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domingo, 23 de marzo de 2014

How Actors Create Emotions: A Problematic Psychology Fully inhabiting the mind, mannerisms, and reality of a fictional character can be as alienating as it is rewarding. Judith Ohikuare

Early on in her career, Deborah Margolin realized that she was a woman nobody liked, not even herself. She was a “homely person who was pregnant all the time”—not because she enjoyed sex, according to Margolin, but because of a sense of self-loathing that led her toward the same dead end, over and over again. She was married to a man but wished that she were with a woman. Or, rather, she wished that she were a woman—a different one. She wished she were Patience or Sarah, two women whom everyone around her seemed to want.
Historical-fiction buffs might recognize the name Patience and Sarah as a novel set in the 19th-century adapted for stage. Others might recognize Deborah Margolin not as a bitter, perpetually expectant woman, but as a playwright, an Obie-award winning performance artist, and an associate professor in Yale University’s undergraduate theater studies program.
But for Margolin, the line separating her real self from her stage self became less defined the deeper into character she went. Playing a person whose existence was blight on others’ took a real toll, emotionally and physically, and possibly even affected how her peers treated her. For many actors like Margolin who land demanding roles, fully inhabiting the mind, mannerisms, and reality of a fictional character can be as alienating as it is rewarding.
“It was depressing,” Margolin recalls. “My character would cry, and I would cry. She was miserable, and I was miserable. She was a frustrated, ignorant person trapped in a narrow life, and I felt like that. Once, while I was onstage, my purse was robbed in the dressing room, and I felt like everybody backed away from me, thinking that I would infect them with tragedy. These were lovely people—I loved them dearly—but my character was unattractive and somehow, so was I. Something about that infused the community of theater actors that I was in.”
The idea that there are psychological consequences to good acting has been espoused so often that it’s easy to assume the science is there to back it up. As a result, the sudden and often surprising deaths of talented actors sometimes inspire fearful, knowing whispers about the dangers of delving “too deep” into harrowing roles. Many theatergoers have a sense that somewhere in the actor’s psyche lays the potential to forget himself when authentically getting into character.
In truth, cognitive scientists and psychologists have been reluctant to embrace acting as a serious subject of study. But researchers like Thalia Goldstein, an assistant professor of psychology at Pace University, have recently started to investigate the links between the two fields with the idea that both disciplines can be enriched by a study of their commonalities. In a joint paper from Goldstein and Yale professor Paul Bloom, “The mind on stage: why cognitive scientists should study acting,” Goldstein argues that psychologists can look to how actors create emotions in order to understand human nature in a new way.
“I think that at their cores, psychology, cognitive science, and theater are all trying to do the same thing, which is understand why people do the things they do, our range of behavior, and where it comes from,” Goldstein says. “It’s just two different ways of looking at the same question.”
Goldstein believes that a principal barrier to such research is that few people—scientists and average viewers alike—understand the work that goes into acting and what it means to convincingly portray another person onstage. She finds it helpful to first distinguish what acting is from what it isn’t, and then determine the processes involved in performing.
As a human invention, acting is hardly a hardwired part of our biology, she notes. So while there’s no such thing as a “thespian instinct” or an adaptation that makes good acting evolutionarily advantageous, we can come closer to understanding why realistic acting is so convincing by analyzing the cognitive capacities it draws upon.
Goldstein looks at three categories—pretense, lying, and acting—as they fit into a trio of cognitive parameters. First, what is being presented perceptually and if it is actually happening or is just pretend; second, what behavior is being shown and whether that behavior is a cue to reality; and finally, whether the exhibited behavior is intended to fool the audience. On the first parameter, Goldstein says, all three categories are in agreement. In the cases of pretense, lying, and acting, “what is being presented perceptually, what we’re seeing, is not real.”
In the second parameter, there is some variation among the categories. “In pretense, the behavior is a cue to the fact that what [someone] is doing is not real. You’re smiling even though you say you’re sad, or you’re not using a cup when you pretend to drink,” Goldstein explains. “In deception and acting, though, the behavior [alone] is not a cue to the fact that what you’re doing is not real.”
The final category is the trickiest of all: Are actors trying to make people believe that what they’re doing is true? Well, yes and no. Acting is not lying and neither is it pretense, but both flirt with what is “true” or real to varying degrees.
