What provoked the theater of the times of the People’s Republic of Poland and what outrages Poles today? Here are some of the most notorious artistic and moral scandals with a touch of theater, politics and religion.
Christ returns at Grotowski
The legendary veil of the artist accursed by the Church has been accompanying the director Jerzy Grotowski for more than a quarter of a century. The Primate of the Millennium, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, in his famous 1976 sermon delivered at the Cracow Skalka, loudly condemned the author of the Laboratory Theater, calling his performance “Apocalypsis cum figuris” “real swinishness” that demoralizes the Polish people on a par with drunkenness. What was it that shocked the church hierarchs so much? Puzyna Constants noted on the pages of the Teatr magazine that this performance had become a global event:
In “Apocalypsis …” there is almost no literary script. The text in the play is a chaotic mixture of Bible quotes, church songs, Dostoevsky, Eliot and Simone Weil. At first glance, all this is completely incompatible with one another. In this collage, indistinct lines of associations are barely discernible, one can only figure out that Simon-Peter speaks in the words of the Grand Inquisitor from “The Brothers Karamazov”, and the Dark One, defending himself, pitifully, bitterly speaks in Eliot’s verses. No plot is built out of these texts, they are of an auxiliary character, like props. The stage poem by Grotowski is completely constructed from acting actions and experiences, only they contain both the plot and the problems of the performance. Both are unclear, confusing, ambiguous. The laws of poetry, not prose, the laws of distant associations, layering of metaphors, the constant transition of an image into an image, one action into another, one meaning into another, operate here. There are allusions to biblical scenes and modern village customs, to symbols of the Liturgy and hooligan drunkenness, to an elegant resident of the outskirts and David in front of the Ark.
Grotowski, who in his performance boldly experimented with the Christian tradition and the Gospel, was also sharply condemned by the Polish right, calling the famous director a charlatan and a blasphemer.
In the same sermon, the cardinal sounded another title that aroused violent emotions among the public: “The White Marriage” by Tadeusz Ruzhevich, “a disgusting performance”, which for its author was a dream-reflection on the “sexual question”. This production, in which the author boldly touched on sexual issues, was much talked about even before its premiere, which took place in 1975 at the Maly Theater in Warsaw, and then in Wroclaw. The scandal hung in the air. “Apparently, someone decided to serve the cardinal and sent him the Dialog magazine. Be that as it may, the cardinal mentioned me along with Grotovsky in a sermon on Skalka, which, due to the people buried there, is certainly a magical place. Wyspianski lies there. And the last one is Milos, right? ”- recalled Ruzhevich on the pages of Tygodnik Powszechny.
The hype around the performance, intensified by warnings from the church pulpits, affected the theatrical audience like a magnet; art lovers from all over Poland were pounding at the doors and windows of the Wroclaw theater, the attendance of which was then breaking all records. There was another interesting point in all this: then, for the only time in the history of the People’s Republic of Poland, the church hierarchy secretly discussed with the communist bosses the possible censorship bans on the works of the author of the “Card Index”. This also applied to the play “Into the Sand” staged at the Theater on Wola, which provoked sharp protests from veterans of the Home Army. Cause? As Janusz R. Kowalczyk explains, the fact is that an author with a rare knowledge of the subject showed the partisan life he knew firsthand without patriotic rapture:
He showed that part of her that was always hushed up: slush, dirt, lice, blood, poor food, longing for relatives, a painful lack of women, tough discipline. The village simpleton Walus, who dreamed of seeing Krakow and Czestochowa after the war, returned to the detachment from a robber raid. He performed it with two commanders who disappeared along with the prey. The anger of the authorities focused on this guy, who cannot understand what his fault is – after all, he was just following the orders of his superiors. Ruzhevich created an antiepos about antiheroes. About the absurdity of war and the dehumanization to which it leads. About a vain sacrifice in the name of the triumph of a repressive law. About responsibility for your neighbor. For his pain, suffering and death. He asked the question, for what it is possible to die and where is the line beyond which the desecration of a person begins.
