The People's Theatre in Nowa Huta

Established in 1955, this is one of the youngest of Krakow's theatres. It was set up as the small stage of the planned Teatr Wielki / Grand Theatre, a project which was soon abandoned. It was built within a model socialist-realism workers' housing estate, in Nowa Huta. The theatre was supposed to educate the workers living there and give them access to culture. The inauguration performance was Wojciech Boguslawski's KRAKOWIACY I GORALE / CRACOVIANS AND HIGHLANDERS produced by Leon Schiller and directed by Wanda Wroblewska (1955).

The theatre's first general and artistic manager was Krystyna Skuszanka, the resident director was Jerzy Krasowski, and Jozef Szajna was the resident stage designer. It soon turned out that thanks to these outstanding artists, the Teatr Ludowy became one of the most interesting theatres in the country, despite having some very strong competition - two great Krakow theatres: the Teatr Stary / Old Theatre and the Teatr Słowackiego / Slowacki Theatre.

"Nothing can match the Krasowski era in the history of the Teatr Ludowy," wrote Krzysztof Miklaszewski. "Every premiere was special, even more: it was a bomb with a nation-wide fuse." ("Dziennik Polski", 2 December 1995)

Skuszanka and Krasowski turned the theatre in Nowa Huta into an innovative and politically committed theatre with great intellectual and artistic ambitions. The repertoire included Polish and foreign classics as well as contemporary drama. Plays by Aeschylus, Carlo Gozzi and Carlo Goldoni were staged. Skuszanka prepared successful Shakespeare productions: MEASURE FOR MEASURE with stage design by Tadeusz Kantor (1956), THE TEMPEST (1959), and TWELFTH NIGHT (1961) with stage design by Jozef Szajna as well as Polish Romantic drama. She staged Juliusz Slowacki's BALLADYNA (1956) and SEN SREBRNY SALOMEI / THE SILVER DREAM OF SALOME (1959).

"This was the first staging of Slowacki in years which was disturbing and contemporary," Jan Kott wrote about SEN…, "contemporary in its new approach to history, contemporary in its means of expression, contemporary in its philosophy. And, it was a comprehensible Slowacki." ("Dialog" 1960, No. 2)

In 1962 Skuszanka and Krasowski prepared a production of Adam Mickiewicz's DZIADY / FOREFATHERS' EVE with stage design by Jozef Szajna.

"Forefathers' Eve at Nowa Huta, a political drama," wrote Krzysztof Wolicki, "though not a political drama of manners, remains a national drama. The image of national martyrdom is preserved in all its sharpness. The vileness of the tsarist regime and hatred towards it could hardly have been accented any more strongly." ("Dialog" 1962, No. 8)

A particularly sharp tone, however, was present primarily in the theatre's productions of contemporary plays, in which attempts were made to investigate the reasons behind modern-day problems, and philosophical and ideological questions were posed. Great artistic events of the time included productions by Jerzy Krasowski - OF MICE AND MEN, an adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel (1956) with the memorable roles of Franciszek Pieczka as Lenny Small and Witold Pyrkosz as George Milton, Franz Werfel's JACOBOWSKY AND THE COLONEL (1957), RADOSC Z ODZYSKANEGO SMIETNIKA / JOY FROM RETRIEVED RUBBISH based on the novel by Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski (1960), and also Albert Camus's THE STATE OF SIEGE staged jointly with Krystyna Skuszanka (1958), and finally Jerzy Broszkiewicz's IMIONA WLADZY / NAMES OF POWER directed by Skuszanka (1957) about the topical issue of power and freedom. At the same time:

"A major role in shaping the artistic image of the Teatr Ludowy was played by the productions' formal innovation, their initially very sceptically and mistrustfully received 'avant-garde' character, the rejection of traditional aesthetics, the use of symbolism, poetic generalization, visual shortcuts (stage designer Jozef Szajna was a co-author of the theatre's outstanding achievements in this area), breaking with the tradition of realistic and psychological theatre." (Joanna Wozniak in: "Trzydziesci lat Teatru Ludowego w Krakowie - Nowej Hucie" / "Thirty Years of the Teatr Ludowy in Krakow-Nowa Huta", Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, Krakow 1988)

However, the theatre's artistic achievements did not meet exclusively with positive reactions. There was a very lively discussion in the media about its artistic profile. The theatre was accused of developing an overly ambitious repertoire (!) and unjustifiably innovative staging, in other words - ignoring the needs of what was originally meant to be a worker audience.

Krystyna Skuszanka and Jerzy Krasowski left the theatre in 1963, and Jozef Szajna was appointed the new manager. He continued to practise his experimental theatre of visual-arts vision, this time combining the roles of director and stage designer. His productions included: Nikolai Gogol's THE INSPECTOR GENERAL (1963), Tadeusz Holuj's PUSTE POLE / THE EMPTY FIELD (1965), Witold Wandurski's SMIERC NA GRUSZY / DEATH ON A PEAR TREE (1965), and Franz Kafka's THE CASTLE with great roles by Irena Jun and Jozef Wieczorek (1966). Years later, he said about his work at the Teatr Ludowy:

"Insofar as I received the approval of the theatre community as a stage designer, my directing and visual work was often sharply criticized." ("Moich jedenaście lat w Teatrze Ludowym" / "My Eleven Years at the Teatr Ludowy" in: "Trzydzieści lat Teatru Ludowego w Krakowie - Nowej Hucie" / "Thirty Years of the Teatr Ludowy in Krakow-Nowa Huta", Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, Krakow 1988)

Szajna's original productions, several of which became major artistic events, were accused mainly of degrading the word and repeating the same visual ideas. Audiences stopped coming to the theatre, and Szajna left in 1966.

