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Theater 33.3 (2003) 20-35

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Copernican Discoveries

The Bacchae, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski. Teatr Rozmaitosci, Warsaw, 2001. Photo: Stefan Okolowicz" width="72" height="114" />
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Figure 1
The Bacchae, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski. Teatr Rozmaitosci, Warsaw, 2001. Photo: Stefan Okolowicz

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In the mid-1990s the artistic directorship of Poland's leading national theaters was turned over to a new generation of young directors (the oldest here is forty), following the fall of state communism in 1989. In November 2002 I visited several of them individually at their theaters in Warsaw to talk about their responses to Polish history and theatrical traditions, their aspirations, and their influences. Some are committed to preserving a Polish repertory; others want to expand it or escape it. Each faces severe fiscal problems due to the country's economic hardships and struggles to orient his or her theater in a time of enormous cultural confusion. The following remarks are edited from their responses.

—Tom Sellar

Zbigniew Brzoza
Artistic Director, Teatr Studio, Warsaw

Before me the artistic director of the Teatr Studio was Jerzy Grzegorzewski, the great visual director who is now the artistic director of the National Theater in Warsaw. He is also a painter; for him the plastic vision of theater was most important. He staged classical Polish and European dramas—Mickiewicz, Wyspianski, Molière—and from time to time the Teatr Studio presented Polish premieres of new dramas, but it was not typical for the institution. In my period we do only contemporary plays, and the majority are Polish premieres. The set is less important than the ensemble work, and the relationship between the actors is most important to me. Though we emphasize contemporary pieces, we have a problem with Polish ones: We have no dramatists. But we do European and some American dramas. I've directed plays by Peter Handke and Peter Turrini (Austrians), Zoltán Egressy (Hungarian), and Biljana Srbljanovic (Serbian). It's important to me to have directors from my generation working in my theater, people who think about theater similarly. We have in common the belief that we must talk only about the most important subjects for Polish spectators. Television treats [End Page 21] social and psychological questions very superficially, but the kind of art that Handke, Turrini, and Srbljanovic are talking about, this is what's important to us.

I think theater is still very important for the Polish intelligentsia. About half of our spectators are students, and the others are artists from an older generation who are interested in debate and discussion. This is also the reason we played American Pope, a drama about the church and the history of Catholicism, set in the future when, amid the ruins of the church, the first woman is made pope, and she talks about how the church has denigrated. This was of course very provocative here, which was why we did it. Before the opening we had some scandal, when people asked why we were doing it, but afterward people understood that it asks important questions: What does liberalism mean to the church? What direction is the church going in? What does it mean that it is happening without any discussion? A lot of Polish intellectuals came to this production, and there was a big discussion of it in the Gazeta Wyborcza, the leading newspaper.

The most important company I've ever seen was Teatr Ósmego Dnia [Theater of the Eighth Day], an underground alternative company which grew out of the events of 1968. It was the most important group for me; in their way of thinking, each performance is the first and last one. Nothing came before, and nothing will come after. You have only one chance to express something, and you have to use it, and the stage, with urgency. As an artistic director, I look back to Schiller, but have other examples and models, mostly from German and Austrian theaters: Claus Peymann, the...


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pp. 20-35
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Archived 2005
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