Despite her young age, she has to her credit theatre plays often staged in Poland and abroad – including a controversial story about a Solidarność activist who changes his gender, a monodrama depicting a child’s experience of the invasion of consumerism and a psychoanalytical story about the faults of a father/hunter.
Writer, dramatist and author of adaptations.
Ciała obce (Foreign Bodies)
The action of the play starts in the 1980s and all of its characters are members of the clandestine anti-communist movement – which means that they conspire, drink and get hysterical. Ciała Obce (Foreign Bodies) is the story of a Solidarność activist, Adam who changes his sex years after the political transformation and becomes Ewa Hołuszko.The play aimed to present the ethics of the democratic underground movement which was composed of courage, heroism, Catholicism and manhood. It didn’t become apparent until many years later that these virtues were at some points contradictory. It strikes back in the present day when the heroine, after her gender reassignment, faces a lack of understanding from her loved ones, and her opposition activity is gradually erased from history.
Foreign Bodies earned the Gdynia Drama Award for Julia Holewińska (to date she is the youngest winner ever) but also aroused huge controversy. It was attacked from both sides. The former opposition accused it of being offensive and attempting to mock their movement. Even Ewa Hołuszko had doubts concerning the way her story was presented. Some people had the impression that Holewińska used the intimate story of her heroine in an objective way, to express her own beliefs. She explained that her intention – apart from deconstructing the myth of Solidarność – was to show an appreciation for things which don’t fit into mainstream narration:
It is not only brave, young boys who make revolutions. For too long it has only been for the righteous, strong men to pin medals on each other’s chests. It should be no longer be so. (Gazeta.pl)
This controversial play about Polish martyrdom was the beginning of the brilliant career of Holewińska. In the subsequent three years her Foreign Bodies were staged in Ireland, Spain, Germany and Poland (Teatr Wybrzeże Gdańsk, directed by Kuba Kowalski). Foreign Bodies also made it to the finals of StueckeMarkt 2012, one of the most important European theatre contests. The radio play based on Holewińska’s script (produced for National Radio Programme III) won the bronze medal at the European festival of public broadcasters Prix Europa in the radio drama category.
Bodies – before and after
During her studies, Holewińska wrote plays entitled Wodewil (Vaudeville) and Zina. The first one, in the form of a singspiel, talked about a relationship crisis, the other one took up the topic of the position of a woman in a patriarchal, exotic society, fitting strongly in feminist discourse.
After the success of Foreign Bodies, Holewińska wrote a one-act play, 12/70, on the commission of a theatre in Barcelona. It is a story which depicts a little girl's fear caused by her powerful father. The action takes places by the father’s deathbed and the animals he had killed haunt him. The play was staged in 2011 in Sala Beckett and was translated into English and German. In Poland it was recently published in Notatnik Teatralny (Theatrical Notebook) magazine.
Baloon Revolution (90' are comnig back) TEASER of Julia Holewińska play from Aleksander Bierzanek on Vimeo.
In the monodrama Rewolucja balonowa (Balloon Revolution) – which appears to be Holewińska’s most private text - she tried to challenge the phenomenon of the experiences of present day thirty-something-year-olds.
When they were 5 or 10 years old, they saw the world go crazy. They saw their parents leaving their previous jobs, hanging the key to their houses on their children’s necks and getting obsessed with money. With slogans like ‘Freedom and Democracy” they started working for corporations – wrote Joanna Derkaczew in Wysokie Obcasy.
Holewinska says that an important thing about her writing is her trying to write something serious and comical at the same time. She is still unsure of her talent:
Every time I fight with myself, I have a feeling that I can’t write at all… - she says.
The direction of her career in the world of theatre was decided when she watched plays by Warlikowski (Cleansed/Oczyszczeni) and Lupa (Erasing/Extinction). To date, they remain her major inspirations.
Working on the Stage
Holewińska loves to work on the stage. As a playwright she cooperates with Kuba Kowalski on a regular basis: she engages in the work with actors, he intervenes in her writing process – they often write together and then reprocess text during rehearsals. In this artistic tandem they created Foreign Bodies as well as a few adaptations: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams (for Polski Theatre in Poznań, 2011), Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (for Studio Theatre in Warsaw, 2012), Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca (for Wybrzeże Theatre, Gdańsk), Dolce Vita inspired by Fellini's film, Różewicz's Kartoteka and Ginsberg's The Howl; Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (for Juliusz Osterwa theatre in Lublin, 2015) and Scarlet Petal and White by Michel Faber (for Studio Theatre in Warsaw, 2016). When, on the occasion of the latest of these premieres, she was asked to describe the type of theatre they create together, she said:
I don't know if we should be answering this question. What I can say, watching how Kuba works, is that it's actor's theatre in the best meaning of this word. The meeting is always important to us. To me, as a playwright, the language is also important, often placed somewhere between the grotesque and the solemn. ("Co Jest Grane", 13.05.2016).