“Everybody knows that when they’re watching CSI: Miami or playing tea party with a four year old that they’re watching television and not dining with the Queen,” Goldstein says. “But with lying, only the person who is lying understands what’s going on.”On the categorical spectrum then, “acting is a form of pretense that’s done with more realistic behavior, and a form of lying that everyone is in on.”
But can a realistic scenario be overly convincing? In other words, is good acting a kind of Inception?
In the 2010 film, Dominick “Dom” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) charges architecture student Ariadne (Ellen Page) with the task of building the most convincing possible dream world. However, Dom warns Ariadne of the dangers of borrowing too heavily from her own life, telling her to “always imagine new places.”
“You’ve got to draw from stuff you know, right?” she counters, to which Dom replies, “Building a dream from your memory is the easiest way to lose grasp on what’s real and what is a dream.”
Similarly, actors must do real work—build real worlds—to temporarily convince themselves and others of the veracity of unreal circumstances. Yet they must be mindful of how much of their own lives and experiences they imbue their characters with, something they only began to do a handful of decades ago.
What we value as “realistic” acting is a relatively new and particularly American way of depicting society. Taking into consideration the arc of Western performance from highly-symbolic Greek theater, to Laurence Olivier’s classic turn as Hamlet in 1948, to pretty much any Meryl Streep role, ever, it becomes evident that audiences’ demand to really believe what they are seeing has been a gradual, modish progression.
The trend toward realism in acting emerged in the mid-20th century due to the influence of Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavsky, who urged actors to strive for “believable truth.” As noted on PBS.org:
Stanislavsky first employed methods such as “emotional memory.” To prepare for a role that involves fear, the actor must remember something frightening, and attempt to act the part in the emotional space of that fear they once felt. Stanislavsky believed that an actor needed to take his or her own personality onto the stage when they began to play a character. […] Later Stanislavsky concerned himself with the creation of physical entries into these emotional states, believing that the repetition of certain acts and exercises could bridge the gap between life on and off the stage.
Subsequently, heavily influenced by Stanislavsky, actor and director Lee Strasberg interpreted his teacher’s philosophy for an American audience and emphasized affective memory—a key component of what is touted as method acting, or simply, the Method. As noted by Pamela Moller Kareman, the executive director of the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City, the field was forever changed.
“Beginning way back with their interpretation of Stanislavsky, Americans have had a tremendous influence on the art of acting, internationally. What people [once] thought of as American acting is just acting today,” she says.
“Unfortunately, audiences have become a little impatient with stylized acting and now won’t even watch a black-and-white film because they think it’s boring, whereas it was stylized but very truthful. Take somebody like Quentin Tarantino—his are highly stylized films, and yet you still believe the behavior in them. It might be heightened, but it’s truthful.”
Neighborhood Playhouse teaches its students according to the principles of the Meisner Technique, an offshoot of Stanislavsky’s work developed by Sanford Meisner—a one-time friend and contemporary of Lee Strasberg. According to Kareman, the divide between the pair was that Strasberg was much more interested in actors working from their real lives and real pain, whereas Meisner thought that was “psychotherapy and had no place in acting.”
“Meisner thought that the biggest gift an actor has is his or her imagination, which is limitless, while one’s real life and real experiences were quite limited,” Kareman says.
“He also felt, and I agree with him, that you wouldn’t be able to go [to certain real-life experiences]. So, if you were ever in any way molested as a child, he never wanted you to use that; it would be a very unhealthy thing. You might subconsciously be colored by that, but your imagination could bring up something else.”
Deborah Margolin also discourages the possible romanticizing of traumatic experiences for art saying, “I’ve gone to dark places in terms of the roles I’ve played, and I’ve also gone to dark places just living. There’s this whole thing about suffering for your art and I think that’s baloney. I tell my students not to worry about the suffering. Suffering will find you—seek the joy.”
Either way, deciding whether or not to design roles around personal experiences isn’t the all-or-nothing decision that it is for Dom Cobb. Many actors create their own methods, with some mix of immersion and personal history, while others include no trace of their lives. As Professor Goldstein sees it, though, either choice may result in some subtle effect on a performer.
She cites research from late Yale professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema on the effect of ‘ruminating’ on negative events, which has been shown to “consistently predict the onset of depression” in those who engage in it, particularly women.
To actors who might laugh that off and present acting as being purely physical, Goldstein says other research in psychology suggests that they, too, might experience emotional aftereffects from performing. She points to findings from Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy, who has said that just putting yourself into an assertive position, a “power pose,” like sitting in a chair with your chest puffed out, not only affects the way that you feel, but actually changes hormonal levels, with stress cortisol decreasing and testosterone increasing.
