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Essays & articles


'Tygodnik Powszechny', No 13, 1994

The text was also published in Mieczysław Porębski's book 'An Encounter With Abel' pp 146 – 156


Mieczysław Porębski


Nothing is going to happen here anymore.

Nothing? And yet. There is an empty stage, there is a cardboard box in the middle, a square almost. Standing on a chair one can reach its edge with his fingers. Flat? Flat. Later it will break apart, with its edge towards the audience and then opens up. To the sides, like the gates. For now there are seen some partitions, doors, gaps, apertures, something alike a small spyhole. And there is the audience, which has been filled with the spectators by now. Starting from that very first viewer, who had been there already. A viewer, witness, participant?  

Zbigniew Gostomski was sitting in front, with his back to the audience, reluctant, round-shouldered, in a black bowler. The other character also will be rather in black, sometimes in white. Exceptionally something in faded red, jingle gold. And there he is already, the first actor-nonactor, because as it will soon appear – an author (perpetrator?) of the whole show, Andrzej Wełmiński. Of the show which has been commenced by now. These are his-not-his first words: "Nothing is going to happen here anymore". Because it has been already decided on that somewhere there, and the case has been put ad acta. So what? Maniacs?

No, not the maniacs. Manjacs. Like on a huge, wall-size signboard welcoming the walking in and like in the tome of stories by Roman Jaworski, published in 1910 and illustrated by Witold Wojtkiewicz. In 1910, when the legend of Young Poland was somewhat coming to an end, and a something new was beginning, right that way this word used to be spelled.  Not with short "i", what was eventually decided in 1936 by the Orthographic Committee after the long debates lasting from 1918, and as a matter of fact from 1891 rather. Not with "i" as in 'aunt Mania', but with a proud and cheeky (cheekj? – in 1936 I was still 2 years short to my A-levels, and I still have doubts, up to now) long tailed iota. The same one, on which there were the contentious disputes in Vilnius between Jan Śniadecki, who, as for the true classicist, preferred traditional Greek Y, and Lelewel, who was (that's obvious) an idol of the youth. A dispute, a political argument almost, as Mochnacki wrote later. Because, actually there is something in that.  For how to spell Greek word μάνία, which, as it is known, stands for madness, craziness, but yet a divine gift also – fury of creation, overpowering impulse, inspiration.  How to name an artist then, if not for a manjac, due to this tailed iota, since creativity for an artist means not craftsmanship only (also Greek τέχνη téchne), but just this productive madness, given from the gods? If he came from under Tadeusz Kantor's wings (it would be more just to say here – from under an umbrella, rather). And if he wants to continue what he has learnt in his "school", yet now on his own responsibility of creation?    

And talking about school. I am not a theatrologist, but let me use the following comparison in this place. We have all heard somewhat about school of Stanislavsky, the creator of the Moscow Artistic Theatre, famous MChAT. Work on the actor, work with the actor, work on the role, working out this role in the tiniest detail, motion, glimpse, to complete immersion in it, vanishing, full transformation into a character on stage. That this exactly is the essence of the artistry in acting, actor's craft, of that Greek téchne.

Kantor's Theatre was established almost half a century after Stanislavsky's theatre. It was established following the experiences of the cubist avant-garde, dadaism, constructivism, surrealism and any other avant-garde, following the rejection of the mimesis rule personified in a role, rejection of the stage illusion, of that landscape painted on paper, being torn apart by Alexander Blok's Harlequin jumping through the window. (His tawdry Fair Shack for Tadeusz Kantor meant something more than just his first stage project, not carried out eventually). Following all that, what had happened during those fifty years nearly in art, theatre and actor's craft – let's notice, not a stage one only – the noble "Stanislavsky's school" became much valued, but a relict only, the "role" worked out in it became an anachronism, téchne achieved this way became just a technique, still worth the highest respect and not to be substituted in certainly still live and needed classic theatre, but leaving no much field for the creative madness and mania.  Hence Kantor's idea of return to non-institutional theatre, to that travelling "fair shack", true, non-fixed place of unexpected events and encounters, when a community is being created and re-created, parting and gathering again and again on another occasion – community of people, their interrelations, changes, experiences, their movable stage props, movable motifs and ideas (moved from one performance to the other) – out of which all the time present initiator and originator builds up the new whole, the whole difficult to be foreseen before it comes into being, before it fully reveals itself in the consecutive rehearsals.

