It is utterly fascinating to me that so many of these theatre icons give such deference to that elusive…what shall we call it?  Shall we call it a thing, being, spirit, muse, the other, that something outside of us, that some other presence?  We won’t call it God, nor will we even really relate to it as a tiny piece of what God might be.  Not that we have to…we certainly don’t, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes if we doth protest a little too much.  There is no question that Grotowski spent his life searching for a kind of holiness in performance that transcended this mortal plain in some way.  I expect he found it as I am certain that he who seeks shall surely find.  If Grotowski knocks on the door, it shall surely be opened for him.  Could it not be possible that that “other presence” that is almost like another doer in Richards’ work is in some tiny way part of a universal intelligence that loves to create?  Perhaps…

I suppose then it’s no surprise that Thomas Richards, to whom Grotowski was determined to pass on everything he knew, seems to find himself in the same place.  Not that he is searching for holiness per se, but rather that Richards acknowledges that “other presence” in a way that feels very reverent.  There is much discussion of the soul and what an integral role the soul plays in the work that Richards does.  He explains, “It’s as if the soul meets something, something touches it, fills it.”  In the work at the Workcenter, Richards seems to be, not unlike his mentor, paving a way for the spiritual, or that elusive thing, to be not only welcome in the work, but to be central to it.  When speaking of the songs and where they can take two doers in a “tandem” Richards says, “A passage can occur from ‘me’ towards ‘us,’ and then to ‘not only us’ but, rather, ‘us and some other presence.’”  What is that “other presence” that he speaks of?  I don’t know, but whatever it is, it is vital to the work Richards undertakes.  It’s the thing that connects elements and doers together and to each other in an “art event” or an “opus.”  One might suggest that it is that elusive spirit that flows between us all and actually connects each and every one of us to each other and to the universe.  I often get the feeling that Richards is talking about a kind of telepathy between doers that allows for an unspoken dialogue to occur where the doers are engaged in their singing, and in the midst of this precision, they are also communing with one another on a totally different level…a spiritual level, or perhaps one might suggest a psycho-spiritual level.  As I understand there are also times when an observer is able to tap into that same channel and have a similar inner experience.  One would have to believe that they are in fact communing with the doers…they are on the same channel.  We are speaking of those viewers who have eyes to see and ears to hear, or perhaps all that is truly necessary is a willing heart.  There is much, much more to say on this topic, but this will have to suffice as an initial introduction to these ideas.

The answer to the question of whether or not the research at the Workcenter has any relevance to more recognizable types of theatre is elusive.  From all accounts the research is fascinating and is serving to further and even evolve the kind of research Grotowski was interested in, but how this might actually translate, I cannot say.  It appears that this kind of work takes a significant amount of time to develop, and of course most theatres are lucky to have four weeks to work on a project, let alone several years.  It’s also clear that Richards is not really trying to create theatre per se, and in fact even by Grotowski’s own definition, theatre must have at least one audience member otherwise it ceases to be theatre.  Richards maintains that his work is not at all about the viewer or the observer, but rather about the doers and the exercises they are engaged in.  The work would continue regardless of observers.  This is not to say that an observer would not get something very meaningful from their viewing, but whereas most theatrical events attempt to affect the viewer in some way, Richards’ work treats the effect on the viewer as secondary.  All this being said, perhaps at the moment, the greatest value this work has to offer more recognizable types of theatre, is in knowing that there is a place where this kind of research is going on.  As a practitioner of more recognizable types of theatre, I cherish the idea that someone somewhere is pushing the boundaries of what performance is, how we go about “doing” it, and being willing to challenge any and all commonly held notions about art.  All of us theatre professionals need this; it is necessary as it provides us with an understanding of where the outer boundaries are of theatre practice.

Thomas Richards is engaged in a life-long experiment in artistic practice, and because of this, we may not really know the full results of this research until Richards himself is at his life’s end.  I suspect we could not fully examine Grotowski’s life work until he passed, and only then were we able to truly appreciate where his work had taken him.  Richards is also on a noble quest of his own, and I trust it will also lead him to holiness and truth.  Sing on Richards…

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