Jan Klata is a theatre director and playwright, born in 1973. He is one of the most famous Polish theatre artists in recent years. He has produced over 30 shows in theatres in Wrocław, Gdańsk, Bydgoszcz, Kraków, Warsaw as well as Graz, Düsseldorf, Bochum and Berlin. He is the prize winner of the Passport of Polityka and the Konrad Swinarski Award.
Theatre director and playwright.
Table of contents: First productions | Working with classics | Political theatre | Blending forms and epochs | Focus on power struggle | Other works | Stary Theatre in Kraków | Awards
Klata studied directing at the Warsaw Theatre Academy, then moved to the State Theatre School in Krakow. He assisted Jerzy Grzegorzewski with La Boheme after Stanisław Wyspiański in the Warsaw Teatr Studio (1995), Jerzy Jarocki with Grzebanie (Burial) after Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz in Stary Teatr in Kraków (1996) and Krystian Lupa with Płatonow Wiśniowy i Oliwkowy (Cherry and Olive Platonov) after Anton Chekhov in the Kraków State Theatre School (1996).
Klata's first independent, professional staging was Nikolai Gogol's The Inspector General in the Szaniawski Theatre in Wałbrzych in 2003. One of the most interesting debuts of recent years and one of the most attention-grabbing performances of the season, it moved the plot from a 19th-century Russian province to the communist Poland of the 1970s. This gloomy yet funny, sneering and distinctly political staging focused on the moral decay of the Polish society of that time, but equally referred to the Polish realities of recent years. Klata used Wałbrzych's unemployed as extras and flashed photographs of post-1989 politicians, such as Lech Wałęsa and Andrzej Lepper. Roman Pawłowski noted that:
A real shock came with another scene added by the director. After the town folk had given bribes to Khlestakov, one of them, Dobczyński, calls on his son to say a poem. The boy, wearing a miner's hat, recites: "Who are you? - A little Pole". The naive, simple truths - love your country, give your life for it - sound like a most severe accusation in this hypocritical reality, especially that it is a child who accuses (Gazeta Wyborcza 2003 no. 89).
One month after The Inspector General Klata had another performance ready - Uśmiech grejpruta / Grejprut's Smile. It was based on his own text, a staging of which he had previously presented at a workshop during the 2002 Eurodrama Wrocław's Forum of Modern Drama. The play put on at the Teatr Polski in Wrocław, about a TV crew waiting in Rome for the moment of the Pope's death, exposed the world of the media and denounced the inner emptiness of young people who are cynical hostages of their careers. Like Klata's debut, this staging too grew out of his disagreement with reality. Klata says,
First comes rebellion. Defiance against the hypocritical reality, against all those supermarkets, sales, promotions and 'Las Ketchup', 'Tatu', against nonsense and falsehood. Young people look at things in a fresh, sometimes desperate, sometimes angry and malicious, yet valuable way ...Behind this anger there is despair, sadness, sorrow on the one hand and passion for change on the other. (Słowo Polskie 18th of April 2003).
Working with classics
In 2004, Klata put on André Gide's Le caves du vatican at Wrocław's Teatr Współczesny. Punctuated with references to the present day, this staging showed society to be superficial and to falsely profess its faith.
HAMLET von Shakespeare, Regie: Klata / Schauspielhaus Bochum (Trailer) from Schauspielhaus Bochum on Vimeo.
Klata's performance H after William Shakespeare's Hamlet was made for Teatr Wybrzeże in Gdańsk, and was played inside the Gdańsk shipyard. Klata says,
When, in the early 17th century Shakespeare wrote "something is rotten in the state of Denmark", he had his country, and not Denmark, on his mind. When I am reading it, I also think of my country. I was wondering where to locate Elsinor. It matters a lot what space you put it in. I went in the footsteps of that great man of the theatre, Stanisław Wyspiański, who wrote a fantastic study of Hamlet. He knew that space was essential in this drama. (...) He wanted it to be a place where the spirit of the nation, society, history, or whatever we should call it, focuses. In his times it was indeed the Wawel compound. To me such a perfect place is the Gdańsk shipyard with its Anna Walentynowicz overhead crane and its location close to the Three Crosses monument and to where the history of Europe and the world was made (Gazeta Wyborcza, Trójmiasto edition, 2nd July 2004).
