A dramatist, composer, actor and young theatre director whose work bears very strong musical traits and frequent unobvious inspirations with the kabbalah tradition. Born in 1977, he is a founder and a director of the first online theatre neTTheatre in the world.
Table of contents: Academy and Gardzienice | Towards Kabbalah |Romantic Tradition and Internet | Warsaw's Hamlet | Zohar and Morrison | Awards
Academy and Gardzienice
For ten years throughout his childhood, Paweł sang in the Alla Polacca choir of the National Opera in Warsaw. He completed his academic education in theatre at the Directing Department of the State Theatre School in Warsaw. He has also studied Philosophy and Cultural studies at the University of Warsaw. Passini also participated in the Academy of Theatre Practices ran by the acclaimed Gardzienice theatre, one of Poland’s best known troupes of the so-called anthropological genre, based in a small village in the south-east of Poland.
Passini thus comments on his experience of working in Gardzienice in a talk with the Dziennik journal:
First and foremost, I learned the assets and threats of working in isolation. The situation of an enclosed group of people, who concentrate on the rehearsal process makes everybody’s devotion to the theatre work almost a given. The instrument is taken out of the actor’s hands and starts functioning somewhere between him and the director, and they both play this instrument. The internship in Gardzienice also opened me onto the musical dimension of theatre. I try not to work with actors who do not practice music. The act of signing together, this special kind of energy and an interpersonal experience becomes a trampoline for our work in the rehearsal process.
Passini’t first production was Zbrodnia z premedytacją (Crime with Determination) based on the writing of Witold Gombrowicz and staged at the Teatr Miejski (Municipal Theatre) in Gdynia (2004). After this play, in 2004 Passini staged Stanisław Wyspiański’s Klątwa (The Curse), in the Jan Kochanowski theatre in Opole. That same year, he also staged Simon Anski’s The Dybbuk at the National Theatre in Poznań.
In his Klątwa, the director accentuated the isolation of Młoda through the specific arrangement of the stage. The young girl was placed in a small arena, surrounded by a wooden structure and constantly under the gaze of other people. The play told a story about love and sin, about crime and punishment, and about human and divine rights and claims, and their cruelty.
While directing The Dybbuk, Passini made very strong references to the kabbalah tradition. The play was saturated with a dark atmosphere and portrayed a world that was falling apart, with a scattered and disintegrating narrative.
The director takes up challenging texts, and he often "recycles" the classics of both European and Polish literature. In 2005, he prepared an impresario piece based on Alice in Wonderland from Lewis Carroll. It was very much a poetic, dream-like piece, which employed various elements of the circus esthetics. Alice in Wonderland also enjoyed an innovative staging – it was shown in numerous places across Warsaw, including ran-down patios of the city’s Praga district, and an old garbage-combustion hall.
His next endevour was the staging of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis which he once again directed at the theatre in Opole. He filled the play with passionate portrayals of human relationships, cast in a world overwhelemed with suffering. The play also enjoyed very enthusiastic reviews of the actors’ performance. Dorota Wodecka-Lasota notes in her article for Gazeta Wyborcza:
(…) the story told by the actors triggers violent emotional reactions, and their honesty, backed by very good craft, makes you forget that it is all theatre and play
In 2006, the director took up Kordian, one of the most notable works of Polish Romanticism and drama, written by Juliusz Słowacki in 1834. Kordian: First Part of a Trilogy: The Coronation Plot written by one of the "Three Bards" of Polish literature, is a drama that examines the psyche of a Polish revolutionary. It was staged in Teatr Polski in Warsaw. In a talk with Gazeta Wyborcza, Passini stated:
Kordian is a story about a rebel. Today, I read this text through the prism of Gombrowicz’s work. Just like Henryk from Gombrowicz’s Ślub, Kordian wrestles with the world, and this world is twisted by Memory
Following Kordian, Passini went on to work on a performance entitled Amszel Kafka in Wrocław. The starting point for this work was the innovative idea of depicting a fictitious tale about Kafka as an actor. The writer befriends a Jewish actor, Icchak Löwy, and joins his troupe. Together, they stage a play called Golem.
