An award-winning alternative theatre company based in Poznań. Founded by Paweł Szkotak in 1988, presents large-scale, outdoor performances on social and political issues.
An award-winning alternative theatre company based in Poznań.
All of the Travel Bureau's work, based on the idea of collective creation, is prepared by a group led by Paweł Szkotak. The group refers to the tradition of the Polish counter-culture Jerzy Grotowski's Laboratory theatre, Gardzienice Centre for Theatre Practice and Theatre of the Eighth Day.
"The Travel Bureau Theatre picked up from the Laboratory much more than just the rule of hard acting training and the idea of the total act (...)" - wrote Tomasz Plata. "Members proved that they are interested in almost the exact same topics, that were of interest to Grotowski and which after Grotowski, were taken up by a whole generation of counterculture. Oppressive social systems, tensions generated on the abutment of the community and the rebellious entity, profanity or sacrifice as an opportunity to preserve the unit's dignity - the Bureau constantly and systematically related to these issues."
Dialog, 1999, No. 10.
The group also refers to the tradition of Polish Romanticism, with its belief in the significance of liberated, yet socially committed art.
We grew up in romanticism, said Szkotak. When we were sixteen, seventeen, there was a great revolution going on in Poland. It was a time of romantic infatuation and a time of romantic rapture. We lived it.
- Życie, November 13, 1996.
The group's first projects were outdoor performances Einmal ist keinmal (1988) and The gentle End of Death (1990). In 1992 the Bureau prepared a famous outdoor spectacle Giordano, which tells the story of Italian philosopher and astronomer Giordano Bruno, who was sentenced to death by Inquisition. In the show they used his work along with documents from the trial, including witness testimonies. Tragically deceased Andrzej Rzepecki (1994) played the the role of Giordano.
The character was an apostate, some sort of a prophet who wanted to enlighten others against their will and whose attitude of pride is combined with great dedication, wrote Tomasz Plata. Giordano, presented almost as Christ (as the main character of Grotowski's The Constant Prince) reminded about the meaning of sacrifice, which allows to exceed the unit condition.
-Dialog, 1999, No. 10.
The subsequent dramatic and shattering outdoor performance was Carmen Funebre (First version - 1993, second version - 1994), which told the story of contemporary exiles. Before preparing the second version, the group members talked to refugees from former Yugoslavia.
The spectacle was their reaction and response to the ongoing war and ethnic and religious conflicts.
Most frightening - wrote The Guardian's reviewer - is the relentless pace, giving the performance an atmosphere of bessoted violence, fear and helplessness (August 28, 1995).
The performance Not All Are of Us (1997) was inspired by press reports about a church in Bieszczady and a Gniezno cathedral being plundered. It entwines issues of profanation and sacrilege. The thieves steal a figure of crucified Christ, meanwhile their getaway turns into a modern Golgotha. The Travel Bureau Theatre, beginning with Giordano, developed their spectacles with fire, luminous effects, actors moving on stilts, reffering to the mystery tradition.
The show Millennium Mysteries(2000), prepared in collaboration with the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, was an attempt to recreate the structure of the medieval mystery. The scenario was based on biblical texts, medieval mystery texts from the Coventry county and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's story about the Grand Inquisitor- which Szkotak often recurred to. Grand Inquisitor's monologue from The Brothers Karamazov was one of the main inspirations, also previously used in Giordano.
The script to grotesque spectacle Drink vinegar, gentlemen (1998) was based on the work of pre-war Russian avantgardist, Daniel Charms (poetry). This time the Poznań group invoked irony and perceived reality from a certain distance. However, the inspiration for Moonsailors (1999) were George Mélies's experimental fantasy motion pictures and classical images by Stanley Kubrick. The story about an expedition to the moon in 1899 revolves around the loneliness and fears of a man fascinated by technology. Exploring new worlds, traveling to the moon basically refers to our earthly existence. It also contains reflections on time and space converged in the microcosm- the human.
The poetic power of Moonsailors is comparable with Giordano, which began the splendor of the Travel Bureau a few years ago, wrote Piotr Gruszczyński. The streets do not use conventional means of theatrical expression, so the emotions that it gives to the audience are difficult to describe and the qualifications, elusive as stardust, surely would be taken by handfuls. The Travel Bureau has a great ability to ennoble statements, which in the mouth of columnists become incredibly banal, but in the hands of those who play with glass beads they become so complicated, that they can no longer control the emotions of the huge street cluster.
- Tygodnik Powszechny, June 25, 1999.
Manuscript by Alfonso van Worden the Travel Bureau's performance in 2002 was based on an eighteenth-century novel by Jan Potocki, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. The actual and inner journey of the main character becomes a parable about spiritual maturity and the spiritual struggle with destiny.
Paweł Szkotak (...), wrote Jacek Sieradzki, does not stage Potocki's 'story within story' plot, he only recalls its images, placing them in the tarot symbolism. Alfonso van Worden with the faithful Moskit alongside, wade through the world of apparitions and illusions, which are beautiful and funny at the same time, on a wonderful two-headed horse, which, instead of stirrups has cycling gear pedals. He (Szkotak) exserts with the whole impressive machinery of professional street theater in a fantasy world of adventures, battles and fights (...) A beautiful spectacle, incisive, clear as crystal - and wise.