Due to the harsh reaction of veteran circles after the first two productions of the play (Tadeusz Lomnicki at the Warsaw Theater on Wola in 1979 and Kazimierz Kuts at the Television Theater in 1991), the author rarely gave consent to its subsequent productions. This was once again done by Janusz Oprynski and Witold Mazurkiewicz from the Provizorim Theater and the Teatr Company in Lublin in 2003.
“Dzyady” Deimek: “Uh, you see a provocation in everything!”
On January 30, 1968, at the National Theater in Warsaw, the last, eleventh performance of the legendary “Dziady” staged by Kazimierz Deimek with Gustav Holoubek in the title role, removed from the repertoire by the authorities for “anti-Sovietism”, took place. The Dzyadov case gave impetus to student protests and the events of March-68. The performance met with sharp criticism from the leadership of the Polish Workers’ Party. After four evening performances, Deimek was informed that the play could be played no more than once a week, schoolchildren were allowed to sell no more than 100 tickets at regular prices, and the director should watch the public’s reaction. Kazimierz Deimek, who was urgently summoned to the Central Committee, heard from the head of the culture department Vincent Krasko that his production of Dzyady was “anti-Russian, anti-Soviet and overly religious.” Gomulka called the performance “a knife in the back of Polish-Soviet friendship.” The last performance, which took place on January 30, 1968, was attended by crowds. There were exclamations: “Independence without censorship!”, “We want Dzyadov!”, “Deimek! Deymek! ” At the end of the performance, the audience chanting “Free art! Free Theater! ”, Walked in a column to the monument to Adam Mickiewicz on Krakowskie Przedmiescie. Police detained 35 people for “disturbing public order.”
Curse of the Pig
In response to the events of March 1968, one of the most prominent directors in the history of Polish theater staged two plays by Stanislaw Wyspianski: The Curse and The Judge. As Grzegorz Nizielek noted on the dwutygodnik.com portal, The Curse, presented on the stage of the Old Theater in Krakow, aroused especially strong emotions. The image of a dense, fanatical Polish village, a rabble stoning a young woman living with a priest, turned out to be too shocking for many, violating the boundaries of what is allowed in the theater.
The theatrical critic also cites the words of Martha Fick: “Therefore, when at last Young – no longer a man, but a maddened puppet in a burnt dress, with a face smeared with blood – falls from the blow of a heavy stone, when the thunders subside and the stricken silences the barking before a bulldog, and the crowd, even at such an eschatological moment, does not in the least resemble an antique choir (…), will hit its head to the ground – when the curtain finally covers all this madness – we feel relief. Relief, which is a natural reaction to an excess of events and satiety with such an aggressive theater. ”
The audience inherited the “Undivine Comedy”, and at first even “Liberation” – the legendary play staged on the stage of the Old Theater in Krakow in 1974 and filmed for the Television Theater several years later, after the tragic death of Piggy Laco Adamik and Agnieszka Holland. “I visited it several times, feeling an irresistible need to touch this masterly staging work,” recalls Janusz R. Kowalczyk. – I absorbed every living word, admiring the acting with the genius Jerzy Treley as Konrad. Wyspianski’s play belongs to those works that raise ruthless questions about what a Polish artist and intellectual is. It is saturated with irony through and through, this is a sentence to our morals and the eternal Polish impotence. ”
Svinarsky was accused of anti-Semitism, although he himself, recalling the rehearsals of Wojzeck (1966), said:
God-fearing actors did not dare to utter a reply: “Let’s urinate on the cross, maybe some Jew will die.” For half an hour we debated whether it was possible to say “Let’s urinate on the cross” from the stage. At the same time, no one thought whether it was possible to say “Maybe some Jew will die…”, – we read in the text of Magdalena Grokhovskaya.
An interrupted show
A few decades later, in the year dedicated to Konrad Svinarski, on the same national stage, the famous Croatian director Oliver Frlich, who came to Krakow at the invitation of Jan Klata, stops working on Zygmunt Krasinski’s “Undivine Comedy”. Seven of the eighteen actors involved in it refuse to participate in the play: Anna Dymna, Boleslav Bzhozovsky, Mieczyslaw Grombka, Tadeusz Hoek, Ryszard Lukowski, Jacek Romanovsky and Krzysztof Zawadsky. They explain that Frlich’s performance has nothing to do with the text of the master of Polish literature and the legendary staging of his tragedy carried out in 1965 by Konrad Swinarski.
