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New World Performance Laboratory

The Gildia Project
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NWPL's Long-term project in Olsztyn, Poland 


A three year project in Olsztyn, Poland, collaboration between STRATWA, ROK, New World Performance Laboratory, and The University of Akron.

Project Coordinators:  Ryszard Michalski (Ashoka Foundation Fellow)

Project Artistic Directors:  Jairo Cuesta and James Slowiak with the New World Performance Laboratory

In December 2000 and January 2001, James Slowiak and Jairo Cuesta conducted two 4-day workshops to select a group of young Polish actors to work on a long-term three year project in craft.  More than 50 participants arrived from throughout Poland and abroad.  After selection, Cuesta, Slowiak, and members of New World Performance Laboratory, will hold various meetings with the group throughout the year (lasting from one week to one month).  In the absence of the two artistic directors, The Guild will meet monthly with other performance master teachers in group workshops or individual training sessions.

Potential master teachers include:  Maud Robart, Iben Nagel Rasmussen, Abani Biswas, Piotr Borowski and others.

The first meeting of The Guild was May 19-May 27, 2001.  An intensive month long summer session took place from July 15, 2001 to August 12, 2001.  This session culminated in several public sessions where the group demonstrated The Rendering, a performance structure based on essential Performance Ecology activities and songs from the Shaker tradition.

Prior to the first meeting, Guild members were required to participate in at least one workshop a month held either at ROK or at the Grotowski Center in Wroclaw or other appropriate workshops.  Possibilities included work with:  Zygmunt Molik, Rena Mirecka, Maud Robart, and others.  Guild members also had a bibliography of books to read before the first meeting in May 2001.  Required books are:  Towards a Poor Theatre, At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions, Stanislavsky in Rehearsal, The Empty Space.

Research Program

 The work of The Guild will develop in the following manner: 

Year 1:  Basic elements of theatre craft and creative training techniques (1) physical exercises, voice work, attention and perception, precision and flow, seeing, listening, meeting and memory; (2) collective or individual exercises in coordination, rhythm, and untaming, space awareness (both indoors and outdoors), singing and dancing; (3) The Rendering (improvisation)a structured flow of detailed actions and exercises organized in a creative montage that serves to reclaim the performers vital forces and capacity for contact.  The intention is to give the participant a foundation in the ethics, principles, and basic techniques of performance work.

Year 2:  Creating performance:  gathering material, sources research, development of performance structures and meetings with a public, work with text and story, work with a detailed line of action, composition, the performers montage, the spectators montage, continued work on the basic elements of theatre craft and creative training techniques.

 Year 3:  Performance and Pedagogy:  continued work on the development of performance structures and creative training techniques with a focus on clarifying pedagogical methodology.

 The Gildia Project is taking place in Warmia, a region in northern Poland.  This region has traditionally been a place of passage.  A region of immigrants and displaced persons, it is one of the most economically depressed regions in Poland, with unemployment near 30%.  What significance can a project in performance research and training have in such a cultural and social landscape?  In his recent memoirs Threads of Time, Peter Brook speaks eloquently of the theatres purpose:


Theater is not just a place, not simply a profession.  It is a metaphor.  It helps to make the process of life more clear.  It is said that at its origin, theater was an act of healing, of healing the city.  According to the action of fundamental, entropic forces, no city can avoid an inevitable process of fragmentation.  But when the population assembles in a special place under special conditions to partake in a mystery, the scattered limbs are drawn together, and a momentary healing reunites the larger body, in which each member, re-membered, finds its place.  Hunger, violence, gratuitous cruelty, rape, crime, these are constant companions in the present time.  Theater can penetrate into the darkest zones of terror and despair for one reason only:  to be able to affirm, neither before nor after but at the very same moment, that light is present in darkness.  (Brook, 196-197)














In keeping with Peter Brooks conception of theatres purpose, New World Performance Laboratory has designed its primary research program, Performance Ecology (which forms the basis for The Guild Project), around the rudimentary performative elements concerning one's humanness and relationship with the physical world.   As we enter the post-human age of high technology and globalization, Jairo Cuesta and James Slowiak have organized various aspects of their respective research into a flow of detailed exercises (individual and collective, songs, dances, texts, and creative work) that serve to reclaim the human beings vital forces and capacity for contact.

It is an attempt to rediscover the urge to act.  As the participant struggles to remember, to reveal, to accomplish or to create, he/she fights for mastery of the body and voice, vitality and purpose.  Participants express themselves in patterns of voice and movement whose tension, composition and energy uncover a unique and untamed power and precision.  Performance Ecology seeks to liberate the dormant energy and creative impulses in the participant/performer, in solitude or in company, with the space or with the partner.

Performance Ecology and the work proposed in The Guild Project might be looked at as an example of what cultural historian Morris Berman calls the monastic option: embodied knowledge which can serve as a counterweight to the world of schlock, ignorance, social inequality, and mass consumerism.  Berman believes that if this embodied knowledge, authentic ways of living, can be preserved and passed down then our cultural heritage may well serve as a seed for a subsequent renaissance, a New Enlightenment.  He quotes a haiku by seventeenth-century Japanese poet Bash (which may well serve as a motto for NWPLs work):

          Journeying through the world

          To and fro, to and fro

          Cultivating a small field.

Whether it be Bermans twenty-first century monk, a member of the New World Performance Lab, or a participant in The Guild project, this kind of work does not lead to heroic outcomes.  What is important is the sense of worth and meaning in the action itself, doing the work.  In The Guild Project, Cuesta and Slowiak will attempt to craft a structural tool that builds quality, community and compassion while exploring the participant's individuality, creativity, and cultural dignity.  The social and cultural implications of such a project may be evident; or they may not.  Berman ends his book, The Twilight of American Culture, with a poem by Lew Welch, a San Francisco Beat poet:

What strange pleasure do they get whod


wipe whole worlds out,



to end our lives, our


wild idleness?


But we have charms against their rage

must go on saying, Look,

if nobody tried to live this way,

all the work of the world would be in vain.


And now and then a son, a daughter, hears it.


Now and then a son, a daughter


gets away.



Important themes for the project which intersect with NWPLs research in Performance Ecology:  songlines, nomadism, walking in place, traditional creativity vs. modern creativity, Objective Drama, Acting Home.


Manners of documentation:  photos, video, articles, etc


Schedule of encounters with Slowiak, Cuesta, and NWPL:


May 2001

July 15-August 15, 2001

December 2001

May 2002

June 15-July 15 2002

January 2003

Summer 2003 (final phase)