Acting Tip #7: Why Oh Why, Grotowski!

I’ve often said that impulse is the holy grail of acting.  In other words, a spontaneous physical and vocal reaction to the material, the situation and the other actor(s).   Because, after all, the acting style of the last 100 years mirrors real life.  Finding the right mechanism to click on our expressive apparatus is what we all strive for.

Later, as I’ve been telling my advanced student, Pamela, once you have those impulses cranking and you trust them, you can shape them however you’d like.  Which leads me to, again, why Grotowski . . .

Grotowski said, “we do not possess memory; our entire body is memory, and it is by means of the ‘body-memory’ that the impulses are released”.  When I was studying with Lee Strasberg, I began to understand what impulse was by immersing myself in Method relaxation and sense memory.  But, after teaching it on and off for 30 years, I found it limiting.

One thing that bothered me was the simplistic philosophy of the relaxation exercise.  We are not “rag dolls” or need to get to a point in our relaxation where we fall asleep.  We have to, instead, learn how to walk and talk in a relaxed state.  So, we need to understand how our body “contracts and change1 Acting Tip #7: Why Oh Why, Grotowski!decontracts” to do a physical action.  A study of this process can lead us to relax and tense exactly what muscles are needed to perform.

I’m a big fan of sense memory.  I still teach it.  But learning it took years.  And, again, it’s limiting.  When you start with an understanding that the ENTIRE body is memory, and physical confrontation stimulates that memory, it makes more sense to train the body for expression.  So I got out of the chair and began to explore Grotowski’s plastiques as a way to use the whole body to confront images and impulses.  I have never looked back.  As Method was once my mantra, this work now is.