Spatz, Ben (2008) To Open a Person: Song and Encounter at Gardzienice and the Workcenter. Theatre Topics, 18 (2). pp. 205-222. ISSN 1054-8378

Thanks to the pioneers of modern dance and physical theatre, many strong connections have been drawn between actor training and the study of movement practices and body-work. It is now common for schools and theatre ensembles to incorporate yoga, martial arts, contact improvisation, and body-alignment techniques into their training programs. Far less often are such connections drawn between acting and song. Voice work, even in experimental theatre, tends to focus on sound, breath, and resonance apart from song; and the two mainstream genres of song-based theatre in this country—opera and musical theatre—tend to be commercially oriented and to place greater emphasis on production values than on the interior aspects of acting. As a result, few training programs or theatre companies in the United States actively investigate the relationship between singing and acting, or between song and action.

My aim in this article is to expose and begin to heal the rift that exists in this country between the study and research of acting techniques and that of singing, especially group or choral singing. With this goal in mind, I will describe and contrast two formally and historically related though essentially very different European groups that have done pioneering work in experimental performance: the Gardzienice Centre for Theatre Practices in Poland, and the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards in Italy. These two groups have been working at the junction of song and performer training for decades. In each of them, the demand for virtuosic singing skills is an integral part of an ongoing exploration of actor training. This ongoing research relates not only to technical training, but also to the more delicate question of “how to open a person”—that is, how to help a performer develop the ineffable qualities that are variously called honesty, believability, or presence.

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