- Polityka, 2001, No. 28.
In 2003 the group created a bitter-humorous performance based on the rule of contrast, entitled Świnopolis / Pigs, referring to George Orwell's prose.
The spectacle is short, clear and light, as opposed to the seriousness of the matter it presents, giving a very strong effect.
- Piotr Gruszczyński, Tygodnik Powszechny, July, 2003.
Indeed, Pigs is a novel about the desire of freedom, rebellion, and eventually slaughter and destruction.
Szkotak wants the street theater not only to tell wonderful stories, elicit emotions. Each of his performances carries out a concrete, bitter message garnished in a sauce of irony, summarizes Łukasz Drewniak. 'Pigs': All the rebels end up the same way - disappointed, deceived, betrayed. 'Moonsailors': we do not have what to look for on other planets, if we did not yet solve our problems on earth. 'Manuscript by Alfonso van Worden': sleep and madness are the two faces of death; a man will never escape from it.
- Przekrój, 2003, No. 36.
The premiere of Who is that Bloodied Man based on William Shakespeare's Macbeth, took place in 2005 in Cork, Ireland. Simplifying the meanings contained in the drama and the poetics of mental shortcuts led to presenting a chaotic world -in a bit schematic, yet still emphatic way- full of atrocities and crimes. A world in which murder has became common and is percieved normal.
I would really want there to be a trilogy along with 'Hamlet' and 'Richard III', Szkotak said before the premiere.Shakespeare has created all of our modern mythology. He referred to all the possible interpersonal relationships: lovers, marriage, parents and children, friends, subordinates and superiors... And in addition to his dramas, we have a fast-paced, almost sensational action. I am not surprised that today's filmmakers are so eager to take up his spectacles. Besides, it is really frightening that not only th human nature is unchanged for centuries, but whole sets of behaviors have been identical for years.
- Gazeta Wyborcza, 05/21/2005.
The Poznań performers returned to the motive of the degraded world in play H of D (premiered at the National Theatre in London, 2007) inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. People struggle to survive, on one side there are the rich, armed with the latest technology, on the other there are the poor, excluded people; what we see is a cold, devoid of metaphysics, a polarised world.
Recently the group has prepared an outdoor show Planet Lem (2010), produced in collaboration with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute within the cultural programme of the Polish presidency in the European Union in 2011. The performance is inspired by Stanisław Lem's fiction, his unique, witty and poignant diagnosis of the contemporary world, and reflection on the relations between technological progress and limitations of the human race. The show depicts a future world, in which artifical intelligence provides the human-like race an illusory prosperity and thus corrupts it. It makes the human existence come down to a peaceful, passive existence and the meaning of life amounts to a dose of hallucinogenic substance. The show is directed by Paweł Szkotak and the performance employs a spectacular mobile set design, special light effects and multimedia projections. Music composed especially for the performance by Krzysztof Nowikow unites a symphonic resonance with postindustrial sounds.
The Travel Bureau Theatre's spectacle, wrote Stefan Drajewski, shows the destruction of a human as a species on one hand and the strength of remaining in a stereotype, in the captivity of habits and customs on the other.
- Polska. Głos Wielkopolski, No. 284.
Planet Lem was presented in Brussels, Paris, London, Berlin, Madrid, Moscow, Minsk, Kiev, Beijing and Tokyo.
The Travel Bureau Theatre has presented their spectacles in nearly 50 countries and participated in every major festival all around the world, including: Edinburgh, London, Nancy, Istanbul, Ljubljana, Belgrade, Seoul, Bombay, Lisbon, New York. Carmen Funebre is the most popular spectacle they performed (over 200 times). Recently it received a first Grand Prix at the International Festival of Street Theatre in Athens (2009). The Bureau is also a frequent guest at Polish festivals, ranging from Malta to Toruń's First Contact. It has held theater workshops which took place in inter alia Poland, the United States, Britain, Israel, Russia, Lebanon and Colombia.
The theatre group has won many prestigious awards, including Fringe First and the Critics' Award at the International Arts Festival in Edinburgh (1995) and Hamada Award at the same festival (1996), as well as The Best Scenography Award at the International Festival for Experimental Theatre in Cairo (2001). In 2002 the group was honoured with the Minister of Culture Award and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Award for its contribution in promoting Poland around the world and in 2004 the ITI award. Director of the Travel Bureau Theatre received the Polityka's Passport award in 2005. In 2008, Paweł Szkotak, Marta Strzałko and Jarosław Siejkowski were awarded with the Gloria Artis Medals.
The Adam Mickiewicz Institute has published a book Travel Bureau Theatre Between Earth and Heaven, a full-colour collection of photographs and writings on the Travel Bureau Theatre's vibrant history travelling the stages of the world with its bold repertoire.
Michał Bujanowicz, June 2004.
update: December 2008
update: January 2011