Michał Kmiecik is one of Poland’s youngest professional dramatists
Michał Kmiecik was born and raised in Wrocław, Poland’s fourth largest city on the Western border of Germany. Before the second world war, Wrocław, formerly Breslau, was a German city with only a tiny Polish and Jewish minority. After the war, Poland’s borders were redrawn to the west and Breslau became Wrocław. The surviving German population was evacuated from the city and sent across the border to different parts of Germany and replaced with Poles from Eastern Poland, especially from Lwów and Vilnius, formerly Polish cities that were annexed by the Soviet Union. This vast Stalinist social engineering has had a profound effect on the psychology of the city’s inhabitants and their sense of identity.
I became aware at a young age that I was living in a city that had been designed, and built by another people. We are only a Slavic layer sitting on top of a German structure. Everyone here is out of place. There are no such things as roots.
Michał’s journey to the stage began like many young Poles with theatre in primary school.
It was terrible and boring, and I got the impression that theatre was something that only happened in the 19th century. At any rate, it was not something for me, or anything I identified with.
That was all to change when he attended the Wroclawski Wspolczesny Theatre for the first time at the age of eighteen and saw a production by the director Jan Klata.
It was my first trip to see professional theatre by myself. I remember I was listening to Day of the Lords by Joy Division on my MP3player as I was entering the building. It had been newly renovated - all metal and glass - very modern. When the play started, I was shocked to hear the very same Joy Division song that I had just been listening to used in the first scene of the play. It made me feel that I was included in the theatre in a way I had never felt before, that it was safe to watch, and that it wanted to communicate directly with me.
The play, about Wrocław’s population transfers after World War II, was an important experience for him and he began to go to the theater more often, attending early productions of Paweł Demirski and Monika Strzępka and later assisting with their hilarious online provocation Rainbow Stand. This meta-theatre hoax created a fictional gay rights movement that demanded a “rainbow” seating section for gays during the 2012 Euro Cup.
While still in High School he wrote two plays of his own and sent them to Dramaturgy Contests in Poznań and Gdynia and applied for the Walka czarnucha z Europą (Black Battles with Europe) festival organised by Paweł Miśkiewicz's Teatr Dramatyczny, headlined by the German director Frank Castorf and his Volksbühne theatre.
Castorf came and presented Bertolt Brecht's Lehrstücken (Learning Plays) Der Jasager/Der Neinsager and Lehrstück. We prepared a response (I collaborated on this with Szymon Adamczak and Natalia Burzyńska) with a piece called Until Lions Have their Historians, Tales of the Hunt Shall Always Glorify the Hunter (that's an African proverb), based on Brecht’s Der Jasager and online comments taken from viewers of a YouTube clip depicting an old woman, who was insulting a TV journalist.
The piece was a success and after the presentation Paweł Miśkiewicz invited Michał to participate in the „Młoda Scena” (The Young Stage) program. In addition, Agata Szczęśniak from Krytyka Polityczna, invited him to prepare a performance for the European Congress of Culture in a program called „Art for Social Change” a project that would become Rifles of Mr. Youde. The Good Man of Hubei with the residents of local tenement houses in Wrocław.
This production conflicted with his audition to the Drama Academy in Krakow, so he was forced to withdraw his application. He then committed himself to writing and working as a dramaturg full time.
In 2011 his play, Death of the/an Employee won the Main and Audience Awards at the Metaphors of Reality competition in Poznań. The play was awarded with a production that had its premiere in December of that year directed by Iwo Vedral at the Polski Theatre in Poznań. The piece, a vision of corporate purgatory, is described by the director as “a pop culture anarchist joke..It is an attempt at theater without a history, or history lost in the references and citations, a story that has become a hostage to language. Its a modern odyssey between desks from one box to another.”
Michał made his professional debut as a director in 2012 with the play Who killed Alyona Ivanovna? at the Dramatic Theatre in Warsaw. This piece was a loosely adapted version of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment made with Szymon Adamczak that included the figures of mass murderer Anders Breivik, the director Lars von Trier who notoriously joked that he ‘understands Hitler’, and Jolanta Brzeska, an activist who fought against illegal housing evictions, founded the Warsaw Tenants Association, and was brutally murdered in 2011.
Also in 2012, he presented his #dziady at the Dramatic Theater in Wałbrzych, a piece made partly in response to his own controversial essay written after the death of the famous Polish director Jerzy Jarocki in which he said he was not sad at the great artists passing. In the piece he confronts three great grandfathers of Polish theatre, Adam Hanuszkiewicz, Erwin Axer and Jerzy Jarocki himself - all who recently died.
In 2013, he collaborated with Marcin Liber at the Stary Theater in Kraków as playwright and dramaturg on the piece Being Steve Jobs. Heroes of the Polish Transition. The Ballad of Off-Colored Heroism. This piece focused a critical eye on Poland’s chaotic transformation from communism to manic western neoliberal capitalism. The journalist Aneta Kyzioł described the piece this way: “choruses of wild young wolves from the Warsaw School of Economics” parroted Donald Trump screaming: ‘you’re fired!’ on a revolving stage that played out “the wild privatization accompanied by liquidation of industry and trade unions, cynical politicians, putting with their golf clubs while asking voters: How else can I not help you?”
In 2015, he worked with Marcin Liber on a new play Mrs. Koma is coming! at the PWST Theater in Kraków and accepted a position as resident dramaturg at the Nowy Theater in Łodź. In addition to his work in the theater, he is an active columnist writing for Gazeta Wyborcza Wrocław and has published work in Krytyka Polityczna, Theatre Notebook, and e-teatr.
Other recent projects include Mordor Will Come and Eat Us in Lublin, Sławomir Mrożek's Vatzlav in Łodź, and Alice. Under Any Circumstances Don't Go There in Gniezno, directed by Justyna Łagowska.
Still only twenty-three years old, Michał Kmiecik has already established himself as a theater artist to watch. While frequently delighting in making provocations on the stage, there is another current, perhaps born out of the rootlessness of his home city, that finds him seeking out older masters, and perhaps a home of his own.
I have spent a lot of time working with forty year-olds, and although it’s been wonderful, and I have learned a great deal, I want to return to my own work, and to direct more. I am currently obsessed with Sławomir Mrożek and have been reading all his plays. None of the forty-somethings I work with would ever consider directing him and this excites me. He is a wide open field!