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Stary Teatr in Krakow


Jagiellońska 5
Kraków, Poland

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One of the oldest theatres in Poland, the Stary Teatr in Krakow was created in 1781 on the initiative of Mateusz Witkowski, an actor who came to Krakow from Warsaw. The Stary Teatr did not initially have a home, and performances were held in a space at the Spiski Palace, which was adapted for this purpose. Since its creation, the theatre has mounted numerous renowned, highly innovative stagings and in 1991 it became a 'national stage.'

In 1799 Jacek Kluszewski became the institution's new promoter and found a permanent venue for the theatre in a building located at the convergence of Szczepanski Square and Jagiellonska Street that remains the theatre's home to this day. Apart from German productions supported by the local authorities (Krakow within the Austro-Hungarian partition of Poland at this time), Kluszewski also staged Polish productions. His theatre quickly acquired the aura of being a national stage, and in the 1820s began touring its productions, performing in Poznan and Wroclaw among other cities.

In 1843 Hilary Meciszewski became the theatre's manager. A critic with a very good knowledge of European drama, Meciszewski invested much effort in shaping a good repertoire. He introduced romantic drama onto the Krakow stage and attempted to modernize acting methods. From 1866 to 1885 the theatre had its most famous management of the 19th century under Stanislaw Kozmian, who carefully structured its balanced repertoire. He staged both the Polish classics and dramas of the day, including all the plays of Slowacki, a majority of Fredro's works for the stage, and Mickiewicz's drama  The Confederates of Bar. Kochanowski's The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys was one of the most important productions of this time, and Krakow audiences also had an opportunity to see the comedies of Zablocki and Boguslawski. Balucki and Anczyc both made their playwriting debuts at the theatre, and room was reserved in the repertoire for both classic and contemporary European drama. Kozmian staged eighteen of Shakespeare's plays, mounting the first-ever Polish-language productions of a number of comedies, including A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night and As You Like It. He also produced the works of German authors, staging Goethe's Faust and Schiller's The Virgin Of Orleans and The Robbers, among others. The Theatre's troupe at this time included a number of exceptional actors, among them Helena Modrzejewska (Modjeska), Antonina Hoffmann, Feliks Benda, Boleslaw Ladnowski, Boleslaw Leszczynski and Wincenty Rapacki. In The Old Theatre in Krakow, E. Orzechowski describes: 

In the history of Polish theatre, [Kozmian] is known as the creator of the so-called 'Krakow School.' This term describes a creative method that did indeed involve offering premieres on a weekly basis, but in the case of more extensive productions called for analytical rehearsals, careful development of staging and acting styles. Artists who resorted to this method sought out the opinions of university professors and studied the costumes of various eras at the Jagiellonian Library. The most noticeable sign of Kozmian's application of Krakow School methods was the acting in his productions. This was characterized by moderation, elements of ensemble acting, avoidance of easy choices and a general effort toward achieving truth  in movement, gesture and speech.

The theatre effectively ceased to exist in 1893, and a new theatre opened in Krakow that year in a building on Sw. Ducha (Holy Spirit) Square (today's  Slowacki Theatre).  The edifice on St. Stephen's Square only occasionally hosted guest productions and special events, and at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s was home of the Municipal School of Drama. The building was remodeled twice  first in the early 1900s,  and again the 1940s, when the German occupying authorities modernized it to serve their own purposes.

The Stary Teatr was finally reborn in 1945, with Jerzy Ronard Bujanski appointed its first post-war managing director and Andrzej Pronaszko serving as artistic director. The theatre reopened with the world premiere production of Zawieyski's  The Ideal Husband, directed by Jerzy Ronard Bujanski. A top-quality acting troupe, with many of its members having trained at Juliusz Osterwa's 'Reduta' (Fort) school, assembled in the building on St. Stephen's Square. The troupe then expanded to include a number of new members, among them Helena Chaniecka, Halina Gallowa, Jan Ciecierski, Janusz Warnecki, Zofia Malynicz, Maria Duleba, Eugeniusz Fulde, Mieczyslawa Cwiklinska and Igor Smialowski, as well as Danuta Szaflarska and Gustaw Holoubek. Tadeusz Lomnicki, perhaps Poland's most famous actor of the post-war era, also debuted there. The level of acting remained very high, and an effort was made to build a collective sense of responsibility for the theatre's artistic achievements, something that would later become a trademark of the Stary Teatr. The theatre's collaborators included Tadeusz Kantor, who presented his production of Wyspianski's  The Return of Odysseus, which was in fact created during the German occupation of Poland. Kantor also designed the scenery for the Stary Teatr's production of Corneille's El Cid (1945), which was directed by Jerzy Ronard Bujanski and staged in the courtyard of the Jagiellonian Library.

