Director, actor for theatre and film, educator, general director of theatres and publicist. He was born on March 23, 1930 in Warsaw and died on January 12, 1989.
A director, actor for theatre and film, educator, general director of theatres and publicist.
Zygmunt Hübner is one of the most significant theatre artists and artistic directors of the post-war Polish theatre.
Marta Fik summed up his quietly extraordinary life after his death: "He did not enjoy great popularity, and yet, there used to be years when he was greatly spoken of and there used to be seasons when the theatres that he managed were in fashion. He did not seem to be as strong and exciting an individual as his other well-known colleagues: neither in his private life nor theatre career. He did not look like an artist, rather like a conventional officer of an embassy, bank or ministry who wore well-cut suits and did not mince words. (…) He won recognition as an outstanding general director, renowned theatre director, good actor and an author of brilliant essays and popular dramas. And yet, he was not considered Number One in any of these roles. Neither did he fully celebrate any of his outstanding achievements in the spotlight. Nonetheless, when we were saying goodbye to him at the Powązki cemetery a few months ago, nobody had doubts that a remarkably significant, and discreetly exceptional person had left us" (Marta Fik, "Zamiast teatru/In Place of Theatre", Warsaw 1993).
Zygmunt Hübner graduated from the Acting Department at the Theatre Academy in Warsaw in 1952 and again in 1956 from the Directing department. He made his theatre debut in 1953 as an actor at the Narodowy Theatre in Warsaw playing the role of Lassota in Jan August Kisielewski’s "Karykatura" (Caricature) directed by Jerzy Rakowiecki. In 1955, Hübner co-directed his first production (with Bronisław Pawlik) of Sean O’Casey’s "The Shadow of a Gunman" at the Współczesny Theatre in Warsaw. His first individual production was Janusz Warmiński’s "Melodramat" (Melodrama) staged the same year at the Wybrzeże Theatre in Gdańsk. At the threshold of his career as an actor, Hübner cooperated with the Ludowy Theatre in Nowa Huta and in the Narodowy Theatre in Warsaw.
In 1958, he took the post of Artistic Director at the Wybrzeże Theatre. Following this assignment, his professional career would follow a path as a manager of theatres. During the season of 1962 to 1963, he was the general director of the Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław, from 1963 to 1970 he worked as the General Director of the Stary Theatre in Kraków and between 1974 and 1989 he worked for the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw, first as an artistic director, and after 1977 as a general director.
Hübner was considered to be an outstanding general director. He made his stages available to the greatest producers of his time such as Jerzy Jarocki and Konrad Swinarski. It was during his tenure as director of the Wybrzeże Theatre that Andrzej Wajda made his debut. The name "Hübner’s Theatre" was used not only in reference to the artist’s output, but also to his style of management and artistic direction of the stages where he was the general director. Hübner’s theatres gained a cherished reputation of intellectual discipline, the highest artistic standards, independence and freedom of thinking. Hübner did not make a theatre focused solely on form and aesthetics; he was also interested in a theatre that was close to contemporary human experience. He created a theatre of people tangled in a fight with their individual identity and the surrounding reality. Whether it was a classical drama or contemporary play, Hübner’s motto was the same as he originally defined it during his term as the general director of the Powszechny Theatre: "theatre is not indifferent". As a result, his position of a theatre’s general director frequently brought him into conflict with the authorities. When the Kraków officials banned two subsequent premieres of the Stary Theatre under Hübner’s management: Ernest Bryll’s "Kurdesz" and Helmut Kajzar’s "Paternoster", he resigned. Nevertheless, theatre management remained a guiding passion.
Hübner wrote: "What can I do? – I enjoy being the director. (...) There are more candidates for theatre directors in Poland than the theatres themselves. I certainly prefer this profession to working in a stone-pit, especially that I am not that fit for manual labour. And I know why I like this profession. I do not play cards nor bet on races; lotteries or lotto are of no interest to me; I do not play any dangerous sports (…). Nonetheless, it does not mean that I feel no need for gambling. Working in theatre management satisfies these needs with a surplus. Managing a theatre is a high-risk game". ("Instead of a Resume" in "Zygmunt Hübner. March 23, 1930 – January 12, 1989," Gdańsk–Kraków–Warsaw 2000).
