Theatre of Sources

the name of both a project and also a period of Jerzy Grotowski’s activities which began around 1976, coinciding with his shift away from paratheatre. The Theatre of Sources was first revealed publicly during the International Symposium titled ‘Szutka debiutanta’ (The debutant’s art) held in Warsaw and Grzegorzewice between 4 and 7 June 1978, with Louis Mars, Richard Schechner, Hideo Kanze – the master of Nō theatre – and Krishnan Namboodiri – the master of kathakali – also participating. During the symposium, Grotowski presented a four-hour exposé, fragments of which became the foundation of the first clear declaration of the Theatre of Sources in a text titled ‘Wędrowanie za Teatrem Źródeł’ (English translation by Jenny Kumiega as ‘Wandering Towards a Theatre of Sources’ (1980); the second-most important ‘manifesto’ of the project was called ‘Teatr Źródeł’ or ‘Theatre of Sources’, also translated by Kumiega, 1985).

While maintaining the chief ideas of active culture and continuing to support the experiments of members of the Laboratory Theatre who remained in the sphere of paratheatrical endeavours (Jacek Zmysłowski’s projects, Tree of People), Grotowski, with an international group of collaborators, began a series of experiments which, as he put it, made direct reference to the as yet hidden personal strand in his work. This personal dimension relied on uncovering that which had been present from the outset in Grotowski’s ideas, but – to put it as simply as possible – was connected to the fundamental and direct yet also irreligious experience of the immortality of life which emerged as a result of a dramatic, and thus active, ‘encounter with the sources’. Grotowski defined this key concept of the source as that which had been given from the start and was therefore common to all people. From this perspective, the experiments of the Theatre of Sources (and thus, in principle, all of the work carried out by Grotowski until the end of his life) can be seen as practical and experimental activities leading towards both the experience of a humanity ‘which preceded differences’ and the experience of one’s self as a human being living a life which goes beyond that which is individual and transient. This aspect of the work was connected to a particular variant on ecological thought which relied on perceiving human life as something bound to the totality of the world, including the world of nature, with this life then realised in practice through the search for a means of redeeming the possibility of full existence in the world, something which humanity had lost as a result of the development of Western civilisation. The realisation of both of these closely connected aims demanded, in Grotowski’s view, working out a technique of sources [technika początków] which would enable the de-conditioning of perception and experience in such a way that one would be liberated of all preconceptions, of all culturally and sociologically determined corporeal techniques, means of perception and thought, etc. In effect, it should be possible to experience one’s self and one’s surroundings in an always primal and full manner. While brief indications of elements of the programme of the Theatre of Sources can be found in earlier phases of Grotowski’s work, too, (particularly the total act) the specific nature of this period was based in methodical transcultural experiments which in no way whatsoever were to serve or even make reference to preparations for the creation of some kind of work of art.

The beginnings of the Theatre of Sources are connected to Grotowski’s journeys alone, with two of the most important being, firstly, his visit to Haiti (1–20 December 1977), where he had his first encounters with both voodoo rituals and also a specialist in the field, the renowned anthropologist Louis Mars and, secondly, his trip to Nigeria (28 March – 10 April 1978). Grotowski returned to Haiti twice in 1979 – in May and then from 27 November to 20 December. A further stage of the Theatre of Sources endeavour involved trips with the international group carrying out the project. The group visited areas where dramatic and performative source traditions were still alive, with these trips followed by practical sessions with masters of these forms which were alien to their own cultural contexts. The idea was not, as Grotowski made clear on numerous occasions, to create some kind of synthesis, nor was the idea to make familiar and appropriate the particular techniques; rather, it was a case of ‘rediscovering the sources of techniques’, so finding through practice those elements which precede the differentiation of techniques.

Haiti was the first destination for Grotowski’s six-person team – which included Spychalski and Zmysłowski – with the stay lasting from 18 July to 8 August 1979. During this time they encountered the Saint-Soleil voodoo community and also one of the most renowned voodoo practitioners, the hougan (priest) Eliezer Cadet. Together with him, Grotowski took a short trip to Nigeria (9–15 August 1979), where they visited the land of the Yorubas (Osogbo and Ifé), areas considered to be the cradle of voodoo. After this, Grotowski visited the Białystok region of Poland between 22 and 25 August 1975 with a different six-person group. The primary aim of the trip, whose guide was the renowned religious studies expert Włodzimierz Pawluczuk, was an encounter with Pentecostal communities and a visit to the village of Wierszalin, where Eliasz Klimowicz – known as Ilja the Prophet and the subject of one of Pawluczuk’s books, Wierszalin: Reportaż o końcu świata (Wierszalin: A report about the end of the world) – was active. Two further, highly intensive trips took place in winter 1980: to Mexico (1–29 January) and India (2–25 February). The chief aim of the trip to Mexico was to visit the Sierra de los Huicholes and carry out activities among the Huichole people, an isolated native group characterised by a specific intensive religiosity and most famous for peyote rituals. The aim of the second trip was to visit West Bengal, an area inhabited by Bauls.

