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Stefan Jaracz Ateneum Theatre


Jaracza 2
Warszawa, Poland

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In existence since 1928, initially as the Institution of Live Words, a district theatre, a proletarian socialist theatre. It is located in Warsaw's Powisle district, at 2 Stefana Jaracza St. (20 Czerwonego Krzyża St. before WWII). From the start the theatre has been housed in the 1927 building of the Railway Workers' Trade Union.

The Teatr Ateneum's first managers were Janina Górska and Mieczysław Szpakiewicz (1928-1929), followed by Maria Strońska (1929-1930). A year later, management was taken over by Stefan Jaracz, one of the greatest actors of his time, who ran the Ateneum until 1933, and again in 1935-1939. In the 1932/1933 season Jaracz shared managerial duties with Leon Schiller. Between 1933 and 1934 Schiller was the Ateneum's manager together with Karol Adwentowicz. Wiktor Biegański was the manager in 1934-1935. The Ateneum, conceived as a means of promoting culture among the worker community of Powiśle district, soon became a venue of the young intelligentsia, the leading theatre of 1930's Warsaw. It was innovative but also egalitarian. Jaracz's policy statement said that this Warsaw theatre would be "alive, relevant, useful".

The Ateneum was a social platform for speaking about the most important issues of Polish and European life at the time, in bold productions designed by the greatest theatre artists of the Second Polish Republic. Such productions included Elmer Rice's STREET SCENE (1930) and Georg Büchner's DANTON'S DEATH (1931) - both directed by Stanislawa Perzanowska, "Zeittheater" performances directed by Schiller, Carl Zuckmayer's THE CAPTAIN OF KÖPENICK (1932), and Sergei Tretyakov's ROAR CHINA! (1933). It was to the Ateneum's credit that it broke with the staging clichés of classical Polish comedies. Stanisława Perzanowska proposed new interpretations, to mention Michal Balucki's DOM OTWARTY / OPEN HOUSE (1931), Aleksander Fredro's DAMY I HUZARY / LADIES AND HUSSARS (1932). She also produced original interpretations of comedies by Moli?re, Pierre Beaumarchais, Nikolai Gogol.

Jaracz was the perfect actor for the repertoire favoured by the Ateneum, being

"... endowed with a heavy, angular figure which seemed to be hewn from rock, and a husky though extremely expressive voice. He gained the fame of the best ever performer of roles of the 'wronged and humiliated', which he treated without sentimentalism, instead extracting the bitterness and coarseness as well as layers of rebellion, however deeply concealed." (Stanisław Marczak-Oborski, "Teatr polski w latach 1918-1965. Teatry dramatyczne" / "Polish Theatre in 1918-1965. Dramatic Theatres", Warszawa 1985)

After World War II the Ateneum resumed activity in 1951. Ludwik René was appointed its artistic manager. From 1952 the artistic manager was Janusz Warmiński, followed by Aleksander Bardini in 1958-1960. The first seasons of the 1950's aimed to continue the theatre's pre-war profile. Ludwik René spoke of the theatre bearing witness "to the issues most vital to our society". In the times when socialist realism was the officially imposed trend, these were largely mediocre and 'committed' plays, such as Lev Slavin's INTERVENTION (1951) inaugurating the theatre's reopening after the war. After the October 1956 political thaw, contemporary Western repertoire appeared at the Ateneum, including the flagship play of the young British generation, John Osborne's LOOK BACK IN ANGER directed by Zdzisław Tobiasz (Polish premiere), and Tennessee Williams' A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE directed by Aleksander Bardini (1959). The acting ensemble at this time included Henryk Bista, Henryk Boukolowski, Józef Duriasz, Marian Kociniak, Roman Wilhelmi, Jan Matyjaszkiewicz.

Janusz Warmiński returned in 1960 as general and artistic manager, running the Ateneum until his death in 1996. In 1960 he established a literary and theatrical studio, Scena 61, at the theatre. The following year, he initiated the Drama Debut competition. Thanks to this, the latest Polish plays were staged. Scena 61 projects during this time included REMANENT / STOCKTAKING based on Jarosław Abramow and directed by Jerzy Markuszewski (1962), STWORZENIE ŚWIATA / THE CREATION based on Stanisław Grochowiak and directed by Zdzisław Tobiasz (1962), Mrozek's one-act plays STRIP-TEASE, NA PEŁNYM MORZU / AT SEA, KAROL directed by Jan Bratkowski (1964), Agnieszka Osiecka's APETYT NA CZEREŚNIE / AN APPETITE FOR CHERRIES directed by Zdzisław Tobiasz (1968). Directors working on their productions at the Ateneum in this period would soon become the greatest artists of post-war Polish theatre. Many milestone productions were staged. Konrad Swinarski produced Ariano Suassuna's A DOG'S WILL (1960) and Peter Weiss's MARAT/SADE (1967). Andrzej Wajda staged William Gibson's TWO FOR THE SEESAW starring Elżbieta Czyżewska and Zbigniew Cybulski (1960) and John Whiting's THE DEVILS (1963). Other directors included Jan Bratkowski, Kazimierz Dejmek, Zygmunt Hübner, Bohdan Korzeniewski, Wanda Laskowska, and Jerzy Kreczmar who staged Henri de Montherlant's LA REINE MORTE (1964). Actors of the time included Zbigniew Cybulski, Józef Duriasz, Edmund Fetting, Elżbieta Kępińska, Bronisław Pawlik, Hanna Skarżanka, Aleksandra Śląska, Jan Świderski. In the late 1960's and early 1970's the Ateneum was joined by Ignacy Machowski, Stanislaw Zaczyk, and the youngest generation - Anna Seniuk and Andrzej Seweryn. The ensemble also included Jacek Woszczerowicz, the director and famous interpreter of the title role in Shakespeare's RICHARD III (1960). It was also at the Ateneum that Woszczerowicz played his last part, in Harold Pinter's THE CARETAKER (1968) which he also directed.