During the 1946/1947 season, all of Krakow's theatres were assembled into an umbrella organization that operated under the name of the Municipal Dramatic Theatres (later the State Dramatic Theatres). This 'combine' was controlled by the management of the Slowacki Theatre and headed in turn by Juliusz Osterwa, Bronislaw Dabrowski and Henryk Szletynski. The Stary Teatr was ordered to adopt a contemporary repertoire, with the classics were reserved for the Slowacki Theatre. This artificial division was maintained until 1954 and was rather unfortunate for the Stary Teatr. Following the official, countrywide adoption of the doctrine of Socialist Realism, the Stary Teatr mounted rote productions that met official requirements. The sole exception was perhaps the world premiere production of Kruczkowski's The Germans (1949), directed by Bronislaw Dabrowski. With the contemporary repertoire having been largely exhausted, the theatre was forced to stage the classics. Thus, subsequent productions covered the works of Kleist, Lesage, Goldoni and Musset. Moliere's extensive oeuvre was also tapped, with the theatre mounting his productions The Versaille Impromptu, The Learned Ladies and George Dandin. Clearly, censors limited the range of repertoire choices. In 1950 Wladyslaw Krzeminski directed a production of Lope de Vega's The Gardeners's Dog, and Gabriela Zapolska's The Morality of Madame Dulska (1949), directed by Roman Niewiarowicz, was performed more than two hundred times.

The vast Krakow theatre enterprise created in 1946 disintegrated in 1954. The Stary Teatr regained its independence and Wladyslaw Krzeminski became its director. That same year the helm passed from Krzeminski to Roman Zawistowski, who remained director until 1957, when Krzeminski returned to his former post. In 1954 the theatre acquired a second stage located on Starowislna Street in a venue that had been home to the Teatr Poezji (Theatre of Poetry) and that in 1957 was renamed the Teatr Kameralny (Chamber Theatre). In 1956 the theatre was named after prominent actress Helena Modrzejewska and slowly began to abandon the realistic repertoire. Productions in 1954 included Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, directed by Krzeminski, and Brandstaetter's National Nights, directed by Roman Niewiarowicz. Krzeminski was quoted as saying that he wished to have 'a Polish and foreign repertoire', and that 'The Stary Teatr should show the most interesting theatre from around the world, as well as the classics, though the latter should avoid traditional staging schemes and be reinterpreted by the artists staging it' (E. Orzechowski, The Stary Teatr in Krakow). Krzeminski staged Shaw and Ibsen, new American dramas by Williams, Miller and O'Neil. He directed contemporary European works of such authors as Camus, Brecht, Frisch, Lorca, Ionesco and Pirandello, and the plays of Polish playwrights Mrozek, Kruczkowski and Broszkiewicz. During the post-Stalinist 'thaw,' Zawistowski directed a memorable production of Hamlet (1956) featuring Leszek Herdegen in the title role. Alongside Shakespeare, the program included works by other classical authors like Euripides and Corneille. One of the Stary Teatr's best and boldest directors at this time was Lidia Zamkow-Slomczynska, who staged Dostoyevsky's The Dream (1963) and Camus's Caligula (1963). She also directed works by Chekhov, Gorky, Brecht and Mrozek. Krzeminski also retained the services of Jerzy Jarocki, who directed a number of exceptional productions, including Williams's Orpheus Descending (1962), Dürrenmatt's The Physicists (1963) and Lenz's Nine Guiltless People (1963). There was room at the Stary Teatr for some of the old masters directing like Jerzy Kreczmar and Bohdan Korzeniewski. Prominent designers like Tadeusz Kantor, Andrzej Pronaszko, Wojciech Krakowski, Andrzej Majewski, Jerzy Skarzynski, as well as composer Zygmunt Konieczny also contributed to the ensemble's artistic successes.

In 1963 Wladyslaw Krzeminski was dismissed from his position as director. The theatre's helm was assumed by Zygmunt Hübner, who continued developing the institution as a venue for theatre of the highest artistic merit. The principles informing the shaping of the repertoire went unchanged. Productions included contemporary dramas and reinterpreted classics. An effort was also made to stage the great Polish national dramas. Hübner's tenure as director began with three important premieres: Wyspianski's The Wedding (1963), directed by Andrzeja Wajdy, Witkacy's Mother (1964), directed by Jerzy Jarocki and Brandys's A Way of  Being (1964), directed by Hübner and Jerzy Nowak. In 1964 Hübner welcomed director Konrad Swinarski into the Stary Teatr, making him a permanent collaborator alongside Jerzy Jarocki, Jozef Szajna and Bogdan Hussakowski. His efforts were innovative and beneficial, as 'working with the Stary Teatr allowed Swinarski to create his version of romantic theatre, to attempt national drama in a manner that was sharply opposed to both literary and staging traditions' (E. Wysinska, The Modrzejewska Old Theatre 1963-1973).

