One of the most renowned Polish theatre ensembles originating in the alternative student theatre movement of the 1960s. The group was founded in 1964 by students of the Department of Polish Language and Literature of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.
Teatr Ósmego Dnia is among the most renowned Polish theatre ensembles originating in the alternative student theatre movement of the 1960s.
Today "the Eights" are a legendary ensemble, a symbol of politically engaged theatre pulsating to the rhythm of the most momentous political and social events. The loud, dynamic "Eights" confront the audience with symbolic gestures have become one of the most significant ensembles representing this theatre movement in Europe.
The initial name of the theatre ensemble: Student Theatre of the Poetry of the Eight Day drew upon the quote from Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński's theatre "Zielona Gęś" / "The Green Goose" ("on the seventh day God rested, and on the eight He created theatre"). Tomasz Szymański was the first director of the ensemble, which consisted of, among others, Stanisław Barańczak and Lech Raczak. At that time, it was still considered an amateur student theatre without a clearly developed style. The first premiere of the theatre was "Treść gorejąca" / "A Burning Matter" based on Julian Tuwim's poems, which was followed by several performances based on poetry by Anna Achmatowa, Osip Mandelstam, François Villon. The Polish premiere of Peter Weiss's play "Marate/Sade" was a major, highly anticipated project.
At the turn of 1967 the theatre began to drawn upon the experiences of Jerzy Grotowski and the Laboratorium Theatre. The expert on Grotowski’s theatre, Zbigniew Osiński produced Stanisław Wyspiański's "Warszawianka" / "Varsovian Anthem" with the Theatre of the Eight Day (1967), while Zbigniew Spychalski, actor at the Laboratorium Theatre staged Stefan Żeromski's "Duma o hetmanie" / "Elegy for a Hetman" (1968) with the ensemble. The theatre transformed from a poetry stage to a venue of "pure" theatre. In 1968 Lech Raczak was appointed artistic director of the theatre.
Lech Raczak was born in 1946. In 1969 he graduated from the Department of Polish Language and Literature of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. He was an actor and stage director in the Theatre of the Eighth Day. He managed the ensemble until 1994. Then, he worked for the Polski Theatre in Poznań for four years, where he initially produced performances, and between 1995 and 1998 was its artistic director. Since 1993 Raczak has been the artistic director of the MALTA International Theatre Festival in Poznań.
Grotowski's theory changed the ensemble's perception of the theatre art. Openness and the commitment of actors, who shared their real anxieties and desires with the audience, have become the cornerstone of the group's performances. The stage was no longer used as a place for aesthetic experiences. It became the meeting point with another human being, a way of life through art. The Poznań theatre has remained faithful to these ideas for years. The events of March '68 also exerted a major influence on the image of the theatre - student protest, repression by the authorities and the intellectual and moral dimensions of ensuing events. The Poznań theatre stood in opposition to the establishment that denied the social and political system of the Peoples' Republic of Poland and distorted moral standards. The resistance was achieved not by withdrawing to the theatre world, but, just to the contrary, by expressing it "outside" through art. Active involvement in current events was also an attitude contradictory to the one adopted by the Laboratorium Theatre. The beginnings of the actual history of the group go back to the 1970s when the theatre wrote its programme based on "raising doubts, questioning preconceived thinking patterns and cultural stereotypes not by means of detective investigation who is responsible for their cultivation, but by means of asking questions to oneself and the audience: what do we do to annihilate them? (...)" (Lech Raczak, ITD, 14 February 1971).
The theatre still operated under the auspices of a student organisation, however its members were now university graduates, not amateurs, but rather artists who were more and more conscious of their acting technique and the message they wanted to convey.
As Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas has written:
The Theatre of the Eight has several distinctive features: a compatibility for life and art, validation of performances with their own actions, teamwork, broad references to civilisation, ability to take in both the earth and God (…). Untouched by the lack of significant contemporary dramas due to creating entirely original performances, the theatre addresses the de-humanised, shameful and violent history of the modern ages, over decades and years, directly and always with ruthlessness equal to the most accurate report, the fiercest article or the most bitter satire. At the same time, it advocates - also directly and in all of its glaring tragedy - the ultimate principle, the permanent foundation of life and the world. (Kultura, 1981 no. 30)
The first performance of "the Eights" came out of a series of controversial shows from the 1970s called "Wprowadzenie do..." / "Introduction to …"(1970), which mocked the cult of Lenin, unmasked false and incogitant patterns of human behaviour. "It refers to the Great Celebrations In Honour Of, which are of a formal character. It does not mater in honour of who or what the celebrations will be organized. In the process of adoration, the commemorated object have long been levelled" (Krzysztof Mroziewicz, Dialog, 1975 no. 6).
Another premiere was "Jednym tchem" / "In One Breath" (1971) inspired by the events of March '68 and December '70 and the poetry of Stanisław Barańczak. "(...) the performance unfolded with an internal violent scream, the actors would splash red liquid on their faces …Blood disrupted the order of incessant ideological ritual". (Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas, Kultura, 1981 no. 30) A year later a new version of the performance was staged enriched with Barańczak's new poems. Both versions of "In One Breath" performance were well received abroad: in England and the Netherlands.
