A stage director, literary director, theatre manager, educator, writer, columnist, theatre critic, translator. Born February 28, 1889 in Lviv; died March 2, 1959 in Warsaw.
A stage director, literary director, theatre manager, educator, writer, columnist, theatre critic and translator.
Theatre history is shaped not only by authors, actors, directors and designers, but also by initiators and organizers devoted entirely to theatre art, as Koźmian and Pawlikowski were in past years and as today a small group of theatre people of this caliber are, Wilam Horzyca being chief among them", wrote Władysław Józef Dobrowolski in 1946 about Horzyca, a stage director and mastermind of many theatre endeavors ('Odra' quarterly, 1946, no. 10).
Horzyca's family came from Bohemia, and his name was actually Wilhelm Henryk Hořitza. He studied at secondary schools in Lviv and Stryj, and passed his baccalaureate in the latter in 1908. In 1908-1914 he studied German language and literature, art history in the Philology Department of the University of Vienna. Upon graduating in 1914, he enlisted with the Polish Legions, in which he served until 1918. The last year of World War I he spent teaching German at a secondary school in Lviv. In 1918 he was conscripted into the newly formed Polish Army and moved to Warsaw when assigned a position in the Resource Management Department of the Ministry of Military Affairs. He was discharged in 1921 having risen to the rank of army captain. Still in the 1920s he began working as an educator. From 1922-1931 he lectured on the history of drama and popular theatre at the State Drama School (in 1923 this institution was incorporated into the Conservatory of Music as the Department of Drama). He became director of this school in 1929.
Horzyca first published a number of reviews and poems in 1919 as a collaborator of the periodicals "Pro Arte" and "Zdrój" / "Wellspring". In 1920 he joined the Skamander literary group, serving as editor-in-chief of "Skamander" magazine and authoring the group's artistic manifesto that was printed in the first issue. In 1924 he took his first theatre job when he became the artistic secretary and dramaturge of Warsaw's experimental Bogusławski Theatre. During the institution's second season Horzyca managed it in tandem with Leon Schiller and Aleksander Zelwerowicz. He worked hard for, and co-created, this avant-garde theatre that ultimately proved the cradle of modern Polish staging. While there, he contributed to shaping the Polish monumental style of theatre, whose chief instigator and representative was Schiller. It was in Warsaw in 1925 that Horzyca convinced Schiller to stage the world premiere of Kniaź Patiomkin / Prince Potemkin by Tadeusz Miciński, an author Horzyca highly esteemed. Additionally, the artist contributed to stagings of Stanisław Wyspiański's Achilles (1925) and Stefan Żeromski's Róża / The Rose (1926), both of which were directed at the theatre by Schiller.
From 1931-1937 Horzyca served as director of the Municipal Theatres in Lviv, an institution that encompassed two stages: the Grand Theatre and the Variety Theatre. He shaped these into the most interesting theatres in Poland at the time; while managing the institution, he worked with interesting artists like the directors Schiller, Edmund Wierciński, Wacław Radulski and Bronisław Dąbrowski, and stage designers Władysław Daszewski, Otto Axer and Andrzej Pronaszko. Horzyca promoted the classical Polish repertoire at this theatre, inspiring a production of Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady / Forefathers' Eve directed by Schiller (1932) - who also mounted Juliusz Słowacki's Sen srebrny Salomei / Salome's Silver Dream (1932) - and designing the scenery for Jan Kochanowski's Odprawa poslow greckich / The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys (1936) as directed by Antoni Cwojdziński. The repertoire of the Lviv Municipal Theatres also included the plays of Stanisław Wyspiański and Cyprian Kamil Norwid, as well as Wojciech Bogusławski, Aleksander Fredro, Gabriela Zapolska, Tadeusz Rittner and Jerzy Szaniawski. World classics in the repertoire included the Calderon and Shakespeare plays. Horzyca also valued contemporary drama, directing the works of George Bernard Shaw, Henrik Ibsen, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Filippo Tomasso Marinetti and Luigi Pirandello. While in Lviv, the artist also frequently adapted non-dramatic texts for the stage and initiated and co-conceived original productions, often assuming the role of director. Yet he rarely lent his name to these projects. He was not officially qualified as a director at the time, and only acquired this professional title in 1939 upon passing an exam at the State Institute of Theatre Art in Warsaw. As a result, at the Municipal Theatres he was officially listed as the director of only two productions, that is, two plays by Shaw for which Pronaszko designed the scenery - The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (1937) and Mrs. Warren's Profession (1937). In the 1930s he was the publisher of a periodical titled "Scena Lwowska" [The Lviv Stage] in which he also