Beniamin M. Bukowski is difficult to pigeonhole. In the theatre, he’s found himself in many roles, as both a playwright and a director. In the past, he was also a poet. His work was appreciated by the audience of Festival d’Avignon, the most important theatre event in the world.
The versatility of Bukowski, who was born in 1991, is also reflected in the educational path he pursued in Kraków. He graduated from the Interdepartmental Individual Studies in Humanities, combining art history with philosophy. He is also a graduate of the Faculty of Drama Directing at the Academy of Theatre Arts in Kraków. Since 2016 he has been a PhD student at the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University.
He started very typically, as an assistant director. In Kraków, he accompanied Janusz Szydłowski (It’s Love at the STU Theatre) and Janusz Kilian (Pinocchio at the Słowacki Theatre). As is often the case with directors, it is not easy to point to the moment of his ‘proper’ debut. In 2013 he directed Caligula on the stage of Remedium Theatre, ran by students of the Jagiellonian University. Then he took up the texts of Sławomir Mrożek – Widows and On the High Seas – he staged these at the Mazowiecki Theatre. In 2015 he directed the monodrama Zofia based on the text by Anna Wakulik, performed by Małgorzata Pieńkowska. Hanna Karolak admired the solo performance which conquered the topic of the suffering of mothers experiencing the death of their children. On the pages of Gość Niedzielny, she wrote: ‘The play touches the deepest nerves. […] has a universal dimension. It is noble because it is purged of unnecessary clichés, authentic in the dimension of experience’.
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He directed his first performance based on his own text in the city where he was born – in Poznań: Mosdorf: Reconstruction (Nowy Theatre in Poznań, 2016), inspired by the contradictory biography of Jan Mosdorf, a radical right-wing philosopher and columnist. This production marked the beginning of a series of stagings of his own dramas. The next performance was titled Spectators and inspired by the situation of watching graduations at the STA acting studio in Poznań (on this occasion, Bukowski asked: ‘Did you wonder how often you are the actors? How often are you watched in the city space without even knowing it?’). In 2018, the artist first worked on a production for the silver screen. As part of the Teatroteka programme created by the Documentary and Feature Film Studio, he directed his text The Amazing Limbourg Brothers, telling the story of mediaeval illuminators. This text was undoubtedly a catalyst for Bukowski’s career. The drama was awarded the Gdynia Alternative Drama Award (2015), and the jury appreciated the ‘coherent and refined dramatic construction, a multi-layered storyline which leaves space for subversive reading, as well as the stage potential of the text,’ and the ‘beautiful vision of waiting for the end of the world’. The adaptation of the television show brought him the Silver Remi Award at the WorldFest Houston and the Audience Award of the Teatroteka Fest festival (both in 2019). So far, the text has been translated into French, English, and Georgian. Its French edition was included in the programme of the Avignon Festival, probably the most important theatre event in the world (2019). The text, as one of ten selected works, participated in the Avignon Forum of Contemporary European Drama, and the audience of the event could participate in a performative reading of it. The Amazing Limbourg Brothers and Jonasz translated by Agnieszka Zgieb were published by the prestigious French publishing house Deuxième Époque. Zgieb’s translation has also received an award from the Maison Antoine Vitez Drama Translation Centre under the aegis of the French Ministry of Culture. The Amazing Limbourg Brothers has also been staged by other directors: the play was prepared in London (as part of the New Plays From Europe – Brexit Stage Left), Szczecin, Gdynia and Toruń.
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Other texts directed by Bukowski include The Just: The Story of the Ulma Family (Wanda Siemaszkowa Theatre in Rzeszów, 2018), Mazagan: The City (Jewish Theatre in Kraków, 2018; the text has also been translated into German) and Snow Queen, inspired by Andersen’s classic fairy tale (The Fredro Theatre in Gniezno, 2018). As a playwright, he has cooperated with Katarzyna Kalwat among others. In tandem, they created two works blurring the boundaries between theatre and gallery performance: Robert Walser: I Would Prefer Not To and Maria Klassenberg: Ecstasy. Both works focused on fictitious artistic biographies. Bukowski also wrote the script for Staff Only, a play directed by Kalwat at the Warsaw Biennale.
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He has directed many performative readings, not only in Poland (Warsaw, Opole, Kielce, Lublin) but also twice in Paris (in 2019 he performed the reading of Jonasz as part of the Europe des Théâtres Festival and under the aegis of Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques). Although his career has not yet lasted even a decade, he has won over 20 awards, distinctions and scholarships for his directorial and dramatic achievements. Among the most important are the scholarship Young Poland awarded by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, 3rd place in the international dramatic competition Talking About Borders organised by the Staatstheater in Nuremberg for the play Mazagan: The City and the award for the best dramatic debut in the Competition for the Staging of Polish Contemporary Art in 2017. He was also a scholarship holder and resident at the Residenztheater in Munich (awarded by the Basel Theatre in the 2019/2020 season) and a scholarship holder of the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw.
In November 2019, the premiere of the monodrama Gombrowicz: 13th Philosophical Lecture performed by Swiss actor Carlo Brandt took place. In his text, Bukowski created an imaginary situation for Witold Gombrowicz’s last speech. The performance will be a part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of the outstanding Polish writer. The text has been translated into French, again, by Agnieszka Zgieb.
Sources: beniaminbukowski.com, e-teatr.pl, u-jazdowski.pl, lelampion.com, biennalewarszawa.pl, gnd.art.pl.
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