We have created a position in the common man's life that cannot be filled by anyone else but actors, and that is escape into someone else's dilemma and away from your own. There is a danger in becoming a country of spectators. People are not acting in their own lives what they did 100 years ago because they're allowing actors to do it for them. The danger is that people have stopped growing, that they are allowing actors to do all the feeling, the acting-out of life while they sit passively by losing their involvement in their own progression as human beings.
– Barry Bostwick
In an alienated world in which only things have value, man has become an object among objects: indeed he is, apparently, the most impotent, that most contemptible of all objects.
– Ernst Ficher
The reality which is being born among the participants is a simple reality: energy. So, there is in us a flow of movement rather than a flow of images … the most simple [elements] … space and movement, body and space, body and movement … Just the most simple things.
– Jerzy Grotowski
Through two of my recent WorkProjects, I have gained a focus onto this difficult period of transition that we who work in performance/theater are faced with; there is no doubt that we are at a frontier. My own frontier has turned out to be what Ludwik Flaszen (co-founder with Jerzy Grotowski of the Polish Lab Theatre) referred to as "an invitation to imitate."
Our tradition "which has existed since before the time of Aristotle is based on the imitation of an action, an imitation that we – descendants in one way or another, whether we like it or not, of Stanislavsky – now seem to find insufficient. This very same Stanislavsky literally was able to map out emotional memory in order to help the actor in creating a role that would become the performance (at the same time that Freud was mapping out the human psyche). Stanislavsky, by creating a role that would become the performance, confronted acting fully, taking it from the realm of play-acting toward acting performed by the man or woman of action – in part through his method of physical actions. At first Stanislavsky built upon the heritage of imitative play-acting which he explained in terms of contemporary psychology, and ultimately shed. It was during those last days in his Moscow attic working on Tartuffe and Three Sisters, together with a group of actors, that he devised the physical actions and improvisations. His frontier, clearly a quantum leap, led him away from the actors' reliance on the re-creation of a past event – a series of emotional memories, which adroitly strung together, had become the core of the role – toward the individual actor's creation of an event here and now. He accomplished this through his creative intuition, beginning with physical actions and improvisations.
Numerous explanations, including the post-modernist one of the death of character, have been forthcoming for this evolution. What is clear, however, is that in this period of transition the imitative aspects of creating a role, or simply of performance, have become both empty and insufficient. We now often seem to be going through the motions of the imitative aspects of our performing/theatrical past as a way of searching for our present, our here and now. Some continue to hang on to structures devoid of any true meaning ("Be liked and you will never want," says Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman); constantly reverting to cliche and stereotype. Others – actors in the active sense of the word, be they performers or directors – are as keenly aware and troubled by this as I am (Eugenio Barba, Spalding Gray, and Jerzy Grotowski come to mind). Peter Brook, in working on his Paris production of Genet's Balcony: "Long evenings of very obscene improvisations served only one purpose: they enabled this hybrid group of people to come together and begin to find a way of responding directly to each other." He searches through "hat he calls "the radar system of finding one point, two points, three points, and somewhere in between those is what you are looking for." The French director Antoine Vitez speaks of frontiers that we arrive at, places where no particular direction is indicated, "as in Tarkovsky's film Stalker, the Zone none of whose paths are straight, moist hellish images, everything, the Styx, the dog, the customs-house …" He has come closest, perhaps only tangentially, to the sense of frontier that I am following; frontiers may exist in any direction that we place them, not necessarily straight paths.
What the performer (or director) faces at this point is precisely what was facing Hamlet when he asked, "To be, or not to be." Whether or not to confront both our selves and our environment(s) in the course of our work, whether or not to be, within the fullness and plenitude of our work; to begin, simply to be.