Goldstein admits that current research doesn’t look at these behaviors in the context of acting but says, “there’s a sense that if actors are really diving into themselves, maybe they’re having some ill effects.”
For some professionals in the field, those “ill effects” can be attributed to finding glitches within their own lives, as well as in the difficulty of performing itself. Deborah Margolin evocatively compares the lasting impression that acting leaves upon her to the scar left on an ovary post-ovulation.
“The egg is not there, but it leaves a mark of having burst forth,” she says. “It may sound arcane but I feel, in this fertile way, scarred, informed, freed, and changed by every role I’ve ever played.”
And in an interview with Indiewire, Tony Greco, a veteran acting teacher who counted Philip Seymour Hoffman among his students, explained that the personal introspective work needed to mine the minds of complicated characters is what ensnares actors who push themselves. Speaking about his experiences with Hoffman and others he said:
When Phil came to me with a great role, nothing was off limits. I could talk to Phil about any part of himself. Any aspect of his life. His love of the role was so big, his wanting to get to the truth of the part, that he was willing to journey to very complicated places. I have another student who I’ve known as long as Phil, Nicole Ari Parker, and she just did ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ on Broadway. And you can imagine that if you decide to take on Blanche DuBois, when the play is done you don’t go home and not think about all the questions that these great roles bring up inside of you. If you really decide to go where these great roles will take you, then you come out of them a changed person. You come out of them different because … when an audience sees a great role, it should make them question their own lives. And when an actor takes on a great role, it should make them question their lives. They change.
Deborah Moller Kareman says she agrees. “In life we have a lot of facades—and we need them because we can’t be as vulnerable, and penetrable, and open in life as we must be onstage or in front of a camera. In art you have to be responsive. Things have to get in so that they can get out, and you can’t live the way you do your art or you’d be wounded every second.”
Nevertheless, she breezily noted that “most actors live very normal lives”—very well aware of who they are after a role has ended, even if they might tell the people around them, “That one took a lot out of me.” She is also keen to add nuance to ideas like Greco’s about “great actors” and difficult roles.
To the Neighborhood Playhouse executive, distinguishing between intensity and concentration more accurately explains the emotional and psychological travails of acting—as well as acknowledges the wide range of work that an actor might do in her lifetime, from playing Cashier Number Three to Leading Lady.
“Intensity gets misinterpreted because I don’t think that all acting is necessarily extremely intense,” says Kareman. “But it is concentrated and very much about being here, now.”
For example, consider the “teeny-tiny gal in the train station”—your standard behind-the-scenes extra—who is in the background of Grand Central Station away from the crux of the action. According to Kareman, the extra needs to be just as concentrated as the leading actors, “otherwise she’s just pretending to be in the train station.” (Or as Goldstein might put it, she is too engaged in pretense.)
“If she’s really in the train station she’ll be concentrated; and if her newspaper falls, she’ll pick it up,” Kareman says. “But if she’s not concentrated then she won’t pick it up—then all of a sudden they’ve got to stop the scene and say, ‘What was that? You dropped the paper and didn’t pick it up.’” And that’s just bad acting.
“You do lose yourself in an artistic way,” Kareman explains, “but less so”—and less dramatically, perhaps—“than the layman might think.”
Indeed, one of the ways that she, Deborah Margolin, and others in the profession insulate themselves from their own work is by disengaging from their heightened level of concentration just as doggedly as they build it up. Naomi Lorrain, a student in the MFA Graduate Acting Program at NYU Tisch School of the Arts mentioned the importance of safe spaces, explaining that for her, school is a safe space to do the unsafe things that are required in acting.
“I can’t do a really intense role and then snap out of it. Mine is a slower progression out of a character, but I’m learning a lot of physical things that help me shake it off,” Lorrain says. “I’ve learned to develop a ritual, whether a vocal exercise or yoga, to bring me back to my center.”
Aside from creating a routine to reconnect with herself, Lorrain added that reconnecting with people she trusts also crucial. “I think having an outside support system is essential for this work. I might be going crazy and losing myself in a character’s rage, or sexuality, or fear, and vulnerability—and then I go home and my fiancé Rodney’s there, or I talk to my mom or my best friends. They know who I was before this character and they just remind me of home,” she says. “It can be hard. Offstage, you have to remember that it’s pretend and onstage you have to forget.”

