Special Project

Poster for "Special Project"the general name of the dramatic experiments carried out as a fundamental element of paratheatre. As an attempt to put into practice the idea of Holiday (Święto), these experiments were based in active participation, spatial and temporal separation from the sphere of social life and everyday routine, and also in stream-like dramaturgy in which one set of actions flowed into another while the division between the time dedicated to activities and rest was also blurred. The name ‘Special Project’ refers primarily to the activities carried out between 1973 and 1976 and led by Ryszard Cieślak. The name was first used during the Laboratory Theatre’s 1973 visit to the United States (30 September to 14 October) when reference was made to a ‘Grotowski Special Project’ in the context of an eight-day long series of paratheatrical activities intended for a specially selected group. The following year, during a visit to Australia, two types of Special Project were distinguished: Narrow – led by Grotowski and intended for a select group working individually; and Large – led by Cieślak, which was open to outsiders and took place in two phases. This two-phase model was also applied in further realisations of similar experiments in Poland (20 November – 4 December 1974, February 1975, March 1975) and abroad (Venice 7–21 October 1975; La Tenaille in France, 16–25 May 1976), while a variation of it was employed in the six one-phase realisations as part of the University of Research of the Theatre of Nations. Participants of Special Project were bound by particular rules of behaviour (including a ban on sexual relations between participants, a ban on alcohol and drugs). They were also told to bring a particular inventory of items (three changes of clothes which they will not mind getting destroyed, trainers or rubber-soled shoes, food, cigarettes for those who smoke, and a favourite musical instrument). It was also suggested that the participants refer to each other by their first names and spoke only when absolutely necessary. In the two-phase model, a selected ‘test group’ initially visited sites selected for future activities (in Poland this was Brzezinka), spending around two weeks under the supervision of the project leaders preparing the terrain for the activities of the group who arrived later for a shorter stay. The first group was to contain people selected to provide a representative reflection of the composition of the broader group. The first group’s stay involved primarily physical labour (digging trenches, cutting down trees etc.) but also featured a variety of activities that were indicative of what would be carried out with the group arriving later. Once this larger group arrived, a series of previously-devised experiments was launched with the objective of initiating the de-conditioning phase. This involved playful activities which aimed to break down barriers of embarrassment and overcome the desire to remain in the safe position of an observer (such activities included rolling about in the grass and rolling down a hill). Other methods of de-conditioning leading to the participant’s unmasking and transforming his or her perception were the abolition of the ‘normal’ order of time (leading a primarily nocturnal life) and exposure to physical tiredness. The essence of the main part of the activities was direct, sensual contact with the elements (brought about through paddling in a river, dancing, jumping through fire, rolling about in mud, digging earth, jumping into a net hung high above the ground and also running through open spaces), with the fundamental manifestations of nature (for example, washing or bathing in grain, greeting the rising sun), and also with your ‘fellow beings’, including yourself. This final element most often took place by means of ‘artistic’ activities – singing, dancing, but also through actions whose dramaturgy was based on both a real sense of finding one’s self within a community and also through actions which enabled one to experience the proximity of a partner through their touch. The experience of encountering both other people and also nature was often the participants’ most striking memory and formed the essence of all the activities. In the vast majority of participants’ descriptions experiencing ‘the drama of paratheatre’ was connecting to discovering one’s self as an integral part of a rediscovered community which included not only other participants but indeed the whole world. The experience was presented most often as something highly personal and individual which in no way resembled the theatre. A different perspective was presented by the American critic Margaret Croyden who found in Special Project a para-ritualistic celebration using symbolic and mythological elements that made clear reference to ancient myths and mysteries (Eleusis). After 1976, with the move away from paratheatre and instead towards a specialisation of activities within the group, Special Project also ceased, although elements of it could still be traced both in the activities of Jacek Zmysłowski’s group (Vigils, Mountain Project) and also in the training sessions offered by Ryszard Cieślak in Acting Search.


Andrzej Bonarski: Staż, [w:] tegoż: Ziarno, Warszawa 1979, s. 84–96.

Tadeusz Burzyński: „Special Project”, [w:] tegoż: Mój Grotowski, wybór i opracowanie Janusz Degler i Grzegorz Ziółkowski, Wrocław 2006, s. 80–104.

Margaret Croyden, Nowe przykazanie teatru: nie oglądać, przełożył Henryk Machoń, „Odra” 1976 nr 5, s. 55–58.

Tadeusz Kornaś: Parateatr, „Didaskalia. Gazeta Teatralna”, cz. I: 2002, nr 51/52, s. 49–55; cz. II: 2003, nr 53, s. 98–102; cz. III 2003: nr 54–55–56, s. 77–84; przedruk [w:] tenże: Aniołom i światu widowisko. Szkice i rozmowy o teatrze, Kraków 2009.

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.