Szczepan Orłowski is one of the youngest, and most precocious dramatists to emerge on the Polish scene in the last five years.
Szczepan Orlowski is one of the youngest, and most precocious dramatists to emerge on the Polish scene in the last five years.
He was born in Białystok in 1989, the year of Poland’s successful Solidarity revolution that saw the end of communism and the birth of a new era of independence and open borders. He is part of the generation that never knew communism, and who grew up with the technology revolution of computers and the Internet. He spent his childhood in the eastern borderlands of Poland often wandering alone nearby the vast ancient forests that border with Belarus, following the rivers and streams and picking wild blueberries and mushrooms.
I wandered the forest for hours, often getting lost, and never sure if I would make it back before sundown. My desire was always to go farther East.
He made his debut as a writer with the publication of his short story Retaliation in an anthology called Death For a New Beginning when he was sixteen years old. After completing high school in Bialystok he attended university in Warsaw where he studied the humanities, journalism and communications where he surprised his professors by presenting them with a dissertation on the Kingdom of Bhutan. While at the university he wrote about culture for student magazines before writing independently and publishing the online magazine Prince and Pauper with a group of colleagues inspired by the legendary counterculture communist era magazine bruLion.
I was inspired by the anarchistic and self-contradictory nature of bruLion that published pro, and anti-communist essays, poetry, criticism, and everything in between. Our own web zine attracted a lot of attention and some of my collaborators were offered jobs at big institutions, and eventually the zine itself received an offer to be purchased outright - although at a price that was impossibly small.
This first attempt at journalistic independence in the feeding frenzy of contemporary Polish media, left him frustrated and the magazine eventually disbanded. In the meantime he started writing plays, completing three, although 'only one that was actually good'. He also started attending the theatre in Warsaw.
I discovered the work of Krystian Lupa, Krzysztof Warlikowski, and other members of the traditional avant garde such as the Wooster Group and Romeo Castellucci. These productions were a revelation. In Bialystok, theatre had been this strange and irritating event that was part of my school activities where they stage books you are forced to read or whichever corpse they were chewing on.
One day while wandering in the Praga neighborhood of Warsaw, he stumbled upon a rehearsal of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s company in the old Koneser vodka factory. One of the actors agreed to let him in to watch what were the final rehearsals for Warlikowski’s important production of Appollonia.
I asked,---- a famous actor from Warlikowski’s theatre if I could watch the rehearsal. He asked me who I was, and I replied 'nobody'. He let me in, and it was here, over the next five hours that I saw the human machine of the theatre, and understood what the artform was really capable of.
In 2010, Szczepan was awarded for his text Ossian's Clouds in the drama competition 'Searching for the new Shakespeare'. In 2011, he was comissioned to write an adaptation of Iphigenia in Aulis that was produced in Łódź and went on to win the Golden Mask Award in 2012. Then he was approached by Krzysztof Warlikowski to submit a test text for Warsaw Cabaret, a project that had come to a creative impasse.
I was invited to submit a text to Warlikowski, so I left Warsaw and spent a week in the woods of Puszcza Białowieska. I emailed the text when I got back at night and Krzysztof called me the next morning while I was still asleep. He started criticising my writing and we argued, and then invited me to come to Italy for three weeks to work on what would become Warsaw Cabaret.
Warsaw Cabaret would go on to be presented at the Avignon Festival and enter the repertory of Warlkowski’s Nowy Teatr. Further important collaborations would follow including Portraits of the Polish Kings directed by Krzysztof Garbaczewski.
In 2012, Szczepan left Warsaw to study in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and at the Birkbeck School of the Arts. Here he began to develop and explore new artistic, political and intellectual interests. He is fascinated with the radically democratic possibilities of the internet and online gaming, and is searching for what he calls the 'the open algorithm.'
In a recent essay / manifesto, The Artist is Dead, Long Live the Hacker, he writes 'Everything is political yet political art has nothing to do with political change. It has been absorbed by the spectacle, becoming a digestible commodity as any TV series - only less popular. The only way now for art to have an influence is to hack reality itself.'
His new work is focused on the idea of the open text that enables the audience to enter the creative process, to find space in the cracks, and to ultimately reprogram the drama with their own narratives, inspirations, and meaning. He takes his own inspiration from the world and ethos of hackers.
Through their intuition and creative disobedience, hackers are capable of constantly re-inventing the spaces of freedom, circumventing the system through exposing its flaws and taking advantage of them.
Szczepan is currently working on a trilogy of plays in London, Cattle, Under, and Pressure, that follow from these intellectual currents.
Other recent work includes Implosion,
a sound installation of words at Cafe OTO in London, the publication of his play O in an anthology by the leading Polish drama publisher AdiT, a text The French, a collaboration on an adaptation inspired by Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski that will premiere at the Ruhrtriennale in August 2015, and his environmental performance inspired by 1,001 Nights for children, which will be presented in Wroclaw, also in 2015. He is also developing a new game for mobile phones.
As he pushes the envelope of new technology and political engagement, that mythical Bhutan, of monastic isolation in the far East, seems to be a constant, if subterranean, stream of desire and imagination in his work.
Author: Paul Bargetto, July 2015