After a series of critical “reviews” published in the conservative media before the premiere, as well as after the threats and warnings rained down on the theater, Jan Klata decided to suspend rehearsals, explaining that he was unable to engage in creative activities in an atmosphere of harassment and media hysteria. “We do not want the message this play carries to become a pretext for scandals, violence and aggressive behavior towards the troupe,” explained Klyata. And Frlich, in a conversation with Milada Endrysik, published on the pages of Tygodnik Powszechny magazine, explained this situation as follows:
I always face the fact that they try to interfere with my work, they try to disrupt the premiere. This time, these attempts were crowned with success. I am sorry that Poland succeeded in what did not work in Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Croatia. No society likes to deal with its problems. And Poland is no exception. And the point is not only in the choice of the topic, but also in the artistic language, which is able to touch these sensitive points. All the comments about the low level of the “Remains” performance are caused by a lack of understanding of the theater I am doing. (…)
This is not the first time the Polish public has given the famous Croat such an emotional welcome. On the dwutygodnik.com portal, the director recalled one of his performances presented at the Dialogue festival in Wroclaw: “In the culminating scene, a certain lady began to shout out to the actors, stood up and urged the audience to leave the hall. She did not like that in one of the scenes the actor spoke out about the conspiracy theory according to which the plane of Kaczynski was shot down by the Russians, she also did not like the attempts to touch upon the important topic of Catholicism in Poland.
Scandals around Klyata, continued
The cancellation of the rehearsals of the “Undivine Comedy” was not the first organized action by the right-wing against the theater leaders in Krakow. Earlier, with whistles and exclamations of “shame”, a group of aggressive spectators interrupted at the Old Theater the play “On the Way to Damascus” directed by Jan Klata based on the work of the Swedish writer August Strindberg. After the erotic scene (dressed actors imitated sexual intercourse, as well as “the act of copulating Globish with the scenery”), shouts were heard in the hall: “Globish, shame!”, “Shame, this is a national theater!”. The actors were showered with insults, the “prostitute” Dorota Segde, as well as the author of “satanic” music, got it.
Jan Klata commented on this incident in the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza:
I am deeply embarrassed by the boorish behavior of a group of screamers who imagine themselves to be defenders of high culture. I am especially sorry that the actors were insulted. If a person considers himself a member of the Cracow intelligentsia and is not able to distinguish an actress from the role she plays, then he is not ready to perceive art. It’s scary to think what would have happened if Anthony Hopkins had appeared on the streets of Krakow, he would have probably been lynched for the role of Hannibal Lector.
Macabra Dolorosa, or Fear Management
In 2013, the theater quickly responded to the gruesome story of a child-killer mother from Sosnovets. The New Theater in Krakow staged the play Macabra Dolorosa – a musical performance, a stage mix of texts from Medea, letters from Magda Goebbels and materials from cases of famous murderers of children. In the format of a surreal show, echoing the Dadaist performances of the first half of the twentieth century and German cabaret noir, director Pavel Sharek and his actors talked about the violence, madness and fall of man in his most intimate and organic hypostasis – woman and mother – in the context of totalitarian ideologies, illness and depression. The reactions of the audience and accusations of “dancing on the grave of a child in the rhythm of Manson” and PR to the tragedy did not take long.
How did the director answer? On the occasion of the conviction of Katarzyna V. to 25 years in prison, he prepared a special offer for the audience: tickets for 25 zlotys, and in an interview with the natemat.pl portal, he explained:
The story of Katarzyna V. became an impulse for action, not the only one, albeit a very important impetus, since it contains a factor that is very interesting for us: the element of the role of the media in hysteria and the creation of a pop culture icon from a woman suspected of murdering her child. This is very similar to the case of Rita Gorgonova in the thirties, which the whole of Poland also lived in (…). I am not surprised by the reaction, since this story is extremely sensitive to society. Criticism of this kind is part of the interaction with the audience, so it pleases me because it proves that it makes sense to conduct controversy and touch on such topics in the theater.