In the early 1970s, the ensemble expanded its modes of expression and searched for new audience. In effect, spectacular open-air performances were created: "Sztafeta" / "Relay Race" (1971) and "Integracja" / "Integration" (1972) produced in cooperation with artists from "Od nowa" group and jazzmen from "Laboratorium" music group. The acting team also changed. Aside Raczak, in 1973 there were no people left who originally founded "the Eights". Still, the spirit of the ensemble stayed the same (throughout the years of its activity, over 100 persons cooperated with the theatre, including the Orchestra of the Eight Day directed by a composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek). The first performance of the new team was "Wizja lokalna" / "Site Inspection" (1973).
Elaborate stage design constructed out of high, coarse towers-scaffoldings-bars from the top of which one could beset and watch the encircled people symbolized a society deprived of any rights, dignity and beauty living a downgraded and limited life. In this world the history of ideology of violence was born out of disappointment and bitterness, born as a necessary consequence. (Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas, "Kultura", 1981 no. 30).
In 1975 the theatre staged a performance titled after a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky "Musimy poprzestać na tym, co tu nazywano rajem na ziemi?" / "Do We Have to Confine Ourselves to What Has Been Called Paradise on Earth?". The following performances of the theatre: "Przecena dla wszystkich" / "Sale for Everyone" (1977) and "Ach, jakże godnie żyliśmy" / "Oh, Haven’t We Lived in Dignity" (1979) were recognized as the most significant events on the Polish theatre stage in the second half of the 1970s.
Jacek Koniecpolski has written:
Sale for Everyone" is a satire on reality, which turned into unreality. It shows a society which lost all its standards and values, and any attempts of an individual at finding them failed as a result of stagnation and the absurdity of collectivism. Everything is fragmented, chaotic, scoffed and mocked (...) In "Oh, Haven’t We Lived in Dignity", spectators were seated at a sort of huge and common table, which designed into the form of the medieval mansion stage represented Hell, Heaven and Earth…The performance explores the moral condition of people, who carelessly exchanged spiritual ideals for material desires, and who believe in a saying that "Heaven Can Wait". In brief, it is the same society as in "Sale for Everyone" only shown as if from above and at a moment of its absolute moral corruption (Polityka, 1980 no. 45).
The year of 1981 brought a new performance entitled "Więcej niż jedno życie" / "More Than One Life". During the Martial Law, the theatre was persecuted. Between 1982 and 1984 the authorities prohibited "the Eights" to participate in international festivals held in: Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. In 1984 the Ministry of Culture and Art as well as the local government of Poznań deprived the theatre of funds and location as well as banned their performances. At that time, the theatre played mostly in churches.
Elżbieta Morawiec wrote:
The years between 1981 and 1985 set up yet another barrier before artists - a ban on their official performances - and forced them to overcome it. The Theatre of the Eight Day, which so far performed before a limited audience composed of students and intellectuals, became a truly popular theatre, watched by masses in churches all around Poland - in Kraków and Białystok, in Łódź and Lublin, in Wrocław and Świdnik." (Solidarność weekly, 1991 no. 9).
In the following years, the theatre staged such performances as: "Przypowieść" / "A Fable" based on William Faulkner's work (1982) and an elegy on Osip Mandelstam's life – "Wzlot" / "Rise" (1982), as well as open-air spectacles: "Raport z oblężonego miasta" / "Report from a Besieged Town" (1983), "Cuda i mięso" / "Miracles and Meat" (1984) and "Piołun" / "Wormwood"(1985), which recapitulated collective and individual experiences from the period of the Martial Law. The premiere of the performance was held in Kraków in a church in Mistrzejowice. Tadeusz Kornaś wrote about the show in the Życie Warszawy daily (1994 no. 104): "Shortly after the mass was over, people still engrossed in prayer stayed to watch a religious performance. And what was staged before their eyes was a highly rapacious, ruthless and expressive show directly addressing the issues of difficult reality".
As a result of a lack of stability, own place for rehearsals, authorities’ persecutions and, above all, the abnormal situation where a church aisle had to substitute for a theatre stage, the members of the ensemble took a decision to emigrate. But half of them did not receive passports. For this reason, the theatre worked simultaneously in Poland where it staged "Mała apokalipsa" / "Little Apocalypse" and in Western Europe where it presented "Auto-Da-Fe". In the following years, all artists managed to leave Poland. They settled in Ferrara. The theatre played in Western Europe and produced more performances: "Jeśli pewnego dnia w mieście szczęśliwym..." / "If One Day In a Happy City…" (1986), "Spacer ponad ziemią" / "A Walk Above the Earth" (1987) and "Mięso" / "Meat" (1989). Following the political breakthrough of 1989, "the Eights" returned to Poznań. In 1991 "Ziemia niczyja" / "No Man's Land" was staged as the first performance after their come back from emigration.
