A playwright, director, essayist, translator.
Helmut Kajzar studied Polish Philology and Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. During his studies he was associated with Teatr 38, a student theatre. In 1969, Kajzar graduated from the Theatre Academy in Warsaw. At the end of the 1960s he made his debut as a professional director and a writer. In Wrocław, he directed two well-received graduate productions: Tadeusz Różewicz’s Śmieszny staruszek / The Funny Old Man at the Polski Theatre (1968) and Stanisław Wyspiański’s Bolesław Śmiały / Boleslaus the Bold with the stage design by Józef Szajna at the Współczesny Theatre (1969). Later he cooperated with such stage designers as Krzysztof Zarębski, Daniel Mróz, as well as Jerzy Nowosielski. In 1969, Kajzar wrote his first drama Paternoster. It was soon successfully staged by Jerzy Jarocki at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław (1970).
In the 1970s Kajzar taught workshops and directed theatre productions abroad, e.g. in Sweden, Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic. He presented contemporary Polish dramas, in particular Tadeusz Różewicz’s works. He staged Akt przerywany / The Interrupted Act in Göttingen (1972), Stara kobieta wysiaduje / The Old Woman Broods in Tübingen (1974), Śmieszny staruszek / The Funny Old Man in London (1977), as well as Sławomir Mrożek Policja / Police in Tübingen (1975). The director took part in International Theatre Workshops in Scheersberg where he showed Paternoster (1971) and Brzuch / Belly based on Stara kobieta / The Old Woman (1975), as well as in International Theatre Workshops in Gränna, Sweden. There, he prepared Witold Gombrowicz’s Ślub / TheWedding (1973), Stara kobieta wysiaduje / The Old Woman Broods (1974) and Wypadek i zdarzenie / Accident and Incident based on his own drama +++ (Trzema krzyżykami) / +++ (Signed With Three Crosses) (1975).
Kajzar was also interested in Fernando Arrabal’s and Luigi Pirandello’s dramas. In 1969, he showed the following Arrabal’s works at the Dramatyczny Theatre: Franciszka i kaci / Frances and the Executioners, Modlitwa / Prayer and Guernica. A year later at the Współczesny Theatre in Warsaw, he staged Pirandello’s Patent / Patent, Człowiek z kwiatkiem w ustach / The Man With the Flower in His Mouth and Kretyn i S-ka / The Imbecile. He also returned to Wyspiański’s works and directed his Sędziowie / The Judges at the Studio Theatre in Warsaw (1972). However Kajzar’s most important achievements are theatre productions of Różewicz’s plays and his own works. Kazjar and Różewicz were close friends and shared intellectual understanding. Kajzar was fascinated by his dramaturgy, of which he said that:
It requires an accuracy in terms of structure while gives full freedom of filling it with stage matter. ("Życie Warszawy" October 5, 1978)
Kajzar staged his first production of Różewicz drama in the early beginnings of his studies at the Theatre Academy. He directed a premiere of Akt przerywany / The Interrupted Act (1965) at the Warsaw student theatre STS. Two years later he showed Świadkowie albo nasza mała stabilizacja / The Witnesses, or Our Little Stabilization at the Śląski Theatre in Katowice, and subsequently his graduate performance – Śmieszny staruszek / The Funny Old Man (1968), which in 1970 he directed in Lublin, Kalisz (also Rajski ogródek / Paradise Garden) and Rzeszów. In 1977, Kajzar produced Odejście Głodomora / The Hunger Artist Departs at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław. He understood well the structure of Różewicz’s texts and was able to adapt it onto the stage. Similarly to his other theatre productions these were also characterized by poetics related to everyday experiences and a game of understatements.
There is something particularly intriguing in Kajzar's directing style – wrote Jan Kłossowicz in his review of "Odejście Głodomora / The Hunger Artist Departs" – some kind of a unique anti-aesthetics, avoiding "pretty" compositions and simple solutions, refraining from ending the scenes with obvious point, a kind of an apparent chaos, or even sloppiness, which is purposeful, risky and almost always successful. ("Literatura" March 17, 1977)
Stara kobieta/The Old Woman, a metaphor of the contemporary society, which the director produced abroad was also presented in Poland at the Narodowy Theatre in Warsaw (1978).
Aside Różewicz, Kajzar also valued such writers as Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet and Witold Gombrowicz. In his own works, Kajzar experimented with dramatic form. Paternoster and Rycerz Andrzej / Knight Andrew have a dialogue structure while Gwiazda / Star, Koniec półświni / The End of Half a Pig and Musikkraker are monologues, Samoobrona / Self-defence is a lyrical monologue in a form of a dialogue and +++ (Trzema krzyżykami) / +++(Signed With Three Crosses, Ciąg dalszy / To Be Continued and Włosy błazna / The Fool’s Hair have structures in which the voice is split. These quasi-monologues contain "foreign" voices of unknown characters. Kajzar explored the subject of human suffering and confusion often in a tragic and grotesque tone or in oniric poetics. In his works, Kajzar depicted the falseness of human beings. He analysed the process of "a life game", which includes continuous masks wearing and playing different roles. Kajzar's characters live in a disintegrated world, or perhaps chaos. Such a reality is in a sense "prolonged" in their insecure personality which seems to be put together out of distant personality elements and crippled consciousness. The human being is torn apart and functions between the down-to-earth matters and a longing for higher feelings. As his world slowly disintegrates, he disintegrates himself. Kajzar fiercely attacks contemporary reality, its cruelty, dehumanisation, and finally consumption. His texts are very personal. They include autobiographical and autothematic themes. Kajzar was brought up in a Protestant family. Later, he lived in big cities, travelled around many places, he got to know the Western world with all its benefits and drawbacks.
