From University Players to Enemies of the State: The Files At Princeton and Yale
Theatre of the Eighth Day, a legendary Polish theatre group, travels to the United States with a riveting docudrama, The Files. Created from real surveillance records kept on the group by secret communist police, the performance has four company members read aloud from their own recently unsealed security files.
Entitled Teczki in the original Polish, the performance was created from the actual surveillance records the secret police kept on the group between 1975 and 1983. Four original company members read aloud from their own recently unsealed security files, tracing the group's transformation from university players to enemies of the regime as they are subject to surveillance, blacklisting, and arrests. Through these files, a remarkable human drama unfolds—not just of life under a communist regime but of the courageous artistry that thrived in spite of such oppression. The piece will be performed in English at Princeton and Yale, with special talkback sessions accompanying the showings. All of the showings are open to the public and free of charge.
courtesy of Przemyslaw Graf
Tim Vasen, Director of Program in Theater at Princeton's Lewis Center for Arts, comments:
I am thrilled that Princeton audiences will have the opportunity to see the work of this remarkable company. At a moment when we are wrestling with the role of government surveillance in our lives, The Files offers a powerful perspective. This project is part of an evolving collaboration between the Lewis Center and Poland's Adam Mickiewicz Institute, which we hope will lead to future exchanges between Princeton and one of Europe's most vibrant artistic cultures.
Theatre of the Eighth Day was founded in 1964 as one of the most original and most significant groups of the very animated student theatre movement from which Polish alternative theatre arose. The group’s independence and its willingness to speak with its own voice about the surrounding world and the individual's existence entangled in this world caused the group to be a target of the communist state apparatus, even though it had never been intended as a political theatre of opposition. Kept under surveillance by the secret police, plagued by the local police, and accused of committing common crimes, the theatre still managed to create some of the most important Polish performances of the 1970s, including In One Breath (1971), We have to Confine Ourselves to What has been Called Paradise on Earth...?! (1975), A Sale for Everyone (1977), and Oh, Have We Lived in Dignity (1979).
courtesy of Przemyslaw Graf
In 1985, some members of the group left the country employing a number of subterfuges (among them fake marriages with foreign actors). The members remained "émigré" until 1989, when they returned to Poland at the invitation of the first non-communist Minister of Culture. They are now back in Poznan, one of Poland's growing centres of alternative culture.
Ewa Wójciak, the current artistic director of The Theatre of the Eighth Day explains:
We want to conduct an experiment, bordering between documentation and theatre. It is inspired by the discovery of our own, individual, private dossiers in the former communist secret police archives. These resources are quite impressive - dozens of files, hundreds of pages, questionnaires, descriptions, the [seemingly artistic] analyses… It is a moving story of surveillance, suspicion and then finally, the accusation of… thoughts, spiritual storms, intellectual rebellion and moral doubts.
We want to depict young people who dream, passionate artists in search of forms and limits of expression, who cannot distance themselves from the questions they find in great literature, and who really suffer because of the world’s evil.
And then, those government officials, feeling superior if not filled with contempt as they have power, and the authority of "those who know". And their own way of deciphering metaphors, their ways of constructing questionnaires and substitute accusations of crime, their ciphered messages, reports and descriptions of "threat". Now we can look at all of this from a distance, and it may seem that we have found a way out of a totalitarian labyrinth – but mentioning it still incites fear, at other times – laughter, and it can also sound like a warning.
The study-visit of The Theatre of the Eight Day is aimed at presenting the unique character of Polish theatrical life, which was frequently connected to political opposition. The piece, as well as the group’s work is exemplary of the active political and social engagement taken by Polish theatre for decades. The Files brings a double message. On the one hand, it depicts the stance and fate of artists of the stage. On the other, it is also a testimony of the oppression that numerous people were subject to under communism.
After studying Grotowski’s techniques and witnessing the civil unrest and student protests of 1968, the performance style of the Theatre of the Eight Day became more physical and less verbal, and the company resolved to remain in dialogue with both the artistic and political movements in society. However, they always rejected the label "political theatre." Former artistic director Lech Raczak said,
In a monopolized system such as Poland everything becomes political. If you make any gesture different from what the authorities want, that gesture immediately carries political weight. So the term 'political' results from the distortion and unnaturalness of social life here.
The Files are presented at the Iseman Theater as part of Yale Repertory Theatre’s No Boundaries programme on the 20th, 21st and 22nd of February, 2014. The performance then travels to the Marie and Edward Matthews ’53 Acting Studio at Princeton University with showings on February 25th and 26th at 8:00 p.m.
The presentation of The Files is part of the Poland-U.S. Campus Arts Project, a programme organised by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw, Poland.
Editor: Paulina Schlosser, source: press release, 10/02/2014