While there, the director staged Krasinski's Un-divine Comedy (1965), Büchner's Woyzeck (1966), Slowacki's Fantazy (1967) and Wyspianski's The Judges and The Curse (1968). Jarocki also continued working at the Stary Teatr, creating exceptional stagings of Rozewicz's He Walked Out of  His House (1965), Mrozek's Tango (1965), Babel's Dusk (1966) and Rozewicz's My Little Daughter (1968). Moliere's The Misanthrope (1966), directed by Hübner, was another outstanding achievement. Jozef Szajna presented his original, highly visual interpretation of Witkacy in mounting a production composed of two of the artist and playwright's dramas - Them and A New Liberation (1967). Bogdan Hussakowski primarily showed interest in contemporary tragedy, staging Euripides' The Trojan Women as adapted by Sartre (1967) and Lorca's Yerma (1967). As managing director, Hübner created a theatrical institution that worked with an array of exceptional stage directors who utilized various means of theatrical expression to create a brand of theatre apart but shared similar attitudes and a similar stance nevertheless. The director was quoted as saying:

I would like to note one fact that might seem like it means very little – Swinarski, Jarocki and myself were, for all practical purposes, born at the same time. There is nothing strange then in the fact that we represent the views of a given generation. We remember the war, but we matured in the Polish People's Republic. This is not without its influence on the conceptual and artistic profile of the Stary Teatr (Zygmunt Hübner, Trybuna Ludu, April 23, 1967).

In 1969 censors banned the theatre's production of Bryll's Kurdesz. Simultaneously, it was prevented from premiering its production of Kajzar's Paternoster. In response, Hübner resigned his management position.

In 1970 Jan Pawel Gawlik became director of what was by this time an excellent, stable theatre with a finely tuned troupe. Gawlik granted Jarocki and Swinarski the maximum possible freedom. Jarocki continued to work on Witkacy's plays. He staged The Shoemakers (1971) and another version of Mother (1972). He also directed productions of Kafka's The Trial (1973) and Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (1975). Swinarski tackled social issues in his productions, directing Mickiewicz's Forefathers' Eve (1973) and Wyspianski's Liberation (1974). He also staged a number of Shakespeare's plays, including A Midsummer Night's Dream (1970) and All's Well That Ends Well (1971). He was working on a production of Hamlet when he died tragically in an airline catastrophe in 1975. Andrzej Wajda continued to work with the theatre regularly, staging Dostoyevsky's The Devils as adapted for the stage by Camus (1971) and Wyspianski's A November Night (1974). Wajda returned once more to Dostoyevsky in 1977 with a production based on this author's The Idiot titled Nastasia Filipovna. This Krakow theatre also premiered the works of a number of new Polish authors, including Rymkiewicz, Lubienski, Iredynski, Grochowiak and produced the new plays of Slawomir Mrozek.

The 1970s were also a time of international success for the theatre, which participated three times in the World Trade Season Festival in London. The Stary Teatr's production of Liberation brought it a BITEF Award in Belgrade, and the theatre toured its production of The Devils to London, Zurich and Berlin. A number of new directors appeared on its roster. Among them were Maciej Prus as well as Jerzy Grzegorzewski, who directed Wyspianski's The Wedding (1977) and Ten Portraits with a Lapwing in the Background (1979). Another new name was Krystian Lupa, who staged his rendition of Gombrowicz's Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy (1978). Two of the Stary Teatr's regular directors created productions lasting several hours: Wajda directed As the Years and Days Go By (1978, written by Joanna Olczak-Ronikier), while Jarocki did Zeromski's The Dream of a Guiltless One (1979). The trademarks of the Stary Teatr at this time included not only a closely-knit acting ensemble, but also a group of scenery designers and musicians who contributed significantly to the theatre's achievements. Zygmunt Konieczny and Stanisław Radwan composed music, while scenery was designed by Lidia Minticz, Wojciech Krakowski, Kazimierz Wisniak, Krystyna Zachwatowicz and Lidia and Jerzy Skarzynski. The theatre's actors also enjoyed growing recognition. The troupe at this time included Ewa Lassek, Zofia Niwinska, Miroslawa Dubrawska, Izabela Olszewska, Jerzy Binczycki, Jerzy Nowak, Wojciech Pszoniak, Wiktor Sadecki, Anna Polony, Anna Seniuk, Jan Nowicki, Franciszek Pieczka, Marek Walczewski, Kazimierz Kaczor, Teresa Budzisz-Krzyzanowska, Tadeusz Huk, Elzbieta Karkoszka, Edward Lubaszenko, Jerzy Trela, Anna Dymna, Mieczyslaw Grabka, Leszek Piskorz, Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Jerzy Stuhr and Joanna Zolkowska.