martes, 12 de noviembre de 2013

Reflexión sobre la Actuación de Susana López



Estaba conversando con una amiga en la plaza El Venezolano, cuando una señora se sentó frente a nosotras. Tenía su ojo derecho mirando siempre al este y casi fuera de la órbita. El izquierdo, también un  poco brotado, seguía con hambre la maniobra de la mano que con una cucharita de madera devoraba un helado Tío Rico. Era gorda, setentona y sólo logré verle un diente en la parte superior de sus encías. “Mírala, obsérvala” me dije, recordando el taller. Y la vi ahí, sentada en la fuente de la plaza El Venezolano, meneando el pie izquierdo que no llegaba al piso. Debía medir poco de estatura. Cuando se metía la cuchara a la boca, se le salía un poco de helado por las comisuras y luego por todas partes a medida que avanzaba el mastique que hacía su lengua contra el paladar y el bamboleo de sus labios. Cuando masticaba reposaba la mano en el vasito del helado y miraba a los lados, como recelosa y yo le veía las canas alborotadas por la brisa y detenidas en la coronilla por un cintillo de plástico marrón. Me vio mirándola y me “hice la loca”. Pero me agarró otra vez en el acecho y aprovechó entonces para pedirme la sobra de torta que yo había dejado media hora antes. Se la di. “Yo no tengo hijos y tengo hambre” dijo. Primer choque. ¿Qué hago? ¿Qué hacemos? ¿Seguimos conversando? ¿Le prestamos atención?. En una fracción de segundos me hice estas preguntas, creo que mi amiga también, y decidimos sin decir nada escucharla. “No tengo hijos. Nunca tuve. Y tengo hambre. Ni uno…. Estuve mucho tiempo en el médico…Fui a la maternidad. Me vieron los médicos. Ahí me dijeron -No señora-,  me dijo el médico, -usted no va a por tener hijos, su matriz no se le desarrolló. Tiene la matriz de una niña-. Este helado me lo compró una muchacha…joven…porque yo tengo hambre.
Entre cada oración ella masticaba y nos miraba y miraba el plato, y nos detallaba y veía el vasito que antes tenía café y migajas de torta iban a dar al bulto de su barriga dejando una estela en su pecho cubierto por una franela de coton licra verde lavado viejo. Ella se limpiaba como quien sabe que debe hacerlo. Yo veía sus manos inflexibles pero ágiles con el tenedor, su falda de florecitas a la altura de las pantorrillas varicosas.  Ya se me había aguado el guarapo con lo poco y lo mucho que dijo. Entonces, además de observarla a ella, comencé a observar las reacciones de mi cuerpo. La incomodidad ¿Dónde se aloja? ¿Qué músculos se tensa? ¿Cómo es mi respiración con un nudo en la garganta? ¿Qué hago cuando quiero evitar el llanto? ¿Cómo me modificó con mi amiga?
La señora siguió. “Yo no conocí a mi hijos”.
Sentí como si un guante de boxeo me hubiese dado en la cara. Tuve muchas ganas de llorar, de salir corriendo, de no escucharla más. Sí, sí… duele enfrentarse al dolor aunque sea ajeno. “Yo no tuve hijos. Mi esposo si tuvo. Muchos, pero yo no”. Y ahí me acordé de los subtextos, de lo que está por debajo… del imaginario de quien escucha, en este caso del mío. La imaginé joven, queriendo tener un hijo, siendo engañada por el marido con una o con varias mujeres o quizá alentando al marido para que la engañe con una o varias mujeres (en este caso no sería engaño)  sintiéndose culpable de no parir, hasta aliviada porque él si los tuviera, llorando por las noches añorando peso en su vientre infantil, alegrándose con los hijos de otras; yendo a médicos, brujos, chamanes, curanderos, para que le arreglen esa parte de su cuerpo que añora ser grande; me acordé de Yerma y me alegré de tener aunque sea una puta referencia en donde ubicar a esta señora que me decía que no conoció a sus hijos, como si sus hijos estuvieran en algún lugar al que ella no puede acceder o ellos no pueden acceder. Conocí su deseo frustrado por la antagónica naturaleza. Y saqué varios spot, para alumbrar su drama, sus defectos, su dolor. Su necesidad de ser mamá.