Out of Hamlet Klata extracted the story of a generation: of the Prince of Denmark, Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He examined the attitudes of young people at a time of personal or political crises, the symbolic choice of the location of the staging providing the obvious background of Poland's newest history.
Klata became a powerful creator of modern political theatre. In 2004, he staged Córka Fizdejki/ Fizdejka’s Daughter based on Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz’s Janulka, córka Fizdejki/ Janulka, Fizdejka’s Daughter at Jerzy Szaniawski Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych. With reference to Witkacy’s text addressing the reconciliation between Poles and the Neo-Teutonic Knights, Klata recounts Polish accession to European Union from the perspective of an ordinary Polish citizen. He touched on national symbols and traumas, demonstrating that today they are often just empty gestures. The performance was a sort of diagnosis of Polish society’s attitudes and mind, sets juxtaposed with those of our neighbours.
The controversial Fanta$y, based on Juliusz Słowacki’s Fantazy and produced at the Wybrzeże Theatre in Gdańsk in 2005, intensified the debate on modern interpretations of the classics, and the limits directors should abide by in their interventions in such texts. Klata set the 19th-century drama in a housing development, and in his reading the piece was above all about money. For some, the performance was a straightforward diagnosis of Polish society in the era of wild capitalism, for others – a shallow and simplistic observation of reality.
His following performance, Nakręcana Pomarańcza/ Wound-up Orange, based on Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław, 2005) was a study of violence as well as a manifestation of the condition and morality of the modern human. In the next performance, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, based on Philip Dick’s sci-fi novel of the same name, Klata mainly elaborated on plots depicting a flat, shallow spiritual life, and religion treated as a form of narcotic. Klata’s theatre is not subtle; it recalls expressive posters drawn with a thick pencil. Due to the theatrical means he employs in his performances (such as mixing scenes, music, movement sequences, sound and light effects), he was called a theatre DJ. Objections towards The Three Stigmata concerned its abundance of motives and visual and sound effects which resulted in a chaotic staging. The director himself admitted that all following performances were his authored visions. Called remixes or covers, his theatre actions incorporate rebellion, which requires expressive means to be appropriately performed. To the accusations of distorting the classics, Klata replied:
Stroking and sugar glazing ulcers is nothing good. And that, in fact, was the belief of the desecration of the Great Authors of which I am constantly accused. That’s why I'm deeply convinced – although I could be wrong – that through my remixes of literature, for they are not versions played note by note, only through them, I remain loyal to the authors. Or at least, I would really like to. In spite of all appearances. (Politics, 30.01.2006)
Blending forms and epochs
In 2006, Klata directed another two performances – Weź, przestań / Come on, stop it, based on his own script, combined the conventions of cabaret and reportage, and depicted modern Polish society’s stratification and its understanding of patriotism; and Transfer! (Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław,) which was a living document about the post-war fate of uprooted Poles and Germans. The script was based on the accounts of victims of the tragic events. They also appeared on stage as actors. The painful unearthed memories of the amateur actors were accompanied by the rulers of this world who participated in the Yalta conference. Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt drew the new map of Europe, moving borders and people as if they were pawns.
A year later on the stage of Kraków's Stary Theatre, the director once again dealt with the classics and staged Oresteia by Aeschylus. Referring to pop culture iconography, Klata created a contemporary performance about people who love and hate; people who inflict pain and commit successive crimes and take vengeance; about people who, encaged in the cursed circle of death, cannot escape their fate.
Focus on power struggle
Klata’s next two productions addressed the subjects of power and social and historical mechanisms. The script for The Shoemakers at the Gates based on Shoemakers by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (2007, TR Warszawa), was written by the director in collaboration with the left-wing publicist Sławomir Sierakowski. The subject of power was illustrated with images drawn from the current political life. In a publicistic manner, the director showed a world deprived of any ideology, and people seized by impotence who can't make any change. While Shoemakers was criticized for being just banal political satire, Sprawa Dantona/ The Danton Case by Stanisława Przybyszewska (2008, Polish Theatre in Wrocław), which followed the convention of farce, was well received and described as lively, interesting theatre. This time, Klata staged the performance in period costumes, with no current political references. It concerned the impossibility of revolution, and politics lacking ideals and employing ruthless manipulation.