In 1980 Jan Pawel Gawlik was pressured by the ensemble to resign as director. The acting troupe elected Stanislaw Radwan to this post, and it was during his tenure that the institution opened the Museum of the Old Theatre (1985). During Martial Law, theatre artists were relatively free to express what they wished. At this time, Jarocki staged Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral in the Cathedral in Wawel Castle (1982), and Calderon's Life is a Dream (1983). The theatre's directing ensemble expanded to include Tadeusz Bradecki, who debuted on the newly opened stage on Slawkowska Street with a production titled Poor People, based on the writings of Dostoyevsky (1983). Andrzej Wajda once again tackled Dostoyevsky in staging Crime and Punishment (1984). This same novel had been adapted for the stage at the Krakow theatre somewhat earlier by Maciej Prus (1977). Wajda also directed a number of the classics, including Shakespeare's Hamlet (1981) and Sophocles' Antigone (1984). Krystian Lupa mounted a number of excellent productions that featured uniquely complex performances by the actors. These included Wyspianski's The Return of Odysseus (1981), Musil's The Dreamers (1988) and Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (1990). Rudolf Ziolo, a stage director of the younger generation, staged Republic of Dreams, a production based on the prose of Bruno Schulz (1987), and Gozzi's Turandot (1990) in a production that countered established theatrical conventions. In 1985 prominent actor Jerzy Stuhr directed himself in Süskind's one-man play The Double Bass. In the 1980s the Stary Teatr also saw renowned foreign directors staging productions there, including Giovanni Pampiglione, who did Goldoni's The Liar (1981).

In 1990 Tadeusz Bradecki assumed the directorship of the Stary Teatr. That same year the theatre premiered its model production of Gombrowicz's The Marriage, directed by Jarocki with scenery designed by Jerzy Juk-Kowarski. Wajda staged Wyspianski's The Wedding (1991), while Jerzy Grzegorzewski directed The Death of Ivan Ilyich based Tolstoy's novel. Lupa expanded his studies of the works of Austrian authors. He staged Malte, or the Triptych of the Prodigal Son based on the writings of Rilke (1991), Bernhard's Kalkwerk (1992) and Broch's The Sleepwalkers - Esch, or Anarchy (1996). Grzegorzewski made far-reaching changes in the texts he staged, creating some very interesting and highly original productions, among them S0-called Humanity Gone Mad based on Witkacy (1992) and Forefathers' Eve - Twelve Improvisations based on the classic play by Mickiewicz (1995). Jarocki also devised and staged an original script based on the writings of Witkiewicz titled Exhumation (1995).

Since 1992 the Stary Teatr has hosted public meetings with outstanding cultural figures in its Goscie Starego Teatru (Guests of the Old Theatre) series. To date, appearances at the theatre have been made by Peter Brook, Robert Ciulli, Czeslaw Milosz, Luca Ronconi, Giorgio Strehler, Robert Wilson and Georges Lavaudant.

In 1994 the Stary Teatr was accepted into the prestigious Union of European Theatres. In 1996 the 5th UET Festival was held in Krakow with the Stary Teatr as its patron.

Krystyna Meissner served as the Stary Teatr director from 1997  to 1998, and she was replaced by Jerzy Binczycki. However, this outstanding actor's tenure was interrupted by his unexpected death. Ryszard Skrzypczak has served as managing director since 1998. Jerzy Koenig served as its artistic director from 1998 to 2002, when he was replaced by Mikolaj Grabowski.

The second half of the 1990s saw the theatre mounting a number of important productions. Jerzy Jarocki directed Goethe's Faust (1997) based on a new translation by Jacek Buras. More recently Jarocki staged Act Three based on Witkacy's  The Shoemakers (2002). Krystian Lupa presented Bernhard's The Siblings (1996), part two of his The Sleepwalkers series, i.e. Broch's Huguenau, or Realism (1998), and Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita (2002). The Stary Teatr has also played host to directors of the young generation. Horst Leszczuk (Grzegorz Jarzyna) staged Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy by Gombrowicz here (1997), while Remigiusz Brzyk directed Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (2001) and, more recently, Tadeusz Slobodzianek's Tsar Nicholas (2002).

Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora
January 2003

Narodowy Stary Teatr im. Heleny Modrzejewskiej w Krakowie
ul. Jagiellońska 5
31-010 Kraków
Phone: (+48 12) 421 29 77
Fax: (+48 12) 421 33 53
Email: [email protected]-teatr



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