Sonntag, 01. August 2021

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Theatrical Landscape of Poland

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Theatrical Landscape of Poland
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A Century of Awakening

by Thomas Irmer

In 2000, the Frankfurt Book Fair chose Poland as their theme country, and it was expected and hoped that at least a few new playwrights would be discovered. Ten years after the end of communism, Poland too was waiting for an appropriate continuation of the four great playwrights who had made poetic grotesqueness a kind of trademark of Polish drama and thereby internationally known: Stanislaw Witkiewicz, Witold Gombrowicz, Tadeusz Rozewicz and Slawomir Mrozek (of whom the last two are still amongst us).

The hopes were set too high, especially if one considers that theatre authors don't fall from the heavens and are not bred (in retort). Theatre has to be attractive and supportive to give a reason for writing, which simply wasn't the case ten years ago. After the turn-around Polish theatre was dedicated to the restoration of traditions and little interested in social friction. This was obviously an unfavourable situation for new drama.

The new brutal
On the other hand, there was an impulse from outside: the wave of the new Brits Mark Ravenhill and Sarah Kane. The Polish reception of Marius von Mayenburg's plays also belonged to this category – it was named "nowy brutalisty" (the new brutal) and evoked an echo amongst the younger theatre generation. A kind of friction arose, which demanded the development of a new Polish drama, in particular from stage directors who intended on displaying the country's contradictory reality on stage. But in order to actually be able to give impulses, the stage directors first had to be promoted to a leading position.

The artistic director Pawel Lysak of the Teatr Polski in Poznan was a pioneer in this matter. He presented issues of the country with readings and some productions of new drama in his theatre from 2001 onwards. In the course of this work Lysak also decided to assign a play to Ingmar Vilquist (Vilquist is the invented Scandinavian pseudonym of a Warsaw author, who displayed promising talent with his play "Helver's Night" at the beginning of the century and has worked on controversial topics in Poland such as homosexuality). The development of the assignments of plays through theatres was to shape the situation of a new Polish drama.

Flagrant realism far from the cities
An important example for this symbiotic relationship is Michal Waczak's play "Kopalnia" ("The Mine", 2004), which was first seen in Silesian Walbrze (Waldenburg), as it takes place there. The author also did some research on the social distortions of the former mining town. "Made in Poland" by Przemyslaw Wojcieszek is a similar case: it was performed in Legnica in 2004 and was practically made the generation image of the "disappointed boys" phenomenon. Far away from the theatre cities Warsaw and Cracow a flagrant realism developed, which explored the many flaws of the transitory society and opened up new realities for theatre. These were then eagerly taken up by many other stages in the country.

The spectrum of topics was able to differentiate: From the war home comer from Iraq to the RAF and to formerly untouched topics like the problem of displaced persons (Jan Klata's "Transfer") or the critical questioning of the Walesa Biography (Pawel Demirski) – what had hesitantly started as "nowy brutalisty" has penetrated through Polish topics and is now an exciting theatre of political and historical self-image.