Perhaps, the area of no man's land is a silence zone between turmoil… For this reason, it may be best to be on the way, that is nowhere. But it can also be an interior, 'no man's land' between the ethical and aesthetic attitude towards the world, And finally a man is a no man's land until he makes a choice out of other equally lonely islands... In the performance – the land is a real soil sprinkled on the protagonists' foreheads as penitential ashes, a lump of earth thrown on a coffin or soil burying the coffin. (...) The message is conveyed without pathos and jingoistic ideas, but with a sense of humour and from an ironic distance, which does not, however, take away the truly tragic or lyrical tones from the performance (Elżbieta Kalemba-Kasprzak in Teatr, 1991 no. 5).
Two years later, another version of the performance was created as well as the open-air "Sabat" / "Sabbath". In 1994 "the Eights" presented "Tańcz póki możesz" / "Dance Till You Can", which is considered to be one of their most interesting achievements of the 1990s. It shows the bitterness of a life journey, which still brings hope as clearly suggested in the title. The same year Lech Raczak, the long-term head of the theatre, said goodbye to "the Eights". He was replaced by Ewa Wójciak, an actress who, aside Tadeusz Janiszewski, Marcin Kęszycki and Roman Radomski, was one of the most interesting personalities of the ensemble, also a producer of "Requiem" inspired by works of Anna Achmatowa (1992).
In the new reality, where the poetics of resistance and counterculture rooted in the 1960s are long gone, the Theatre of the Eight Day has remained one of the last ensembles drawing upon their previous experiences in a transformed reality. The theatre organises workshops (the acting technique aiming at perfect gesticulation, mimics, body expression combined with a collective creation of performance and improvisation has been the trademark of "the Eights" for years), cultural events, as well as performs abroad. It participates in international theatre projects, such as: "Po drugiej stronie" / "On the Other Side" (1999) on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin War, or "Podróże komediantów" / "Journeys of Comedians" (1999), whose goal was to revive the communities living on the outskirts of huge cities and cultural centres, which do not have access to art. In 1998 the "Eights" were invited to the World EXPO in Portugal as the only theatre ensemble from Eastern and Central Europe. They showed "Ultimuseum" – a show about pilgrimage and emigration, whose main element of the stage design was a gigantic boat on wheels.
The ensemble also presented a visual and symbolic performance staged in an authentic urban landscape "Szczyt" / "The Summit" (1998) criticising the world-governing authorities and "Arka" / "The Ark" (2000) – again a performance filled with theatre machines, engaging the audience in the experiences of people escaping the world of war and injustice. In 2001 a spectacle "A jednak się kręci" / "And Yet It Moves" was created - a theatre record of the history of Europe for the youngest spectators. Two years later, "the Eights" participated with other alternative theatre groups from Poznań in a program "Miasto" / "City", which served as a metaphor for a huge urban cluster of people. At that time, the artists also worked on a performance addressing our insensitivity to misfortune and suffering of others - "Portiernia" / "Reception Desk" (2003), in which the welfare of the peaceful part of the world was juxtaposed with tragedies taking place in Chechnya, Chernobyl, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It has been a long time since I participated in a performance, which would engage a spectator into a conversation to such an extent. Although the system, social morality and the place of the theatre have changed, 'the Eights' are still in opposition. (Łukasz Drewniak in Przekrój, 2003, no. 28).
"The Eights" continue to provide reflections on the world. They also keep reminding the audience that freedom is not given once for all, and that one should fight for it, in particular for an internal freedom. Their performances are often a record of an authentic terror of the modernity set in a serious or buffo tone. The group works on various levels. In a universal open-air show "Czas matek" / "The Time of the Mothers" (2006), the ensemble focuses on women representing various times, religions and cultures united by maternity and the sorrow for their children lost at war. Whereas in the following performances, the artists drew upon the latest Polish history. In the moving "Teczki" / "Files" (2007) they unearthed and traced their own lives from a distance and through a prism of the title files - reports and denunciations concerning themselves found in the archives of the communist Ministry of Public Security. The most recent performance of the "Eights" is a documentary and amusing performance "Paranoicy i pszczelarze" / "Paranoiacs and Beekeepers" (2009) based on newspaper reports and media coverage. It shows the Poland of today in a grotesque, amusing as well as highly accurate light.
Joanna Derkaczew writes:
In 'Paranoiacs…' the artists from Poznań show a clash between the world of media loudmouths and people who actually make the world a better place". Without publicity. Without ideology. On a small scale. The artists travesty the style of political debates, mock historical politics, the cult of vengeance, mourning and martyrdom. (...) The artists from Poznań definitely support the heroism on a micro scale, not the one devised to win renown. It is a beautiful summary of the long years of the theatre's activity, a truly theatrical and human credo. (Gazeta Wyborcza - Stołeczna, 2010, no. 58).
Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, July 2003, updated in February 2011. Translated July 2011
Teatr Ósmego Dnia / Theatre of the Eighth Day
44 Ratajczaka Street
tel. no.: (+48 61) 855 20 86
tel./fax no.: (+48 61) 855 18 92