Grzegorz Bral was born on 21st November 1961 in Gdańsk. He studied Polish philology at the University of Gdańsk, the Marie Curie University in Lublin and at the University of Wrocław. He was also a psychology student at the Catholic University of Lublin and read theatre studies at Warsaw's Theatre Academy.
Between 1987 and 1992, he was involved with the Centre of Theatre Practice in Gardzienice. Whilst there, he played the role of Tristan in the group's performance of Carmina Burana (1990). He was an active participant of the Centre's theatre workshops, which were held in conjunction with other theatre companies, such as the Royal Shakespeare Company and members of the American Living Theatre troupe. He also took part in expeditions conducted by the Centre – Bral visited the Ukraine, Italy, and Gotland, among other places.
Since 1990s, Bral has been working as a teacher of acting techniques all over the world. He has led acting workshops in England, Greece, Sweden, Ireland, and Singapore, among others. In Poland he has co-operated with the University of Warsaw, as well as with establishments in Wrocław: the Contemporary Theatre and the Jerzy Grotowski Institute, where along with workshops he also organised conferences devoted to the theatre anthropology.
Song of the Goat Theatre
In 1996, together with Anna Zubrzycka, the former lead actress at the Centre of Gardzienice, he created the alternative Song of the Goat Theatre (having begun in 1998, it was originally known as Tragon Theatre). Their theatre draws on strong artistic roots, researching European and Eastern musical cultures. Bral and Zubrzycka’s group also organises anthropological research expeditions, workshops, and educational programmes, including post-graduate acting studies. Song of the Goat Theatre is a branch of the Manchester School of Theatre at the Manchester Metropolitan University.
In 2005, the group started organizing the international Brave Festival. Bral is the art director of the event. As a theatre director, Bral reaches out to grand myths of various cultures and each of his productions is preceded by exploration of new forms of dramatic expression through which he can combine motoric, musical and verbal (including both singing and spoken word) elements.
BBC Interview with Grzegorz Bral director of Song of the Goat Theatre and LSPAP from maryam davari on Vimeo.
With his company, Bral has staged Euripides' Goat's Song (1998) based on the motifs of Euripides’s The Bacchae and including traditional songs from Greece and Albania. Chronicles of Mourning (2001) referred to the Epic of Gilgamesh; mourning songs became the axis of the performance. Lacrimosa (2005) based on the novel A Mass for Arras by Andrzej Szczypiorski, was the director’s meditation on the role and importance of scapegoats in culture. Bral has also prepared two versions of Shakespeare's Macbeth – he co-operated with actors from Poland, England, Wales, Scotland and Finland on Macbeth: A Work-in-Progress (2007) and with the Royal Shakespeare Company on Macbeth (2008). In this spectacle, relevant to many cultures, Bral was trying to reach the roots of the tragedy, putting particular emphasis on musical elements of Shakespeare’s poetry (the actors performed the text in the original version). He created a moving narrative about power, saturated with emotion. As Anna Tarnowska wrote for Gazeta Wyborcza:
If it’s possible to experience catharsis in a theatre today, then the performance by of the Song of the Goat Theatre is capable of bringing it. The actors play incredibly evocatively, purely, in fact – untheatrically, as nothing can be performed here. Here emotions need to be real. … This theatre proves that Shakespeare’s drama is an onomatopoeia whose words serve to evoke emotion through music, it’s birth of tragedy from medieval mystery plays, it’s Nietzschean spirit of music that accompanies this birth.
Grzegorz Bral has also worked on The Crucible, based on the motifs of the play by Arthur Miller. Similarly as in the case of the previous performances, the actors (coming from Poland, Russia, Scotland, England, Greece and Brazil) have been looking for accurate forms of movement that would be capable of conveying the senses of the dramatic work. They are trying to get words to assume a nearly physical character. From 2010 on, performances presenting the next stages of work on this spectacle have been taking place (the posters include the subtitle ‘work in progress’).
Bral has also directed a dramatic performance, namely Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O’Neill – a morality play performed on an empty stage and characterised by acute, psychological portraits of characters created by Anna Kerth, Dawid Żakowski, and Bogdan Koca (2009).
Between 2010-12, Grzegorz Bral was the artistic director of Warsaw’s Studio Theatre. When working for this institution, he also put working with actors first. His idea is to always turn each new staging into a revelation – for both the audience and the performers. In an interview for the Życie Warszawy magazine, he declared:
What matters to me the most is the dialogue with actors …, and bringing out the same energy that Meyerhold and Stanisławski were able to conjure. It’s a laborious, experimental process, whose effects don’t necessarily show up immediately.
On the stage of Studio Theatre, he realized Scenes from Ionesco / Ćwiczenia z Ionesco (2011). The performance comprised several short pieces based on excerpts from Ionesco’s plays, including The Chairs and The Lesson. In collaboration with Krzysztof Majchrzak (co-author of the screenplay), Bral managed to produce a series of scenes that exposed the absurd and grotesque embedded in the Romanian author’s oeuvre.
