Born in 1929, Swinarski was a theatre, television, opera and film director. He was also a stage designer and one of the most outstanding Polish theatrical artists of the 20th century. He died in a plane crash in 1975.
He studied at the National Academy of Art in Katowice and Sopot and at the Faculty of Stage Art of the National Academy of Art in Lodz, under the guidance of an outstanding painter Władyslaw Strzemiński. He also studied at the Faculty of Drama Direction of the National Academy of Theatre in Warsaw, guided by outstanding artists such as Leon Schiller, Bohdan Korzeniewski and Erwin Axer. During his studied he assisted Korzeniewski during the staging of Aleksander Fredro's Revenge (Zemsta) at the National Theatre (Teatr Narodowy, 1953) and Axer during the staging of Mrs. Latter's Boarding House based on Bolesław Prus in the Contemporary Theatre (Teatr Współczesny) in Warsaw (1954).
In 1952, the Berliner Ensemble presented in Warsaw Mother based on Gorki, Heinrich von Kleist's The Broken Jar and Bertholt Brecht's Mother Courage and her Children. That is when Swinarski's fascination with Brecht's theatre begun. Swinarski was the first in Poland to stage a text by the author of Baal. A workshop presentation of Senora Carrar's Rifles took place in 1954. It was filmed by the Television Theatre.
In 1955 Swinarski created his first independent staging: Jerzy Szaniawski's Sailor (Żeglarz) in the Wojciech Bogusławski Theatre in Kalisz. Several moths later Swinarski was already in Berlin to be trained by his German master. He was Brecht's assistant during the rehearsals for Ostrowski's Adopted Daughter and Galileo. Together with other assistants in training in Berliner Ensemble he finished Fear and Misery of The Third Reich, a staging begun by Brecht just before his death.
Swinarski came back to Poland as a "Brecht expert". In 1957 the Television Theatre presented his staging of He Said Yes / He Said No. One year later the television transmitted The Threepenny Opera, which Swinarski staged in the Contemporary Theatre in Warsaw. Swinarski did not copy Brecht's scenic style, neither did he attempt to introduce his theoretical concepts to the theatre (the "alienation effect" was searched for in vain in Swinarski's way of leading the actors).
"Swinarski searched for possibilities of a way to influence the spectator, similar to the one in Brecht's theatre. And he searched for it in the concrete, Polish reality. Also in the tradition of Polish theatre he searched for a form similar to Brecht's epic theatre." (Joanna Walaszek, "Konrad Swinarski")
Swinarski's exceptional theatre emerged from a union of the German tradition of political theatre with Polish literary, painting and scenic traditions. It concerns the contemporaneousness but with an ambition of presenting its universal aspect. It is a theatre of counterpoint, the sublime colliding with earthiness, a theatre based on a keen reading of the text, even despite its hitherto interpretations.
The end of the 1950s and the 1960s were a period when Swinarski's style was shaped. He created numerous stagings in West Germany (including the famous chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto, Thomas Christoph Harlan's Without Angel's Help, West Berlin, 1958 and the international premiere of The Persecution and Assasination of Jean-Paul Marat, West Berlin, 1964), and in Israel: Tadeusz Różewicz's The Card Index (Kartoteka, Tel-Aviv, 1965), Shakespeare's Hamlet (Tel-Aviv, 1966). He worked in drama theatre: Stanisław Wyspiański's Curse (Klątwa, Kraków, 1968), in opera: Hans Wener Henze's The Bacchae (La Scala in Milan, 1968) and in television: Tadeusz Rozewicz's File (1967).
In the 1970s Swinarski created his theatrical masterpieces, which are a crucial part of the history of Polish theatre of the 20th century. He staged Shakespeare: All's Well That Ends Well (Old Theatre, Kraków, 1971), Richard III (Darmstadt 1972), Edward II (Burgtheater, Vienna, 1972) and The Midsummer's Night Dream (Darmstadt 1973). His stagings of legendary Forefather's Eve (Dziady by Adam Mickiewicz (Old Theatre, Krakow, 1973) with Jerzy Trela in the main role and equally outstanding Liberation (Wyzwolenie by Stanisław Wyspiański (1974, also in the Old Theatre) argued with Polish history, with the contemporary, stiff interpretation of tradition and with the schematic thinking about theatre.
"In the 'Forefather's Eve' Swinarski achieved a goal, at which he had aimed for a long time, mainly in the co-operation with actors: a confrontation with life. (...) 'Liberation' is a play about theatre, and therefore is very close to theatrical artists. It was enough to show that life in theatre is not the same thing as theatre in theatre. The staging of 'Liberation' was animated by an extraordinary personal involvement of the actors. And it seems to be the most personal expression of the director: about himself, about the world, about the theatre." (Joanna Walaszek, "Konrad Swinarski")
In 1974 the rehearsals for Hamlet with Jerzy Radziwiłowicz in the main role. It was supposed to be Swinarski's most mature theatrical expression. The works were interrupted by the sudden death of the director.
Swinarski's theatre educated the most outstanding Polish artists: Krystian Lupa, Jerzy Jarocki and Jerzy Grzegorzewski. His work influenced also the younger generation of theatrical artists: Grzegorz Jarzyna, Krzysztof Warlikowski and Piotr Cieplak.
"Theatre can not show life directly. It is a metaphor. It does not have to name. It provokes, irritates and discusses the problem. It is not a theatre, where one comes to have a nice time. The drama for our experts in Romanticism, Fredro or Gombrowicz. What meaning should it have? We have to wake up and start to touch the audience, like Swinarski did, let these people live the play like a Spielberg's film. Make them remember it for days." (Krzysztof Warlikowski, "Rzeczpospolita")
Most important awards:
- 1960 - the Leon Schiller Award attributed to young directors for outstanding achievements in the field of staging;
- 1964 - the award of West German theatrical critics for Majakowski's Bug;
- 1974 - the National Award of the 1st Degree for outstanding achievements in the field of theatrical direction;
- 1974 - the Main Prize in the category of television films for The Judges (Sędziowie at the 1st Polish Feature Films Festival in Gdańsk.