Jerzy Zoń is an actor and director, whose work emerged as that of a pioneer of Polish student theatre. As the co-founder and leader of Teatr KTO, he has authored numerous visually vibrant open-air performances. Zoń is the chief coordinator of the International Street Theatre Festival held annually in Kraków.
Actor and director. His work emerged as that of a pioneer of Polish student theatre.
Zoń, born in 1953, graduated from the Polish literary studies department of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. In the mid 1970s, he worked as an actor at the Teatr STU, then, in 1981, at the Lalki i Maski „Groteska” Theatre in Kraków. In 1979 he began running Teatr KTO, a company made up of students that began working together two years earlier. He soon took up directing the company’s productions, and following their initial plays on the stage, the company moved on to peform outdoors. Until now, the group has performed in over 250 cities around the world. In a talk with Marta Groffik, Jerzy Zoń thus commented on his work:
I build everything with images. The imagination must be opened. Anyone can light a fire, it’s more important to know how to put it out. (...) Speaking doesn’t interest me, we don’t really talk at all. Because of this, I am very careful about the selection of music. In my productions, the music is tended to, chosen, precised, cut into pieces and mounted back on. I really care about this. (...) The premiere showing is a very important event, because it is the first contact and confrontation of the piece with the audience. You get everything ready and then you test it, you look and you sense the viewers out. I close my eyes, and I already know if it is a good show – I don’t have to look.
Throughout the course of his career, Zoń perfected the form of his open-air endevours. Some of the texts he has adapted in these projects include Apokryf / The Apocriphe by Bogdan Rudnicki (1991), Zapach czasu / The Scent of Time based on the texts of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Huga Claus and Emil Zegadłowicz (1997), Mazepa by Julisz Słowacki (2001). In the performance entitled Fahrenheit 451. Projekt pierwszy, Zoń took up the text by Ray Bradbury and staged a scene of literally burning books (2005). In 2007, he took up Don Kichote in a play entitled Quixotage, and in 2010, he based The Blind on Jose Saramago’s acclaimed novel, Blindness. In 2013 he produced The Pormised Land.
All of Teatr KTO’s street shows engaged numerous performers and employed circus elements, as well as dance and music to create telling poetic images and scenes. The KTO theatre conquers the streets and corners of numerous cities across the world, and it frequently travells to international theatre festivals. The company has shown their work in Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Potrugal, Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, Brasil, Columbia, South Korea and Iran. In 2005, Zoń’s company headed to Edinburgh with a production based on the life and work of Bohumil Hrabal, Sprzedam dom, w którym już nie mogę mieszkać / I will sell the house that I can no longer live in. This bitter and moving play depicted solitude and the fraility of a passing life. In her 2001 review of the play for the Dziennik Teatralny thetare journal, Magda A. Jasińska stated:
(...) It is a piece of captivating and beautiful Hrabalian reality, devoid of words. The performance’s phenomen lies in the fact that the writer’s presence can be sensed in each minute of the play, in spite of the fact that not a single word of his quoted throughout its duration.
Zoń continues to pursue on-stage productions, alongside the open-air performances. Apart form the play about Hrabal, in 2008 he directed a performance Ostatnia godzina (The Last Hour), in which he portrayed the figure of Leo Tolstoy.
Jerzy Zoń has also experienced working in an institutionalised theatre. Between 1989 and 1995 he was the artistis director of the Cyprian Kamil Norwid Theatre in Jelenia Góra. During this time, Zoń implemented a new trend in the theatre’s repertoire, staging somewhat grotesque productions. Some of the titles staged in Jelenia Góra throughout this period include Venedict Yerofeyev’s Walpurgi’s Night, Monachomachia by Ignacy Krasicki and Bogdan Rudnicki’s Kontredans.
Since 1995, the director is in charge of the International Street Theatre Festival in Kraków. He frequently directs special-occasion showings, which commemorate and celebrate such historic dates as Poland’s entry into the European Union, or the 25th anniversary of the legendary Solidarność movement.
In September 2014 Zoń directed a chamber piece Chorus of Orphans, which took part in a prestigious competition at the Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival in Kraków. As the director says, the performance is a theatre play with an orchestra, solo sopran and actors, which is inspired by Guy Croussy's Le Loup Cervier. It is a story about loneliness, growing up and childhood spent in a pos-war orphanage in northern France. Zoń and his team transferred the novel to a poetical and moving language of body and movement. With no words. All the emotions expressed by bodies.
The performace brings togther a traditional Bolivian song with famous 3rd Symphony op. 36 by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs in three parts), which launched an internetional career of the composer. A group of orphans and their two grim supervisors can be watched by the audience from both sides, and the centre of the stage is dominated by a chairlike construction. Jerzy Zoń in one of the interviews explained:
The oprhans want to sit by one table, to feel like a family. This is their aim. The table here plays also a symbolic role. Is there anyone who eats dinners together with others aprat from festive dinners? It used to be a ritual, a reason to meet up, to exchange thoughts, to punish or praise children. I hope it will return one day. Yet there is need for warmth, empathy, maintaining ties. For now, we are delighted with this rushing world, but it is going to pass, because we see clearly that it leads us nowhere.
In 2015 another production of the KTO theatre premiered. It was Peregrinus, a theatre production inspired by poetic works of T.S. Eliot and projects by Krzysztof Wodiczko, a Polish visual artist working in photography and video art. For the first time it was presented at the Biennale Nederland in Germany. Later it was also presented in Croatia, England, Germany, Iran, Italy, Lithuania, Romania and Russia. In Poland the performance was the main and long awaited event of the International Street Theatre Festival in Kraków.
The show depicts a day in the life of a man in the 21st century, his search for meaning in the world dominated by digitisation and consumptionism. Although the performance deprived of words, it is illustrated by the whole spectrum of music – from classic pieces, film music, to rap and pop songs. Paweł Wrona writes:
Submitting to new trends, loss of moral values, breakdown of the social ties and focus on profits are the most common symptoms of contemporary journey the growing part of society takes part in. Through their Peregrinus happening, the KTO theatre puts a mirror between the reality created and its results. The picture they build is a sad and quite painful reflection of contemporary religion called consumptionism. („Człowiek wędrowny”, Teatralia.com.pl)
The same year, Zoń directed Neomonachomachia, based on Monachomachia/ Monachomachia.War of the Monks by Ignacy Krasicki (1778) and adapted by Bronisław Maj. The performance was presented on streets of Kraków during the Night of Poetry.
- 1987 – The Order of Merit in the Service of Culture;
- 1992 – The Buława Hetmańska Award for the performance of Apokryf / The Apocriphe by Bogdan Rudnicki produced by the KTO theatre at the 17th Zamojskim Lecie Teatralnym / 17th Zamość Summer Theatre;
- 2001 - The Silver Cross of Merit;
- 2012 – nomination to the Total Theatre Award at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.
Update: July 2016 (ND)