Jolanta Janiczak is one of the most interesting and prolific young female dramatists working in Poland today.
She has worked as a dramaturg adapting texts for the stage and as a playwright of original texts. Almost all of her work as a writer has been made in collaboration with her husband, the director Wiktor Rubin. Like the other Polish theatre power couple, Paweł Demirski and Monika Strzępka, their collaboration has produced a large and diverse body of work in a very short time.
My husband and I have a great understanding between each other. I write at night, and often don’t finish until 6 in the morning. I can only write at night, in the day I hear everything...
Jolanta Janiczak was born in 1982 and grew up in a small village in the Tatry mountains near Zakopane in the southernmost part of Poland on the border with Slovakia. This area of Poland is the home of the Highlanders, or Mountain People, one of Poland’s several unique folk subcultures. After the collapse of communism in 1989 her father left Poland to work in the United States while her mother stayed behind and worked. She spent most of her childhood with her grandparents who were to have an important impact on her development as an artist.
My grandfather was something of a prophet for me. He would read the bible and the lives of saints to me for many hours and we constantly discussed religious subjects. He was a born storyteller and also told me many tales about his experience as a soldier during the second world war. He gave me a special vision of the world: that people have a desire to goodness - and that when they do bad things, it is because it is the only way to express their powerlessness.
Her grandparents were also passionate folklorists, and every weekend people from the village gathered at their home to sing traditional songs and play the violin.
They were looking for something in music, to be closer to nature, the mountains, god and each other.
Despite the rich social life at her grandparents home, Jolanta was driven by a need for solitude. She spent much of her free time alone wandering in the mountains and forests where she was free 'to create alternative realities and lives where everything is possible.' When she was older, her father brought her to the United States to spend her summers in a small town in New Jersey not far from New York City. She often took the train and explored the big city, visiting museums and attending cultural events, but it was the intense diversity of the people there that proved to be the greatest inspiration.
New York is fast, its the most alive city in the world. The contrast is extraordinary, and I believe that contrast is the most important thing for an artist to experience. That, and diversity, but in Poland one has to leave to find it. It was the great blessing of the end of communism for my generation to be able to travel and experience otherness.
As a teen, Jolanta attended drama high school and nurtured an ambition to become an actress. When she turned nineteen she auditioned for the state school for acting in Kraków but was rejected. After several more tries, and more rejections (and time at a private acting academy), she set aside her dream of becoming an actress and went to the University of Kraków and where she studied psychology. During this time she also wrote poetry and short stories, material that would later find its way into her dramas. While studying at the university, she met her future husband and collaborator, the theatre director Wiktor Rubin, and began her first projects as a dramatist.
Her debut was with an adaptation of Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind at the Polski Theater in Bydgoszcz in June of 2007, directed by Wiktor Rubin. This was followed by a string of successful adaptations of novels and texts including works by Marek Hłasko (The Second Killing of a Dog), Bolesław Prus (Doll), Michel Houellebecq (Elementary Particles), and Pier Paolo Pasolini (Orgy).
In 2010, she was commissioned for the first time to write an original piece by the Artistic Director Sebastian Majewski at the Theater in Walbrzych that became James Bond: Pigs Do Not See The Stars. This subversive and feminist takedown of the James Bond myth has the archetypical womanizing spy ritualistically murdered by a group of Arab women. This project opened a wellspring of new thinking and energy that would see her write and stage in collaboration with Wiktor Rubin nearly three texts per year for the next five years.
Her next play, Joanna the Mad, Queen, was based on the life of the 15th Century Spanish Queen Juanita De’Loca who, as legend has it, spent a year living with her beloved husband’s corpse before being removed from power by her family under the claim of madness.
This piece opened a door for me to talk about the problems of women in our times in dialogue with history while at the same time trying to be absent from feminism and traditional historical discourse.
In 2011 she was awarded a prize at the international theater festival Divine Comedy for Joanna the Mad, Queen, and was also nominated to the prestigious 'Gdyńska Nagroda Dramaturgiczna', Poland’s most important drama competition.
Her next play tackled one of history’s most formidable women, Catherine the Great, exploring the life of the great Empress of Russia who sacrificed everything for her career. This production was an important critical success and together with the earlier Joanna the Mad, Queen was awarded with the prestigious Polityka Passport Prize in 2013.
In 2014, she wrote Towianists: Kings of the Clouds for the National Stary Theatre in Kraków about Andrzej Towiański and his impact on Polish romanticism and poetry, as well as emigration and the politics of the 19th Century. Then, after visiting the city of Detroit in the United States she wrote Detroit: Story of the Hand in response to seeing the ruins of the once powerful city. The piece had its premiere at the Polski Theater in Bydgosz directed by Wiktor Rubin. In 2014 she also worked on the Wielkopolskie Revolution Project, where she made a theatre installation in a nursing home.
In 2014, she received the 'Młoda Polska' scholarship for writing The Gorgova Case, a play about one of Poland’s most sensational pre-war trials involving a young Croatian woman in the city of Lviv who murdered the daughters of her Polish lover. This piece was presented at the National Stary Theater in Kraków.
Looking ahead, her current projects include a play about another powerful and disturbing women in the historical figure of Elizabeth Batory, a Hungarian noblewoman who was accused of having murdered six hundred virgins in a bid to stay young forever (September 2015). She is currently doing field research for a new project on the avant garde in New York in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a city and era that also knew a thing or two about staying up all night.
Author: Paul Bargetto, July 2015