The Laboratory Theatre
the best-known and most commonly used general name for Grotowski’s theatre company. The term ‘laboratory’ was officially added to the name of the Theatre of 13 Rows on 1 March 1962, shortly after the premiere of Kordian and during work on Akropolis. This addition was connected to the pivotal change in the group’s working practice that accompanied the start of methodical research on the art of acting. This signalled a gradual departure from work whose chief objective had been to satisfy the demands and needs connected with further performances in favour of moving towards a process of discovery carried out using theatrical methods that was as much concerned with the art of acting as with the possibilities of the organic development of the human being.
The name Laboratory Theatre gained general currency following the company’s move to Wrocław and, despite further changes to the institution’s official name, it remained in use as a popular and convenient short form. Although it is accepted by both specialist researchers and others more generally, the identification of the Laboratory Theatre with Grotowski’s theatre – while to a large extent justified – does not reflect fully the changes that took place in the way in which the institution functioned. Right from the start of its existence in Wrocław, the Laboratory Theatre supported activities undertaken more or less independently by particular members of the company or even by people who did not belong to it (such as trainees). This tendency grew stronger during the period of paratheatre, while the initiation of the Theatre of Sources and Grotowski beginning work with an international group of selected collaborators made it clear that many activities that took place under the Laboratory Theatre name and were institutionally connected to it, in fact occurred independently of Grotowski’s own work (Tree of People, Polish Thanatos), although, of course, they happened with his approval and knowledge.
This internal division became the foundation for the programme of action announced during the group’s twentieth-anniversary celebrations on 15 November 1979 (Teatr Laboratorium po dwudziestu latach. Hipoteza robocza [English translation, 1980: ‘The Laboratory Theatre, 20 Years After: A working hypothesis’]). The fact that the activities of the Laboratory Theatre and Grotowski’s experiments were not one and the same thing was also underlined by decisions concerning personnel and administrative matters: Zygmunt Cynkutis was named assistant artistic director (1978–1980) while Ludwik Flaszen was artistic director between 1980 and 1984. Throughout this period the activities of administrative employees were of enormous significance for and brought great benefit to the activities of the institution and the theatre company: from Jędrzej Sell who was in charge of administration, through Grotowski’s secretary Stefania Gardecka and the head accountant Olga Piech, to Czesław Szarek the technician.
Following the imposition of martial law and Grotowski’s departure from Poland, the Laboratory Theatre limited its activities and consequently functioned primarily as an institutional platform linking the activities of the individual members of the group. In December 1982, a letter from Grotowski reached the part of the group that was then in France, informing them that Grotowski will be remaining abroad and as such requests that they discontinue the activities of the institution that was associated with his name. This was, in effect, a request to dissolve the Laboratory Theatre. Following long discussions, having achieved a majority of votes from members of the group, the self-dissolution of the company was announced on 28 January 1984 and would come into effect as of 31 August 1984. The theatre’s space was taken over by the new Drugie Studio Wrocławskie (Second Wrocław Studio), which was led by Zygmunt Cynkutis, who did not sign the act of dissolution. Following his death and the closure of the Studio, the space housed the newly-organised Grotowski Centre, currently The Grotowski Institute.
Ludwik Flaszen: Grotowski & Company, translated by Andrzej Wojtasik, edited by Paul Allain with the assistance of Monika Blige, with a tribute by Eugenio Barba, Icarus Publishing Enterprise – Routledge, Holstebro – Malta – Wrocław – London – New York 2010.
Zbigniew Osiński: Grotowski i His Laboratory, translated and abridged by Lillian Vallee and Robert Findlay, PAJ Publications, New York 1986.