domingo, 6 de octubre de 2013

Estelle Parsons | Interview

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Estelle Parsons can't imagine why she was cast as Violet Weston. Huh.
By Novid Parsi
Published: January 27, 2010
Photo: Robert J. Saferstein; Photo Illustration: Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay
In 2008, Estelle Parsons took over the notoriously demanding role of pill-popping, bile-spewing matriarch Violet Weston in the Broadway production of Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer winner, August: Osage County. Along with the raves came wide-eyed write-ups about the 82-year-old’s workout regimen (yoga, swimming, bicycling, running). Now the Oscar winner (Bonnie and Clyde), onetime Roseanne mom and longtime theater vet stars in the touring production of August, which has its homecoming this week.
You’ve said people identify Violet with their own mothers: “I do, even though my mother didn’t take drugs.” Violet’s such a nasty mom—how is she like yours?
In a mother-daughter relationship, there’s competitiveness and disappointment. I’ve been a successful actress and she didn’t need to be disappointed in me, God knows, but she was disappointed in me and everyone.
Why was she disappointed in you?
I married the wrong guy…. Her diary said—I was four years old—“Estelle broke a chair today, I’ll have to speak to her father.” So that gave me a little glimpse that I wasn’t the easiest kid.
I don’t think breaking a chair’s such a terrible thing for a four-year-old.
You don’t? No, but she did. [Laughs]
The play looks at generational repetition. Your daughter Abbie wrote an article about you a couple of years ago. What’d you think of it?
I don’t like it when people write about me. I don’t like to think about myself, I don’t like other people to think about me—which I know is crazy. I don’t find life very easy, I just find it painful.
Painful? How so?
It’s just, I’m never without thinking life is kind of sad and awful.
No wonder you play Violet so well.
[Laughs] Maybe. I’ve never understood why anybody would think I’m right in this part.
Abbie wrote that you were known as the Queen around the house.
Oh, I don’t know what that means. But probably it’s true, huh? It’s hard, I was a single parent. I don’t recommend it ever to anybody. I got divorced when they were two.
So Mom was right about your first husband, Richard Gehman, after all?
I wouldn’t say my mom was right, but that was a terrible marriage. He was a terrific writer; he was legendary in New York. I do have to give him credit because when I didn’t want to be on The Today Show anymore, he said, “Why don’t you go on stage? You’re always talking about doing that.”
How were the early years on Today?
Great pioneer days. I was one of eight people who put it together. Then I was the first woman sent out to do political reporting for a network. The early ’50s.
Have you found your inner Violet?
Sure. I was brought up to be a good girl. Now I realize how awful I am [Laughs] when I am awful. I’ll say something nasty to a waiter and then I’ll say, “Oh, Lord, that’s Violet peeping out, isn’t it?”
Does she peep out around family?
I had a little episode, yes. My grandson [Eben Britton] is in the NFL, and he was talking to us about football. Someone asked a question to Eben and his mother answered it, and I said, “Oh, shut up, Abbie!” She flounced out of the room, and I had to go apologize. I was quite shocked at myself.
Abbie again.
She’s a feisty piece.
She also wrote, “People who work with [Estelle] have been terrified of her, myself included. There’s no room for halfway in Estelle’s creative world.” Fair?
Very fair. I try to bring a playwright’s work to life. A lot of actors are interested in bringing themselves to great careers. I guess I’m contemptuous of everybody who doesn’t work as hard as I do.
You must have a lot of contempt.
I haven’t been easy to get along with. I hope I’m getting better at an advanced age. [Laughs] I was so angry at most of the cast when we started this tour. It was a great revelation that, though it didn’t look like they were caring so much, they’ve become superb. I couldn’t be more proud. So I’ve lost my contempt, which is a very good thing.
Did they sense your contempt?
Well, probably. I tried to stay by myself, but sometimes I’d say bad things to them. They’re used to me, I suppose. I don’t know what they think of me. Maybe you should ask them. [Laughs]
August: Osage County plays the Cadillac Palace Theatre Tuesday 2–February 14.

jueves, 12 de septiembre de 2013

Promesa del Actor



Promesa del Actor
Por Elia Kazan fundador del Actors Studio junto con Robert Lewis y Cheryl Crawford

Voy a tomar mi legítimo derecho sobre el escenario
y seré yo mismo. (a)
No soy ningún(a)  huérfano (a)
No tengo ninguna razón para ser tímido (a)
Voy responder tal y como me sienta,
torpemente, vulgarmente, pero voy a responder.
Voy tener mi garganta abierta.
Voy a tener mi corazón abierto.
Voy a estar vulnerable.
Puede que no tenga nada
Puede que tenga todo lo que el mundo ofrece,
Pero lo que más necesito
y lo que más deseo es ser yo mismo(a)
Voy a admitir rechazo, admitir dolor,
Voy a admitir frustración, admitir mezquindad,
admitir vergüenza,  admitir injuria,
admitir todo lo que me ocurra.
Lo mejor y lo más humano de mi
es aquello que le escondo al mundo.
Voy a trabajar en eso.
Voy a alzar mi voz.
Y seré escuchado(a)

sábado, 10 de agosto de 2013

SHOWCASE XIV - Septiembre de 2013

 Jose Ramón Suarez
Andreina Salazar

A
 Jessi Hernández

 Diana Diaz
 Daniela Niño
 Maryorie Cabrera

 Carla Muller
 Rodolfo Alonzo Torres
 Daniela Leal
 Mariant Lameda
 María Fernanda Godoy
 María Hernández
 Isaac Pérez - Sosa
I
 Guillermo De La Rosa
 Emiliy Caraballo
 Susana Gómez
 Virginia Penagos
 Eliú Ramos
 Román Bahorana
Argenis Allen

martes, 16 de julio de 2013

Tadeusz Kantor - Director - Creador

 http://www.culture.pl/web/english/resources-visual-arts-full-page/-/eo_event_asset_publisher/eAN5/content/tadeusz-kantor

  Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak
Tadeusz Kantor directing "The Dead Class", Kraków, 20 January 1988. Photo: Włodzimierz Wasyluk
Tadeusz Kantor directing "The Dead Class", Kraków, 20 January 1988. Photo: Włodzimierz Wasyluk
Stage director, creator of happenings, painter, set designer, writer, art theoretician, actor in his own productions and lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. Born in 1915 in Wielopole Skrzyńskie, in the province of Tarnów; died in 1990 in Kraków.
Table of contents:
Kantor in the Theatre
Kantor in Visual Arts
Important awards and distinctions

Kantor in the Theatre

Kantor was inspired by Constructivism, Dada, Informel art and Surrealism. He was attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków and studied under Karol Frycz, an outstanding set designer of the inter-war period. Kantor staged his first productions - Jean Cocteau's Orpheus, Juliusz Słowacki's Balladyna and Stanisław Wyspiański's Powrót Odysa / The Return of Odysseus with an underground theatre company that gave performances in private homes.

