A theatre and film director, former Minister of Culture. Born on the 25th of March 1935 in Kamień Puławski. Her work is based on an extensive analysis of texts, her theatre focused on acting and she makes no secret of her passion for moralising.
A theatre and film director, former Minister of Culture. Born on the 25th of March 1935 in Kamień Puławski.
Cywińska graduated with a degree in ethnography from Warsaw University (1956), and in directing from the State Higher School of Theatre (PWST; 1966). She served as the general and artistic director at Poznań's Nowy Theatre for a lengthy period of time (1973-1989). In 1989 she was named Minister of Culture in the government led by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, where she remained for a year.
She debuted in 1965 with Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at the Węgierko Theatre in Bialystok. She subsequently directed plays at such theatres as the Współczesny Theatre in Warsaw, Ludowy Theatre in Nowa Huta, and Polski Theatre in Poznań, where her productions included Stanisław Wyspiański's Klątwa / The Curse (1969), Stefan Żeromski's Uciekła mi przepióreczka / My Little Quail Has Flown (1969), and Sophocles' Electra (1970).
She took over as director of the Bogusławski Theatre in Kalisz in 1970 for a three-year term, creating an ambitious theatre of high artistic standard. She surrounded herself with young, interesting artists, including Maciej Prus, Helmut Kajzar, and Jerzy Satanowski. During this period Halina Łabonarska and Wiesław Komasa debuted at the Kalisz theatre. She directed plays by Gabriela Zapolska (Moralność pani Dulskiej / The Morality of Mrs. Dulska, 1970; Ich Czworo/ Four of Them, 1972), giving them a fresher delivery, along with Russian plays, such as Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters (1972), and Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin's The Death of Tarelkin (1972).
Cywińska work was based on an extensive analysis of texts, her theatre focused on acting. She approached existential and social issues, mainly interested in the literature of the two inter-war decades, modernism, and Russian literature. She made no secret of her passion for moralising. Asked what topics she cared the most about, she said,
After graduating from drama school, existential issues were important, and perhaps I would have stayed with them, only my life fell on times of a violently changing reality. I was an aware participant in the events of 1956, 1968. I started working on strictly political theatre then. This lasted many years. The theme of responsibility also keeps returning like a boomerang.
When she became the general and artistic director of the Nowy Theatre in Poznań in 1973, managing it until 1989, developing one of the best theatres in Poland. It was an open-minded stage prepared for dialogue with its audience, socially committed. Again, she managed to hire great personalities to work with her. The Nowy Theatre collaborated with Janusz Nyczak, Janusz Wiśniewski, Wojciech Szulczyński, Edward Wojtaszek, Antoni Libera, and stage designers: Irena Biegańska, Kazimierz Wiśniak, Jerzy Juk-Kowarski, Andrzej Sadowski, and Krzysztof Pankiewicz. In Poznań her theatre became "very mature in terms of acting, mentally deeper, visually calm", wrote Bozena Frankowska.(Teatr, 10.07.1977). The first production she directed at the Nowy Theatre was Luigi Pirandello's The Mountain Giants (1973). She continued her social passion and staged Russian literature, including a new production of The Death of Tarelkin (1973), Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths (1974), Vladimir Mayakovsky's The Bathhouse (1978), Nikolai Gogol's The Inspector-general (1980). She also practiced political journalism in the theatre, staging Jerzy Grzymkowski's Wierne Blizny / Faithful Scars (1979), designed a production based on Polish poetry entitled Herody Polskie / Polish Herods (1980) as well as the account-settling production Oskarżony: Czerwiec pięćdziesiąt sześć / The Accused: June '56 (1981) based on the testimonies of witnesses of the June 1956 protests in Poznań. However, Cywińska also staged such works as Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz's Oni / Them (1975), Teresa Lubkiewicz-Urbanowicz's Wijuny (1976), Stefan Żeromski's Turon / The Skin of the Beast (1977), Karol Hubert Rostworowski's Judasz z Kariothu / Judas Iscariot (1981), and Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People (1982). Cywińska gradually moved away from everyday and psychological realism. Her directing style did not avoid powerful theatrical means of expression, she often prepared her productions in a neo-realist poetics.
