Women Who Direct: 10 Visionaries of the Polish Stage
default, Women Who Direct: 10 Visionaries of the Polish Stage, Maja Kleczewska, 9th January 2007, photo: Robert Jaworski / Forum, maja_kleczewska.jpg
They're defiant, expressive, charismatic – and taking their art form to new heights. These women of Polish theatre are ambitious and promising directors, who boldly mix styles and forms – poetry with opera, classics with pop culture, politics with psychology.
1. Maja Kleczewska
Maja Kleczewska is one of the most defiant and expressive figures in Polish theatre today. She interprets the classics at her own whims, never shying away from kitsch as she draws from pop culture with great ease. As she said in an interview: 'There's no sense in pretending it doesn't exist. Following pop culture and synchronising it with theatre is important to me'. Her theatre presents humans facing extreme situations. People say that her plays make reality more real. She tackles difficult issues: infanticide, homicide, corruption, insanity, gender identity, obsessions of the body and otherness.
Dybbuk by Maja Kleczewska in the Jewish Theatre
If I worked in theatre in London or Paris, I would probably concentrate on other topics. But I work in Poland, and here, otherness is not accepted – it's marginalised, rejected, seen as suspicious and fear generating. Therefore, theatre provides a realm for confrontation with the 'other'. To me, theatre allows for the freedom of a group of people who – through dialogue and the sincerity of their longings, needs and desires – can make anything that they desire possible, because they are not alone.
Maja Kleczewska in 'Bzik Kulturalny' (Cultural Mania)
Kleczewska has staged Shakespeare, Chekhov, Sara Kane and, most recently, Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian Nobel Prize winner. The director tackles masterpieces according to her own understanding because, as she says, loyalty to the authors can be dangerous – it can seal off the imagination from what is important. Her most recent plays, the award-winning Podróż Zimowa (Winter Journey) and Cienie: Eurydyka Mówi (Shadows: Eurydice Says) can be seen at the Polish Theatre in Bydgoszcz.
2. Barbara Wysocka
Born in 1978, Barbara Wysocka is a theatre and opera director, actor and violinist. For her directorial debut – an opera of The Fall of the House of Usher – she won the Paszport Polityki Award. With this show, the jury stated, she 'proved her ability to see music and hear theatre'. She also plays, directs, sings, screams and recites in melodeclamation.
Wysocka's performances are an experimental mix of music, theatre and performance art. They have graced the stages of the most important theatres in the country and garnered the recognition of nationwide reviews. She is the one who showed us what Christian punk and Chopin bez Fortepianu (Chopin Without a Piano) sound like.
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Her work can be viewed during the 34th Warsaw Theatre Meetings Festival (4th-14th April 2014). Rehearsals for her newest play, Szapocznikow: Stan Nieważkości (Szapocznikow: No Gravity) are currently underway at the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art. An emotional comment on the life and work of Alicja Szapocznikow, considered the most important Polish sculptor of the 20th century, was authored by Wysocka. It's 'an interdisciplinary work on the border of an installation, a drama and a documentary', she shares.
3. Marta Górnicka
'I treat words like music. I change language into voice, I make it explode from within' – Marta Górnicka told Culture.pl in a video interview before the premiere of Requiemaszyna (RequieMachine), which was inspired by the poetry of Władysław Broniewski. She is the founder and director of Chór Kobiet (Chorus of Women), a revolutionary project which is making headlines and touring Europe.
An actress, director, vocalist,and graduate of the Warsaw Theatre Academy, as well as the Kraków Academy for the Dramatic Arts, Górnicka began setting up the choir four years ago. For the performance Tu Mówi Chór (This is Your Choir Speaking), the stage of the Warsaw Theatre Institute was filled with 28 women from all walks of life – professionals and amateurs, younger and older.
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I wanted the choir to be the only protagonist which doesn't function as a mass, but as a set of personalities – even when speaking in unison. It comments on reality. From the beginning, I knew the choir would go against the system; it would be sharp, political, weighing uncomfortable issues. We deal with stereotypes and social, religious and economic norms.
Górnicka shows how powerful the human voice can be in her other productions as well.
4. Ewelina Marciniak
Some consider Ewelina Marciniak the most talented theatre director of the younger generation. A number of awards stand to prove that claim: the KONTRAPUNKT 2013 Award (in Szczecin) and the Talent Trójki Award have singled her out for her vision of theatre, out-of-the-box set design and her social and artistic sensitivity.
Her interpretation of Witold Gombrowicz in Zbrodnia (Crime) was the most talked about performance of the 2012 theatre festivals. Same goes for the award-winning Amatorki (Amateurs) based on Elfriede Jelinek during the 2012-2013 theatre season. She was awarded at the 18th National Competition for Staging a Contemporary Polish Play, the Bydgoszcz 2012 Pre-Premieres Festival and the Young Directors Forum Festival organised by the Kraków Academy for the Dramatic Arts.
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Her newest play, based on Molière's The Miser, is currently playing at the Polish Theatre in Bydgoszcz and at the 49th International Theatre Festival Kontrapunkt. She calls the play 'critical' in view of her artistic output. Soon to be performed at the Śląski Theatre in Katowice is another one of her works: Morfina, based on a work by Szczepan Twardoch.
5. Monika Strzępka
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Monika Strzępka & Paweł Demirski, 26th Jan 2011, Teatr Polski in Wrocław, photo: Bartek Sadowski / Fotorzepa / Forum
Alongside playwright Paweł Demirski, she was for many years part of a successful theatrical duo. They were politically incorrect and artistically daring. Together, they brushed the dust off of Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady (Forefathers' Eve); poured salt on wounds with Był Sobie Polak, Polak, Polak i Diabeł (There Once Was a Pole, a Pole, a Pole and the Devil); took a peek at national flaws in Śmierć Podatnika (Death of a Taxpayer) and stood up for hushed, forgotten and manipulated history in Niech Żyje Wojna (Long Live War), as well as the rights of sexual minorities in Tęczowa Trybuna (Rainbow Tribune).