Tomasz Wysocki comments in his review of Amszel Kafka:
Passini finds an interesting way of telling the story of a human longing for God, whatever His name may be. It is a story about the need for stable points of reference, clear moral and spiritual values, and an enduring stance towards the world in general.
The director’s next work also dealt with the idea of God, this time taking up the theme of religious fanatism and madness, as the director attempted to understand the sources of collective folly. Saturated with a heated performance from the actors, the Bramy raju (The Gates of Paradise) performance was based on the novel from Jerzy Andrzejewski, as well as The Children’s Crusade by Marcel Schwob.
Romantic Tradition and Internet
Upon returning to the romantic tradition with his staging of the 19th century play Nie-boska komedia (Un-divine Comedy) by Zygmunt Krasińki, Passini cut out all of the text’s political and socially-minded themes, and proposed an existentialist interpretation of the text. He also employed fragments of correspondence between the writer and Delfina Potocka. The play was staged as part of the 2005 "re_wizje / romantyzm" festival at the Teatr Stary in Kraków.
The director’s 2009 performance took up the legendary figure of Stanisław Wyspiański. In the play entitled Odpoczywanie (Requiem), Passini depicted the artist as a dead man, and exposed the tragic fate of his four children. He thus questioned our memory of Wyspiański.
Przekrój's Łukasz Drewniak wrote of the play:
The performance from Łaźnia operates with the juxtaposition of death and carelessness. The children in the play run aroung the naked corpse of the father, which is barely covered with earth. They tug at this body as if it was an old doll, found in the backyard after many years. It is an innocence on the verge of disintegration and madness. The corpse laughs at the children, the children bury the corpse.
Gazeta Wyborcza’s Joanna Derkaczew was also ethusiastic in her review of the piece:
Odpoczywanie is the best finale for the the Wyspiański year. It buries the myth of a great romantic bard and brings him back to life as a human being.
Odpoczywanie (Requiem) was also Passini’s first performances to be shown live in the internet, in what constituted the founding of his neTTheatre project. It is an endevour of live-streamings of performances, which also include real-time interaction with the internet audience. It was initiated by Passini together with the Chorea Theatre Association in the South-western town of Srebrna Góra. 16 000 internet users from across the world took part in the first showing of Requiem, which took place on the 17th of December, 2007. The footage and stereo sound was received an all continents throughout the two hours of the performance, thus setting a new beginning in the history of theatre. neTTheatre is not only a fascinating area of expression, but also a way of understanding theatre as a space of a real encounter, in which the creation act happens opently ,in the real time, before the audience’s eyes. With this aim in mind, the team develops improvisation techniques with respect to the stage movement as well as work with the text. The actors frequently employ "idiolects", a language with non-existent words and expressions, thus creating a unique and intimate space of the performances. The starting point for the improvised choreography is based on the iconic representations preserved in culture – from the Hebrew alphabet which the actors embody to the well known imagery of the portarits of Wyspiański’s children.
In a talk with Gazeta Wyborcza in 2007, Paweł Passini thus explained the idea behind the neTTheatre project:
It only seems natural to me to make the internet a part of theatre. We are re-inventing the 19th century model of experiments, where people attempted to capture ecloplasm and awed at the Roentgen rays. We are working on the intersection where art meets technology. We break with the stereotype of the internet as an evil and cold place and the theatre as a good and cosy one
The most significant trait of the endeavour is its search for a new, contemporary artistic language, one that would take into account the media through which we communicate today.
In 2009 the Theatre in the Web of Connections opened its activities in Lublin’s Centre for Cultural as well as the city’s Central Theatre. With the help of various artistic circles and the support of local authorities, the group was able to create and independent art and research centre, which focuses on the development of implementing new media into the domain of the performing arts.
