Theatre artist, author of installations and performances. Szepcht studied directing at the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Kraków and journalism (creative writing) at the University of Wrocław.
In repertory theatre she debuted in 2015 with the adaptation of The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq, although she attracted critics’ and audience’s attention one year earlier with the performance Dolphin Who Loved Me, which won the jury awards at the 100° Berlin Festival.
The play was presented at several international festivals, including events in Marseilles, Hanover, Warsaw and Bucharest. It is a stage experiment inspired by NASA’s 1960s studies testing the possibilities of communication between a man and a dolphin. Szpecht made use of documentary materials, recordings of dolphin voices but also acting improvisations built around a quasi-scientific story about a bond between a young scientist and a dolphin. A secret laboratory at the Caribbean became a starting point for the authors to tell a story which combines science, metaphysics and feelings.
In the aforementioned play The Possibility of an Island (TR Warszawa), the director and the playwright Michał Buszewicz faced the question whether it is possible to protect a relationship from breaking down, especially with the technological world looming at the horizon. Witold Mrozek wrote in 'Gazeta Wyborcza' that this a right choice for those who like to spend long hours in the theatre:
The Possibility of an Island consists of islands of theatre performances, of separate intermingling micro-worlds, not fully related stage miniatures that culminate with a video tour at the end. What is that we will not find here? The performance flows from screen to screen, slowly meandering deeper and deeper through the Libera’s space formed by the installations. We encounter other humorous images of melancholy and equally humorously humourless Dravnel’s stand-up …
Magda Szpecht also worked in Dramatic Theatre in Wałbrzych. She created the acclaimed musical performance Schubert: Romantic Composition for Twelve Performers and a String Quartet there. It won at the first PARADISO Young Talents Showcase during the Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival 2016. Critics list the performance among the most interesting 2016 theatre premieres.
The director does not tell the story of Franz Schubert’s life. There are only excerpts of his diary displayed on stage and the audience listens to a composer’s piece with some additional music comments by Wojtek Blecharz. As the press materials read, Schubert… is a story about the power of music, stronger than the generation gap. Half of the cast is formed by the students of the Sudety Third-Age University and each of them is accompanied by a professional actor. Paweł Soszyński wrote in the review in dwutygodnik.com:
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Schubert presented in Wałbrzych is a deep interdisciplinary split between a stormy romantic pretence and new romantic club augmentor. It’s an oblique world, which is extremely literal and completely abstract: just as the music used in it. … In the newest play by Magda Szpecht the darkest gloom blends with sharp irony.
In 2016 Szpecht directed a performative installation Why Do I Not Write to You? based on The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe in Osterwa Theatre in Lublin. A year later in the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Kraków Szpecht staged her newest work, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, based on the story written by a forgotten American writer Delmore Schwartz.
For this creative interpretation of the story the jury of the 8th 'mteatr' Koszalin Confrontations of the Young awarded the director with the festival’s main prize. As the justification reads, the jury appreciated 'the creation of a separate borderline form combining theatre and installation, which establishes space and invites the audience to search for their own rules of participation'.
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In December 2016 Szpech took part in a debate organised by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, alongside with four other Polish young female directors (Anna Karasińska, Katarzyna Kalwat, Anna Smolar, and Weronika Szczawińska) which took place in Paris. Asked about this event and the presence of women in theatre, Szpech told Paweł Soszyński in an interview for Dwutygodnik:
If there's ‘femininity’, it operates on a different level and manifests itself during the rehearsals rather than in the performance as such. […] I'd say we all do very much to dismantle the hierarchy in theatre. When you start directing as a young woman, you feel the weight of the theatrical structure upon you and the institutional system ceases to be transparent. […] We’re also not interested in coercing actors into doing something.
Szpecht presented her staging of Hamlet in 2018 in Andersen Theatre in Lublin. It was titled <hmlt> and was based on two texts – the Shakespearean original and Hmlt by Łukasz Wojtysko, who was also responsible for dramaturgy. Zuza Golińska was responsible for set design and costumes. Szpecht was inspired by an experiment conducted by British scientists. They gave an android called Homer16 the greatest works of literature to read, so that the machine could learn humanity from them. Szpecht described the android's reaction to Hamlet:
Homer16 said that Hamlet was a story of an indecisive prince and his crazy girlfriend that teaches us that enemies should be eliminated, because otherwise you will be eliminated by them. Well, in fact I think it's quite a reasonable summary of Hamlet.
The artists decided to test how AI's reading of Hamlet would work on stage, asking viewers to assume the machine's point of view for a while.
Rzeczy, Których Nie Wyrzuciłem (Things I Did Not Throw Out, trans. NS) is an award-winning non-fiction book by Marcin Wicha. Magda Szpecht decided to prepare its staging, once again in co-operation with dramaturge Łukasz Wojtysko, in Fredra Theatre in Gniezno. It was titled Rzeczy, Których Nie Wyrzuciliśmy (Things We Did Not Throw Out). The characters in the performance, just like Wicha in his book, talk about their late parents through objects – describing their relationship to things. Alongside three professional actors, three students of Uniwersytet Trzeciegio Wieku in Gniezno performed.
Together with the group TERAZ POLIŻ Szpecht prepared the performance The Cunning Stunts. Its starting point was a survey that the artists published on a Facebook page, encouraging women to anonymously share their erotic fantasies. Aleksandra Hirszfeld was responsible for dramaturgy. There were three performers: Dorota Glac and Kamila Worobiej from the group TERAZ POLIŻ and Jaśmina Polak from Nowy Theatre. As a description of the survey created by the artists reads:
Fantasies are democratic – they know no age, no ability and no boundaries. Sometimes they may be confrontations with our own selves, sometimes they are surprising and impossible to fulfil – they don’t have to be realistic, as they're a guidepost. […] In a positive relationship they become a tool for understanding, sexual stimulation, building tension and intimacy. They are infinite in their variety.
The performance was presented in Nowy Theatre in Warsaw in May 2019.
Sources: press materials, TR Warszawa, Dramatic Theatre in Wałbrzych, dwutygodnik.com.
Written by: AL. Translated by: MW, January 2018, update NS, November 2019.
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