I’ve been pondering writing an essay or series on the linkages between theatre and liturgy, looking particularly at Peter Brook’s conceptions of “Deadly Theatre” and how that relates to what I consider an analogous “Deadly Liturgy.” As of yet, I have not had time to properly organize my thoughts on the matter, or go back re-read Brook’s early theoretical writing, which had a profound influence on my own theatrical work (back when I did that sort of thing) and my later liturgical philosophy.
(I’m all too aware, of course, that even mentioning a link between theatre and liturgy sets off all sorts of bizarre and shallow mental associations in most people. This has to do in equal parts with serious misconceptions about the nature of theatre and with the hi-jacking of liturgy that has perverted its theatricality towards either entertainment or agit-prop, neither of which has anything to do with what I’d like to say on the matter. I only mention this because I would prefer not to get jumped all over by conventionally-liberal commenters who think I agree with them or conventionally-traditionalist commenters who think I do not.)
I say all that as prelude to an interesting story from the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St. Andrews.
A post on their Innovations Blog is the first in a three-part series looking at two Polish theatre companies from the 20th Century- The Laboratory Theatre of Grotowski (a philosophical forerunner of my own hero, Peter Brook) and The Rhapsodic Theatre, a word-oriented company founded by (among others) Karol Wojtyła. Yes, that Karol Wojtyła- the future Pope John Paul II.
I’m not sure where the series is going, or if the essayists conclusions will be sensible or not (fair warning), but it certainly makes interesting reading so far.
In 1941, 21-year-old Karol Wojtyła (later known as Pope John Paul II) joined director Mieczysław Kotlarczyk and a group of other young actors in the foundation of the Rhapsodic Theatre, an underground theatre company which engaged in ‘cultural resistance’ against the Nazis.
This company, also known by its theoretical stance as the ‘Theatre of the Word’, was committed to a theatrical style that emphasized the text, spoken aloud with dignity and clarity, and contained a minimum of stage movement or spectacle. This emphasis on the text rather than visuals was partly a product of the Rhapsodic’s underground existence – if their productions, held in private homes, had been discovered, all the participants could have been executed on the spot. However, the Rhapsodists continued their emphasis on the spoken word even when they became a professional theatre in Kraków after the war. For the Rhapsodists, the word was preeminent, because the Word was the beginning and end of human existence.