Dig Deeper - Godspell's Experimental Roots

Godspell began in 1970 as a master’s thesis project at Carnegie Mellon University.  At around the same time, Jerzy Grotowski (1934-1999), founder and head of the Polish Laboratory Theater, was on his way to become one of the most important and influential theatrical innovators of his time.  Grotowski visited New York in 1969 and a year later published his seminal book, ''Towards a Poor Theater.''  Grotowski became famous for proposing the idea that theater, as an art form, can do without lights, music, scenery, it could even do without a theater. What it needed was one actor and one member of the audience. 1720pGrotowski 2 img325

For Grotowski, theater, through the actor's technique, provides an opportunity to reveal real substance. “This opportunity must be treated in a disciplined manner, with a full awareness of the responsibilities it involves. Here we can see the theatre's therapeutic function for people in our present day civilization.”  The interaction between the actor and the audience is at the heart of this revelation.  “It is true that the actor accomplishes this act, but he can only do so through an encounter with the spectator…”

In a 1969 interview, Grotowski acknowledged that this emphasis on the relationship between actor and audience was inspired by Julius Osterwa, a Polish actor and director, who ''treated acting as a human experience that exists not for the public, but vis-a-vis the public.''  The idea, he said, was to ''enlarge on images deeply rooted in the collective unconscious.'' His theater was spiritual, ritualistic and nonliterary -- and extraordinarily challenging for the actor and for the audience.  This theoretical foundation lies beneath much of the playful, improvisational, and visual style of Godpsell.

Sources:  The New York Times and “Towards a Poor Theatre” by Grotowski