Centre for the Study of Jerzy Grotowski’s Work and for Cultural and Theatrical Practices
Based on Adela Karsznia’s MA thesis, Działalność Ośrodka Badań Twórczości Jerzego Grotowskiego i Poszukiwań Teatralno-Kulturowych w latach 1990–1994 [The activity of Centre for the Study of Jerzy Grotowski’s Work and for Cultural and Theatrical Practices from 1990 to 1994], written in 2003 at the Institute of Polish Philology of the University of Wrocław under the direction of Professor Janusz Degler.
Founded by Order 59 of the Wrocław Province Governor on 29 December 1989, the Centre for the Study of Jerzy Grotowski’s Work and for Cultural and Theatrical Practices started its activities three days later on 1 January 1990. Zbigniew Osiński became the Centre’s first Director
- 1 January – 30 September 1990: Zbigniew Osiński (Founding Director), Alina Obidniak (Deputy Director)
- 1 October 1990 – 31 May 1991: Zbigniew Osiński (Director, Artistic Director)
- 1 June 1991 – 31 January 2004: Stanislaw Krotoski (Director), Zbigniew Osiński (Artistic Director)
- 1 February 2004 – 30 September 2004: Jarosław Fret (Director), Zbigniew Osiński (Artistic Director), Grzegorz Ziółkowski (Programme Director)
- 1 October 2004 – 28 December 2006: Jarosław Fret (Director), Grzegorz Ziółkowski (Programme Director)
In May 1989, in Kowary, Alina Obidniak organised a seminar to mark thirteen years from Jerzy Grotowski and Ludwik Flaszen taking the helm of the Theatre of 13 Rows in Opole. The seminar offered the opportunity to talk to Arts and Culture Department Director Adam Zindulski about creating a new, fully independent research centre in the former home of the Wrocław Second Studio. In June, a draft proposal for the establishment of the Centre for the Study of Jerzy Grotowski’s Work and for Cultural and Theatrical Practices was drawn up by Zbigniew Osiński. The word ‘Practices’ was eventually changed to ‘Research’ in order to avoid any confusion with the Centre for Theatre Practices Gardzienice.
Zbigniew Osiński defined the remit of the institution as follows (1989): ‘The Centre shall collect and systematically organise documentation concerning Jerzy Grotowski, his group, apprentices, continuators, heirs, as well as those who have represented his own theatrical and cultural tradition and the tradition of the Laboratory Theatre. The documentation will cover all of Grotowski’s activities, as well as all manner of documents, of course in all accessible languages and cultures’. The Centre became an information hub visited by people from around the world who have an interest in the subject. Of great importance was the fact that the institution was located in the former home of the Laboratory Theatre, which – in a sense – legitimised its activities, whilst providing a sense of continuity.
Janusz Degler, Józef Kelera and Tadeusz Burzyński sat on the Advisory Board, intended as an intermediary between Wrocław’s cultural circles and the Centre’s management. The appointment of international Honorary and Consultative Boards was also planned, with members including Peter Brook, Eugenio Barba, André Gregory, Roberto Bacci, Serge Ouaknine, Michelle Kokosowski, and the members of the former Laboratory Theatre. However, the planned boards were never created, as the costs of assembling them were deemed too high. The enlisting of so many prestigious names was intended to serve as an endorsement of the Centre in its difficult early days. In addition, the Board members would help inform international artists and scholars of the creation of the Centre.
At a press conference in September 1989, the Director of the newly created Centre, Zbigniew Osiński, described it as ‘an artistic institution with a research focus, which is not only dedicated to the collection and systematic organisation of the records of the activities of Jerzy Grotowski and his group, but is also open to all kinds of experiments and theatre research’. The period between September and the end of 1989 was one of transition. The Wrocław Second Studio continued its activities only in the manner of preserving the achievements of the Laboratory Theatre.
Founded by Order 59 of the Wrocław Province Governor on 29 December 1989, the Grotowski Centre started its activities three days later on 1 January 1990.
From the very start, the Centre hosted a diverse programme of sessions and events. Parallel to its core activities related to Grotowski’s work, it presented the most interesting artists and work from Poland and abroad, including historical names (Reduta, Stanislavski, Chekhov) and contemporary artists (Vassiliev, Odin Teatret) from the fields of both ‘exploratory theatre’ (teatr poszukujący) (Inka Dowlasz) and repertory theatre (Jerzy Jarocki, Erwin Axer). The sessions and events were interdisciplinary, although the focus was on the art of theatre and its influence on spiritual development. Issues were addressed from a variety of approaches and perspectives by experts from various fields. Zbigniew Osiński referred to the Centre as ‘a unique university and a unique “museum”’, describing its objective as ‘building bridges between academia and art, between what was in the past or ancient past and what is today but looks forward to the future – between people of various nationalities and cultures’. Tadeusz Burzyński, who tirelessly commented on events hosted in the Centre, wrote in 1992 that ‘. . . the name suggests a rather academic, elite and closed character of the centre. A substantial part of the activities undertaken there is indeed of this nature. Nevertheless, many specific projects . . . are addressed to quite broad audiences of theatre practitioners and theorists, as well as to people interested in theatre. The institution founded there has proved to be a university of sorts where one can learn about theatre, its various cultural facets, the fringes of the field, as well as about various innovative creative researches’.
The hallmark of the Centre was its complementarity with ‘official’ culture, the promotion of what was absent from it. In an interview with Mirosław Pęczak, Zbigniew Osiński said: ‘I myself gained from the Laboratory Theatre the conviction that there is no point in responding to and succumbing to the fashionable or the dominant in a given period. We would like our Centre to keep in with the Laboratory Theatre tradition in a way that it tries to find, at a completely different cultural pole, what people lack today and what they themselves seek. In this sense, we would like to create a certain balance and avoid succumbing to popular trends. Our work is probably for those who have similar needs and cannot fit into the official culture.’
The Centre became a space for creative and original endeavour ‒ everything that happened in it was related to the people working there, their needs and interests. The Centre’s activities, described by Osiński as ‘a unique practice of arts’, began to fulfill a number of different roles. In addition to research, it also had epistemic, educational and aesthetic/artistic functions. With its unique multi-pronged nature, the Centre took over some roles of a number of different institutions ‒ the university, the theatre, the cinema, the library and the museum. However, it was never conceived to contradict them ‒ the ambition was not to supplant existing institutions, but to complement their offering with themes and fields they did not address, or addressed only marginally.
Equally importantly, all of the Centre’s initiatives always stemmed from a single source: the work of Jerzy Grotowski. The subject matter of the Centre’s events was drawn from the Grotowski tradition, his theatrical and cultural inspirations, his broad field of interest and from the perspective of his activities. Grotowski was a point of reference for all activities of the Centre, even though the Centre was fully independent.
Many were skeptical about the establishment of the Centre, with some saying they preferred a living theatre, even a controversial one, like the Wrocław Second Studio, to a ‘mausoleum’. Some commentators asked questions about the core concept of the new institution, fearing that it could become a dead museum.
Contrary to these expectations, Tadeusz Burzynski said in 1992: ‘We have a vibrant place in Wrocław which, regardless of important in-house research, reaches out with an interesting programme of unique offerings, unavailable anywhere else in Poland.’
From 1991 to 2005, the Grotowski Centre published Notatnik Teatralny magazine.
On 29 December 2006, the Centre was transformed into the Grotowski Institute.