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The Grotowski Technique
By Frances Parkes
I first studied Grotowski in depth in 1993 while studying for my Master's Degree. I was researching for my thesis on audience/performer inter-action and began trawling through books I had previously skimmed through when studying as an actress at the Guildhall.
What drew my attention immediately, was that Grotowski did not think that an audience was necessary to the creative act of a performer. He did not feel that an actor's performance (including the voice) should be changed by any external factors.
Impossible, I thought, you always have to project your voice to an audience even in reflective soliloquy and you never project the voice while you are investigating a part. Grotowski proved me wrong.
But In effect, what Grotowski's basic exercises for the voice do, is allow a person to identify nine different areas of the body, which act as the loud speakers for the sound their whole body produces. Through these exercises a person begins to sense and identify these areas and the process of internalising and externalising the sound becomes one. The two most beneficial aspects of the Grotowski Vocal Technique are that the exercises are adapted to the individual (everyone being physically unique) and that once learned, the voice continues to develop.
Of course, many years of research went into the development of the exercises. Jerzy Grotowski started his work in Opole, in South West Poland in 1959, with the Theatre Laboratory, which he later moved to Pontedera in Tuscany, Central Italy. The development of his ideas continues after his death in 1999, through his apprentice Thomas Richards, who studied with him for fifteen years. Grotowski's idea lay in self-knowledge; he wanted an "interior ripening". With physical and mental self-knowledge, he believed that actors were ready to perform. He saw the theatre as a spiritual place and wanted audiences to experience this. Ironically, it was this that kept him from greater international recognition during his lifetime. Now his methods are being acknowledged as inspirational. An actor who has an acute sense of self (physical, mental and spiritual) has such confidence, that the effect on an audience is spellbinding. Previously, directors gave this confidence to actors, especially film actors.
As a voice coach I use Grotowski's technique simply because it works. My clients are roughly 50% actor/singers and 50% general public. All of them come to me because they feel a strain in the way their voice is produced. I do not adhere to all of Grotowski's theories and use other methods that I have researched to complement his exercises. However, he has defined what many other people have said, that the whole of the body is a tool for communication.
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