Passini also took up the directing of a play created especially for the 64th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, which he entitled Hamlet 44. It was a production that avoided an obvious pathos, and as usual in Passini’s work, proposed a different perspective on a historically and socially recognised phenomenon. Passini decided to use the Shakespearean figure of Hamlet to speak about the tragic events of Polish history. In an talk with Życie Warszawy magazine, published on the 1st of August, 2008, the director stated:
While preparing this play, we searched for the answer to what it meant to ‘be’ for those who took part in the Warsaw Uprising. In our play to ‘be’ was synonymous with to ‘walk’. To fight, to get out onto the streets. In this performance there are no Germans. Because for us, what is more significant is that which takes place between the people on the streets and those we are looking on from behind the curtain. Between those who went and fought in the Uprising, and those who decided not to. Why? All of the performance’s figures are in a way a Hamlet, as they are all faced with this kind of a dilemma. For exemple for Gertrude, to ‘be’ means to ‘live’, to survive and not to be threatened. And Hamlet, in all of his encounters with the mother, with Claudius, with Ophelia, searches for an answer within himself.
Subsequent performances directed by Paweł Passini include: Turandot (neTTheatre, 2009), Zły / Evil (InVitro Stage of Premiers in Lublin, 2009), Osąd. Tryptyk / Judgement. Triptych ( Henryk Tomaszewski Mime Theatre in Wrocław, 2010), If (neTtheatre, 2010), Kabbalah/ Kabała (internet, 2010), Zwierzątka, małe zwierzenia / Animals, little confessions (neTtheatre, 2010), Yerma ( Theatre Academy in Warsaw, 2011), Artaud. Sobowtór i jego teatr / Artaud. Double and its theatre (Studio Theatre in Warsaw, 2011).
Zohar and Morrison
One of the recent performances directed by Passini is based on Zohar, and it refers to the Book of Job, Adam Mickiewicz’s Forefathers’ Eve and theatre of Tadeusz Kantor. Kukły. Księgi blasku/ Puppet. The book of Splendour premiered on 3 August 2012 at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.
Subsequent Passini’s award-winning production Morrison / Śmiercisyn (Morrison/ Son of Death revived the legend of American cult vocalist. It was his first performance realized on stage of Puppet Theater and at the same time one of the most diverse in terms of employed artistic means. It combined film, theater of form and multimedia. The director showed Jim Morrison first and foremost as a poet, more precisely, as a romantic poet in the era of the counterculture. Passini’s staging referred also to such works as The Trial and Before the law by Franz Kafka, The Wizard of Oz by Lyman Frank Baum and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The performance also touched on extremely important issues concerning contemporary youth and a status of an idol; it verifies the advantages of fame and offers an inquisitive look at the man-artist confronted with the image created by the media.
In 2013 Passini staged Wanda written by Sylwia Chutnik and Patrycja Dołowy. The performance on a stage of the Helena Modrzejewska National Old Theatre in Kraków was in a way a re-interpretation of Wanda from a Polishlegend – she was a princess who committed suicide to avoid an unwanted marriage. Passini multiplies the character and considers motives of her suicide. The same year, the director produced Ala ma sen / Ala has a dream based on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Waldemar Sulisz wrote:
Paweł Passini, a director of exceptional theatrical imagination followed Alice, commenting her story during the whole spectacle. His melodious voice together with amazing trance music, leads the audience through the subsequent scenes, images and dreamy spaces created by computers and projectors. A collection of breathe-taking film images was created, where the earthly world is mixed with the eternal one, colonies of stars were dancing on an interactive floor and the actors' monologues have gained new meanings. (Dziennik Wschodni nr 213, 04.11.2013)
Then Passini directed Bramy raju / The Gates of Paradise written by Jerzy Andrzejewski for the Edmund Wierciński Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław and The Hideout / Kryjówka for the nnTTheatre. Aneta Kyzioł wrote in her review:
It is an impressive play about hiding in a wardrobe, under the floor, in the attic, sometimes for the whole life, it is a play about believeing that being Jewish still can be a stigma in Poland. The play swells – after every performance there is always someone coming to the authors with a new story. (Polityka, 09.12.2014)
Paweł Passini debuted on the opera scene when he directed Halka by Stanisław Moniuszko – called the father to the Polish opera, for the Grand Theatre in Poznań. Later on he created Bieguny / Poles written by a renowned Polish poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid.
