Interview with Director AYLI

Stephen Wallace explains the influence of the innovative theatre director and theorist Jerzy Grotowski on his group Impulse Theatre and on their upcoming production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

What is Impulse Theatre and what makes it different from other theatre companies or groups?

Impulse Theatre began in 2002 as a workshop group dedicated to theatre training that enables actors to find more truth in performance. The difference from other groups, I suppose, is that Impulse has attempted to concentrate on training and the exploration of acting, as much as on the production itself. The teaching system leads to the elimination of resistance to the creative process, allowing the actor to react completely in performance.

Even though Impulse has created productions for schools, it has never been the productions themselves that dominate, but rather our approach to the productions and to acting. In 2005 we only ran workshops without productions. This is something that we may do again.

It is difficult to use Grotowski training with actors in a production without running a workshop. Some actors find the workshops hard. However, the spirit that the workshops engender is very tangible and significantly adds to the production.

While Grotowski is not the only influence for Impulse Theatre, (the group has also incorporated the ideas of Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, Bryan Syron and Hayes Gordon), he is certainly the most significant.

Is the influence of Jerzy Grotowski recent in your directorial career?

No, I have been interested in the ideas and philosophy of Grotowski since he visited Australia in the 70’s and when I first read Towards a Poor Theatre. I’ve run various workshops for actors all of my directorial life. I have used his ideas (plus a lot of other people’s) in rehearsals for films and television.

In 2002 I ran a more advanced and dedicated 5-month 12-actor Grotowski workshop. The impetus for that was a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the acting (both professional and amateur) in theatre and on television in Australia. I always thought actors should be trained more tightly and be taking bigger risks.

We were fortunate with that first workshop to find an American, Jeff Freeman, who had worked in such workshops in the US. He took us far deeper into the training than I could have gone. Jeff and I ran another large one-day workshop together in early 2003 for about 40 participants. I have since been running them on a regular basis with a small group of actors, mostly with a view to a production.

With Grotowski training Impulse Theatre has performed Sophocles Oedipus Rex twice, Lysistrata, Louis Nowra’s Cosi, four Short and Sweet productions and Michael Gow’s Away for schools, although Away really became a normal production because I had to find so many non-workshop actors for it.

Jerzy Grotowski’s productions and acting technique conjure dark, angst ridden acting in confrontational productions. Is this perception true?

No, Grotowski training is about preparation for and approach to acting, not about the plays or the style of acting. There is physical and voice training and the push in this training is to go deeper into the actor’s psyche and emotional reserves, but this does not mean the actors avoid humour or excitement in their work.

Grotowski training attempts to imbue the actor with an ‘attitude’ to acting, a more dedicated and un-egotistical working method. It is a more ‘sincere’ method, if you like. This is the ‘holy acting’ that he talks about where the actor makes a gift of him or herself to the audience, confronting the ‘score’ of the work, not showing off or charming the audience, but somehow moving them, whether to tears or laughter, by avoiding cheap tricks, falseness and clich├ęs.

This kind of acting applies to all styles of drama, from deeply serious work to the more light-hearted and romantic works like As You Like It. The aim here is to make As You Like It a memorable and joyous experience for the audience and the actors in the style that Shakespeare intended, and the training assists us in achieving this.

How do Grotowski’s techniques apply to Impulse Theatre’s upcoming production of As You Like It?

Grotowski’s techniques release the actor’s physicality and this suits As You Like It as it is a very physical, sensual play. The voice training in Grotowski is particularly ideal for Shakespeare, as is the intimate, spare space of the PACT Theatre, Erskineville where it will be performed.

The Grotowski ideas for seating arrangements absolutely suits As You Like It in this venue because it involves the audience more than if they were seated conservatively. Like Grotowski and Shakespeare, we are not pretending the audience is not present. In fact we want the audience to be as close to the actors as possible, to be part of the performance.

The publicity states that the production is bare and physical. What does this mean?

It means that the actors are physically free with each other (not stitched up) and bare because we have no set, only costumes (as in Shakespeare’s day) thus emphasising the acting. The production is not weighed down by costume, props or stage machinery. Make-up is minimal as is the lighting so the actors have virtually a free space in which to perform. Grotowski training is really meant to achieve simplicity, physical and emotional freedom and sincerity.

As You Like It, plays 8pm Wed-Sat 13-30 May, PACT Theatre, Erskineville.