leaving the theatre

a concept describing the fundamental changes in Jerzy Grotowski’s mode of creative work, its objectives and in Grotowski’s understanding of his own place within the artistic world taking place at the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s following the completion of work on Apocalypsis cum Figuris. These changes were connected to a deep personal transformation which at the same time signified a fundamental transformation in his work. The basic element of these changes was his open declaration of an end to theatre work that relied on preparing further performances; instead, experiments of a different nature were to be initiated, although these would still be carried out using the means common to performance and the dramatic arts.

The first indications of Grotowski ‘leaving the theatre’ appeared in 1969 when he, at various times, spoke clearly of the theatre as ‘a house that has already been abandoned’ (for example at his appearance at the Brooklyn Academy in New York on 22 November 1969, a transcript of which was published as ‘Reply to Stanislavsky’, TDR, 2 (2008), pp. 31–39, tran. Kris Salata). He announced and played out ‘leaving the theatre’ officially and publicly in a lecture theatre at New York University during two public meetings on 12 and 13 December 1969 (these were published as Such as One Is – Whole and Holiday – The Day That is Holy, respectively).

‘Leaving the theatre’ was connected, on the one hand, with his belief of the time that the most important needs of his fellow humans living at the same time in the same culture are bound not to play but to not-masking and the encounter, and with his feeling, on the other hand, that the theatre as a defined form of artistic activity lives on only thanks to force of habit and tradition, which means that it no longer has any essential significance as an objective to be achieved. This also made it possible to gradually unmask the primary non-theatrical aim which had motivated Grotowski from the outset of his artistic activity. Regardless of the direction in which his work evolved and regardless of the fact that Grotowski on numerous occasions spoke about the theatre and with time also came to regard the theatre as the art of creating performances and thus belonging to the same field as the performing arts – the domain in which he situated his own experiments – the statements from 1970 retained their vital force and Grotowski indeed never directed another performance in his life, while the works created by him and his colleagues bore the traits of a particular type of anti-theatricality.

Grotowski ‘leaving the theatre’ should, at the same time, be considered in the historical context: on the one hand, in its relation to counter-culture, and on the other hand, in its relation to the historical understanding of the concept of theatre, which in the 1970s was still strongly connected to the forms established in the nineteenth century. The deed carried out by Grotowski, together with its consequences, were a significant event in the history of the theatrical revolution taking place in the final decades of the twentieth century and heralded the performative turn.


Tadeusz Burzyński: Wyjście z teatru, [w:] Mój Grotowski, wybór i opracowanie Janusz Degler i Grzegorz Ziółkowski, posłowie Janusz Degler, Wrocław 2006, s. 45–53.

Jerzy Grotowski: Święto, według stenogramu spotkania ze studentami i profesorami w auli New York University, 13 grudnia 1970, „Odra” 1972 nr 6, s. 47–51. Przedruk [w:] Teksty, Instytut Aktora – Teatr Laboratorium, Wrocław 1975, s. 39–57.

Jerzy Grotowski: Takim, jakim się jest, cały, według stenogramu konferencji w sali Ratusza Nowojorskiego 12 grudnia 1970 roku, „Odra” 1972 nr 5, s. 51–56.

Na drodze do kultury czynnej. O działalności instytutu Grotowskiego Teatr Laboratorium w latach 1970 – 1977. Opracowanie i dokumentacja prasowa Leszek Kolankiewicz, Instytut Aktora – Teatr Laboratorium, Wrocław 1978.

Obok teatru, rozmowa z udziałem Jerzego Grotowskiego, Konstantego Puzyny i publiczności, nagrana 19 grudnia 1972 roku w Sali Senatorskiej na Wawelu podczas trzeciego z „Wieczorów Wawelskich 72–73”, „Dialog” 1973 nr 7, s. 95–107.