In May 2016 Passini directed Matki / Mothers for the Ester Rachel Kamińska and Ida Kamińska State Jewish Theater. The play was based on Gołda Tencer's idea and Patrycja Dołowy's text. The play was inspired by the stories of children of the Holocaust and Jewish mothers from the ghetto in Warsaw who tried ti save their children. Apart form actors, there are also members of the Association of Children of the Holocaust in Poland on the stage, including: Elżbieta Ficowska, Joanna Sobolewska-Pyz and a special guest Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel.
Passini composes music to most of his performances, he also plays the role of musicians during performances. So far he used his compositions in Bramy raju / The Gates of Paradise, Krucyata dziecięca / Children's Crusade and Nic, co ludzkie / Nothing humane. For his activities, Paweł Passini was twice appointed a nominee of a prestigious Passport Award of the Polityka magazine.
In one of his reviews, Tomasz Kaczorowski wrote about Passini:
(…) the director known from his unobvious ideas, creative balancing between mainstream theatre and independent productions. He likes to re-consider and re-create myths and contemporary stories, where he looks for archetypes that are changing their forms through ages. He searches for their validity and checks how they work in the modern world. (Nowa Siła Krytyczna, 10.07.2013)
- 2004 - Main Award for directing The Curse by Stanisław Wyspiański at Kochanowski Theatre in Opole at 29. Opole Theatre Confrontations;
- 2006 - Opole Marchal Award for the best staging Iphigenia in Aulis by Goethe at Kochanowski Theatre in Opole;
- 2008 - Individual Award for staging Requiem at Łaźnia Nowa Theatre in Kraków and group distinction for staging All what's human (together with Artur Pałyga, Piotr Ratajczak and Łukasz Witt-Michałowski) and individual distinction for music at Competition for Staging Contemporary Polish Play in Warsaw; Verdict of Young Award for Requiem at Łaźnia Nowa Theatre in Kraków at Premiere Festival in Bydgoszcz;
- 2009 - Main Award for staging All Kinds of Deaths at Łaźnia Nowa Theatre in Kraków at 4. Festival of Polish Contemporary Plays R@Port in Gdynia; Distinction for staging All Kinds of Deaths at Łaźnia Nowa Theatre in Kraków at the competition for Staging Contemporary Polish Play in Warsaw;
- 2010 - XVI Competition for Staging Contemporary Polish Play - special distinction for staging Turandot; IX Premiere Festival in Bydgoszcz - Grand Prix for Turandot.
- 2011 - Fringe Festival in Edinburgh - Total Award for staging Turandot performed by neTTheater from Lublin; Lublin President Award; Magnolia Award at Small Theatre Forms Overview KONTRAPUNKT in Szczecin, City of Szczecin Award for Turandot;
- 2013 - Award for music (together with Sambor Dudziński) for Morrison/Son of Death at XXVI National Festival of Puppet Theatre in Opole; Konrad Swinarski Award for Best Director in the season 2012/2013 for directing Morrison/Son of Death (Theatre magazine Award); Maskarada Award of Rzeszów for the play of Turandot - the best performance for adults;
- 2014 – The Angelus Honorary Award and the Artist of the Year title; the Golden Mask Award for the best spectacle for Morrison/Son of Death of the Alojzy Smolka Puppet and Actor Theatre in Opole.
Editor: SRS, updated October 2014, GS; updated: September 2016 (ND).
Source: press release, e-teatr.pl, nettheatre.pl, Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora’s article for culture.pl