Weronika Szczawińska is a theatre director, playwright, cultural expert and English translator. She was nominated for a Polityka Passport Prize 2014 for her extraordinary, coherent, and fashion independent theatre language. From 2014 she has been an artistic director at the Bogusławski Theatre in Kalisz.
Szczawińska was born in 1981 in Warsaw. She graduated from the College of Inter-Faculty Individual Studies in the Humanities at the Warsaw University (2007) and from the Directing Department of the Aleksander Zelwerowicz Theatre Academy in Warsaw. She held a PhD at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences. She led a series of discussions at the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute about the issue of memory in the Polish theatre of the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century (2009), and cooperates with the Collegium Civitas Theatre, where she realizes theatre workshops and with journals devoted to culture and art: Dialog, Didaskalia, Teatr and Res Publica Nowa. One of the founder of the Contemporary Civic Theatre Forum – an organization that gathers young directors and playwrights born in the 1970s and 1980s.
Between 2005 and 2006 Szczawińska was an actress at the Theatre Studio, an independent Warsaw stage. In 2007 she debuted in Polski Theatre in Warsaw where together with Adam Wojtyszko and Wawrzyniec Kostrzewski she created Wyzwolenie – Próby (editor’s translation: Liberation – Rehearsals) based on Stanisław Wyspiański’s Wyzwolenie (Liberation). Her short play touched upon the issue of liberation from the memory of Polish traumas. Into Konrad’s dialogue with Masks from the second part of Wyspiański’s work she combined references to Andrzej Wróblewski’s paintings and a fragment of a newsreel showing the self-immolation of Ryszard Siwiec in September 1968, thus confronting Wyspiański’s text with myths and histories of the past half-century.
Along with memory and history, Szczawińska is engaged in feminist and gender issues. In the monodrama Jackie. Śmierć i Dziewczyna (editor’s translation: Jackie: Death and the Maiden)(2008, Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Olsztyn) based on Elfriede Jelinek’s novel, the titular protagonist played by Milena Gauer tries to find herself within layers of enforced roles, fights with her image and aspires to full femininity. The play was dominated by Szczawińska’s theatre language, distinguished by an expressive, antipsychological and rhythmic acting tightly harmonized with the scenic movement. In director’s work very important becomes a conscious, disciplined work over body matters. Szczawińska explained her work in ‘Didaskalia – Gazeta Teatralna’ 95/2010:
Text is always an excuse, a figure which we should approach fearlessly. Words have pre-eminently a physical and performative dimension. I am intrigued by the forms that are given, recognized and clashed with actors’ living, sweating, tired and gasping bodies.
In her following project based on Aleksander Fredro’s Zemsta (The Revenge, 2009, Jerzy Szaniawski Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych) the director radically deconstructed the text. The performance talks predominantly about the common memory of Fredro’s arch-comedy. When she staged David Harrower’s Knives in Hens (2010, Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Olsztyn) she as a matter of course took part in the discussion about language which not only forms but also enthrals and besets us. The story of an erotic triangle was set in a white, raw space (scenography created by Izabela Wądołowska, a permanent collaborator of the director) and became a reflection on words, their meanings and attempts to seek for freedom beyond the verbal tradition. She also talked about her feminine experiences in the staging of Tadeusz Różewicz’s Białe Małżeństwo (editor’s translation: White Marriage) in 2010 at the Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Kielce. Magdalena Urbańska writes:
Weronika Szczawińska in Białe Małżeństwo / White Marriage gives a strong emphasis on feminist substance of Różewicz's drama, exposing fear of own body in the world flaunting with sexualityat every step. (Dziennik Teatralny Kraków, 22.12.2011)
A man struggling with a text filled with repetitions and a conflict between the narrations of men and women are the leading threads of Sławomir Mrożek’s Moja Pierwsza Zjawa (editor’s translation: My First Spectre)(2011, Łaźnia Nowa Theatre, Kraków). Memory and femininity issues are joined in Jak Być Kochaną (How to Be Loved) based on Agnieszka Jakimiak’s text inspired by Kazimierz Brandys’s novel and Wojciech Jerzy Has’s film (2011, Juliusz Słowacki Bałtycki Dramatyczny Theatre in Koszalin). In the same year Szczawińska, together with Bartosz Frąckowiak, created a deconstruction of Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel. In W Pustyni i w Puszczy. Z Sienkiewicza i Innych (In Desert and Wilderness. Of Sienkiewicz and Others)(2011, Jerzy Szaniawski Theatre in Wałbrzych) the creators looked critically upon the clash of cultures, wondering about the image of Africa in the eyes of Europeans and reflecting upon the Polish colonial and imperial ambitions as much as upon the contemporary Poland. Another realizations were Kamasutra. Studium przyjemności / Kamasutra. The study on pleasure written by Bartosz Frąckowiak and Weronika Szczawińska (2011, Jerzy Szaniawski Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych) and Źle ma się kraj / The country is going wrong (2012, Hieronim Konieczka Polish Theatre in Bydgoszcz). It is a tale about a community functioning in an incomprehensible world full of informational chaos, with economics in a role of religion, where values and memory do not matter as well as human ties.
