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The Aleksander Zelwerowicz Theatre Academy in Warsaw


Miodowa 22/24
Warszawa, Poland

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The Theatre Academy in Warsaw, called the State Higher School of Theatre (PWST) until 1996, was founded in 1946. Its first seat was in Łódź and it was moved to Warsaw in 1949. Since 1955 it has had its premises in the Collegium Nobilium, the 18th century edifice of a Piarist monastery school in Miodowa Street.

The Theatre Academy continues the long tradition of actors' education in Warsaw. It dates back to 1811, when Wojciech Bogusławski opened the first school of acting, and goes well into the 20th century, when two leaders of the Polish theatre, Aleksander Zelwerowicz and Leon Schiller, established the National Institute of Theatre Art (PIST) in 1932. With Zelwerowicz as the director and manager of the Acting Department and Schiller as the head of the Directing Department, PIST continued to operate clandestinely under the Nazi occupation.

"... A significant number of people associated with today's PWST are aware that the school did not originate in a vacuum, but has been shaped by the experience of many a generation. The closest bond is felt with the twenty years of the interwar period, in particular with the National Institute of Theatre Art and its predecessors. After all, the post-war PWST was founded largely by the same people who had most influenced theatre education before the war: Leon Schiller, Aleksander Zelwerowicz, Bohdan Korzeniewski, or who were graduates of PIST (or its predecessor, the Division of Drama at the State Musical Conservatory), such as Jan Kreczmar and Jan Świderski". ("Warszawska Szkoła Teatralna 1944-1989" in: "Warszawa Szkoła Teatralna: Szkice i wspomnienia", Warszawa 1991).

When the school functioned as the State Theatre School in Warsaw with a seat in Lodz, its first Chancellor and Dean of the Directing Department was Leon Schiller, while Aleksander Zelwerowicz and Bohdan Korzeniewski were Deans of the Acting and Drama Departments, respectively. Soon a dispute concerning the education of actors erupted. The argument - its roots in the pre-war times - was about whether the students of acting should be trained in a "closed" school or should rather be allowed to appear on the stages of professional theatres from the very start. Schiller opted for the latter, Zelwerowicz opposed him. As a result Zelwerowicz left the school and was replaced by Henryk Szletyński. The argument, however, persisted, with varying intensity, for another score years. Zelwerowicz's approach won in the 1950s and 1960s, but in the 1970s the school started to open to the professional theatre, to finally arrive, in the 1990s, at a widespread belief that insularity made it unable to successfully fulfill its educational tasks.

After the PWST moved from Łódź to Warsaw in 1949, the state authorities removed its two founders, the outstanding actors and teachers Schiller and Zelwerowicz, from the school, appointing Jan Kreczmar Chancellor. Kreczmar remained the Chancellor until 1967 (Władysław Krasnowiecki had briefly replaced him at this post in 1955-57). The authorities forced him to abide by the guidelines of Socialist Realism in the school's curriculum. The school had to follow the model of teaching adopted in Soviet art schools and this affected the choice of works and repertoire of diploma performances. Training was based on a limited, if not distorted, version of the Stanislavsky method developed at MCHAT (the Moscow Art Theatre). Students were isolated from out-of-school artistic and cultural life. Studies were extended to four years, the last year devoted to the staging of diploma performances, their repertoire highly limited from the times of the "thaw" of 1956 and focusing mostly on Russian, Soviet and contemporary Polish plays, with little Polish or European classics and no contemporary West-European drama whatsoever. 1951 marks the closure of the Drama Department. For a brief period of time, in 1953-58, a Show Business Department operated, its elements later incorporated in the school's syllabus. The Choreographic Department was similarly short-lived (1955-59).

In 1955 PWST was given the name of Aleksander Zelwerowicz and seven years later was granted the status of an academic school.

The "thaw" of October 1956 was felt at the school, too. New, western repertoire appeared with the 1956 staging of Jean Giraudoux's La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu {C} directed by Halina Mikołajska and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Aleksander Bardini in 1958. The Stanislavsky method was still followed, Kreczmar being its adherent, but the "socialist superstructure" that had been imposed on it was now given up. Movement classes, including pantomime, were introduced on a larger scale that in other schools. The Directing Department was reformed to provide for a closer co-operation between prospective directors and actors; its theoretical courses were cut down and left to self-study on the grounds that only graduates of humanities or of the Acting Department were admitted to study directing, anyway.

In 1970-81 the school's Chancellor was the celebrated actor Tadeusz Łomnicki. He was

"apparently the first one to understand that both television and film and the huge pressure of the mass media force a change in the way actors are educated to allow them to start working outside of the school earlier" (Barbara Osterloff, a voice in a debate "Krakowska Szkoła Teatralna wczoraj i dziś" w: "Krakowska Szkola Teatralna. 50 lat PWST im. L. Solskiego w Krakowie", red. J. Popiel, Kraków 1997) ["The Krakow Theatrical School: Past and Present", published in "The Krakow Theatrical School. 50 Years of the Ludwik Solski PWST in Krakow", ed. J. Popiel, Krakow 1997).

