a type of performance created and developed by Jerzy Grotowski and his collaborators, particularly Thomas Richards; also used in the title of subsequent works created using this approach. Action is a performative structure constituting a full and mature development of the total act [akt całkowity] taking place outside the context of the theatre performance. It is also a key element and example of Art as vehicle. It is not aimed at audience members nor is its objective to communicate definite meanings to them (‘montage in the spectator’); rather it is directed at the doers (‘montage in the self’). In this sense, as Grotowski and Richards noted on many occasions, Action is not a spectacle (although, particularly in Action, certain concessions were made for ‘montage in the spectator’). The essence of Action is not the communication of meaning but, rather, the transmutation of doers, which Grotowski defined – using Gurdjieff’s terms – as a transition ‘from the body-and-essence to the body of essence’, which is possible ‘in outcome of difficult evolution, personal transmutation, which is in some way the task of everyone’ (Jerzy Grotowski Performer in: The Grotowski Sourcebook, Richard Schechner and Lisa Wolford [eds], Abingdon: Routledge, 1997, p. 377).
According to Leszek Kolankiewicz’s interpretation, it is a matter of a transformation of ‘the natural, mortal human body into a “divine body”, supernatural, immortal’ (‘Dramat Obiektywny Grotowskiego’ [Grotowski’s Objective Drama], pt. 2, Dialog, 2 (1986), p. 152). This does not mean that Action is a ritual closed to those who do not belong to the community of doers. In accordance with Richards’ comments, the principal means of affecting witnesses is the mechanism of a particular concept of induction, i.e. direct, physiological responses to the process of change taking place in the consciousness of the viewer. In many cases this produced an unusually powerful, though difficult to express, reception of the action.
The first attempt to realise Action was in Main Action created in Irvine, California, in 1989 as part of the Objective Drama project. It was further developed in Downstairs Action, on which Grotowski and Richards worked at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski in Vallicelle between 1986 and 1992 (Mercedes Gregory filmed this Action in 1989). The work titled, simply, Action can be considered a fully-formed realisation of the idea of Action. Grotowski collaborated with Richards on this piece from 1994 until the end of his life, while already in 1995 the first presentations of the work took place for an invited audience before the first touring presentation in autumn 1996 in Brazil.
Action continued to be presented for several years, with the first showing in Poland occurring in spring 1997. There was also a posthumous presentation there in summer 2004. At the same time, Richards and the Workcenter group continued to work on further Action-type performative structures, including The Letter. These exploratory investigations were further developed in Living Room, which was also a step towards opening up Action to the presence of witnesses. It has been presented in private dwellings or similar spaces as well as during the Workcenter’s visits abroad (December 2010 in Poland and June 2016, for example).
Grotowski Jerzy: From Theatre Company to Art as Vehicule, [in:] Thomas Richards: At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions, London and New York 1995, pp 113–135
Richards Thomas: The Edge-Point of Performance, interviewer Lisa Wolford, Pontedera 1997.
Richards Thomas: Heart of Practice: Within the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards, London – New York: Routledge, 2008.
Wolford Lisa: Action, The unrepresentable origin [in:] Grotowski Sourcebook, edited by Lisa Wolford and Richard Schechner, London – New York: Routledge, 1997, pp 409–426.
Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards and Action (an information of the Workcenter occasionally given to individuals before they witness the creative opus Action), „TDR: The Journal for Performance Studies”, 43, 2 (T162), Summer 1999, pp 13–14.