The Atelier night-time stage was established in 1973 as a place for innovative formal and theatrical exploration. This is where Jerzy Grzegorzewski produced BLOOMUSALEM based on excerpts from James Joyce's ULYSSES (1974). A year earlier, he had staged AMERICA based on Franz Kafka at the Teatr Ateneum. In the 1970's Warminski began to base the repertoire on Polish works from the borderline of classics and contemporary plays. He successfully directed Tadeusz Peiper's SKORO GO NIE MA / SINCE HE'S NOT HERE (1973), and Bruno Jasieński's BAL MANEKINÓW / THE MANNEQUINS' BALL (1973). A series of plays by Stanisław Ignacy Witkieiwcz (Witkacy) was also staged, to mention the world premiere of PANNA TUTLI-PUTLI / MISS TOOTLI-POOTLI directed by Warmiński (1975). Marta Fik described the Ateneum's style as being mainly the effect of the repertoire.

"People's complicated inner life is more important here than relations between the individual, history and ideology..." ("Trzydzieści pięć sezonów. Teatry dramatyczne w Polsce w latach 1944-1979" / "Thirty Five Seasons. Dramatic Theatres in Poland in 1944-1979", Warszawa 1981)

On many occasions, new productions were designed for the theatre's greatest actors, like Aleksandra Śląska and Jan Świderski.

A few interesting Polish premieres took place at the Ateneum in the late 1970's and early 1980's: Pam Gems' DEAD FISH (aka DUSA, FISH, STAS AND VI) directed by Agnieszka Holland (1978), plays by Athol Fugard - THE ISLAND directed by Maciej Domański (1979) and A LESSON FROM ALOES directed by Waldemar Matuszewski (1982), David Williamson's THE REMOVALISTS directed by Józef Para (1980), and Jerzy S. Sito's POLONEZ / POLONAISE directed by Janusz Warmiński (1981). The 1980's saw collaborations with Kazimierz Kutz, who staged Georg Büchner's DANTON'S DEATH (1982), Janusz Krasiński's WKRÓTCE NADEJDĄ BRACIA / THE BROTHERS WILL COME SOON (1984), ZWIERZENIA SŁUŻKI ZERLINY / THE CONFESSIONS OF ZERLINA THE SERVANT based on Hermann Broch (1992), and Adam Hanuszkiewicz (Stanislaw Trembecki's SYN MARNOTRAWNY / THE PRODIGAL SON based on Voltaire, 1983, Pierre Corneille's LE CID, 1984, MARIA I WOYZECK / MARIA AND WOYZECK based on Georg Büchner, 1992). A third stage opened in 1986 - Scena na Dole, for small-scale literary and musical projects. The artists who produced shows here included Wojciech Młynarski, who staged his very popular musical shows HEMAR (1987) and WYSOCKI / VYSOTSKY (1989). One of the Teatr Ateneum's greatest hits of this time was the musical ZŁE ZACHOWANIE (based on AIN'T MISBEHAVIN') directed by Andrzej Strzelecki (1984), a graduation project by students of Warsaw's theatre school featuring Katarzyna Figura and Janusz Józefowicz.

Successive generations of well-known actors joined the theatre over time; next to Jerzy Kamas, Marian Kocinak, Marian Opania and Artur Barciś, Maria Ciunellis and Maria Pakulnis, the ensemble also included Grzegorz Damięcki, Bartosz Opania, Dominika Ostałowska and Sylwia Zmitrowicz.

After the death of Janusz Warmiński, who had run the theatre for over 35 years, Gustaw Holoubek took over as manager. Holoubek first started working with the Teatr Ateneum in 1989, when he played the Hero in Tadeusz Konwicki's MAŁA APOKALIPSA / A MINOR APOCALYPSE directed by Krzysztof Zaleski, and later, with the same director, the part of Prospero in Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST (1991). Holoubek had also directed Juliusz Słowacki here: MAZEPA in which he appeared as Jan Kazimierz (1992), and FANTAZY in which he played the title role (1994). His next major role at the Ateneum had been Wilhelm Fürtwangler in Ronald Harwood's TAKING SIDES directed by Janusz Warmiński (1995).

For the theatre's 75 anniversary and his own 80th birthday, Holoubek staged Sophocles' OEDIPUS THE KING (2004). Under Holoubek's management, actors who had worked with him at the Teatr Dramatyczny in the 1970's appeared at the Ateneum - Marek Kondrat and Piotr Fronczewski. In 2001, Wojciech Pszoniak gave an excellent guest performance in Francis Veber's comedy THE DINNER GAME directed by Wojciech Adamczyk (2001). Holoubek also deserves credit for inviting the young director Agnieszka Glińska to work with him; she staged Odon von Horvath's TALES FROM THE VIENNA WOODS (1998), Connor McPherson's ST. NICHOLAS (1999), and Kurt Tucholsky's EYES IN THE BIG CITY (2003).

Michał Bujanowicz
June 2004

Teatr Ateneum im. Stefana Jaracza
ul. Jaracza 2
00-378 Warszawa
Phone: (+48 22) 625 24 21, 625 37 96
Fax: (+48 22) 625 36 07

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