This is what Łomnicki himself wrote about his role as a teacher:

"My method was first of all intended to reveal to young people the capabilities of which they would have never suspected themselves, but also to introduce them to the world of teamwork - the fundamental value of all they would later be doing at school and in life. It was aimed to teach them concentration and focus, quick change, conscious use and development of body language, gesture, word; to boost their imagination and courage…" (after E. Dobrzański, "O problemach kształcenia aktorów" w: "Krakowska Szkoła Teatralna. 50 lat PWST im. L. Solskiego w Krakowie", red. J. Popiel, Kraków 1997) ["On the Issues of Actors' Education", published in "The Krakow Theatrical School. 50 Years of the Ludwik Solski PWST in Kraków", ed. J. Popiel, Kraków 1997).

During Łomnicki's term as Chancellor the school started to invite distinguished directors from the outside to work with the students. This has resulted in such diploma performances as ACTS based on the texts by Stanisław Wyspiański, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Witold Gombrowicz and Sławomir Mrożek, directed by Jerzy Jarocki (1972) and ANTIGONE directed by Adam Hanuszkiewicz (1973). EXERCISES IN SHAKESPEARE, directed by Aleksander Bardini in 1971, proved another noteworthy diploma performance.

In 1975 a Puppetry Department was established at the Białystok branch of the Warsaw PWST. Jan Wilkowski, the noted Polish creator of the puppet theatre, was appointed its first Dean. Instrumental in the establishment of the new Department was the director of the Białystok Puppet Theatre, Krzysztof Rau. Rau, who the previous year had opened a theatre-affiliated school to teach puppeteers, was appointed deputy Dean. A Puppetry Directing Department was added to the Białystok branch of the PWST in 1978. Henryk Jurkowski, who had created the Department, became its Dean. In the early 1990s both Departments were combined to establish the Puppetry Art Department with two sections, acting and directing. An attempt was made to educate the so-called "strong groups" of graduates who would be able to break the petrified structures of the Polish puppet theatre and raise its artistic standards and prestige. The attempt failed, but the school leaders continued the puppeteer training reform.

"Until recently we were torn between two ways of thinking", said Krzysztof Rau. "To some a puppeteer was an actor equipped with the additional skill of animating the puppets. To others puppetry was a separate profession. To me the latter view was obviously right. It is this profession that we should teach in our school. This view is now becoming obvious to a vast majority of lecturers" (in: "Szkolnictwo teatralne", "Teatr", 1988 no. 10).

The syllabus was reformed to divide the four years of study into two periods: two years of intensive puppetry and acting skills training, and a period of individual artistic projects.

In 1975 yet another department was added to the PWST, that of Theatre Studies. Jerzy Koenig was made its first Dean. Unlike theatre studies at universities, this Department was to introduce students to the broadly understood practice of the theatre through participation in selected joint courses with prospective actors and directors. Students are trained to become literary theatre managers, to work in libraries and archives, to be journalists, critics and essayists. Following the Solidarity-organised student strike of 1981 (supported by the faculty members, including the then Dean, Marta Fik), the authorities suspended recruitment to the Department. It was resumed in 1984, and a theatre culture promotion course was added to the syllabus.

1981 saw the first democratic election of the school authorities. Andrzej Łapicki was voted Chancellor. He was the Chancellor in 1981-1987 and 1993-1996, while Jan Englert held office in 1987-1993 and 1996-2002. The current Chancellor of the Theatre Academy is Lech Śliwonik.

The Warsaw Theatre Academy has adopted some highly ambitious objectives:

"(...) we are intent on bringing people up", said Jan Englert, "on - to put it somewhat lofty - spreading the ethos of the man of the theatre ...We want to move towards a Theatre Academy. Naturally, it is not about the name, but about a very widely understood, even interdisciplinary, training of the people of the theatre" (in: "Szkolnictwo teatralne"," Teatr" 1988 no. 10).

In 1983 a History of Artistic Education Section opened at the PWST, its objective being to catalogue the historical records of PWST and PIST. In 1997 extension courses were launched at the Theatre Studies Department and a graduate School of Pronunciation was opened. 1999 was marked by the completion of the reconstruction of the former Collegium Nobilium Theatre. It is there that the diploma performances are nowadays staged and performances of young graduates are shown. Last but not least, for two years now the Warsaw Theatre Academy has been the organizer of the IINTERNATIONAL THEATRE SCHOOLS FESTIVAL.

The greatest celebrities of the Polish stage have been associated with the school in Miodowa Street. Its faculty members and Deans have included Bohdan Korzeniewski, Zygmunt Hübner, Kazimierz Rudzki, Aleksander Bardini, Zofia Mrozowska, Aleksandra Górska, Ryszarda Hanin, Ludwik René, Aleksandra Śląska, Jan Świderski. In recent years its teachers have been Gustaw Holoubek, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Mariusz Benoit, Anna Seniuk i Teresa Budzisz-Krzyżanowska.

Polish acting has for decades been shaped by such graduates of the Warsaw Theatre Academy as Marek Kondrat, Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, Andrzej Seweryn, Henryk Bista, Stanisława Celińska, Krystyna Janda, Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak, Franciszek Pieczka, Marian Opania, Joanna Szczepkowska, Roman Wilhelmi. Directors who have studied at the school include Zygmunt Hübner, Konrad Swinarski, Jerzy Grzegorzewski, Helmut Kajzar, Jerzy Krasowski, Krystyna Skuszanka and Maciej Prus.

Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora
November 2003

Akademia Teatralna im. Aleksandra Zelwerowicza w Warszawie
ul. Miodowa 22/24
00-246 Warszawa
Phone: (+48 22) 831 02 16 - 18
Fax: (+48 22) 831 91 01



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