Immediately after the war he worked as a set designer, mostly for the Helena Modrzejewska Old Theatre in Kraków. Kantor continued to design for the stage on a regular basis throughout the 1960s, primarily working on abstract sets. A trip to Paris in 1947 inspired him to better define his own individual approach to painting, and a year later he founded the Grupa Krakowska / Cracow Group and participated in the Great Exhibition of Modern Art / Wielka Wystawa Sztuki Nowoczesnej in Kraków. But when Polish government authorities began to promote Socialist Realism as "official" art, Kantor disappeared from the art scene altogether. It wasn't until 1955 that he finally exhibited the paintings he had been creating since 1949.

1955 was an crucial year for Kantor for several reasons. It was the year that he inspired a group of visual artists, art critics and art theoreticians to help him create the Cricot 2 Theatre, which would become an incubator for his creativity. Cricot 2's first premiere was Mątwa / The Cuttlefish by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1956), a production in which Kantor cleverly juxtaposed the work's sublime rhetoric against a host of found objects and the banal environment of a café. The production included many elements that were to become characteristic of Kantor's theatrical style, such as sets that suggest silent films and actors who move and act like mannequins.

Cricot 2's second production was Cyrk / Circus, based on a play written by the company's own Kazimierz Mikulski, also a painter. It utilised a technique known as "emballage", which was also typical of Kantor's theatrical work at the time. In Circus, emballage took the form of black bags wrapped tightly around the actors. Such packaging was designed to strip actors and objects of any recognisable form, turning them into indistinguishable substance. Kantor's emballage period was followed by "Informel Theatre" (1960-62), a sort of automated spectacle that relied entirely on coincidence and the movement of matter. The actors in Kantor's Informel Theatre production of Witkiewicz's W małym dworku / Country House (1961) were treated like objects, entirely stripped of their individuality.

However, Informel Theatre failed to fully satisfy Kantor. The form was insufficiently integrated in an internal sense and too many of its parts were open to reduction. Kantor therefore replaced the concept of Informel Theatre with that of "Zero Theatre" (1962-1964), which was completely devoid of any action or events. This idea was most fully embodied in Cricot 2's production of Wariat i zakonnica / The Madman and the Nun, also by Witkiewicz, which Kantor staged in 1963.

In the evolution of his staging and aesthetics, Kantor had pushed the limits of any traditional concept of theatre. In 1965 he created Poland's first happenings - Cricotage and Linia podziału / Dividing Line - which were followed two years later by the famous List / The Letter and Panoramiczny Happening morski / Panoramic Sea Happening. Happenings, as Kantor himself wrote, were a product of his previous experiences in the theatre and as a painter.
Up to this point, I have tried to overcome the stage, but now I have abandoned the stage outright; that is, I've abandoned a place whose relationship with the audience is always well-defined. In searching for a new place, I theoretically had all the reality of life at my disposal, he wrote.
(After: Jan Kłossowicz, Tadeusz Kantor)
Kantor's later disillusionment with happenings as a creative medium eventually led him back to the theatre. In 1972 he staged Nadobnisie i koczkodany / Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes, based on a play by Witkiewicz, in which elements of a happening were absorbed into the theatrical structure. Three years later, in Umarła Klasa / The Dead Class, Kantor moved into yet another artistic phase with what he dubbed the "Theatre of Death". It is in this phase that Kantor created what are considered to be his most outstanding and best-known works. These include Wielopole, Wielopole (1980), Niech sczezną artyści / Let the Artists Vanish (1985) and Nigdy już tu nie powrócę / I Shall Never Return Here (1988), as well as the posthumously-produced Dziś są moje urodziny / Today Is My Birthday (1991) in which the primary motifs are death, transcendence, memory and the history inscribed in memory. The productions that made up the "Theatre of Death" drew on a theme running throughout Kantor's entire oeuvre, namely, his fascination with what he called "Reality of a Lower Order",
which continuously demands that I examine and express issues through base materials, the basest possible, materials that are poor, deprived of dignity and prestige, defenceless and often downright contemptible.
(Tadeusz Kantor, after: Jan Kłossowicz, Tadeusz Kantor)

To say of Kantor that he is among Poland's most outstanding artists of the second half of the twentieth century is to say very little. Kantor is to Polish art what Joseph Beuys was to German art and what Andy Warhol was to American art. He created a unique strain of theatre and was an active participant in the revolutions of the neo-avant-garde; he was a highly original theoretician, an innovator strongly grounded in tradition, an anti-painterly painter, a happener-heretic and an ironic conceptualist. These are only a few of his many incarnations. Apart from that, Kantor was a tireless animator of artistic life in post-war Poland; one could even say he was one of its chief motivating forces. His greatness derives not so much from his oeuvre as from Kantor himself in his entirety, as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk that consists of his art, his theory and his life.
(Jaroslaw Suchan, curator of the exhibition Tadeusz Kantor. Niemożliwe / Tadeusz Kantor - Impossible)

Kantor in Visual Arts

Throughout the world, Tadeusz Kantor is best known as an outstanding and highly original figure of 20th century theatre, as well as the creator of his own theatre group and of productions imbued with a poetry derived from the artist's own complex private/public Galician origin. In Poland he played a number of roles, primarily within the Cracow artistic community with which Kantor was emotionally and artistically connected, if not fused. He was one of the most important figures on the Cracow art scene, acting as an integrator.