According to Klata, the French Revolution was primarily the moment of the birth of the modern, all-encompassing populism of today’s politicians – wrote Aneta Kyzioł. – The best scene in the performance is when Danton seduces the delighted crowd (meaning us, the audience) with beautiful-sounding platitudes, disco, and sensual dance, and draws us to sing La Marseillaise. (Polityka, 2008, No. 15)
The following performance, Witaj / Żegnaj (Hello/ Bye), was based on a project by American author Suzan Lori Parks, who wrote one play each day over the period of one year. The collection of texts is titled 365 Days/365 Plays. Hello/ Bye, performed at a breathtaking pace on a revolving stage by actors playing brilliantly in terms of technique, was a depiction of today’s fragmented world and our perception of reality, which we discern in a fractured and thoughtless manner.
The performance which recreates our ways of involvement in the world today is so sincere that it becomes unbearable. But maybe this is its main value. – wrote Joanna Derkaczew (Gazeta Wyborcza, 2008, No 236)
Two of Klata’s performances have been recorded for TV: Inspector General by Gogol (2005) and H. (2006).
Klata also directed the following: Trylogia/ Trilogy by Henryk Sienkiewicz at the National Stary Theatre in Kraków (2009), Szajba/ Loose Screws by Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk and Ziemia obiecana /The Promised Land by Władysław Reymont at the Polski Theatre in Wrocław (2009). In 2010, his productions included: Shoot / Get Treasure / Repeat at the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus, Wesele hrabiego Orgaza /The Wedding of Count Orgaz at the National Stary Theatre in Kraków, Kazimierz i Karolina / Kazimierz and Karolina at the Polski Theatre in Wrocław. At the same theatre, Klata directed Utwór o Matce I Ojczyźnie / A Piece on Mother and The Fatherland by Bożena Keff (2011), and at the Schauspielhaus Bochum he staged America by Franz Kafka, and at the Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz – Szwoleżerowie / Polish Light Cavalry by Artur Pałyga.
In March 2013, Klata staged another play in Germany. Hamlet was produced in collaboration with the actors of Schauspielhaus Bochum and artists from Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław – stage desinger Mirek Kaczmarek and choreographer Maćko Prusak.
young polish theatre directors
Stary Theatre in Kraków
On 1st January, 2013, Klata was appointed Director of the National Stary Theatre in Kraków, where he directed Do Damaszku / To Damascus inspired by the prose of Arthur Strinberg. It gained notoriety due to protests against it by right-wing circles. The production, in which Justyna Wasilewska, Dorota Segda and Krzysztof Globisz performed, inaugurated the Year of Konrad Swinarski.
In 2014, the Polski Theatre in Wrocław staged Termopile polskie /Polish Thermopylae by Tadeusz Miciński directed by Klata. It was a political account of glory and disgrace in the history of Poland. The premiere was held on the 223rd anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of May 3.
Jan Klata is also the winner of the prestigious Golden Yorick Prize given to the best Polish staging of Shakespearean plays. The jury chaired by Jacek Kopciński acknowledged the originality and bold staging idea for King Lear, a show performed in the National Old Theatre. Klata reinterpreted the Shakespearean tragedy and relocated it to the Vatican's dungeons, again inviting the audience to join the debate on an important social issue: spiritual power and the Catholic Church today.
The titular character is the Pope, who is distributing his wealth amongst his daughters. In the jury’s justification we read, that ‘Klata has raised fundamental questions concerning the source of human authority on Earth, the possibility of a pope’s abdication, who exercises his duties due to a divine bestowment as well as the spiritual aspect of a king’s death, who in this show is the Pope’. Michał Centkowski from dwutygodniku.com was impressed by the monumental scenography, authentic costumes, choreography. He also complimented the cast:
King Lear reigned the stage in Jerzy Gałka’s costume, struggling with his departure, dependence on others, desperately holding on to illusions, slipping into madness – downright hypnotizing in the scene when he encounters Edgar (Krzysztof Zawadzki) and the judgement of his detestable daughters. Jaśmina Polak is also memorable, her jester is a refuge of authenticity in the world of cynicism and deception.