Eights in the church
Let’s go back to the days of communism and martial law, when the Church gave artists shelter and guaranteed creative freedom. With the outbreak of martial law, Poznań’s Eighth Day Theater, the leading alternative stage in the 70s in Poland, was persecuted. 1982-1984 the authorities did not allow the G8 to take part in foreign festivals in Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. In 1984, the Ministry of Culture and Arts, as well as the Poznan authorities, stopped funding the theater, took away its premises and banned it from performing. Then the theater played mainly in churches. Elzbieta Moravec wrote in the newspaper Tygodnik Solidarność:
During these years – between 1981 and 1985 – another barrier was erected in front of the theater – a ban on performances – and it had to be overcome. The Theater of the Eight Day, which had previously played mainly for a narrow circle of students and intellectuals, became a truly folk theater, the performances of which were massively attended by the audience during its performances in churches throughout Poland – in Krakow and Bialystok, in Lodz and Lublin, in Wroclaw and Swidnik.
Smolensk conspiracy of Lech Rachak
Four years after the presidential plane crash in Smolensk, Leh Rachak, one of the founders of the aforementioned G8s, turned to a topic that still divides society and politicians into two camps. Everyone gets it. Raczak ridicules the theory of the assassination attempt, sensational reports of TNT traces on the wreckage of an aircraft, defenders of the cross on Krakowskie Przedmiecie and the investigation of experts Anthony Matserevich. The right-wing media attacked Racak with accusations of insulting the memory of the victims of the tragedy.
An hour and a half performance caused indignation that did not subside for many weeks, in particular, protests at the club “Under the Lamprey”, where the actors played. In an interview with Newsweek magazine, the director recalled:
I received emails, where they threatened to beat me on a dark street, but I never considered canceling the performance! (…) After March-68, I realized that if a person wants to talk about the most important things in life, pretending that there is no politics, that there is no social agenda, will not work.
Racak also defended the canceled Picnic on Calvary by Rodrigo Garcia: the director said that on the day when the first show was to take place, he would meet with his friends at the castle to drink black coffee. “This will be a symbolic funeral of a performance that did not take place,” he explained to the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
In defense of Calvary
“Let’s put the” Picnic on Calvary “at least in the garage!” – urged Internet users, cultural figures, artists and activists who did not accept the decision to cancel one of the most important performances of the Poznan festival “Malta”. Protests, readings and concerts in defense of the performance took place all over Poland.
The performance was supposed to be the culmination of the Malta 2014 program. The famous performance by the Argentinean director Rodrigo Garcia has already been shown in many countries and everywhere evoked strong emotions in the public: from admiration and catharsis to indignation. And only in Poznan the performance was canceled after the protests of church hierarchs and threats from some Catholic circles. Cause? An insult to the feelings of believers by a combination of Christian iconography – from Goya to Rubens – with nudity and a picnic, which, as the authors of the play explain, is also the Last Supper of modern civilization.
The decision to cancel the “Picnic on Calvary”, explained by the concern for the safety of spectators, artists and Festival staff, caused a real storm, blew up Internet forums and social networks. “Let’s put the“ Picnic on Calvary ”at least in the garden, in the garage, in some big room! Where freedom of expression will not be restricted by the city authorities or the archbishop! In a space where the threat of a manifestation of many thousands will be recognized by law as an act of aggression. Because we have the right! “, – wrote the creators of the public” Let’s put the “Picnic on Calvary” on Facebook.
Within a few hours, almost a thousand people expressed their readiness to take part in the action. The appeal of Citizens of Culture to President Bronislaw Komorowski gathered five times more signatures. “Without a free culture, there is no free state,” said this letter, signed by prominent representatives of the world of culture, art and the media, incl. Agnieszka Holland, Jacek Zhakovsky, Hanna Wrublewska, Krzysztof Krause and Joanna Kos-Krause.