Immediately after World War II, Kantor was amongst those who created the Young Visual Artists' Group (1945); later, following the "thaw" of the mid-1950s, he once again demonstrated his penchant for organisation by helping to reactivate the pre-war Group (1957). He provided the impulse for the creation of the Krzysztofory Gallery, one of the first post-war galleries in Poland to exhibit contemporary art, and was involved in organising the 1st Modern Art Exhibition (Kraków, 1948). He played a dominating and commanding role in his community until he died, just before the premiere of his last theatrical production. It was titled, both ironically and symbolically, Dziś są moje urodziny / Today Is My Birthday.

Kantor studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków from 1934 to 1939, his professors included painter and set designer Karol Frycz. Kantor himself would later return to teach from time to time at his alma mater (1948-49, 1967-69). Throughout his life he strove to combine a variety of activities: he was a lively animator of artistic life, an art theoretician and practitioner, a painter (and passionate promoter of Tashism) and one of the first artists in Poland to create happenings. But above all he was a man of the theatre, a playwright, director, set designer and actor.

Kantor's life in the theatre began early, when, during the German occupation, he created an underground experimental theatre in Kraków. This theatre managed to integrate the artistic community of the city and it found a worthy successor in the Cricot 2 Theatre, formed in 1956. "Cricot 2" was a reference to the pre-war Cricot avant-garde visual arts theatre founded by Józef Jarema, a painter and member of the Paris Committee who emigrated during the war and remained abroad. Cricot 2's theatrical productions remain Kantor's greatest achievement. His early productions, based on the plays of Stanisław Wyspiański and Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Wariat i zakonnica / The Madman and the Nun (1963) and Nadobnisie i koczkodany / Dandies and Frumps (1972)) are held in high esteem and helped to popularise these plays, which are generally considered to be difficult. However, Kantor only gained international recognition with his later productions, many of which were inspired by the prose of Bruno Schulz. Remarkably, Kantor made reference to his own biography through these plays, reaching into the private archive of his memory (a theatrical form known as the Theatre of Death, which includes productions such as Umarła klasa / The Dead Class (1975), Gdzie są niegdysiejsze śniegi? / Where are Yesterday's Snows? (1979), Wielopole, Wielopole (1980), Niech sczezną artyści / Let the Artists Vanish (1985), Nigdy tu już nie powrócę / I Shall Never Return Here (1988) and Dziś są moje urodziny / Today is My Birthday (1991)). Regardless of whether he drew on a pre-existing work of literature or chose to develop the stage-play himself, Kantor designed complete and integrated productions for which he took total responsibility.

He often participated directly in his productions, acting as "master of ceremonies", attentively observing the action and intervening when necessary. The shows, often thought to be the vision of a single artist, were replete with references to a complex and multi-cultural Polish history and iconography. They brought Kantor widespread recognition and transformed him into the godfather of a style of theatre that combines the visual perception of form with the need to convey a deep, personal, emotional message. Many of his productions have been inscribed in the annals of theatrical history.

Carrying on Kantor's legacy, Cricot 2 Theatre Centres have been created in Kraków and Florence. In addition to studying Kantor's theatre, the latter also documents the artist's other activities and examines the reception and perception of his work.

On Kantor's other, non-theatrical output, including his achievements as a painter, assessments vary. His vision of art was derived primarily from his search for a means of artistic expression worthy of the challenges of his era. Kantor expressed this idea as early as 1945, when he joined Mieczysław Porębski in publishing a manifesto on "exponential realism". In it, Kantor encouraged artists to take risks in the name of creative freedom, underlined the importance of experimentation and emphasised the need for the artist to remain independent from ideological and political pressures (he himself followed these guidelines by vanishing from public cultural life throughout the Socialist Realist period).

Kantor strove to live by his principles in his own way; he absorbed any and all novelties, skilfully assimilating those which were useful to him while transforming and modifying them if necessary. For much of his career as a painter, Kantor acted simply as a medium, processing the artistic waves that reached Poland from Western Europe (he visited Paris in 1947). As a result, his painting was not entirely original. For a short time immediately after the war he painted figurative works filled with grotesquely simplified figures. The dreary atmosphere of these images was emphasised through their use of dark colours and rough textures (Kompozycja / Composition (1944-45)). This was followed by a period during which he produced dynamic metaphorical compositions characterised by an economical use of cool colours. These works resembled those of Maria Jarema and Jonasz Stern, who were painting similar things at approximately the same time (Ponad-Ruchy / Supra-Movements (1948)).

