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शुक्रवार, 11 नवंबर 2011

What is Poor Theatre?

Contrary to how it may sound, Poor Theatre has nothing to do with the lack of funds.
The concept of Poor Theatre started with the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski (1933 - 1999). Theatre in general became very elaborate and relied heavily on theatrical devices such as light, sound, costume and decor sets to add spectacle to the performance. The skills of the actors were overshadowed and became of less importance.
Motion pictures added sound and colour to their repertoire and it was impossible for theatre to compete with this new genre.
Grotowski argued that there was no point in trying to compete with film but that theatre should rather convert back to its roots. In his own words, "If it [the stage] cannot be richer than the cinema, then let it be poor."
The actor's voice and body skills should be the primary spectacle on stage. In his quest Grotowski did away with everything that could distract the audience from the actor. No more elaborate sets, lights and sound. The relationship between the audience and the actor became, once more, the emphasis of the production.
In his actor's workshops, which he called a laboratory, the focus was on the actor. It was, however, very different from his predecessor Stanislavski, who aimed to teach his actors method acting. Grotowski appreciated Stanislavski's work but he (Grotowski) was not attempting to supply his actor with a "bag of tricks" as he called it. He focused on stripping down the actor into his essential self. It is, therefore not a collection of skills but an eradication of blocks. The techniques and exercises used in Grotowski's laboratory required serious concentration and commitment. The actor needed to find the strength of his natural voice and body. The perfection of the techniques was not as important as the awareness of the process.
During a performance the actor would awe the audience with his portrayal of the character without the help of any theatrical devices. The spectacle came from the actor and the actor alone.
South African playwrights, Athol Fugard, Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa were all fascinated by the concept of Poor Theatre, after reading Grotowski's book, Towards a Poor Theatre. In Fugard's Boesman and Lena the Poor Theatre setting emphasizes the desolate and futile circumstances of the characters. Ngema and Mtwa's production of Woza Albert was performed as Poor Theatre with the minimum theatrical devices. The actors were dressed in tracksuit pants alone while decor consisted of two tea chests. A few functional props were used like a piece of cloth and clown noses. The cloth had multiple uses as a shawl, table cloth or blanket. The noses were used to depict the white people.
In South Africa Poor Theatre productions had an advantage during the Apartheid years. Theatre companies producing Protest Theatre were not popular with the government of the time and therefore got no funding and had to stage their production in informal places. There was no money for costumes, light and decor sets and not always enough space either. In this sense it was poor theatre and Poor Theatre.

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