Grotowski residency comes to Yale

The Open Program of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards performed for students, workers and professors in the Calhoun dining hall during lunch on Wednesday.
The Open Program of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards performed for students, workers and professors in the Calhoun dining hall during lunch on Wednesday. Photo by Maria Zepeda.

Students, workers and professors in the Calhoun, Branford and Davenport dining halls were serenaded during lunch Wednesday in a series of “interventions” announcing the Yale arrival of the Open Program of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards.

The group, hosted by the Interdisciplinary Performance Studies at Yale program, is comprised of performers from countries including Italy, France and Poland, who are dedicated to continuing the performance research and legacy of the late experimental Polish director Jerzy Grotowski. The Workcenter group will perform two of their shows and hold a symposium on campus, as well as seek opportunities to connect with the broader New Haven community during their nearly two-week residency, Workcenter member Agnieszka Kazimierska said.

“We try to create the conditions for encounters in different cities, to see how we can serve the city,” Workcenter member Felicita Marcelli said.

Dominika Laster, an IPSY postdoctoral fellow who is teaching a yearlong course on Grotowski and performance research this year, initiated the project, which is funded by IPSY and the Theater Studies Department, in addition to receiving external funds from the Polish Cultural Institute in New York and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

The group’s current work focuses on music written by group members around the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and traditional African-American spirituals from the American South. The Workcenter uses music and poetry to foster research on the function of different forms of performance, Workcenter Open Program Director Mario Biagini explained.

The shows do not follow most conventions of traditional theater, but Marcelli said performing in the group still requires a heightened awareness and attention to what is going on around her.

“You don’t have a character and a text, but you are onstage and you have to show something to people that is not just you,” Workcenter member Ophelie Maxo said.

The group has already scheduled meetings with the People’s Arts Collective of New Haven and will perform for students at the Eli Whitney Museum, who also helped construct the sets for their show “I Am America.” Kazimierska said they also seek to connect with local churches and other organizations. She said they will hold a performance of “Electric Party Songs” at Bar restaurant in the hopes of creating an opportunity for interaction between Yale students and New Haven residents. She added that prior to arriving to New Haven, she had heard that the two spheres were disconnected.

Marcelli said the group always tries to do more than simply come to a city, perform in a formal setting and leave. By venturing out of purely formal theater spaces for their performances, they are able to show their work to people who may not necessarily interact with theater otherwise, Kazimierska explained.

“We try to reach people, so this doesn’t become high art enclosed in an elite space, but [art that] can serve everybody,” Kazimierska said.

Marcelli added that “Electric Party Songs” is different during each performance, explaining that while individual segments of the show do not change, the group puts them together in different combinations and changes the form of the performance to adapt to the performance environment. She cited a Davenport dining hall worker who spontaneously began dancing with members of the group during their performance as an example of the interactions they look for in their work.

“She was not acting, but she recognized something and joined very organically,” Marcelli said. “If our work can spark that kind of recognition, that’s very precious.”

Nadine Ricks-McCollum, a worker in the Davenport dining hall, said she enjoyed the group’s performance. While she said she could not initially understand the language the group sang in, she could tell it was “very spiritually based.”

The Workcenter will perform “Electric Party Songs” in the Calhoun Cabaret this Friday and Saturday, and “I Am America” at the Whitney Theater on Feb. 28 and March 1.

Correction: Feb. 21

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Agnieszka Kazimierska. It also omitted the Adam Mickiewicz Institute when listing the program’s sources of funding.

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