The new manager was Irena Babel, who changed the image of Nowa Huta's theatre, promoting popular theatre without any formal experiments, theatre which aimed to be accessible to the average audience. The repertoire included many comedies, vaudevilles, and plays for children. Some ambitious productions were also staged, however - Johann Wolfgang Goethe's IPHIGENIA AT TAURIS (1967) directed by Izabella Cywinska, Carlo Goldoni's THE VENETIAN TWINS (1967) and Shakespeare's OTHELLO (1969) directed by Bogdan Hussakowski, and Friedrich Dürrenmatt's KING JOHN (1969) and Juliusz Slowacki's KORDIAN (1970) directed by Irena Babel.

In the 1970's the theatre was still unable to find a formula to satisfy audiences and critics. Successive managers' plans to create a new artistic image, apart from a few exceptions of good productions, did not work. In 1971 the theatre gained a new stage, NURT 71 / CURRENT 71 which presented the latest plays. In 1971-1974 the theatre was run by Waldemar Krygier. After the premieres of Tadeusz Konwicki's SENNIK WSPOLCZESNY / A DREAMBOOK FOR OUR TIME (1971) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's THE IDIOT (1972) directed by Krygier, subsequent projects were less successful. In 1974 management was taken over by Ryszard Filipski, who tried to develop political and popular theatre in Nowa Huta. The theatre attracted audiences with popular productions like Lech Budrecki and Ireneusz Kanicki's musical show DZIS DO CIEBIE PRZYJSC NIE MOGE / I CANNOT COME TO SEE YOU TODAY (1974) directed by Kanicki, but at the same time it was attacked for pandering to primitive taste, for cheap entertainment and often aggressive promotion of socialist slogans (Jan Bijata's NASZA PATETYCZNA / OUR PATHÉTIQUE, dir. Filipski, 1976).

In the next decade (1979-1989) the theatre in Nowa Huta was managed by Henryk Gizycki, who continued producing a very diverse repertoire, and also focused on the theatre's educational functions. Comedies were staged, and the manager also tried to revive the tradition of Polish national and folk theatre, referencing the productions of Kazimierz Dejmek. Thus, the repertoire included Lucjan Rydel's BETLEJEM POLSKIE / POLISH BETHLEHEM directed by Gizycki (1979), and later also Wojciech Boguslawski's KRAKOWIACY I GORALE / CRACOVIANS AND HIGHLANDERS produced by Bronislaw Dabrowski and directed by Gizycki (1981). Important premieres of this period included Paul Claudel's THE EXCHANGE directed by Wlodzimierz Nurkowski (1981), and Karol Wojtyla's HIOB / JOB (1983) and Jan Potocki's PARADY / PARADES (1985) - both directed by Tadeusz Malak. The previously banned MILCZENIE / SILENCE by Roman Brandstaetter was also staged - directed by Waclaw Jankowski (1984).

Jerzy Fedorowicz has been the theatre's general and artistic manager since 1989. During his tenure, the theatre opened its Mala Scena / Small Stage in the centre of Krakow, first at 1 Kanonicza St., and later becoming the Scena Pod Ratuszem / Stage Under the Town Hall at No. 1 Main Market Square. The first premiere under the new management was a reference to the place where the theatre was born. Joanna Olczak-Ronikier's "CZLOWIEK Z MARMURU" - POCZATEK I KONIEC / "MAN OF MARBLE" - THE BEGINNING AND THE END, based on Andrzej Wajda's famous account-settling film from 1977 which had the construction of Nowa Huta as its backdrop, was directed by Krzysztof Orzechowski. Jerzy Stuhr worked with the theatre in the 1990's, staging Shakespeare - THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (1991), MACBETH (1995) which won a Fringe First award at the Edinburgh festival, and THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (1998). One Stuhr production which became extremely popular was Molière's THE BOURGEOIS GENTLEMAN (1993) with the director playing Monsieur Jourdain. Wlodzimierz Nurkowski's version of Sophocles' ANTIGONE (1996) received The Herald Angel Award '97 at the Edinburgh festival.

"Terapia przez sztuke" / "Therapy Through Art" is a therapeutic and educational programme forming an important part of the theatre's activity. It has resulted in productions like ROMEO AND JULIET (1991) played by rival subcultures of punk rockers and skinheads, TRAGEDIA O POLSKIM SCYLURUSIE / THE TRAGEDY OF THE POLISH SCILURUS (1995) played by Monar patients, THE LITTLE PRINCE based on Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1998) featuring children from an orphanage, and Inka Dowlasz's BICI BIJA / THE BEATEN BEAT (1998) and ODLOT / HIGH (2001), serving as a prelude to meetings and talks with the audience. Since 2000 the theatre has also been a co-organizer of the international LAJKONIK FESTIVAL OF JOY AND LAUGHTER presenting the art of disabled children and young people.
 

Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora
November 2003

 


Teatr Ludowy w Nowej Hucie
Osiedle Teatralne 34
31-948 Kraków
Phone: (+48 12) 680 21 40, 680 21 00
Fax: (+48 12) 680 21 55
WWW: www.ludowy.pl

 

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