Everybody in the theatre circles of New York, America, and Poland will remember this unforgettable man for his unusual aura of kindness and disarming grace.
Daniel Gerould, courtesy of Paul Bargetto
Poland and the U.S. pay tribute to theatre scholar Daniel Gerould after his passing on the 13th of February, 2012
"This epoch is now over and complete – almost all its major practitioners are either dead or inactive."
- Daniel Gerould, introduction to Quick Change.
He was a subtle, humble man of culture, generous and always eager to help. Everybody in the theatre circles of New York, America, and Poland will remember this unforgettable man for his unusual aura of kindness and disarming grace.
Daniel Gerould- a prince of theatre - passed away suddenly on January 13. It is very hard to write about him in the past tense.
I knew Daniel for many years. We met for the first time when I was a student and he was a visiting professor at the University of Warsaw. We reminisced about these times when I met him again in New York in the late 1980s. Then we saw each other more often because Daniel attended practically every event connected to Polish culture in New York - whether it be the new staging of a Polish play, the arrival of a theatre group from Poland, an exhibition of Polish art, or a film festival. He was always there as an organizer, invited speaker, commentator, or just part of the audience.
French literature and culture was Daniel’s initial area of interest and the book Guillotine: Its Legend and Lore and many others essays on French theatre and performance resulted from this early attraction. Later he discovered Russian theatre. When he came to Poland for the first time in the summer of 1965 he still spoke only Russian and French. It was when he discovered the plays of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy) in the drawer of Jerzy Sokołowski, a Polish Ministry of Culture official, that his love affair with with Poland and Polish culture began. He mastered Polish so well that no one meeting him for the first time would suspect that Polish was not his mother tongue, but his third foreign language.
From that time on he devoted himself fully to Polish theatre and Witkacy. In the Anglo-Saxon world he became a true ambassador of Polish theatre and culture. As a Lucille Lortel Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Comparative Literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center, he energised his students with his passion for Polish theatre. Thanks to Daniel, I can frankly say that there is no serious student of theatre in the USA who does not know about Witkiewicz, Witold Gombrowicz, Tadeusz Kantor, Jerzy Grotowski, Sławomir Mrożek, and Tadeusz Różewicz. Professor Gerould constantly expanded that list, adding to it the names of young playwrights and directors such as Dorota Masłowska or Przemysław Wojcieszek.
He is responsible for practically all English language translations of Witkacy’s works including plays and essays on art and theory as well as his letters. All theatre performances of Witkacy in the USA (and there were more than twenty from 1966-76 alone) were based on his translations. His energy and intellectual curiosity resulted in the translations of other Polish writers as well such as Mrożek, Stanisława Przybyszewska (together with his wife Jadwiga Kosicka), and poetry from the Green Goose Cabaret in Kraków.
Professor Gerould’s interests were obviously not limited to Polish and East European theatre however. Apart from the translations he left a great number of books and articles on theatre and drama theory, Theatre/Theory: Theory/Theatre, The Witkiewicz Reader, Doubles, Demons, and Dreamers: An International Collection of Symbolist Drama, American Melodrama, and many essays about world theatre.
The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, where he worked as a director, presented avantgarde theatre from all over the world. At the same time the Slavic and East European Performance journal he edited for many years was devoted to theatre as well as the film culture of Central and Eastern Europe. But Poland always occupied a special place in Professor Gerould’s heart.
He was an erudite scholar of the highest rank, but often he did not write about "the overexposed and universally celebrated" but rather, as he mentions in Quick Change “the underrated, the ignored, and the forgotten". His work on the history and practice of theatre not only expanded, but literally re-shuffled the world theatre map introducing such unknown figures as Witkiewicz, whose works went from complete obscurity to classics of the avantgarde.
The loss of Daniel Gerould is an indescribable blow for all of us on this side of the Atlantic. At future theatre performances, conferences, and talks we will always leave a chair for him, because he will still be with us somehow.
Written by Krystyna Lipińska Iłłakowicz, lecturer of Polish language and literature at Yale University.
See dramatist and critic George Hunka's reflections on Daniel Gerould on his blog www.superfluitiesredux.com
See more on Professor Daniel Gerould's publications on web.gc.cuny.edu/mestc/home/bios/gerould.html