Hübner, the stage director was an artist who constantly drew upon current affairs. "I am in favour of a theatre that cuts in," wrote Hübner, (...) "Theatre that cuts into politics, social life and the most intimate matters. Theatre that holds its own opinion, expresses it openly and defends it – from the stage, of course." ("Instead of a Resume" in "Zygmunt Hübner. March 23, 1930 – January 12, 1989," Gdańsk–Kraków–Warsaw 2000).
His most intriguing productions included: Moliere’s "The Misanthrope" at the Stary Theatre (1966), James Joyce’s "Ulysses" at the Wybrzeże Theatre (1970) and Dale Wasserman’s production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" based on Ken Kesey’s novel staged at the Powszechny Theatre. (1977).
For Moliere’s play "The Misanthrope", Hübner brought to light its contemporary context by commissioning a new translation by Jan Kott. After the premiere, Jan Kłossowicz wrote: "The freshly-painted ‘Misanthrope’ proves to be, even more than ‘Don Juan,’ a considerably up-to-date and by far unusual kind of drama. It makes us laugh as Ionesco, Mrożek, or Różewicz does. At the same time, it’s much more bitter than the others." ("Polityka" 1966, nr 27).
Hübner played Alceste in The Misanthrope. It was one of his best performances. "(…) His Misanthrope was as unique and extraordinary as the entire show. Neither a modern beatnik, nor a 19th century reasoner, nor one of Moliere’s recluses." – continued Kłossowicz. – "Hübner plays an ordinary man who has rebelled against the world he lives in." ("Polityka" 1966, No. 27).
Hübner’s "Ulysses" was a novelty in the director’s output, which had until then preferred a realistic theatre and drama. He adapted Joyce’s novel in the translation by Maciej Słomczyński for an experimental stage. The production was completed with a remarkable consistency and logic. He highlighted the most significant aspects of Joyce’s prose and the performance was kept in a melancholic tone.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" was the most famous performance directed by Hübner with outstanding interpretations by Wojciech Pszoniak and Franciszek Pieczka. Hübner produced a touching theatrical adaptation of a work that was already present in the audiences’ mind thanks to the renowned film adaptation with Jack Nicholson. "In a sense the performance at the Powszechny Theatre distances itself from this legend, from the Douglases, Americans, Nicholsons and the great publicity of the case itself." – wrote Teresa Krzemień. – "It is staged as if the previous one did not exist at all. It is reserved and simple – and the more shocking because of that."("Kultura" 1977, No. 41).
"I am not an actor. I perform only occasionally." – admitted Hübner. ("Instead of a Resume" in "Zygmunt Hübner. March 23, 1930 – January 12, 1989," Gdańsk–Kraków–Warsaw 2000). And yet, he played several dozen film and theatre roles. He performed in, among others, Stanisław Różewicz’s "Westerplatte" (1967); Andrzej Wajda’s "Smuga Cienia" (The Shadow Line) (1976) and Krzysztof Kieślowski’s "Przypadek" (Blind Chance). At the Powszechny Theatre, he played Moczarski in Andrzej Wajda’s production of "Rozmowy z Katem" (Conversations with an Executioner) based on the memoir of Kazimierz Moczarski (1977). "The text forced us to look for somebody whose face did not appear on the stage too often and is associated with the actor’s name to a lesser extent. This worked well, to some extent even too well. I was asked questions by some spectators who believed that I was Moczarski…" – recalled Hübner ("Instead of a Resume" in "Zygmunt Hübner. March 23, 1930 – January 12, 1989," Gdańsk–Kraków–Warsaw 2000). Krzysztof Kąkolewski observed: “Before our own eyes Hübner becomes Moczarski. This transformation takes place through a subdued tone and a smile lurking in his voice, or even the same manner of wearing a greyish blue suit since Moczarski was a soldier who did not wear a uniform.” ("Teatr" 1978, no 7).