Later on, the director created Re-Wolt (Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute in Warsaw) and Artyści prowincjonalni / Provincial Artists (2013, Powszechy Theatre in Łódź). The play is a loose reference to Aktorzy prowincjonalni / Provincial Actors, a drama film directed by Witold Zatorski and Agnieszka Holland. This time Agnieszka Jakimiak has created a text on theatre, its directors, actors, audience and critics.
In 2014 Szczawińska directed Geniusz w Golfie (Genius in a Polo Neck) in Stary Theatre in Kraków. The play talks about Konrad Swinarski and is based on Agnieszka Jakimiak’s text. It is a story about lasting until the future. The director explained:
This is the reason why we created an anti-biography, an anti-story combined of fritters and incomplete information about someone whom we could not meet and whom we should not talk about. We do not mean to change the past but to find ways to communicate with it. Also to check what we fear, what stops us, why do we need an authority figure, a master, a guide and a leader – and is this need pointing at the only right direction. Let us imagine a come back to the past which does not serve any negation or any history petrification.
The performance was enthusiastically welcomed by the critics and the audience, while the author was nominated for a prestigious Polityka Passport. Witold Mrozek and Paweł Soczyński wrote in the explanation for the nomination:
For masterful theatrical diction and consequent creation of an own artistic language. For Geniusz w Golfie, a bright and ironic usage of the rebellious and fully conscious theatrical medium.
The jury also appreciated another effect of the cooperation between Szczawińska and Jakimiak: Teren Badań: Jeżycjada. Its premiere took place in Warsaw and Poznań. The cult saga written by Małgorzata Musierowicz became an anthropological field of studying Polish burgess. Witold Mrozek said:
Małgorzata Musierowicz’s prose given in a spectacle-concert form? Agnieszka Jakimiak’s ironic phrase plays with a decent mix of girlish stories and points at their moral hypocrisy.
We submitted the novel series to a close reading to capture the cultural configuration which will be set in motion on the stage. The most fundamental dramaturgic gesture which puts the whole structure back into order is the creation of inventories: emphasizing, as in the work of structural anthropologists, customs of various daily activities (eating, hygienic and erotic habits, reading likings, patterns of doing, parenting styles, etc.). Perhaps such a special dissimilation of what is close and folksy, making of it a place of a foreign culture will allow to get closer to the image of Polish burgess and to project fantasies on it.
In 2015 Niewidzialny chłopiec / An Invisible Boy after Tymoteusz Karpowicz was staged at the Edmund Wierciński Contemporary Theatre in Wrocław. The drama from 1968, however attached to political and social reality of those times, seems to be valid even today. It describes in a way modern capitalism. The same year Szczawińska directed also Wojny, których nie przeżyłam / Wars I Have Not Lived Through written by Agnieszka Jakimiak. In the play the artists explore experiencing war from a perspective of a simple observer – like most of us, we comment and follow events from our safe places. In the performance, six researchers and witnesses analyse the phenomenon of existing in the world where war becomes the reason to examine extreme emotions and inappropriate manipulations.
Klęski w dziejach miasta / Failures in History of the City have participated in the 22nd Polish Competition in Staging Polish Contemporary Play. It shows local history in an innovative way. The play was inspired by Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and a publication from 1985 by Władysław Kościelniak about failures in history of the city of Kalisz. Witold Mrozek writes:
Failures... combines an installation and a concert, a poetic fantasy with a social diagnosis. This is a melancholic landscape of an emptying city and a grotesquely sharpened portait of mentality of a place affected by social trauma, but also desperately fighting for a right to have ambitions. ("Gazeta Wyborcza" daily, 11.05.2015)
In 2016 Szczawińska directed a diploma play at the The State Drama School in Wrocław. Orlando after a novel by Virginia Woolf tells about setting boundries of self identity, it questions the canon of gender presented in theatre.
From 2014 Weronika Szczawińska has been an artistic director of Wojciech Bogusławski Theatre in Kalisz. She collaborates often with theates in Olsztyn and Wałbrzych. In Łukasz Drewniak's article she says:
Theatre in Warsaw and those from other big cities are completely closed for new names. It is easier do experiments in outskirts. You can discover outstanding actors in this so called province.T There are amazing groups and people there, artists who wait to be treated seriously. (Przekrój No. 10/5.03)
On 11 June 2016 K. albo wspomnienie z miasta / K. or Memories from the City written by Agnieszka Jakimiak premiered. It is a continuation of the well received play Klęski w dziejach miasta / Failures in History of the City. As Magda Grudzińska, the director of the theatre in Kalisz states, both plays were suppose to deepen the relation with Kalisz's community. In Elżbieta Bielewicz's article Agnieszka Jakimiak says:
We wanted to deepen our research on Kalisz's history – the time of multicultural society, the Jewish community used to constitute one third of the city residents. We reachback to this time, but we also try to explore how the absence of those people influences todays Kalisz. (Ziemia Kaliska no. 23, 10.06.2016)
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, November 2011, updated by AL, December 2014, translated by Antoni Wiśniewski, April 2016; update: July 2016 (ND)