And all that is precisely what I would dare to call the "Kantor's school", in opposition to the classic "Stanislavsky's school". "School" which guiding idea is not work, but cooperation with an actor, partnership cooperation with a sovereign subject, sovereign to the same extent as the originator of the spectacle himself, not so much a performer but a subject of his own, unique face, own ways, history and possibilities to be discovered. Because, as we know, an actor used to come to Kantor from different places and with different traces. From the high actor's profession, but also from the close circuit of friends, colleague painters, technical staff, critics, or common spectators at last, who decided to stay in a spectacle seeing it once, twice or for the third time. In it, or in a consecutive one.

And don't get misled here with often repeated words of the Master himself, that for him – the artist, painter, assemblagist and performer – an actor is a thing, the same as just a needed board, chair, puppet, dummy, fancy instrument on wheels. By the way, I also recall these endless rehearsals, filled with quarrels over a stage prop, costume, a chair, over just everything. Was each of the participating in them actors just such a chair? Why, not!   Kantor was not setting an actor in an allocated to him in advance role, as he used to position a chair or any other prop with a characteristic for him perfectionism.   He did not demand from an actor to "impersonate with the role", but on the contrary, to be himself again, to find himself in the whole complexity of the stage, to self-creativeness under the watchful eye of the Master and with his  always ready available active, creative, co-creative, stand-in, one might say, assistance.  So, how to convey – for a moment or permanently – that exactly essential impulse, gift from the gods, mani(j)a, which remains later on, even if everything else seems to be "decided, crossed out, put ad acta"?

Everything, but not the most important: formed by the Master the maniac-artist, able for the further artistic creation, still when that Friend of his is not around any longer. So, a bit more about them. About those who have decided to continue and artistically develop what he had learnt them, according to their own dispositions and possibilities, but now without him and, what's the most important, aware of the risk accepted.

Starting from Andrzej Wełmiński, the performance maker. We all remember his role of the host of a suspicious dive at a public square, the place of action of Kantor's spectacle I Shall Never Return Here.  Already then, his role of a preposterous custodian of constructivistic order, hopelessly fighting against the destruction frenzy (decomposition?), which eventually encompasses him and transforms into a phantom of Odes-Destroyer, became his own, very personally conducted co-authorship creation of the performance.    

Also, in his own already Maniacs from the very beginning destruction is in the wind. But this is a sort of a reverse destruction, decomposition of that ominous "Nothing is going to happen here anymore". It accompanies that unbearably dragged on expectancy, peeping, listening, and a barely heard fly buzzing is all what's needed to unleash revitalizing dance, accompanied by the wind blow, evoked from The Wedding, because how else could be in this so very Polish spectacle, as it turns out later. With pulling the ropes, opening the resistive cardboard interior, the escalating or again fading away disputes: you pull it to the left or to the right? With exserting from unexpected gaps of the stage machinery of some sort of wadding hidden there, fuse cords, strangely tangled threads, sawdust sprinkling out, so folksy straw, with exploited at any occasion signs: Love, Faith and that third one, after which there are only empty frames left. And all this with conjurer's indeed ease, how different from, what is a plus, the unique, dramatic expression of Kantor. Because one does not imitate the Master, does not copy him. One offers to the Master his own already ideas, own solutions, starts, attempts to start a dialogue with him, that's all.      

