The following Polish theatre directors cemented their legacies by pushing the boundaries of the classical methods and expanding the realm of possibilities played out on the stage.
Jerzy Grotowski changed the shape of the contemporary theatre by experimenting with the dramatic text and actor. In his famous book Towards a Poor Theatre he focused on shaping acting methods and formulating the idea of 'poor theatre'. Physical work by actors consisted of syncretic trainings that lasted many hours and drew on East Asian techniques. Peter Brook wrote about Grotowski in The Empty Space:
The theatre, he believes, cannot be an end in itself; like dancing or music in certain dervish orders, the theatre is a vehicle, a means for self-study, self-exploration, a possibility of salvation. The actor has himself as his field of work. [...] Seen this way, acting is a life's work - the actor is step-by-step extending his knowledge of himself through the painful, ever-changing circumstances of rehearsal and the tremendous punctuation points of performance.
Grotowski developed his ideas and in his further work he began to focus on interpersonal relationships in a new dimension, specifically, that of 'celebration'. His new 'live culture' was designed to lead to face-to-face meetings between human beings. In Grotowski's last theatre production, Apocalypsis Cum Figuris, the viewer and actor were unified to the maximum degree possible, though a division was retained between active and passive participants.
Tadeusz Kantor “was an active participant in the revolutions of the neo-avant-garde; he was a highly original theoretician, an innovator strongly grounded in tradition, an anti-painterly painter, a happener-heretic and an ironic conceptualist. These are only a few of his many incarnations” (Jaroslaw Suchan, curator of the exhibition Tadeusz Kantor: Impossible).
Many of his productions have been inscribed in the annals of theatrical history, since the beginning of his artistic development. In 1955 he inspired a group of artists to help him create the Cricot 2 Theatre, which would become an incubator for his creativity. In these productions, many elements were characteristic of Kantor's theatrical style, such as sets that suggest silent films and actors who move and act like mannequins. In his productions actors were treated like objects, entirely stripped of their individuality (Informal Theatre period) or devoid of any action or events (Zero Theatre). Another of Kantor’s artistic phase was the ‘Theatre of Death’. It is in this phase that he created his most outstanding and best-known works.
Born in 1929, Swinarski was a theatre, television, opera and film director. In 1960s and 1970s he created numerous stagings in West Germany (including the famous chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto, Thomas Christoph Harlan's Without Angel's Help, West Berlin) and in Israel: Tadeusz Różewicz's The Card Index (Kartoteka, Tel-Aviv), He worked also in opera: Hans Wener Henze's The Bacchae (La Scala in Milan) and in television: Tadeusz Rozewicz's File.
In the 1970s Swinarski created his theatrical masterpieces, which are a crucial part of the history of Polish theatre of the 20th century. His stagings of legendary Forefather's Eve (Dziady) by Adam Mickiewicz with Jerzy Trela in the main role argued with Polish history, with the contemporary, stiff interpretation of tradition and with the schematic thinking about theatre.
Krystian Lupa is a renowned theatre director and stage designer, born in 1943. The quality of Lupa's theatre derives from strong acting, which is often deemed ‘invisible’ or ‘transparent’, made so by actors who unite almost completely with the characters they play. Lupa developed his specific method of working with actors. His collaborators of the time referred to his method of developing productions as 'laboratory rehearsals'. He is also a master at creating internally coherent stage realities. He often translates and adapts the texts which he stages, simultaneously designing the scenery and directing these productions. In some, he himself appears on stage as the narrator.
Krystian Lupa’s greatest works are created in 1990 adaptation of a production of Robert Musil’s great, epic work - the essayistic, philosophical novel The Man without Qualities. In 1992 he drew on the work of Thomas Bernhard, creating Kalkwerk. This staging quickly gained the reputation of being a great metaphysical treatise. He also staged Bernhard's Ritter, Dene, Voss (1996) and Immanuel Kant (1996). Woodcutters, based on Thomas Bernhard's prose, was recognised by the audience and critics as the best play of the season.
Jerzy Jarocki's shows are characteristic through their realism, a deep, even mathematical analysis of the text and its very detailed reading. Jarocki reveals a universal aspect of the plays he stages, he composes meticulously all elements of the staging, starting with the set design, costumes, through music, to the actors, from whom he requires absolute subordination to his vision of the scenic world. ‘Jarocki, called Herod among the directors, is a very demanding artist’, said the outstanding actor, Gustaw Holoubek.
Jarocki's work is dominated by contemporary literature such as Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Friedrich Durrenmatt, Włodzimierz Majakowski. His favourite authors are Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Witold Gombrowicz and Tadeusz Różewicz. The 1990s was a particularly important period for the director. It was then that he created the renowned stagings of Anton Czechow's Platonov, Heinrich von Kleist's Cathy and others. He directed the premieres of most dramas by Tadeusz Różewicz: He Went Out, My Daughter, Old Woman Incubating, On All Fours. Many of his stagings were generally found to be purely canonical.
Unlike Jarocki, Jerzy Grzegorzewski was not faithful to the text. He would change the script and place the words in provocative new contexts. He favoured collage, both on the textual level and in terms of the set design. Most of the productions based on his own scripts are compilations of plays by Lowry, Shakespeare, Wyspiański, Witkiewicz and Mickiewicz.
From the end of 1980s he worked in Kraków and Wrocław, where he staged productions of Witold Gombrowicz's Wedding, Zygmunt Krasiński's Non-divine Comedy, and America based on Franz Kafka's novel. In 1980s he moved to Warsaw. Here, he staged his most mature productions, among them: Jean Genet's Screens, Tadeusz Różewicz's Trap, Bertold Brecht's The Threepenny Opera.
After 1997, he changed his approach a little. Instead of relishing theatrical games, he decided to use the national stage to speak about contemporary Poland, the fate of artists and spectators after the changes of 1989, and of history and the present.