Scenery Designer, born on 2 December 1930 in Katowice and died the 2nd of February 2012 in Warsaw.
Scenery designer who initially designed very painterly scenery, experimenting with color and texture. She designed in line with directors' concepts with a view towards creating cohesive productions.
fot. Edward Hartwig / Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe
Ewa Starowieyska graduated from the Stage Design Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 1956 and began working in theatre during the post-Stalinist 'thaw.' This period was marked by the appearance in Poland of avant-garde Western European drama and by the birth of a phenomenon known as the "Polish school of scene design," characterized above all by a dynamic and spectacular painterliness in scenery. Her professional debut came in 1959, when she designed the scenery for Ludwik Hieronim Morstin's Przygoda Florencka /An Adventure in Florence directed by Bronislaw Kassowski at the Wegierka Theatre in Bialystok. Soon afterwards she began working with exceptional directors Konrad Swinarski and Erwin Axer, providing the stage designs for their productions on stages in Poland and abroad. She also designed scenery for Zygmunt Hübner (Jean Genet's The Blacks at Warsaw's Athenaeum Theatre / Teatr Ateneum, 1961), Andrzej Lapicki (Françoise Sagan's The Castle in Sweden at the Contemporary Theatre / Teatr Wspolczesny in Warsaw, 1961), Ludwik René (Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Physicists, 1963, and Maxim Gorky's Summer Folk, 1964, both at the Dramatic Theatre / Teatr Dramatyczny in Warsaw), Andrzej Wajda (John Whiting's The Devils at the Athenaeum Theatre, 1963), Jerzy Kreczmar (Aleksander Fredro's Dożywocie / The Life Annuity at the Contemporary Theatre, Warsaw, 1963), Aleksander Bardini (Sean O'Casey's Red Roses for Me at Warsaw's Dramatic Theatre, 1964) and Jerzy Jarocki (Shakespeare's Cymbeline at the Stary Theatre / Teatr Stary in Krakow, 1967).
She first worked with Swinarski in 1960, designing the scenery for his staging of Ariano Suassuna's A Dog's Will at Warsaw's Athenaeum Theatre. This was followed by a collaboration on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Frank V at Warsaw's Dramatic Theatre (1962), Slawomir Mrozek's Zabawa / The Party and Czarowna noc / Enchanted Night at the Contemporary Theatre in Warsaw (1964) and Vladimir Mayakovsky's The Bedbug at the National Theatre / Teatr Narodowy (1975). The duo also worked together abroad, staging The Bedbug at the Schiller Theater in West Berlin (1965) and reviving Suassuna's play at the Züricher Schauspielhaus (1971).
Starowieyska developed a lasting professional relationship with Erwin Axer and Warsaw's Contemporary Theatre, where he was managing and artistic director.
"Enduring relationships between designers and directors make sense when the two can identify a path they want to follow together," Starowieyska would say years later. "This may be the only way to shape a personal style. For some reason, Strehler, Brook and Stein primarily work with a single designer. Only a series of joint explorations, victories and defeats can give rise to something singular." ("Teatr" monthly, 1990, no. 8)
She devised a highly innovative stage setting for Swinarski's staging of Bertolt Brecht's The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui at the Contemporary in 1962. This was followed by a period during which she worked independently, designing a series of important productions for Axer, including Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters (1963), George Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion (1964), Slawomir Mrozek's Tango (1965), Ernest Bryll's Po gorach po chmurach / Over the Mountains, Over the Clouds (1969), Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart (1969), Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz's The Mother (1970), Harold Pinter's Old Times (1972), Eugene Ionesco's Macbett (1972), Edward Bond's Lear (1974) and Ionesco's A Stroll in the Air (1967), a play the duo exceptionally premiered at Warsaw's Polish Theatre / Teatr Polski. As with Swinarski, she also worked frequently at theatres in German-language countries with Axer. The duo staged Mrozek's Tango (1966), Dürrenmatt's Portrait of a Planet (1969) and Witkiewicz's The Mother (1971) at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, as well as Thomas Bernhard's A Party for Boris (1973) and Samuel Beckett's Endgame (1976) at the Burghtheater in Vienna. At the Gorky Theatre in Leningrad, the duo staged Brecht's The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui (1963) and Jerzy Szaniawski's Dwa teatry / Two Theatres (1969).