One outcome of these trips was the formation of an international group of collaborators whom Grotowski invited to Poland as ‘specialists’ to lead sessions within the framework of further Seminars of the Theatre of Sources, which formed the core of a further stage of the project. The first of the seminars lasted from 3 May to 31 August 1980 with five participants from Mexico, six from India and eleven from Haiti. The open part of the Seminar was preceded by preparatory work lasting until 30 May involving a closed group. The work in the final weeks of August also took place in closed sessions. During this Seminar, Grotowski and his collaborators worked on source techniques that had been taken out of their usual contexts, teaching these techniques without any explanations from the individuals who had come from completely different cultures. In this way, they sought to test by means of experiment, whether these techniques function only on the culturally conditioned sociological and symbolic level or whether they are also effective on a purely physiological level.

The elements of the techniques ‘discovered’ as a result of the trips and subsequently applied during the seminars were generally very simple: running through a forest while blindfolded, specific techniques of walking involving a particular way of placing one’s feet, twirling, very slow walking, and a sequence of poses and movements carried out in a particular manner and order (known as Motions). They all, however, demanded great precision and abandoning existing habits connected to what is safe, rational and ‘natural’. Abandoning these habits was in itself demanded by the difficult conditions in which the seminar-based work was carried out: a shift in daily routine, consciously aiming at exhaustion, the necessity of working in unknown surroundings and often in difficult weather conditions.

Further working meetings of the international group took place with the participation of people from outside the group in 1981 in Italy (within the framework of the ‘complex programme’ carried out by the Laboratory Theatre in Palermo) and also in Poland. In autumn and winter 1981, the group worked in Brzezinka and Ostrowina, while also carrying out three touring sessions (Międzylesie in Lower Silesia, 22–31 August; the village of Kolonia in Olsztyn voivodeship, 20–26 September; and Lipno in today’s Kuyavian-Pomeranian voivodeship, 17–25 October). During these sessions, a turn towards the individualisation of activities took place, with the activities tailored to the needs of each participant. Elements of performative structures also appeared having been prepared by each of the participants, and these elements were gradually pieced together into a fuller piece bearing the working title ‘evening actions’. Despite the imposition of martial law in Poland, Grotowski attempted to continue work on the Theatre of Sources in 1982. There were meetings of the working group in Italy (February–June), in Ostrowina (1 July – 10 August, although only a very limited number of participants were involved: eight people from the international group and fifteen invited outside guests, all from Poland) and again in Italy (12 August – late November). The end of this phase ultimately came with Grotowski’s decision to remain in exile in the United States. The relation of the Theatre of Sources to subsequent stages in Grotowski’s work remains subject to debate. Despite the name change and the (partly enforced) change in working methods, Objective Drama and Art as vehicle both appear to be continuations of the experiments carried out within the Theatre of Sources project. The Rome lecture cycle of 1982 provides a certain conclusion to and synthesis of the Theatre of Sources.


Jerzy Grotowski: Wędrowanie za Teatrem Źródeł, na podstawie stenogramu exposé wygłoszonego 5 czerwca 1978 roku w Starej Pomarańczarni w Warszawie w czasie międzynarodowego sympozjum ITI poświęconego „Sztuce debiutanta”, zorganizowanego z okazji I Międzynarodowych Spotkań Teatralnych, uzupełniony fragmentami krótkiego wywiadu dla „Trybuny Ludu” z 21 czerwca 1979 (rozmawiał Tadeusz Burzyński), tekst przygotował do druku Leszek Kolankiewicz, „Dialog” 1979 nr 11, s. 94–103.

Tenże: Teatr Źródeł, opracował Leszek Kolankiewicz, „Zeszyty Literackie” (Paryż) 1987 nr 19 (lato), s. 102–115.

Jerzy Grotowski: Theatre of Sources, [in:] Grotowski Sourcebook, ed. by Richard Schechner and Lisa Wolford, Routledge, London – New York 1997, p. 252–270.

Ronald Grimes: Theatre of Sources, [in:] Grotowski Sourcebook, ed. by Richard Schechner and Lisa Wolford, Routledge, London – New York 1997, p. 271–280.

Renata M. Molinari: Dziennik Teatru Źródeł. Polska 1980, Wrocław 2008.

Mariusz Orski: Próba o Teatrze Źródeł, „Dialog” 1982 nr 4, s. 112–118

Grzegorz Ziółkowski: Guślarz i eremita. Jerzy Grotowski od wykładów rzymskich (1982) do wykładów paryskich (1997–1998), Wrocław 2007