Janusz Opryński, Marta Keil and Grzegorz Reske in ConversationWhy do we need a festival?
Janusz Opryński: Look, a year has passed. As you might remember, a year ago we talked about the history of the festival, but also about a need to define it anew. I wonder how our thoughts have been taking shape and evolving over the year, how they have depended on the times in which we live. I feel that what mattered in the course of building this year’s programme was the search for a relation with the present time – and that this relation can be gleaned at two levels: that of the form, and in the issue of fears and foreboding present in some performances. This is a frequent thing in general: artists try to give warnings, have premonitions – but typically no one listens to them.
Marta Keil: The social and political events that have happened over the last year have made us verify and in a sense update our assumptions concerning the festival. Our thoughts and beliefs, not only on the programme of the festival, but also on its role, are always shaped with reference to the reality, to the current political context. And I think what you say is indeed true: this year’s programme is grounded in two levels. On the one hand, all the international performances clearly speak of the current social reality – and they do stem from it: sometimes directly, other times they touch upon front page news in ways which are far from obvious. Agrupación Señor Serrano’s Birdie tackles the issue of refugees, or rather our perception of the issue – and by doing so it filters it through, among others, classic European cinema, at the same time creating a new theatrical language. Toshiki Okada speaks about a society after a catastrophe, creating an entirely new form of his own. On the other hand, Polish productions very clearly and expressively speak of the status of the artist and the viewer, about the institution of theatre, revealing the mechanism of the theatrical production and questioning their own subjectivity. They speak of democracy, but they do so by examining their own methods of work.
J. O. So you think that the choice of the method of communicating with the audience or the search for new forms of theatrical expressions is also a form of a reaction to the world and the reality which surrounds us?
M. K. Yes, I believe that both the choice of the form and of the method of work is always a political statement.
J. O. Do you think such a statement can be formulated within the institution of the repertory theatre?
Grzegorz Reske: I believe this is one of the biggest challenges. Clearly, there is an attempt to break existing hierarchies and search for new methods of production is such performances as Kantor Downtown, Schubert…, or Ewelina’s Crying and The Other Show, which have been created within repertory institutions.
J.O.: Do the productions you have chosen broaden the language of theatre?
M.K.: They definitely do. They explore the theatrical form, they question what is behind this method of work as opposed to another, they test new solutions. But what is interesting is that some of the Polish productions invited to the festival this year have been created in repertory theatres, but, in a way, against them: they question institutional hierarches, they thematise and problematise established relations between the stage and the audience, they ask questions about the working conditions. Some of them have been created as separate projects, somewhere at the margins of the main programmatic strand of theatres.
G.R.: The conversation about the contemporary methods of theatre work is taken up by Microtheatre, a project initiated by Komuna Warszawa and curated by Tomasz Plata. The conditions are very simple: each invited artist has 16 minutes, 4 people involved, 2 lights, and any stage design is supposed to fit into a suitcase.
M.K.: Of course, and in accordance with the assumptions of its creators, this is a fascinating and highly controversial project. For, in the context of constantly insufficient resources for independent theatre, what is the meaning of a moment when the only stage in Warsaw where progressive, experimental, independent projects can still be created decides to impose even more drastic limitations on artists? This proposed format is after all a perfect implementation of the market-driven demands to obtain maximum mobility and flexibility of artists, a reiteration and a reinforcement of the demand to be constantly creative and productive in return for a constantly dwindling pay. And the performances from the Warsaw edition which we are showing in Lublin directly comment on this problem.
J.O.: And we are juxtaposing them with the monumental production by Krystian Lupa, who appears in Lublin for the first time.
G.R.: It is important that Lupa is bringing Heroes’ Square: thematically, this production has a very strong affinity with your The Zero Point: The Kindly Ones, but also with Gob Squad’s War and Peace. It is no coincidence that war and conflict are issues ever more present in theatre.
J.O.: I was much impressed by the recent debate at Stary Teatr in Lublin, moderated by Łukasz Drewniak, between Jacek Wakar and Marek Kędzierski, a long-time translator of Bernhard, who spoke of him as one who “soiled his own nest” and “spat in his own soup.” This, I think, is an exceptionally important stance today: the ability to critically appraise yourself rather than someone else – and I believe this is a stance which must be cherished today in particular.
G.R.: I remember Krystian Lupa said in an interview that although he spent such a long time immersed in the text of Heroes’ Square, its topicality struck him only when he first saw the performance in the Polish context.
J.O.: This text of Bernhard’s gives a very bleak diagnosis, but it is no coincidence that it is acutely more topical today. I am very interested to see how this performance will enter into dialogue with the rest of the Polish programme, with the statements by artists who in these difficult times search for a new form and a new language for themselves.
Translated by Małgorzata Paprota