Grotowski’s contributions to theatre
history were part of a world-wide movement to free the theatre from the playwright, the script, the spoken word. According to Grotowski and his disciples, the founding forces behind Living Theatre, Open Theatre, Performance Group and many others – Joe Chaikin, Judith Malina, Julian Beck, etc. – theatre was a meta-language with its own “vocabulary” and set of signifiers – proxemics, visual rhetoric
, costumes, etc. etc.—that was capable of offering much more than simplistic plot and psychological characterization
; it was capable of being a political force, even a philosophical statement, and the first step was to divorce theatre from its own stultifying history – the separation of stage from audience, the passive nature of audience participation, the dominance of the script, the reliance on “dialogue” as the major carrier of meaning, etc. Grotowski’s experiments in the woods of Poland, his attempts at stripping normative language and the false dynamic of performer-witness (a preferred term that eliminates the etymological echoes of “audience” and “spectator”) were seen as negative by the traditionalists, because the traditional hierarchy of playwright-director-performer was upset. While the period of experimental theatre was short-lived (roughly 1960-2000), its remnants can still be found in the new discipline called “performance theory,” as reported in The Drama Review (TDR).