I was born and brought up on the borderland of countries, languages, cultures, war and peace. This feeling of being suspended in between is an inerasable stigma – said the artist. – Between the proletarian internationalism and nationalism, between cosmopolitism and provinciality, between Catholicism and Evangelism, between totalitarianism and democracy, between individualism and mass culture, between rebellion, hope for reconciliation and a cautious optimism. Between ... ("Kultura" 1972, No. 37)
The first of Kajzar’s works realized in Poland was Rycerz Andrzej / Knight Andrew staged in 1974 at the Studio Theatre in Warsaw. The production was criticised for its hermetism. The overwhelming amount of staging means accounted for the play’s incomprehensibility and lost meaning. The subsequent premieres of Kajzar’s own plays were +++ (Trzema krzyżykami) / +++ (Signed With Three Crosses shown at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław (1977) and the Narodowy Theatre (1979). The collage form and poetics of these shows corresponded to the style of student theatre productions directed by the artists of the Młoda Kultura/Young Culture circle. The author and director depicted reality through the prism of a psychiatric hospital in which patients are deprived of individualism. However, at the end of the day both doctors and patients seemed very similar. In 1979, Kajzar produced his most realistic text Villa dei Misteri at the Współczesny Theatre. It presents a middle-class home where people discuss everyday matters but
the trivial events and dialogues take on a tragic meaning because they are the only thing those people can do – wrote Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas. – And a tragedy, even if born out of an entanglement in trivial events, is not trivial anymore. ("Kultura" 1979, No. 40)
The director produced this play at the Narodowy Theatre (1982), where he earlier directed Obora / The Byre (1980). Kajzar approached his own dramas with great flexibility. He did not follow the text precisely. While directing the play, he added new ideas. The director did not repeat the performances but recreated them in new contexts. In his work, he referred to the concept of a theatre as an event which is part of a specific current context. Kajzar created the idea of "a meta-everyday theatre". As he admitted, this concept started to crystallize in a majority of his later dramas. In this way, he wanted to find a theoretical explanation and justification for his art. As Kajzar wrote:
I recall the three unities: time, place and action, and the tyranny of their aesthetics. In a meta-everyday theatre, "theatre" regains its ritual sense. I give back dignity and beauty, and finality, and ordinariness, and simplicity of heating milk, closing and opening doors, dressing and undressing oneself, looking through the window. Since now "theatre" is a place "in-between", just as stairs, hallway, or the Earth. It is ordinary. (…) Theatre of meta-everydayness is common and individual. It allows for a contact between independent individuals by means of what is social and common. It does not require giving up what is unique. It does not want to hurt, although it knows everything about pain and death." ("Teatr" 1997, No. 7–8)
As a result, Kajzar referred to Różewicz's theatre of everydayness. At the same time, he believed that staying in touch with the spectator while in theatre, one can reach the ritual and communal unity. In such a coexistence, one could try to search for the sacred meaning of our lives. However, Kajzar rejected the concepts of Jerzy Grotowski who was slowly leaving the theatre area. With his concept, being still in progress, Kajzar searched for an interpersonal understanding within the framework set by art.
Kajzar was the author of honest and original criticism regarding contemporary theatre such as Living Theatre, the theatre of Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor, Konrad Swinarski, Józef Szajna and Samuel Beckett’s works. He was also a translator of Peter Handtke, Franz Xaver Kroetz and Sophocles, whose works he directed in the beginnings of his career. At that time he staged Król Edyp / King Oedipus at the Jaracz Theatre in Łódź (1970) and Antigone at the Polski Theatre in Wrocław (1971). It was Antigone staged again at the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw (1982) which marked the end of his artistic career.
Recently, Helmut Kajzar’s dramas are rarely staged on the Polish stages. His most frequently directed play is Gwiazda / Star. Directors also use his transcript of Antigone. Piotr Lachmann produced Kajzar’s works at his Lothe Lachmann Videoteatr "Poza" Theatre in Warsaw and at such Warsaw theatres as Powszechny and Studio, and K2 Theatre in Wrocław. Kazjar’s plays were also directed by Andrzej Makowiecki and Jacek Orłowski on the stages in Wrocław, Marcin Jarnuszkiewicz at the Studio Theatre and Marek Fiedor at the Horzyca Theatre in Toruń. To celebrate the 20th death anniversary of Helmut Kajzar in 2002 , Wrocław hosted the "Kajzar dziś / Kajzar Today" Festival devoted to the artist’s output.
Distinctions and awards:
- 1969 – The 3rd Award for direction of Stanisław Wyspiański’s "Bolesław Śmiały / Boleslaus the Bold" at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław at the 9th Theatre Meetings in Kalisz
- 1977 – Distinction for direction of Tadeusz Różewicz's "Odejście Głodomora / The Hungry Artist Departs" at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław at the 18th Polish Contemporary Plays Festival in Wrocław;
- 1979 – The Silver Cross of Merit.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, February 2005.