- Award for directing at the 3rd Festival of Premieres in Bydgoszcz for "the attempt to develop a special language of the theatre" in the staging of André Gide's Le caves du vatican at Wrocław's Teatr Współczesny
- Grand Prix (Złamany Szlaban) at the 15th No Frontiers International Theatre Festival in Cieszyn for the staging of Nicolay Gogol's The Government Inspector at the Szaniawski Theatre in Walbrzych.
- Złamany Szlaban Award and the Ministry of Culture Award at the 16th Bez Granic Theatre Festival in Cieszyn for staging of Fizdejko’s Daughter by Witkiewicz at Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych
- Award for best young artist at the 15th Kontakt International Theatre Festival in Toruń for directing Fizdejko's Daughter by Witkiewicz at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych
- Individual award at the Competition of Theatrum Gedanense Foundation for the best staging of dramatic works by William Shakespeare in Poland in 2004/2005, for staging of H at the Wybrzeże Theatre in Gdańsk
- Audience Award for best performance of the season 2004/2005 at the Festival of Wybrzeże Theatre in Gdańsk for staging of H based on piece by William Shakespeare
- Wrocław Theatre Award for staging of Wound-up Orange based on A CLockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław;
- Award for directing and music arrangement at the 30th Opole Theatre Confrontations for staging of Fizdejko’s Daughter by Witkiewicz at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych
- Juror Award (Mikołaj Grabowski) at the 7th Interpretacje National Directing Festival in Katowice for directing Inspector General by Nikolai Gogol at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych
- Winner of Polityka's Passport in the theatre category.
- Best Performance award bestowed by the audience of the 13th National Festival of Pleasant Plays and Unpleasant Plays in Lódź for staging of Transfer! by Dunji Funke and Sebastian Majewski at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław
- Marshal's Office Award for the best performance of 2006 at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław for staging of Transfer!
- Award in the Television Theatre category at the 1st Visionica Prix Festival in Wrocław for staging of H. (TV production- Katarzyna Adamik)
- Grand Prix and Young Artist Award in the curtain (history) competition at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław at the 6th Premiere Festival in Bydgoszcz for staging of Transfer!
- Wroclaw Theatre Award for staging Transfer! at the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław;
- Grand Prix at the 33rd Polish Classics Opole Theatre Confrontations for staging of The Danton Case by Stanisława Przybyszewska at the Polski Theatre in Wrocław
- Konrad Swinarski Award for directing The Danton Case at the Polish Theatre in Wroclaw
- Wrocław Theatre Award for consistency in building original theatrical language.
- Grand Prix and Young Artists Award at 8th Premiere Festival in Bydgoszcz in the category of "most interesting performance" for staging of Trilogy at the Stary in Kraków
- Grand Prix and award for directing and script at the XXXIV Opole Theatre Confrontations for staging of Trilogy at National Stary Theatre in Kraków
- Conrad Laurel and Audience Award for The Danton Case at Polski Theatre in Wrocław at 11th Interpretacje National Festival of Directing in Katowice
- Marshal of Lower Silesia Award on the occasion of International Day of Theatre for the best performance of 2008 for The Danton Case
- Grand Prix for staging and Award for directing at MFT KONTAKT in Toruń for The Danton Case
- First Award at the 35th Polish Classics Opole Theatre Confrontations for The Promised Land staged at the Polski Theatre in Wrocław
- Award for best directing at 4th DIVINE COMEDY International Theatre Festival in Kraków for The Piece for Mother and the Homeland;
- Award for best staging at International Festival of Pleasant and Unpleasant Plays for The Piece for Mother and the Homeland
- Marshal of Lower Silesia Award in the category best performance of the year for staging The Piece for Mother and the Homeland
- Golden Yorick Prize for King Lear in the National Old Theatre in Kraków
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, November 2004, updated October 2014, transl.GS, 14.10.2014, update by ZW September 2015