Head and emcee of the ‘Piwnica pod Baranami’ cabaret, actor and organiser of artistic events. Legendary leader of Polish cultural and social life.
Head and emcee of the "Piwnica pod Baranami" cabaret, actor and organiser of artistic events. Legendary leader of Polish cultural and social life.
Born on the 2nd of September 1930 in Warsaw, died on the 27th of April 1997 in Kraków. Actor, master of ceremonies of the Piwnica pod Baranami cabaret. Legendary leader of Polish cultural and social life, perpetuator of Kraków’s tradition of the artistic Bohemia of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Skrzynecki studied at the Higher School of Economics and the State Volunteer Theatre Instructors School at the Łódź Theatre School. Upon graduation in 1951, he moved to Kraków to run workers’ amateur theatres in Nowa Huta and at the Municipal Water Systems Management, and began to study history of art at the Jagiellonian University. In 1956 he and his friends set up the Artistic Youth Club at the Pałac pod Baranami, where young people from art schools and the university had the chance to meet. The Club soon changed its name to the Piwnica pod Baranami Cabaret, and the first cabaret performance took place in December 1956.
Until his death in 1997 Skrzynecki remained the main personality of the Piwnica, the manager of its team and the emcee whose characteristic bell chime invariably announced each cabaret number. Andrzej Lisowski, in the Rzeczpospolita daily, wrote:
Skrzynecki has made ‘Piwnica pod Baranami’ a symbol of Kraków, a place that brings to mind the unique atmosphere of times long gone and a venue that must be frequented by ladies, politicians and writers as well as by all who just want to have fun and a vodka.
Over the years a number of outstanding artists representing different generations flocked around Skrzynecki. Zygmunt Konieczny and Krzysztof Komeda, Ewa Demarczyk and Marek Grechuta were all associated with the Piwnica. Krystyna Zachwatowicz, Krzysztof Litwin, Wiesław Dymny and Leszek Długosz were its long-time members, while Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz, Anna Szalapak, Zbigniew Preisner and later Grzegorz Turnau and Jacek Wójcicki were its artists in different years. Skrzynecki said in 1980:
It is a miracle, a sheer miracle, that new, superb composers, singers, set designers and actors continue to join. Of course, nowadays the Piwnica is different. People have changed and so have times. Is it better or worse now? Those who used to come here twenty years ago say it was fantastic then. Those who were the audience ten years ago insist ‘well, well, it was something’. To me the best cabaret is the present one. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, isn’t it?
Joanna Olczak-Ronikier, 'Piotr', Kraków 1998
The communist regime soon found the avant-garde Piwnica inconvenient. While never a political cabaret, the Piwnica stood for a colourful life, independence, daring and the tongue-in-cheek attitude. Its tomfoolery had a grotesque and surrealist lining, and was – in a natural way – interwoven with pure poetry. Skrzynecki confessed:
We were all a little anarchic, ill-adapted, out of place. We were looking for something. So we rebelled, but ours was a rebellion against boredom, unlike that of STS’s and Bim-Bom’s [two other famed cabarets of the time]. We do not like politics. And we stay clear of it.
Polityka weekly no.14/1980
The activity of the Piwnica pod Baranami was not limited to night performances. The cabaret had its own newsletter that appeared in various Kraków newspapers and magazines. Skrzynecki organized grand balls and open-air events. There were Christmas and Easter parties and special fetes, most notably How We Used to Live, How We Are Living and What We Have Brought Our Flats To Look Like (to celebrate the cabaret’s 10th anniversary, organised at the Pieskowa Skala Castle) and Féeries Fantastiques, or The Life of Stanislaw C. from Kraków, or China Yesterday and Today, staged in Niepolomice in 1973. Starting from the 1970s Skrzynecki would add excitement to the life of Kraków with his street performances – reconstructions of historical events, such as that of Prince Józef Poniatowski’s arrival in Kraków, the Prussian Homage and Tadeusz Kosciuszko’s oath. He threw balls – like the one to celebrate the end of communism – and night-long parties, their atmosphere reminiscent of fin de siècle. Andrzej Lisowski observed:
Only Piotr Skrzynecki could stage, years ago, the festive arrival of Prince Jozef Poniatowski at Krakow’s market square and get Daniel Olbrychski to play the Prince. Only the head of the Piwnica could have organised those gala premieres attended by the best painters, writers, actors and descendants of whatever remained of Krakow’s aristocracy. Only he could have been the driving force behind the extraordinary parties and balls ending with a sledge ride and a bonfire, a Gypsy group singing and dancing around it, in the Wolski Forest…
Rzeczpospolita, no. 88/1990
piwnica pod baranami
Skrzynecki succeeded in winning over both Kraków marketplace flower sellers as well as the city authorities to his social and artistic projects. His manner made him popular and friends with everyone. He lived like an itinerant actor. His parodies of conventions – in life and on the stage – were unrivalled. He did not care for material things, for a longer while had no flat, would sometimes sleep on a bench. He staged his life in the Bohemian style. At the same time he was an avowed, authentic, smiling and helpful loner with an infectious gift for ‘life’s poetry’. After all, it was not without a reason that for many years the Piwnica pod Baranami had Desiderata as its anthem:
In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Skrzynecki appeared in a few films, including Filip Bajon’s Aria dla Atlety / An Aria for the Athlete (1979) and Janusz Majewski’s Epitafium dla Barbary Radziwillowny / An Epitath for Barbara Radziwillowna (1983). He also wrote the screenplay and directed Panowie na Złotych Sznurkach / Gentlemen on Golden Strings (1988) – a documentary feature about the translator and painter Edyta Sicińska. Skrzynecki was the hero of Tomasz Zygadło’s documentary Przewodnik / The Guide (1984) and of Antoni Krauze’s four-part series Piwnica Pod Baranami Piotra Skrzyneckiego / Piotr Skrzynecki’s Piwnica pod Baranami (2001). In 1994 Skrzynecki was made Honorary Citizen of the City of Kraków. Ever since he died, Kraków has commemorated his birthdays and namedays with Concerts for Piotr S.
Awards and honours:
- 1994 – Title of an Honorary Citizen of the Capital and Royal City of Kraków; Grand Prix of the Fundacja Kultury for the Piwnica pod Baranami for 1993
- 1995 – Przekrój Złoty Laur prize on the occasion of the magazine’s 50th anniversary for “the flower on his hat”.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, January 2006. Revised by James A. Hopkin, September 2010.