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In Memory of Ryszard Cieslak

  • Ferdinando Taviani


The Polish actor Ryszard Cieslak, who died in June 1990, joined Jerzy Grotowski's first theatrical venture, the Theatre of the Thirteen Rows in Opole, in 1962, three years after its formation, remaining with Grotowski throughout the life of the Laboratory Theatre in Wroclaw, and until it ceased touring early in 1980 after Grotowski's period of paratheatrical experiments had begun. Cieslak is best remembered for his performances in The Constant Prince and Apocalypsis cum Figuris, and his achievements as an actor were in some senses inseparable from those of Grotowski – but in later years he worked independently, both as a director and, before his death, in the memorable Tiresias-like role of Dhrtarastra in Peter Brook's version of The Mahabharata. In the first part of this feature, Ferdinando Taviani explores the nature and the quality of Cieslak's work, and its relationship with the Laboratory Theatre. To complement his analysis, we are reprinting the final interview given by Cieslak before his death, which was first published on 2 May 1990 in the literary supplement of the Polish-language American journal Nowy Dziennik. Its occasion was the screening of the film of The Mahabharata in Los Angeles and other United States cities in May and June 1990.



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Notes and References

1. See The Drama Review, No. 46 (Winter 1970), p. 164–211, which contains a portfolio by Max Waldman on Cieslak as the Constant Prince, and a series of critiques on Grotowski with essays by Stefan Brecht, Peter L. Feldman, Donald M. Kaplan, Jan Kott, Charles Ludlam, and Donald Richie.

2. A ‘stochastic’ non-directional or ‘casual’ process is almost synonymous with ‘creative’ process.

3. Kumiega, Jennifer, The Theatre of Grotowski (London: Methuen, 1985), p. 51.

4. Rasmusen, Iben Nagel, ‘Le mute del passsate’, Scena, Nos. 3–4 (09 1979), p. 49; reprinted in Laura Mariani, ed., Lapis, No. 1 (Nov. 1987), p. 55–60.

5. Kumiega, op. cit., p. 51–2.

6. Jan Kott, The Drama Review, op. cit., p. 201.

7. Barba, Eugenio, ‘II parco e la riserva’, in II libro dell'Odin, ed. Taviani, F. (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1978), p. 253.

8. André Gregory discussed this project with me in Livorno in December 1982. In the early 1970s, Gregory was the director and guiding force of the experimental Manhattan Project group. He had left the work abruptly and set off along his own crisis-torn path, leaving behind him other actors who no longer had anyone to work with. He was to describe his travels, his experiences, his breaking away and going back, in the film My Dinner with André, written and performed together with Wallace Shawn, and directed by Louis Malle, in which two friends sitting in an elegant Manhattan restaurant are talking – or rather, André is talking, while Wallace almost exclusively listens. The whole film consists of a conversation, which is most often a monologue, but the unexpected surprises and coups de théâtre hold the viewer's attention. It is a unique piece of its genre. The script is published as Shawn, W. and Gregory, A., My Dinner with André (New York: Grove Press, 1981).

9. Directed by Torgeir Wethal, produced by Odin Teatret Films for Programmi Sperimentali della Televisione Italiana (in two parts, running time for each part 50 minutes). Two actors from the Odin Teatret took part in the film, as Cieslak's students.

10. Schechner, Richard, Performative Circumstances from the Avant Garde to Ramila (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1983), p. 97.

11. The film was presented as an ‘audiovisual reconstruction of the performance’, based on a 16 mm feature, shot by an unknown cameraman with a fixed camera, and synchronized later at the Department, of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Rome in 1974, under the supervision of Ryszard Cieslak. The sound track was taped in Oslo in 1965, a couple of years after the film was made. During the editing of the film, there was no need to integrate or correct the soundtrack, which matched up with the images perfectly, despite the time lapse between the film and the recording. The only points where there was not perfect correspondence between sound and image were on those occasions when the filming was interrupted to change the reel – and when that happens, the gap is immediately obvious, as it should be in a restored work. There is a better quality film (because it was made specifically) of the last 10–15 minutes of the production, made by Norwegian Television, in the archives of the Odin Teatret.

12. Stefan Brecht, The Drama Review, op. cit.

13. Reprinted in Schechner, op. cit., p. 96. It is taken from an interview with Cieslak which I believe was never published.

14. See, for example, Stefan Brecht, op. cit.

15. Paris: CNRS, 1970.


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