During the second half of the 1950s, Kantor's work consisted mainly of energetically painted Tashist canvasses, as mentioned above. These images are visually mesmerizing in their own way, filled with vibrating spots of paint, lines and colours. But at the same time they convey the impression that the artist treats painting in a "utilitarian" manner (Oahu, 1957), although in his own writings, Kantor described these works as "secretions" of his inner self. Their originality did not go unnoticed by foreign critics, including those in France, which was home to the most significant critical milieu at the time. Towards the end of the 1950s Kantor exhibited his paintings in a number of Western cities, including Paris, with some measure of success.

Later, the artist turned his attention toward creating numerous assemblages and "emballages"- half-spatial compositions in which pre-used, oftentimes destroyed objects like envelopes, bags and umbrellas were applied to the canvas, transforming the paintings into reliefs (Mr. V Prado - Infantka / Mr. V Prado - The Infanta, 1965 and Emballage, 1967). Figures keep reappearing in these paintings, but they are deformed, sketchily drawn or "hidden" under umbrellas in dynamic and symbolic gestures of self-defence (Ambalaz - Przedmioty, postacie / Emballage - Objects, Figures, 1967). Thus the umbrella, this lowly object that Kantor held in such high esteem ("a manifestation of a reality of lower status", he once called it), while unable to fulfil its original function, unexpectedly regains its utility in the world of art.

Kantor's many painting series from the 1970s and 80s show clear links to his theatrical activities, which he was pursuing simultaneously. For example, while working on Umarła klasa / The Dead Class, which premiered in 1975, Kantor created a series of paintings of the same title. Later the artist would devote himself primarily to the theatre, resuming painting only in the last years of his life. These late works depict a solitary human figure, shown - in the style of new figural art - making a single "stage" gesture. Characterised by cool colours, these images draw heavily upon the artist's own personal experiences (see the series Dalej już nic / Nothing Beyond This (1987-88)).

Alongside his other work, Kantor also organised of a series of paratheatrical actions that would anticipate much of the polyphonic art of the 1960s and '70s. Among these were his environments (the anti-exhibition titled "Wystawa Popularna" / "Popular Exhibition" at Krzysztofory Gallery in Kraków (1963)) and numerous happenings (Linia podziału / Dividing Line, Krzysztofory Gallery (1966); Panoramiczny happening morski / Panoramic Seaside Happening, Plener Koszaliński w Osiekach / The Koszalin Plein-Air Meeting in Osieki (1967); List / The Letter, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw (1968) and Lekcja anatomii wg Rembrandta / An Anatomy Lesson According to Rembrandt, Nuremberg Kunsthalle (1968) and Foksal Gallery (1969)). Kantor also went through a period of fascination with Conceptualism (see Wielkie krzesło / The Great Chair designed for the 1970 Wrocław Symposium).

A wealth of literature has been devoted to Kantor as an artist. Noteworthy titles include Wiesław Borowski's Tadeusz Kantor (1982), Mieczysław Porębski's Deska / Wooden Board (1997) and a volume of studies by various authors titled W cieniu krzesła / In the Shadow of the Chair (1997), as well as documentation of the painter's collaboration with Warsaw's Foksal Gallery (1999).

Important awards and distinctions:

  • 1976 - Honorary award for Umarła klasa / The Dead Class at the 17th Festival of Polish Contemporary Drama in Wrocław
  • 1976 - Boy-Żelenski Prize for Umarła klasa / The Dead Class
  • 1977 - Norwid Critics' Award for Umarła klasa / The Dead Class
  • 1978 - Best Production Award for Umarła klasa / The Dead Class, Caracas
  • 1978 - Rembrandt Award bestowed by an international jury of the Goethe Foundation in Basel for real contributions to shaping the art of our age
  • 1980 - OBIE Award (USA) for a 1979 production of Umarła klasa / The Dead Class
  • 1981 - Award of the Minister of Culture and Art 1st class in the realm of theatre for his work as a set designer
  • 1982 - Diploma of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the propagation of Polish culture abroad
  • 1986 - Targa Europea Award, granted to outstanding representatives of culture and science in Europe, Italy
  • 1986 - New York Critic's Award for best production on Broadway (for directing and ensemble acting)
  • 1989 - Commander of the Order of Art and Literature, France
  • 1990 - Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, awarded for having a significant impact on contemporary art in Europe and for contributions to enlivening cultural life in the Federal Republic of Germany
Author: Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak, Art History Institute of the Catholic University of Lublin, Faculty of Art Theory and the History of Artistic Doctrines, 2002. Updated by: Hilary Heuler, August 2010