The Post-traumatic Theatre of Grotowski and Kantor
History and Holocaust in ‘Akropolis’ and ‘Dead Class’
About This Book
“[Romanska’s] richly documented chapters interweave primary sources, critical commentary, and contemporary theory (for example, Adorno, Agamben, Bettelheim, Améry) on each topic. […] Through its argumentation and design, the book demonstrates a sophisticated dramaturgical strategy for re-historicizing and recontextualizing theatre and performance events […] The book also introduces English-language students to a significant national literature and encourages them to undertake equally rigorous, culturally specific readings in their fields of interest.” —Mary Karen Dahl, “Theatre Journal”
“Non-Polish-speaking scholars of Grotowski and Kantor will be grateful for Romanska’s work. She opens up areas of these two productions which have been unavailable; trauma and Holocaust survivors will be glad to be made aware of them; and Romanska indicates the direction for further analysis in this area.” —Alison Jeffers and Brian Schutis, “New Theatre Quarterly”
“A brilliant cross-disciplinary comparative analysis that joins a new path in theatre studies, revitalizing the artistic heritage of two great twentieth-century masters: Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski.” —Professor Antonio Attisani, Department of Humanities, University of Turin
Despite its international influence, Polish theatre remains a mystery to many Westerners. This volume attempts to fill in various gaps in English-language scholarship by offering a historical and critical analysis of two of the most influential works of Polish theatre: Jerzy Grotowski’s ‘Akropolis’ and Tadeusz Kantor’s ‘Dead Class’. By examining each director’s representation of Auschwitz, this study provides a new understanding of how translating national trauma through the prism of performance can alter and deflect the meaning and reception of theatrical works, both inside and outside their cultural and historical contexts.
Although theatre scholars have now gained familiarity with ‘Akropolis’ and ‘Dead Class’, there remains little understanding of the complex web of cultural meanings and significations that went into their making – they remain broadly but not deeply known. Grotowski and Kantor both sought to respond to the trauma of the Holocaust, albeit through drastically different aesthetics, and this study develops a comparative critical language through which one can simultaneously engage Grotowski and Kantor in a way that makes their differences evocative of a broader conversation about theatre and meaning. Ultimately, this volume invites and engages with many questions: how is theatrical meaning codified outside its cultural context? How is it codified within its cultural context? What affects the reception of a theatrical work? And, above all, how does theatre ‘make meaning’?
Magda Romanska is an award-winning writer, theatre scholar and dramaturg. Educated at Stanford, Yale and Cornell, she is currently Associate Professor of Theatre and Dramaturgy at Emerson College in Boston, and a research associate at Harvard University’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Kathleen Cioffi; Preface; Acknowledgments; List of Illustrations; Introduction; PART 1. OUR AUSCHWITZ: GROTOWSKI’S ‘AKROPOLIS’; Chapter 1. Grotowski: A Very Short Introduction; Chapter 2. Native Son: Grotowski in Poland; Chapter 3. Grotowski: The Polish Context; Chapter 4. Grotowski, the Messiah: Coming to America; Chapter 5. The Making of an Aura; Chapter 6. “On Not Knowing Polish”; Chapter 7. “In Poland: That is to Say Nowhere”; Chapter 8. ‘Akropolis’ /Necropolis; Chapter 9. The Vision and the Symbol; Chapter 10. “This Drama as Drama Cannot Be Staged”; Chapter 11. Two National Sacrums; Chapter 12. “Hollow Sneering Laughter”: Mourning the Columbuses; Chapter 13. Against Heroics; Chapter 14. Representing the Unrepresentable; Chapter 15. Trip to the Museum; Chapter 16. Bearing the Unbearable; Chapter 17. The Living and the Dead; Chapter 18. Jacob’s Burden; Chapter 19. The Final Descent; Chapter 20. Textual Transpositions; Chapter 21. ‘Akropolis’ After Grotowski; PART 2. OUR MEMORY: KANTOR’S ‘DEAD CLASS’; Chapter 1. Tadeusz Kantor: A Very Short Introduction; Chapter 2. ‘Dead Class’: The Making of the Legend; Chapter 3. ‘Dead Class’ in Poland; Chapter 4. The Polish History Lesson; Chapter 5. ‘Dead Class’ Abroad; Chapter 6. On Not Knowing Polish, Again; Chapter 7. The Visual and the Puerile; Chapter 8. The National and the Trans-National; Chapter 9. Witkiewicz’s ‘Tumor’; Chapter 10. An Age of Genius: Bruno Schulz and the Return to Childhood; Chapter 11. Conversing with Gombrowicz: The Dead, the Funny, the Sacred and the Profane; Chapter 12. Panirony: “A pain with a smile and a shrug”; Chapter 13. Raising the Dead; Chapter 14. ‘Dead Class’ as Kaddish…; Chapter 15. ‘Dead Class’ as ‘Dybbuk’, or the Absence; Chapter 16. The Dead and the Marionettes; Chapter 17. Men and Objects; Chapter 18. ‘Dead Class’ as ‘The Forefathers’ Eve’; Chapter 19. ‘Dead Class’: The Afterlife; Postscript; Appendix; Bibliography; Index