“The scene is really developing”

WARSAW, POLAND—***Polish theatre, which has always had a strong reputation in the country, has in the last few years been finding critical acclaim across Europe and North America thanks to vibrant experimental productions by talented young directors. Poznan’s Biuro Podrozy opened the Edinburgh International festival this summer with a stunning production of “MacBeth” (receiving rave reviews from the New York Times and the Guardian) while Krakow’s celebrated street theatre company, KTO Theatre, presented an interpretative play based on Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago’s novel “Blindness.” Meanwhile this autumn, London’s Barbican Theatre put on the haunting play, “Nosferatu”, performed by TR Warszawa. These are just a few examples of the buzz and excitement surrounding Polish theatre these days. So why the buzz now? Much of it has to do with a plethora of young, savvy directors who are pushing the boundaries of experimental theatre, a historical tradition that can trace its roots back to directors like Jerzy Grotowski who became world-renowned for helping develop the concepts of both “poor theatre” and “theatre laboratory.”

One of the most acclaimed—both in Poland and abroad—young theatre directors is Pawel Passini. His Lublin-based theatre company, netTheatre, which won two awards in Edinburgh last year with their rendition of “Turandot”, also received critical acclaim in Edinburgh in 2012 with the rousing “Puppet. Book of Splendour”, a musical piece inspired by Tadeusz Kantor’s work. I spoke earlier this spring with Passini, a graduate of Warsaw’s Theatre Academy, to talk a bit about his work and where he sees Polish theatre at the moment.

Tell me how you got started in theatre.

I grew up in the Warsaw opera. At eight years old I was performing in front of 1000 people. I did that for the next 10 years. I think theatre is my first religion. I wanted to be a director since the age of about 15 but at that time in Poland,  directing was only for post-graduates.

21.05.2012 OPOLE , TEATR LALKI I KATORA , PAWEL PASSINI (REZYSER) PODCZAS CASTINGU DO ROLI JIMA MORRISONA FOT. MICHAL GROCHOLSKI / AGENCJA GAZETA SLOWA KLUCZOWE: MORRISON CASTING

21.05.2012 OPOLE , TEATR LALKI I KATORA , PAWEL PASSINI (REZYSER) PODCZAS CASTINGU DO ROLI JIMA MORRISONA
FOT. MICHAL GROCHOLSKI / AGENCJA GAZETA
SLOWA KLUCZOWE:
MORRISON CASTING

How would you describe your style of theater?

I have my own company, my own techniques, and repertoire. I think some of the actors  think I am a freak and when I arrive, they say, “Oh God, we have to do all these movements and crazy things.” (laughs) And they gossip how crazy it is. The way I am making theatre, it is a bit different from what people do in traditional theatre and it has a consequence. People, well hard to speak of yourself, but reviewers write a thesis on the theatre I am doing. It is not a style but a way of making theatre, and when they are writing about this, the fact that I am Jewish seems to be an important factor.

How would you say your religion plays into the work that you do?

People call me a Jewish director; everyone knows that. I even decided to emphasize it in the beginning to stop having these doubts and problems and also to give hope for other people in the same situation. Funny thing is, I have an Italian family name and I do not know why and how my grandfather got this name. People who write about my performances often start out with the fact that I am Jewish. They write that my style and interpretations are taken from Jewish culture, Jewish literature. That there is a Jewish approach that they seem to feel somehow explains my view on Polish classic literature.

What is your view of Yiddish theatres like the State Jewish Theatre (Teatr Żydowski in Warsaw. Does this kind of theatre have any place in modern Poland?

It is not a Yiddish and not theatre. It is a nightmare; it is offensive that they say they are making Jewish theatre. So they run a festival and I have brought a performance there. Some people said to me, “Why don’t you become head of this theatre?” No one ever gave me this idea before. However I would not want to deal with the mess. It is old school, excluded form modern theatre life.

So how would you describe the Polish theatre life at the moment? Seems pretty strong to me…

The young Polish theatre life pushed out the old school Polish theatre and those older directors. Theatre now is mostly [done] by the young, at least in the last five to 10 years. It is basically a theatre of directors. It used to be of actors, that people would go to theatre to see their favorite actor but now it is definitely a theatre of directors. I think it is good for theatre. The scene is really developing.

***this interview was done in April 2012

1st photo: courtesy Materialy Organizatora

2nd photo: Michal Grocholski / Agencja