Starowieyska initially designed very painterly scenery, experimenting with color and texture. One example was her design for Mary Stuart, based on rich colors and incorporating numerous tapestries.
"I actually started with very painterly things," the designer admitted. "Later, I developed an interest for space, and then began playing with architecture..." ("Teatr" monthly, 1990, no. 8)
Yet the text always remained her basis, and she designed in line with directors' concepts with a view towards creating cohesive productions.
"Striving to achieve an effect lies in the very nature of theatre. But true theatrical effects should clearly arise from a combination of all the production elements," Starowieyska claimed. "If something exceeds this realm, it becomes mere 'art for art's sake' and can justly be called showy. An intended effect must serve a purpose. Thus, even the most impressive superficial actions or means cannot hold their own for long and are easily unmasked." ("Teatr" monthly, 1977, no. 14)
The designer often looked to various art movements for inspiration, drawing on Impressionism, Surrealism, Pop Art, Abstractionism, and also employed the techniques and visual perception mechanisms of collage and Tachisme. Basic features of her work included functionalism and something that at first glance seemed a kind of ugliness. The latter granted a certain subtlety to her scenery, which only began "to work" during performances, yet did so without "forcing itself" upon viewers.
"All these designs," wrote Zenobiusz Strzelecki about The Physicists, The Three Sisters, A Life Annuity and Tango, "their architectural composition and functional layout, reflect not the slightest effort to recreate naturalistic interiors (...), no effort is made to shut oneself off from theatrical convention; to the contrary, the surrealistic sets' walls stand parallel to the footlights, there is a symmetry that customarily characterizes monumental architecture." (Z. Strzelecki, "Kierunki scenografii wspolczesnej," Warsaw, 1970)
Starowieyska spent the 1980s at Warsaw's Contemporary Theatre, working with Maciej Englert on plays like Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1983) and The Master and Margarita based on the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov (1987), which reflected the designer's efforts to broaden playing space. In the same period she worked with Axer on Thomas Bernhard's Histrionics, featuring an exquisite performance by Tadeusz Łomnicki (1990), and a number of Mrożek plays, including Wdowy / The Widows (1992), Milość na Krymie / Love in the Crimea (1994) and Ambasador / The Ambassador (1995). Beyond the Contemporary, Starowieyska produced designs for a number of Antoni Libera's productions of Samuel Beckett's plays, including Play and Krapp's Last Tape at Warsaw's Studio Theatre / Teatr Studio (1985), and Happy Days (1995), Waiting for Godot (1996) and Endgame (1997) at the Dramatic Theatre in Warsaw. Most recently, she designed the visuals for Zapasiewicz gra Becketta / Zapasiewicz plays Beckett, staged by Libera at Warsaw's Popular Theatre / Teatr Powszechny (2004).
The artist has also designed opera scenery, devising the sets for a number of Ryszard Peryt's stagings, including Krzysztof Penderecki's Czarna maska / The Black Mask at the Grand Theatre / Teatr Wielki in Poznan (1987), as well as Gioacchino Rossini's Moses in Egypt (1989) and Feliks Nowowiejski's Quo Vadis at the National Opera / Teatr Wielki - Opera Narodowa in Warsaw (1994).
Ewa Starowieyska has also worked in Polish Television Theatre and designed costumes for a number of films, including Andrzej Wajda's Popioly / Ashes (1965), an English-Yugoslav co-production directed by Wajda titled Gates to Paradise (1967) and Janusz Majewski's Lokis. Rękopis Profesora Wittembacha / The Bear (1970).
Awards and distinctions:
- 1963 - "Festival of Russian and Soviet Plays" in Katowice - 2nd prize for stage design of Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters directed by Erwin Axer at the Contemporary Theatre in Warsaw; distinguished by the Minister of Culture and Art for her participation in the stage design exhibition "Polskie dzielo Plastyczne w XV-leciu PRL / Polish Visual Art on the 15th Anniversary of The People's Republic of Poland"
- 1977 - Golden Cross of Merit
- 1989 - Poznan City Award (group distinction) for creators of the production of Krzysztof Penderecki's opera Czarna maska / The Black Mask directed by Ryszard Peryt at the Grand Theatre in Poznan
- 2001 - Award of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage for achievements in the year 2000
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, December 2005