Jacek Sieradzki wrote about this series of productions by Cywińska - The Mountain Giants, Them, The Lower Depths, and The Inspector-general- that the most general theme was the modern-day threats - of all kinds, sometimes unspecified, unclear, subconscious - to individual human values, this series of examples of striking staging was the opposite of light, easy, and pleasant aesthetics. The Nowy Theatre invited its audience to gloomy, black, bitter performances…
(Joanna Godlewska, Najnowsza historia teatru polskiego. Wprowadzenie, Wrocław 2001)
In the 1980's Cywińska often made adaptations of Polish prose, including Stanisław Dygat's Jezioro Bodeńskie / Lake Constance (1984), a play based on Witold Gombrowicz's Pamiętnik Stefana Czarnieckiego / The Memoir of Stefan Czarniecki and Dziewictwo / Meditations on Virginity (1986), Narzeczony Beaty / Beata's Fiance based on Adolf Rudnicki (1987), and Cmentarze/ Cemeteries based on Marek Hłasko (1988). She thus started to speak about the contemporary human condition through contemporary Polish texts. In 1993 she directed Janusz Glowacki's Antygona w Nowym Jorku / Antigone in New York at Warsaw's Ateneum Theatre, and in 2002, after almost 10 years away from the stage, she adapted Stefan Chwin's well-known novel Hanemann (Wybrzeze Theatre in Gdańsk).
In recent years she has directed almost exclusively for the Television Theatre - since 1968. Her projects for television include Ciemności kryją ziemię / Darkness Covers the Earth based on Jerzy Andrzejewski's novel (known in its English translation as The Inquisitors, 1986), Alexander Kopkov's Elephant (1987), Henrik Ibsen's Nora (1994), and also two productions based on the prose of Wiesław Myśliwski, Drzewo / The Tree (1998) and Dotknięcia / Touches (2001). Her most recent projects were Nikolai Kolada's Merylin Mongoł (2002) and Bar Świat (a selection from the volume of Bohumil Hrabal's short stories Inzerát na dům, ve kterém již nechci bydlet, 2003).
Cywińska staged Wasza Ekscelencja / Your Excellency based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Village of Stepanchikovo at the Współczesny Theatre (2006).
Izabella Cywińska does not want to report the story of Dostoyevsky's early novel. - wrote Jacek Sieradzki. - She wants to laugh, get even more angry with idolatry of the mediocrity; it seems she is irritated by this kind of behaviour in the times a way closer than 19th century in Russia. ("Przekrój" 2006, No. 8).
These topics of power and coming to terms with the past also come around in Cywińska's The Crucible written by Arthur Miller and staged at te Powszechny Theatre (2007).
From 2008 to 2011 Izabella Cywińska served as the artistic director of the Stefan Jaracz Ateneum Theatre in Warsaw, where she directed: Václav Havel's Leaving (2008) and Passions based on stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer (2008). Cywińska's last play staged at the Ateneum Theatre was God of Carnage, the most renowned play written by a French playwright Yasmina Reza. The performance was considered by the critics the best of Cywińska's stagings in Warsaw.
Cywińska staged also Matka i dziecko/Letni dzień / Mother and child/A summer day (2012, the Tadeusz Łomnicki Teatr na Woli in Warsaw) and two plays at the Polonia Theatre in Warsaw, including: Witold Gombrowicz's A Premeditated Crime (2012) and Nikolai Kolada's Baba Chanel (2013). A Premeditated Crime is a story about an investigation of the crime that has never happened. Agnieszka Moroz wrote in her review:
A Premeditated Crime is a play that proves the validity and universality of Gombrowicz's reflections. Not only pertinent in the way he depicts the viciousness of manipulation that affects us on a daily basis in mass media, politics, even fast food restaurants and supermarkets, but he also touches a very popular problem in the modern world – the taboo of death. (Dziennik Teatralny Szczecin magazine, 11.11.2014)
Later on, Cywińska directed Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (Teatr na Woli in Warsaw, 2013) oraz Hanna Krall's … coś jeszcze musiało być / … there had to be something else (The Jewish Theatre in Warsaw, 2015).