In addition, Hübner produced many shows for the Television Theatre, including Nikolai Gogol’s "Dead Souls" (1966), a brilliant production of Shakespeare’s "The Taming of the Shrew" with Tadeusz Łomnicki as Petruchio and Magdalena Zawadzka as Katherina (1971); Moliere’s "Don Juan" with Jan Englert and Wojciech Pszoniak (1974); Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" (1979) and Witold Gombrowicz’s "Iwona Księżniczka Burgunda" (Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy) (1987).
Hübner was also a lecturer at the Theatre Academy in Warsaw. He wrote columns and essays published in such collections as "Przepraszam, nic nowego" (Nothing New, Sorry) and "Loki na łysinie" (Curlers on a Bald Head).
The Powszechny Theatre (Zbigniew Hübner Theatre) in Warsaw is now named after him.
Significant awards and distinctions:
- 1960 – Meritorious Culture Activist, distinction for the role of Berenger in Eugene Ionesco’s "Rhinoceros" (and for the direction of the piece) at Wybrzeże Theatre in Gdańsk at the 2nd Festival of Northern Poland Theatres in Toruń
- 1965 – The Golden Cross of Merit
- 1967 – The Golden Decoration for Merits for Kraków, 3rd Degree Award of the Minster of Culture and Art for the management and directing achievements at the Stary Theatre in Kraków
- 1968 – National Municipal Council of Kraków for the lifetime artistic achievements and outstanding achievements in enhancing the artistic standards of the Stary Theatre
- 1969 – Meritorious Culture Activist, Commander Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland
- 1971 – Boy Prize, Stańczyk Order – for production of James Joyce’s "Ulysses" at the Wybrzeże Theatre in Gdańsk
- 1977 – First Prize for direction of Władysław Terlecki’s "Odpocznij po Biegu" (Relax After the Run) at the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw at the 18th Contemporary Polish Plays Festival in Wrocław, Minister of Culture and Art Award
- 1978 – Commander Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland; award for the role of Moczarski in Kazimierz Moczarski’s "Rozmowy z Katem" (Conversations with an Executioner) directed by Andrzej Wajda at the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw at the 19th Contemporary Polish Plays Festival in Wrocław; award for text edition and the role of Moczarski in Rozmowy z Katem/ Conversations with an Executioner directed by Andrzej Wajda at the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw at the 18th Theatre Meetings in Kalisz
- 1979 – Award for direction of Dale Wasserman’s "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" based on Ken Kesey’s novel at the 19th Theatre Meetings in Kalisz; the Golden Pike for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the 3rd Television Art Festival in Olsztyn; Boy Prize, award for the direction of Aleksander Fredro’s "Zemsta" (The Revenge) at the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw at the 5th Theatre Confrontations in Opole; 1st Degree Award of the Prime Minister for artistic inspirations for the development of theatre art and performances
- 1980 – Commemorative Medal for Best Director of a television production won at a "Tygodnik Kulturalny" and Towarzystwo Wiedzy Powszechnej/Common Knowledge Society plebiscite; first prize (for ensemble) for Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" at the 20th Theatre Meetings in Kalisz
- 1983 – 1st Degree Award of the Polish Radio and Television Committee for direction of Zygmunt Krasiński’s "Nie-Boska Komedia" (The Un-divine Comedy) at the Television Theatre
- 1986 – Medal of the 40th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of Poland
- 1987 – Award of the Chairman of the Polish Radio and Television Committee for direction of "Spiskowcy" (The Secret Agent) based on Joseph Conrad’s novel at the Television Theatre and the role in Władysław Terlecki’s "Przyjdę do pani znów za rok" (I Will Be Back in A Year) directed by Andrzej Sapij
- 1988 – The President of the City of Warsaw Award for direction of Euripides’s "Medea" at the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw
- 1990 – Konrad Swinarski Prize (posthumous)
- 1992 – ITI Award "Teatralna książka roku 1991"/ "Theatre Book of the Year 1991" for the case study "Polityka i teatr"/"Polictics and Theatre" (posthumuous).
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, October 2003.