printed his own sketches and articles. Around this time he confirmed his thinking about a brand of theatre far removed from naturalism and psychological motivation and closer to a contemporary vision of the morality or mystery play. Horzyca was an idealist who believed in the power of poetry to shape viewers' imaginations. "(...) Horzyca's traditionally Catholic worldview always favored moral heroism, human will and freedom of choice, and a deep, unshaken faith in values," wrote Konstanty Puzyna. "This lead him to programmatically dislike all expressions of philosophical nihilism, and even of pure derision, if they lacked a clear moral counterweight" (in: W. Dudzik, "Wilama Horzycy dramat niespelnienia" / "Wilam Horzyca's Dramatic Non-fulfillment", Warsaw, 1990). Language was always at the center of the director's interests, and Horzyca almost treated it as a personal cult object. In his theatre, and especially in his original stagings (including those of the postwar era), the verbal layer was so important that poetic language, often deeply honed and refined, turned into pompous declamation that stripped utterances of energy and rendered them monotonous. At the same time, he achieved very good results through his method of working with actors, as long as they remained open to his idea of pure, poetic play marked by a certain distance. The director similarly disliked literal scenery. In his productions scenery was based on a certain convention and was spare, often incorporating platforms and other changeable elements capable of varying the rhythm of the playing space.
In 1937 Horzyca left Lviv for Warsaw. Until the outbreak of World War II, he co-managed the National Theatre, sharing the directorship initially with Ludwik Solski and later with Aleksander Zelwerowicz.
Horzyca was politically active throughout the inter-bellum, though never intensely so. From 1930-1935 he was a parliamentary deputy representing the Nonpartisan Block for Government Cooperation. He also wrote and translated a significant amount during these two decades. His translations from German and English included the short stories of Joseph Conrad, Georg Büchner's Danton's Death, Georg Kaiser's From Morning to Midnight, Gilbert Keith Chesterton's Magic, Federick Lonsdale's Aren't We All? and Gabor Janos Vaszary's Mariage. He also wrote and published essays like "Juliusz Slowacki - dzieje ducha / Juliusz Słowacki - tales of a spirit" (1927) and "Dzieje Konrada - tales of Konrad" (1930), in which he analyzed the works of Norwid, Wyspiański and Jan Lechon, and an essay titled "Aleksander Zelwerowicz" (1935). In the 1920s he contributed to the periodical "Scena Polska" / "The Polish Stage" and to "Epoka" / "Epoch" daily, and was the editor of the social and literary monthly "Droga" / "Road" (1928-1937) and, later, the social and cultural weekly "Pion" / "Upright" (1937-1939). A collection of his sketches and articles titled O dramacie / On drama (Warsaw, 1969) was published after his death. Horzyca also authored a drama in the postwar era; titled Pożegnanie / The Farewell, it explored the life of Mozart and was also published posthumously ("Dialog" monthly, 1959, no. 7).
During Germany's World War II occupation of Poland, the artist was initially in Lviv. In 1940 he traveled to Warsaw and found employment as a translator for the Municipal Authority. He also lectured on the history of literature in clandestine educational programs run secretly in the city's schools. Throughout 1943 and 1944 he co-edited the underground periodical "Nurt" / "Current" with Ferdynand Goetel. The dramas he wrote during the war about Alexander the Great, Caesar and Woodrow Wilson were lost in a fire during the Warsaw Uprising. Following the fall of the uprising, Horzyca got through to Krakow. He quickly got involved in theatre and moved to Katowice, where in 1945 he was appointed deputy director of the Wyspiański Theatre. Later the same year he became director of the Theatre of the Pomeranian Lands in Toruń. His tenure at the latter was marked by a string of successes until 1948, that is, until Socialist Realism was decreed the sole, legitimate artistic canon. During 1947/1948 he also managed a theatre in Bydgoszcz that was under the administration of his Torun theatre. Having developed his concept of theatre and its mission before World War II, Horzyca implemented it in Torun with great success. He practiced a kind of monumental theatre that was more conceptual and placid than that of Schiller. He believed that theatre "stood" on the grand classical repertoire, yet he remained extremely interested in contemporary drama, both domestic and from the West (especially from the English language zone). He directed many productions in Torun, staging Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1946, co-director with Leonia Jabłonkowna) and Romeo and Juliet (1947), Calderon's Life Is a Dream (1947) and Wyspiański's Wesele / The Wedding (1947). He also took on the works of Norwid, a writer he remained fond of. In a very interesting original production, he staged the writer's Za kulisami / In the Wings, blending in elements from his Tyrtej / Tyrtaeus (1946).