She also directed two television films, a TV series Boża podszewka / God's Lining (1997) based on a novel by Teresa Lubkiewicz-Urbanowicz, a family saga telling the history of the Vilnius region's inhabitants in the first half of the 20th century and Cud purymowy / Miracle of Purim (2000), a feature film about anti-Semitism deeply rooted among Polish people. Whereas on the big screen Cywińska directed a psychological film Kochankowie z Marony / The Lovers of Marona based on Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz's short story (2005). This adaptation takes place in the 60s presents human emotions in a contemporary and convincing manner. Karolina Gruszka, who played one of the leading parts, was awarded at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia.
In 2015 Izabella Cywińska wrote an autobiographical book Dziewczyna z kamienia / Girl of Stone, published by the Agora publishing house. It is an inspiring story about art, politics and love. She leads the readers through her world, starting with her childhood in Kamień Puławski and taking them to the political circles and on a backstage tour in 20th-century theatre. She writes about the book:
I decided to write about everything, good and bad things, those commonly known and never revealed before... Everything I remember, everything I have experienced, done...Everything I am ashamed and proud of.
I witnessed four periods. - I was born in landowning family, and ended in voluptous theatre. - laughs Cywińska in an interview for the Polish Radio.
Awards and honours:
- 1973 - 2nd prize at the 12th Kalisz Theatre Meetings, for directing Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin's The Death of Tarelkin at the Bogusławski Theatre in Kalisz;
- 1974 - Gold Cross of Merit; 1st prize at the 14th Kalisz Theatre Meetings, for developing the group aspects of Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera at the Nowy Theatre in Poznań
- 1976 - Medal of the National Education Committee; award at the 2nd Opole Theatre Confrontations, for directing Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz's Them at the Nowy Theatre in Poznań; award at the 17th Festival of Contemporary Polish Plays in Wrocław, for directing Teresa Lubkiewicz-Urbanowicz's Wijuny at the Nowy Theatre in Poznań
- 1977 - Award of the Minister of Culture and Art, second degree, for achievement in directing
- 1980 - Gold Badge For Service to the Białystok Region
- 1981 - 2nd prize in a Television Theatre competition at the 21st Kalisz Theatre Meetings, for directing Karol Hubert Rostworowski's Judas Iscariot and developing it for the stage
- 1986 - Award of the Chairman for Radio and Television for the production Darkness Covers the Earth based on Jerzy Andrzejewski
- 1987 - a special mention at the 26th Festival of Contemporary Polish Plays in Wroclaw, for directing Bogusław Schaeffer's play Zorza / Daybreak at the Nowy Theatre in Poznań
- 1989 - Knight's Cross of the Polonia Restituta Order; Award of the Minister of Culture and Art for great achievement in directing stage and television plays; 1st prize at the 15th Opole Theatre Confrontations, for directing Molière's Tartuffe at the Nowy Theatre in Poznań
- 1997 - 3rd prize at the International Television Festival in Plovdiv in Bulgaria, in the television play for adults category, for Piotr Bednarski's Piękno / Beauty
- 2000 - Willy Brandt Prize for the protection of human rights and the European Parliament's Special Prize for the film The Miracle of Purim at the Prix Europa International Film Festival in Berlin; Award of the National Broadcasting Council at the 25th Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, for the film The Miracle of Purim
- 2001 - Golden Nymph award at the 41st Monte Carlo Television Festival, for the film The Miracle of Purim; Wojciech for the 200th Jubilee statuette awarded on the 200th anniversary of the Bogusławski Theatre in Kalisz
- 2002 - Star of the Polish Television statuette awarded on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Polish Television for directing television films and Television Theatre performances;
- 2000 - Lithuanian State Award for achievements in developing political, cultural and social cooperation between Poland and Lithuania;
- 2006 - The Officer's Cross of Merit of the Lithuanian Republic – a national award for oustanding achievements in promoting political, cultural and social cooperation between Poland and Lithuania;
- 2008 - Title of the Honorary Citizen of the City of Kalisz;
- 2011 – Officer's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta awarded by the President of the Republic of Poland;
- 2013 – Tile of the Honorary Citizen of the City of Poznań as appreciation for her outstanding achievements and mertis for the city and the Polish culture.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, November 2004; updated November 2016 (ND).