Artaud was the exception. Always the exception, one expects, given his painful, combative, drug filled life of poor health, mental breakdowns and early death at 51. His ideas were rather glossed over by our head of drama, Roy Nevitt, who was excellent and inspirational in so many other ways I hesitate to denigrate him on this minor point. In Roy’s defence Artaud is not exactly the most accessible or even coherent of thinkers and in fact courted and encouraged an aura of mystery, madness and chaos with relation to his work. Artaud is certainly not your standard high school student’s idea of an easy read so perhaps the idea was to give him a wide berth generally and let those of us so inclined come to him at a more appropriate age.
One example of Roy Nevitt’s exceptional quality as a teacher was his promulgation of the ideas of Grotowski in a manner rare in schools (even now I should think). He always treated his students as adults, giving them independence and advice in equal measure, he often left the theatre or drama studio once he’d instructed us in what we were to do, which inspired confidence and self-reliance. Today that might be seen as a form of negligence but actually it was deeply empowering for his students who grew in confidence no end. He would crack the flint and scatter the sparks in our adolescent minds and then depart and allow us to imagine and re-imagine and re-engineer the great works we were dealing with. I recall he was passionate about Grotowski’s book Towards a Poor Theatre which I have to confess, I never read completely, though I was intrigued and fascinated by the photographs between its covers of the obviously intense theatrical experimentation. In my edition of the book there were black and white photos from productions called Akropolis and Dr Faustus but by far the most striking were the images of Rysared Cieslak in The Constant Prince (adapted from Calderón). These images have stayed with me for years and show, without doubt, the utter physical and mental commitment Grotowski sought and received from his actors.
Many years later I was surprised and delighted to instantly recognize the spirit of Grotowski - before his name was mentioned - and of how transformative his work could be for an actor, whilst watching My Dinner with André by Louis Malle. This is perhaps the best rendition of an inspired, meandering, intellectual and quirky conversation that I’ve ever seen on film. The movie depicts a single conversation between André Gregory and Wally Shawn (both of whom use their real names) in the Café des Artistes in New York...
So anyway, cheers Roy, for being intellectually challenging and insprirational to me and I'm sure many other students!