"Horzyca's concept was based on showing two opposing worlds in both dramas", wrote Danuta Falak. "On the one hand there was the world of truth and deep love capable of great feats (...), a world that treated man and his experiences seriously. On the other hand there was the world of hypocrisy and deceit, of shallow love limited by convention and the ‘proper tone,' of emptiness and the excessive ambitions of ball guests (...)" ("Pamietnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Journal", 1965, no. 2).
In Torun Horzyca also staged contemporary dramas, showing Chesterton's Magic (1947), Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1948) and Sergei Esenin's Pugachev (1948), among others. He hardly ignored the most interesting new plays written in Poland, directing Szaniawski's Dwa teatry / Two Theatres (1946) and Anna Świrszczyńska's Orfeusz / Orpheus (1946) to name but two.
After leaving Toruń, Horzyca spent three years in Poznań managing an administrative colossus made up of four stages - the Polish State Theatre in Poznań. He directed many revivals of his Torun productions there, including A Midsummer Night's Dream (1948), Pugachev (1948), Alexander Pushkin's Mozart and Salieri (1949) and Shaw's Major Barbara (1949). He also staged Federico Garcia Lorca's The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife in settings designed by Jan Kosiński (1950), a designer he had worked with previously on a play from the French classical repertoire - Jean Racine's Phaedra (1949). The latter featured a great performance by Irena Eichlerówna, who also appeared in the director's production of Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession (1951) at the Contemporary Theatre in Warsaw. In 1951, under official pressure deriving from the authorities' dislike of the poetic nature of his theatre, Horzyca was forced to step down from his position in Poznan. In Stalinist times he had problems finding a place for himself in the stifling and dull Socialist Realism. One after another, censors rejected the repertoire proposals he submitted. He receded into the margins of theatre life, wandering from theatre to theatre without ever remaining anywhere longer. He was deputy director of the National Theatre during the 1951/1952 season, then managed the Dramatic Theatres in Wrocław for a year before being removed in 1953. The 1950s saw him direct at the Polish Theatre in Wrocław, the Jaracz Theatre in Olsztyn, various theatres in Krakow (Słowacki Theatre, Stary Theatre, Young Viewers' Theatre) and Warsaw (Contemporary Theatre, National Theatre). In 1957, following the socio-political breakthrough of October 1956, Horzyca was appointed director of the National Theatre. He offered audiences a highly ambitious repertoire that which included revivals of two plays he had directed previously. These were Racine's Phaedra featuring Eichlerowna in the title role (1957) and Norwid's Za kulisami / In the Wings, which was presented during a single evening with the same author's Miłość czysta u kąpieli wodnych / Pure Love at the Baths (1959). He also staged Wyspiański's Wyzwolenie / Liberation (1958) and Heinrich Kleist's Książe Homburgu / Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (1958), perhaps his most interesting production of this period. Kleist was an author whom the director had originally explored while still a student in Vienna, when he prepared a doctoral thesis titled Szekspir i Kleist / Shakespeare and Kleist. Horzyca was already seriously ill when he began working on the Norwid production. This premiered on March 14, 1959, less than two weeks after the Horzyca passed away. At his death, he had been director of the national stage for less than two years.
- 1947 - Award of the Ministry of Culture and Art, 3rd class, for his direction and design of Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre of the Pomeranian Lands in Toruń, as presented at the Shakespeare Festival
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, September 2006.
Updated in November 2010.