Acclaim at the Fringe
Songs of Lear - trailer from Song of the Goat Theatre on Vimeo.
In 2012 he directed Songs of Lear for the Song of the Goat Theatre. In it, he told the story of the King in the rhythm of Corsican energy and sounds, juxtaposed with Medieval Gregorian multi-voice chants, introducing oratories in the place of dialogues. The reviews after the international premiere of the performance, which took place at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, described it as a successful attempt at restoring the art of lamenting in Europe. The group left the Scottish Festival with three prestigious awards: the Scotsman Fringe First, Herald Archangel, and the Musical Theatre Matters Special Award. Songs of Lear also ranked first on The List’s list of all 3,000 Fringe theatre shows.
Return to the Voice from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Two years later, Bral returned to Scotland with another project: Return to the Voice. This chamber piece, featuring the renowned Polish singer Anna Maria Jopek, is dedicated to traditional Scottish songs, retrieved from the local music archives which the Theatre’s members studied on their field trips to Scotland. They went through hundred songs to eventually pick just over ten of them that formed part of the performance.
Majority of the melodies were composed by Maciej Rychły, who is a long-time collaborator of the group. While preserving the main musical theme of the songs, he transformed the univocal compositions into polyphonies – a form that is often employed by the Song of the Goat.
On July 1st 2016 the premiere of Crazy God took place. This time, Bral and the Song of the Goat Theatre decided to take up Shakespeare’s Hamlet and invite 17 artists from 14 countries, including Kuwait, Iran, Japan, USA, Norway and Finland, to co-operate. There unique talents were combined in the play. An opera singer, a drummer, a violinist, and dancers met on one stage. As Grzegorz Bral further explained:
Each of these young people has different experiences and adds something to the spectacle, at the same time enriching the arsenal of our means of expression. Crazy God is to be a spectacle, a show, including actors, music, movement, and even written word as an integral part of the scenography.
As one of the reviews had it:
… The heavy, iron scenography by Robert Florczak greatly contributed to the mood. Except for seventeen chairs, black and white visualisations were a part of the scenography – texts and words floated in the background. Another strong accent, three whirling circles, inspired by da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, appeared at the end.
2016 was also marked by a huge overseas success. One of the most important New York venues, Brooklyn Academy of Music, awarded Songs of Lear with a standing ovation. The group closed the year with the premiere of Island, a play inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and an old Icelandic tradition of narrating dreams to the dying. The play is a combination of polyphonic singing the group is famous for, and contemporary dance and movement (the choreography was created by the Spanish artist Iván Pérez). Alicja Bral is the author of the songs. The premiere took place on 1st December 2016.
Plays directed by Bral in the Song of the Goat Theatre:
- 1998 – Goat Song, based on The Bacchae by Euripides
- 2001 – Chronicles of Mourning
- 2005 – Lacrimosa based on Andrzej Szczypiorski’s novel A Mass for Arras
- 2007 – Macbeth. Work-in-progress
- 2008 – Macbeth by Shakespeare
- 2009 – Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O’Neill
- 2010 – The Crucile (work in progress) by Arthur Miller
- 2012 – Songs of Lear
- 2013 – Portraits of The Cherry Orchard
- 2014 – Return to the voice
- 2016 – Crazy God
- 2016 – Island
Distinctions and Awards:
- 2003 - Grand Prix for the important and beautiful group work conducted on the subject of love and death in the Song of the Goat's Chronicles - a Custom of Mourning. The festival director award and Wojciech statuette at the 43rd Theatrical meeting of Kalis;
- 2004 - Marshal award of the "Dolnośląsk" region in commemoration of the International Day of Theatre; Fringe First Award for Song of the Goat's Chronicles - a Custom of Mourning at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; the Award for the Authority of Wrocław in recognition of Song of the Goat's success at the Edinburgh Festival;
- 2005 - Awarded the Merit of National Culture;
- 2006 - special group award for Song of the Goat Theatre's Lacrimosa at the 46th Kalis Theatre Meetings; Wrocław Theatre Award for organizing the Brave Festival; Award for Song of the Goat Theatre for Lacrimosa at the 46th International Festival in Sarajevo.
- 2007 - Szczecin's Friends Association Award for Lacrimosa at the Small Theatrical Forms Festival "Kontrapunkt" in Szczecin
- 2009 - 2nd Prize in the Audience Plebiscite for Lacrimosa at the 36. Jelenia Góra Theatre Meetings
- 2011 - Crystal Mirror from the Zwierciadło magazine for the artisitc concept and creative production of the Song of the Goat Theatre; for reviving tradition and introducing it into the dramatic network; for artistic, organizational, and managerial talents resulting in the Brave Festival, workshops and performances; for the educational input.
March 2004; updated: September 2009, October 2014 AL (transl. AM), updated & translated by NS December 2016.