1970
  • 1975 marked the end of all Grotowski performances


  • Grotowski often experimented with classical works
  • He often updated them for a modern audience
  • He changed the setting to make them more relevant

Space and Actor/Audience Relationship

  • Traditional theatre spaces were ignored in favour of small rooms and buildings
  • He didn't believe in a traditional stage dedicated to acting or a purpose built theatre for performances
  • Grotowski's work focused on the relationship between the actor and spectator
  • The aim of his work was to eliminate the divide between audience and actor and create a union between the two
  • The audience were often on all sides of the actors and performance space
  • The actors performed around the space and audiences, placing themselves strategically amongst them


  • The acting area was often bare with little set and few props
  • Object transformation was an important part of Poor Theatre - props becoming different things
  • After a prop was transformed it became incredibly significant/often symbolic
  • The lighting was often just a general wash of the stage, no specific spotlights or focused areas
  • If costumes were used at all they were not character specific, they were completely anonymous

Acting and Characterisation

  • The actor and his/her skill was at the core of all Poor Theatre performances
  • Sometimes no 'real' props were used at all and other actors were employed to play important objects
  •  The actor training was incredibly intense and took place over long periods of time
  • Grotowski wanted the acting to be completely authentic, much like Stanislavsky, but more physical
  • He used a version of Stanislavsky's emotion memory technique with his students.

Growtowski's main theories, training and techniques

  • Acting through focus and awareness

-    His actors were so physically and vocally skilled they could communicate clearly through just sounds and movements.

-    The actors kept healthy mentally and physically aiming to have inner peace and focus

-    They believed that acting was a search for self knowledge and awareness

-    The training taught them to break free from limitations and reach their full potential

  • Working in silence

-    Grotowski said an actor must begin by doing nothing

-    He believed that if a group of actors could remain completely still for several minutes without distractions then they would be able to concentrate more intensely and use it as a 'creative passage'

  • Physical training

-    The actors were extremely physically skilled

-    They developed a technique of movement which allowed them to control every move they made, even the smallest detail.

-    Grotowski believed that our bodies expressed everything about us. Everything we think and feel is expressed through our bodies and everything we experience is felt in our bodies.

-    He gave actors the skills to be able to fully express their emotions and imaginations.

  • Voice

-    Voice training was essential

-    They focused their voices as if they were coming from different parts of their bodies.

-    Range was incredibly important - they used all parts of their register from the lowest point to the highest.

-    Grotowski believed in the important of clarity - he used poetry, singing and chanting to impress this.

-    All of the actors were incredibly vocally strong - they were able to imitate nature sounds, animals and even thunder.

-    Grotowski thought of the voice as an instrument and treated it as such.

  • Human contact

-    He believed in real contact between human beings

-    He believed that human relationships only developed when people really looked and listened to each other.

-    He wanted actors to be aware of the impact they had on other people.

  • Transformation

-    'Poor Theatre' used the simplest of sets, costumes, lighting and props. This meant actors had to use all their skills to completely transform a space into other imaginative worlds.

-    Symbolism was incredibly important

-    The most important element was the relationship between actors and the audience.

  • Memory

-    Like Brecht, Grotowski used emotion memory to recall and experience and recreate the feeling and emotion that went with that memory.

-    He wanted total honesty and truth from the actors about their memories - the more truthful the memory the more genuine and authentic the performance.

-    Only by using their genuine memories would the actors find themselves on the oath to self discovery.

  • Evoking silence

-    Grotowski stated the actor should begin by doing nothing - he called this creative passivity.

-    By experiencing external silence they would begin to learn internal silence.

-    They could then use this for intense creative concentration.

  • Truth

-    Grotowski warned his actors to avoid what he called 'the beautiful lie' both on stage and in their every day lives.

-    By this he meant they should avoid doing things on stage, and in real life, just because they look good or it was what people expected them to do. For more information on Jerzy Grotowski and his acting methods see the books below.