One of her recent plays Ziemia niczyja (Niemands Land), written together with German playwright Lothar Kittstein approaches Polish-German relationships from the perspective of present day young people. According to the authors, no man’s land – the land of unforgiven faults and forgotten people’s lives – still separates Poland and Germany, despite integration into Europe. The German premiere took place on 28th of November 2012.
contemporary polish dramaturgy
In 2013 Julia Holewińska wrote a play about an outstanding Polish columnist and feminist of the interwar period, Irena Krzywicka entitled Krzywicka/Krew (Krzywicka/Blood)
Krzywicka is a fascinating figure – says Holewińska. – She lived almost one hundred years. She is intriguing, because she is ambivalent. Beside her liberal beliefs which made her popular (she was Boy-Żeleński’s lover), she had her dark side – especially in 1950s, when her commitment to communism often turned into rather abominable things. On the other hand her fight for her children was truly dramatic (one of her sons died, the other one was sick for many years).
The play Krzywicka/Krew reached the final of the Gdynia Drama Award in 2013. In the Polish Radio Theatre it was directed by Dobrosława Bałazy, and in Helena Modrzejewska Theatre in Legnica - by Alina Moś-Kerger (2016).
Julia Holewińska wrote great monologues for her protagonists. Their tone is shimmering - liricism borders with brutal honesty, dramatism with comedy. The fact that this potential could be fully realized in Legnica, is an accomplishment of six actresses. They appear in a minimalist scenography, in identical beige dresses, and Katarzyna Kostrzewa's choreography turns them into inert dolls, who come to life when they start speaking. There are no weaker roles nor weaker moments here - praised Magda Piekarska ("Gazeta Wyborcza Wrocław").
In 2015 a co-production between Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych and WARSawa theatre entitled Good Night Cowboy premiered. It is based on another text by Holewińska and Kowalski. A story of a young man who decides to sell his body to strangers was inspired by Gus Van Sant's film My own private Idaho, Rosa von Praunheim's book Die Jungs von Banhof ZOO, as well as records by Patti Smith and Lou Reeda.
The drama Granice / Borders was staged in Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz by Bartosz Frąckowiak (2016). The play raises the controversial subject of European migration policy - the base on which the stage reality was built was the map of migration prepared by the Frontex agency. On the theatrical board game characters such as the Baby's Body, Border, Lex Frontex, the Fugitive and the Artist play.
Plays (as author)
- Zina, Wodewil - 2011
- 12/70 (dir. Thomas Sauerteig, Sala Beckett, Barcelona 2011; Steanie Hoster, Deutschlandradio 2013)
- Rewolucja balonowa / Balloons' Revolution (dir. Sławomir Batyra, Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw 2011; John Currivan, Theatre Upstairs, Dublin 2013),
- Ciała obce / Foreign Bodies (dir. Kuba Kowalski, Wybrzeże Theatre 2012; Paweł Wodziński, Teatr Polskiego Radia 2011; Lianne O’Shea, Project Art. Centre, Dublin 2013)
- Ziemia niczyja / Niemands Land (with Lothar Kittstein, dir. Frank Heuel, prem. Fringe Ensamble, Bonn 2012, Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw 2013),
- Krzywicka/krew / Krzywicka/Blood, 2013
- Skarpety i papiloty / Socks and Curlers, (a play for children, dir. Tomasz Man, Wrocławski Puppet Theatre), 2013
- Dolce Vita (with Kuba Kowalski, dir. Kuba Kowalski, Jana Kochanowski Theatre in Opole, 2014)
- Good Night, Cowboy (with Kuba Kowalski, dir. Kuba Kowalski, Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych / WARSawa Theatre, 2015),
- Granice / Borders (dir. Bartosz Frąckowiak, Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz, 2016).
Adaptations: (in cooperation with Kuba Kowalski)
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Polski Theatre in Poznań, 2011),
- Wuthering Heights (Studio Theatre in Warsaw, 2012),
- Life is a Dream (Wybrzeże Theatre, 2013),
- Madame Bovary (Juliusz Osterwa Theatre in Lublin, 2015),
- Scarlet Petal and White (Studio Theatre in Warsaw, 2016).
In 2013, Foreign Bodies / Ciała obce was published in an American anthology of Polish drama entitled (A) Pollonia.
Source: press materials, mg, 25.01.2012, Translated with edits by W.O. April 2014, updated by NMR, December 2016.