Workshops by the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards

The Theatre Studies programme has just hosted the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards.

Grotowski was a major twentieth-century theatre practitioner and theorist. Although he directed written plays when he was young, he quickly moved into what he called “bricolage” of text and physical actions. His approach (he rejected the word “method”) is far from being a way of producing imitative sounds and actions. Rather, it challenges participants to confront themselves, and to discover new ways of perceiving and of articulating perception.

The Workcenter has continued and developed Grotowski’s practice since his death in 1999. Thomas Richards, the Center’s Director, took an audience through his own connection with Grotowski and the Center’s work in a public lecture on 8 November. The lecture featured clips of the Center’s work in which performers explore songs and movement with remarkable, concentrated discipline. They work on each piece for years, searching through repetition and analysis for the resonance of each song for each performer.

Before the lecture, Richards had led Theatre Studies students in a two-day workshop. The Workcenter described the encounter as striving “to unearth the creative potential of each participant through two lines of exploration.” The students worked on a song and an “acting proposition” – a short performance of about three minutes.

One of the participants, Lara Tay, described the workshop as “an eyeopening experience, to say the very least.”

“Not only did we learn how ‘alive’ songs from the past can be,” she went on, “but we also learnt a lot about ourselves. One by one, we performed our acting propositions. And one by one, we learnt more about our past-selves, present-selves, and future-selves. We confronted issues that we either neglected or never even knew about –all of which we learnt can be used in our art.

“We’ve learnt to be inspired by our very own stories. We’ve all walked away from this experience with a greater understanding of ourselves, as well as the kind of art we may create in the future. It’s truly made me fall in love with theatre all over again. Our only wish is that we could have more time with the genius that is Thomas Richards.”

The Workcenter held the workshop as part of a larger Singapore schedule, jointly organised by Theatre Studies and the National Arts Council, facilitated and administered by Cheekeng Lee, who is currently working with the Theatre Studies program. John Phillips, the Deputy Head for Theatre Studies, explained that it was one of a series of workshops the program has organised over the past year.

“The workshops contribute to the program’s desire to further integrate performance practice into its teaching and research profiles,” he said. “Earlier this year we’ve had visits from a British academic and performance theorist, Simon Jones, on practice-as-research, and from the intercultural TASAT theatre group (popularly known as The Nanyang Sisters), on aspects of migrant theatre making. On this occasion, Thomas Richards ran three two-day workshops, two for professional practitioners and one for our students, introducing them to, or reacquainting them with, the current practice of Grotowski’s revolutionary theatre techniques. The programme intends to develop a longer-term relationship with the Workcenter, once we have overcome some practical difficulties. We would very much like to have them back in future to work with our students in a more sustained way than was possible on this visit.” (Contributed by Cheekeng Lee.)