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Her latest piece, a musical titled Bierźcie i Jedzcie (Take This, All of You, And Eat It) takes places in a setting meant to be the large intestine. Klątwa (The Curse), at Warsaw's Imka Theatre, is in part inspired by House of Cards. Culture.pl is the play's media patron.
6. Agata Duda-Gracz
Agata Duda-Gracz is not only a director, but also a set designer. She likes to design her own sets and combine the visual layer with the actors' emotions. She has tackled challenging texts since her beginnings with theatre and avoided contemporary drama because – as she confesses in an interview with Justyna Nowicka – she wouldn't be able to relate to it:
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Because I don't believe in the existential problems of the cushioned youth. Because contemporary drama is superficial and lukewarm, justifying every phenomenon with either physiology or deviation (and after all that's what TV does best). I believe in theatre that deals with more than one phenomenon, on more than one plane, where the world that has been created controverts with reality, instead of idiotically imitating it.
For the stage, she has interpreted Shakespeare, Byron, Gogol and Słowacki, as well Puccini for the show Cyganeria at the Stara Gazownia in Poznań. Most recently, she has interpreted Gombrowicz with her Iwona, Księżniczka Burgunda (Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy) at the Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Łódź.
7. Agnieszka Glińska
She acts, directs and recently began managing the Warsaw Studio Theatre, opening it up to the youngest viewers. Agnieszka Glińska stands out for her ambition and her literature-based psychological theatre, which delves into interpersonal relations and the human psyche.
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Agnieszka Glińska told Aneta Kyzioł in a Polityka magazine interview:
I don't know how to define the world, make a thesis about it. I like to observe the world and portray it through the human. I always search for the one, unique truth of a particular event or inter-human relation. Because the thing about truth is that it moves, it reaches the human beyond reason.
She readily stages Chekhov, Dygat, Filipowicz, and recently, Dorota Masłowska in the acclaimed play A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians (originally: Dwoje Biednych Rumunów Mówiących po Polsku). In recent years, she has made her mark on the world of Polish theatre.
8. Natalia Korczakowska
Natalia Korczakowska likes to surprise. In one of her first plays, Dynastia (Dynasty), she did just that. She juxtaposed ideas that moulded the imaginations and tastes of Poles in the early '90s through the well-known American soap opera, with excerpts from Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. Thus, she laid bare myths about America as a land of dreams and eternal happiness.
Korczakowska made headlines again with her theatrical interpretation of Stanisław Lem's novels in TR Theatre in Warsaw, as well as her unprecedented approach to Halka, on which she worked with the maestro Marc Minkowski. The director's opera debut – a staging of Wolfgang Rihm's Jakob Lenz in the Grand Theatre National Opera in Warsaw – was critically acclaimed and praised especially for its music.
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In November 2012, Korczakowska prepared her own interpretation of Lessing's Nathan the Wise – the emblematic work of the German Renaissance, which had its revival following September 11th. The play was performed at the National Theatre in Warsaw.
9. Agnieszka Korytkowska-Mazur
Agnieszka Korytkowska-Mazur is a set designer and scholar in theatre and cultural Studies. She has directed theatre plays, television performances and musicals both in Poland and abroad. Since 2012, she has been director of the Dramatyczny Theatre in Białystok. She expounded on her vision for this institution in Gazeta Wyborcza:
Theatre is not, and ought not to be, an institution offering viewers theatre performances alone. Theatre is a place which, owing to its temporal character, should actively react to fluctuating reality, diagnose the changes, name trends and directions of development, read undercurrents, warn about dangers, deal with an array of subjects, provoke thought and lure people who are open to change, challenges and development. I learned theatre from creators, in places which emphasise teamwork. I see the theatre as a meeting place, which encourages a search for interesting artistic solutions – new scenic signs, rather than the rehashing of journalistic tricks and overused clichés.
At the Warsaw Theatre Meetings Festival this year, Korytkowska-Mazur is presenting Antyhona, based on Sophocles's classic Antigone. Korytkowska-Mazur takes the setting to the Polish-Soviet border – to a time of fratricide, extermination of Jews and amongst oppressed Belorusians. Korytowska's Antigone, named Teresa, also stands alone against her nepotic family as it fights to remain in power. The arguments of both sides rule one another out, making a compromise impossible.
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The performance, which features the inhabitants of Białystok and Krynek, tackles the topic of 'straightening' the Polish-Belarusian borders, which has so far been overlooked by the theatre. The set design is the work of the acclaimed Polish painter Leon Tarasewicz.
10. Anna Augustynowicz
She belongs to a generation which trained under Krystian Lupa. She put on her first independent play during her studies – Marek Koterski's Życie Wewnętrzne (Internal Life), staged at the Bogusławski Theatre in Kalisz (1989). In 1992, Anna Augustynowicz became the artistic director of the Szczecin Współczesny Theatre. There, she set up an additional small stage called the Malarnia, an ideal place for chamber stagings of contemporary drama.
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As Jacek Sieradzki commented in the folds of an award ceremony where Augustynowicz received the Zygmunt Hübner Award.
The word that readily comes to mind when thinking about her work is minimalism. At times, it is risky: an empty stage with 10 chairs, actors seated upon them, with only their voices and bodies at their disposition. Augustynowicz's theatre is reductionist: she does away with unnecessary words, gestures, objects. Only the sense remains.
On the Polish stage, power – and possibility – lies in women's hands.
Written by Anna Legierska, Apr 2014