“My Idea of the Theatre”
The new theatre, defined in terms of the modern and the avant-garde, has been surrounded by prejudice stemming from an old-fashioned way of thinking and from the worst of the traditions of bad taste. Its other causes are ignorance, lack of sensitivity and a total disregard for the crucial functions of art.
One of the symptoms of the prejudice surrounding the new theatre is the old and overused accusation concerning its incomprehensibility, exclusiveness and indifference to social matters. What is ignored is the simple fact that such accusations may result from applying a false strategy to the recognition of a work of art. In this case it is exactly so. The strategy which is used has been inherited from the 19th century, the age of the downfall of arts. The rule applied says that art is an illustration – not of life any longer, but of everyday practices of life and of its superficial anecdote. In this light any artistic production that reaches beyond this thin layer appears to be incomprehensible and strange. I am strongly convinced that only the theatre which is based on the methods of modern thinking and perception has the potential to become the mass theatre, merged with the society. Giving up the pseudo-inquisitive analysis, imagination reaching beyond the limits of everyday experience, metaphors increasing human sensibility, surprising and shocking because of their expressive power – all this creates a sphere of great tension, capable of influencing and convincing a great mass of people.
THE SO-CALLED “SCENERY”
The terms “the stage set”, “the scenery” or “stage design” become useless and unnecessary in the new theatre. They imply a distinction. What is understood by these terms ought to be integrated with the theatrical whole so strongly as to melt into the entire stage matter. It should not be discernible.
The relationship between the actor and “this thing”, i.e. the former “scenery” or “props” ought to be as inseparable as the guillotine and Kapet’s head in the time of the revolution – everlasting.
The theatre that I am talking about has renounced the idea of the “scenery” understood as an illustration of art. This belongs to the worst of theatrical traditions. The scenery does not have to, and even should not, function only as the location, regardless of whether the form is constructivist, surrealist, expressionist, symbolic, naturalistic or poetical. It has much more important and alluring functions to perform, such as the function of locating emotions, conflicts and the dynamics of the action. It may not exist at all, absorbed by the actor’s movement and expression, replaced by the light or by works of art: a painting or a sculpture carrying the value of authenticity, just as it used to result from the application of authentic values in the theatre – a poor example of stylization.
Kantor, Tadeusz. “My Idea of the Theatre”, texts coming from the programme of “The Rhinoceros” by E. Ionesco, the Stary Theatre, Cracow 1961 (p.17 – 22)
“The development of my ideas concerning staging techniques. Terminology”
1945. The scenery is a function of DRAMA and SPACE.
It constructs and organizes the theatrical space.
It creates the multiplication of the actor’s expressive potential, his movements
It is the basis for drama and its conflicts.
The scenery is a MACHINE for ACTING.
The OBJECT no longer performs its everyday functions; it becomes
part of the space and the construction created on the stage.
The scenery is CONSTRUCTION!
It is an autonomous form similar to a SCULPTURE or to a LIVING ORGANISM;
it is almost the ACTOR himself!
It is an architectonic idea of the theatrical space.
1952. Attempts and explorations aimed at finding an ALTERNATIVE
Which could embrace:
Ideas, emotional tensions, thoughts, spiritual conflicts.
An INNER MODEL of drama.
I call this space
“A MENTAL SPACE”
“AN ALTERNATIVE SPACE”.
1954. The production of Shaw’s “Saint Joan”.
The scenery does not serve to locate the action
nor to organize it in space.
Space in the physical sense loses its meaning –
it becomes empty, infinite.
The criteria of the construction we are so accustomed to
that its absence was almost unconceivable
suddenly have no application.
In the time when the post-constructivist tendency
is omnipresent in the theatre such a view is nearly
Three gigantic MARIONETTES of the Emperor, the Pope
and the Knight according to the architectonic convention
are HOLES in space, holes for ideas
The only concrete and real form: the ACTOR,
a living, spatial, moving form.
1955. The production of “Measure for Measure” by Shakespeare.
The REDUCTION of forms, which in constructivism
and post-constructivism stemmed from the superordinate idea
of CONSTRUCTION – because of the suitable steps
acquires a completely different meaning;
it evokes the impression of REMAINS, RELICS,
the signs of the destructive influence of TIME!
This is no longer a rational, architectonic space –
this is the atmosphere of TIME .
1957. So as to overcome the convention of constructivism,
or rather post-constructivism, which is degenerating more and more
into a rigid academic architectonic space, I introduce
an element of form MOVEMENT,
which efficiently destroys the lifeless skeleton of construction.
Abstract forms move not in order to create various arrangements
and configurations –
MOVEMENT is the main actor here;
MOVEMENT as such – autonomous and abstract.
It creates tensions of a much higher level of complexity
than the actor’s movement, which, because of its naturalism,
is not – i s o l a t e d
so it is not a form.
1961. The production of “The Rhinoceros” by Ionesco.
I introduce a new concept: the REVERSED SPACE.
It is the continuation of the search for the mental space.
The term itself is of a devious character, as it does not contain
any references to space.
The “REVERSED” space evokes a world, objects,
characters – not in their “positive aspect,”
intended for presentation, but similarly to
a pocket or a glove turned inside out
with exposed stitches, threads and shreds –
all the “anatomy” of poor quality
has nothing to do with the external laws
we know which shape all the rational and
It is the kind of reality which – it has to be stressed –
has nothing in common with the oneiric quality of surrealism
or with Freud’s idea of the subconscious.
I am writing an essay entitled “A Meeting with Dürer’s Rhinoceros,”
which is the starting point for my search for the reality which I named
the Reality of the Lowest Rank.
1962. My last experiments in the professional theatre:
Objects accidentally compressed.
I am preparing a lot of realistically made objects,
(almost real ones), which appear or may appear
in the production, which have or may have their roles
on the stage; there is a whole mass of them, a great quantity;
I multiply them, I collect various other objects – “Lost Property” –
completely useless and unjustified;
I combine everything together, I press, squeeze and nearly
compress the objects in an absurd and illogical way;
a NEW kind of REALITY is created in accordance with the new order
stemming from the ACCIDENTAL.
On the empty stage the atmosphere becomes
condensed to the highest possible degree
so that the objects lose their function and the features that
make them objects; they become matter.
At the same time in CRICOT 2 Theatre I follow the credo
of the informel art; I call this period
the INFORMEL THEATRE.
I put into practice my idea of the REALITY
of the LOWEST RANK; I use DESTRUCTION;
I use the ACCIDENTAL (without restriction);
I use my definition of the POOR OBJECT
and POOR PLACE.
Kantor, Tadeusz. “Development of my ideas concerning staging techniques. Terminology”, in: Pleśniarowicz, Krzysztof (selected and ed. by). Metamorfozy. Teksty o latach 1938-1974. [Metamorphoses. Texts about the years 1928 – 1974] Kraków: Ośrodek Dokumentacji Sztuki Tadeusza Kantora Cricoteka, Księgarnia Akademicka, Kraków 2000.