The other participants and co-creators of the spectacle also participate in this dialogue on even terms, what should be highlighted - participants of already established for years position in Kantor's theatre, and those new, though they are  also connected with Kantor's adventure, one way or the other.  Here I have in mind especially this, what used to connect Kantor and his troupe with tradition of a "fair shack", travelling Saltimbanco's, with commedia dell'arte at last. In Welminski's spectacle such a decision was marked by acting of Adam Wójtowicz, who flashes the stage with a long, Punchinello stride, changing the stage dimensions, in a way retuning  it to another range, to opera buffa range, fitting also to the stage creation of Marta Wełmińska, maintained in the risky convention of circus clowning, and unexpected interventions as well of Eugeniusz Bakalarz garmented in pristine white. This right background silhouettes more expressively the lyrical motif of Pierrot and Colombina, discreetly suggested in the episode of Wojciech Michno and Tereesa Wełmińska, whose acting in this spectacle leads her from one metamorphose to the other, connoting with Grottger's creations cycles, with commedia dell'arte indeed, as well as with All Souls Day's ceremony by Wojtkiewicz, with votive candles and to the perfectly fit text of Marcel Schwob. And Mrs. Mira Rychlicka? Equally hieratic in this as in the last Kantor's performances, a "character in white apron", focusing in herself and in her consecutive actions the eschatological meaning of the situations being created on stage, one after the other, the character "de-theatrificating" the open interior of the "other side", carefully reanimating something what has been found there on a bier pulled out of the housing, and what then has went out of hand kicking vigorously, dosing the control breaths in and out and getting ready to the final appearance which will not take place, because the coiffure neatly prepared by the demon of straw – barber Andrzej Kowalczyk eventually appears to be just a bunch of tuft, tangling everywhere here.

But a National Comedy is to be played out instead, total in its unbridlement (and maybe this was just in purpose?) in which there won't be lacking Rejtan – Stanisław Michno, who ad infinitum tears apart still the new layers of his ritual shirt, a furious speaker on whom the ritual murder is being committed with use of a scythe blade pulled out from behind of the frock-coat flaps by the spectacle's key witness, not to the very end however, because he still retains his gobbling ability, much weakened however and raspy.  Later only the votive lights remain, pathetic march of the Straw Demon, mechanic twirl of white Colombina and a pair of white and black gentlemen assisting the spectacle, out of whom one has put Stańczyk-like hat on his head, adlibbed out of the throw pillow stripped off its pillowcase, frantic carousel of the remaining part of troupe, accompanied by demonic Zbigniew Gostomski, playing the accordion which is stretching out to the very last limits. 

Following that, everything is fading in a way, vanishing, the initiator of the spectacle himself prepares and lights the fuse cord, because what else could be expected after all that, if not a final explosion (according to Wittgenstein cited by Wełmiński in the spectacle's programme).

That's for the summary of something what cannot be summarized, because how to summarize cumulative rhythms and numerous sophisticated stage situations, stereosonorisation (Krzysztof Dominik's artwork deserving to be highlighted separately), sequence of the silhouetting in the course of action, everlasting and grotesquely updating associations and characters, characters close and distant, universal and clearly situated, characters created by the respective actors, concurring with the others and with all uniting, leading thought of the author. Herein I was discussing them mainly. So what? A spectacle, each spectacle starts and ends, the audience leaves, props (if they are) go to the store, the  audience and the stage lights go out. One might write all this down, video record, photograph, add author's comment, repeat and process. Or straight away, in advance say that anyway, nothing is going to happen here any longer. It shouldn't even. There were such opinions. But, let's hope not they will be deciding on the future of Kantor's school hidden behind the stage curtains, the school of the formed by himself creative subjects, who together of separately continue further what they have learnt from him, and what they have achieved alreadythemselves, working with him, and will achieve in future. Maniacs? Mani(j)acs.             






Kwintofron Wieczorowicz’s Theatre




Originally within the scope of the Trieste event we had been planning to present performance called Kwintofron Wieczorowicz's Theatre.

Eventually we gave up this idea due to too high costs of bringing the artists from Krakow and London.

Instead of that, I had the opportunity to share with the Trieste audience few flashbacks in the course of my lecture on relations and connections of S.I. Witkacy works with Cricot-2 Theatre and my own theatrical productions.


Witkacy was a versatile artist. He was practicing painting, photography, literature, theatre, critics, he was experimenting with reality, with his own senses and body, but probably the most important for himself activity was philosophy, which he treated deadly serious and devoted himself to the two areas: aesthetics and ontology.


Within the scope of ontology he created biological monadism – system being a development of Leibnitz thought. Existence of anything depends of the observer.
A monad  is indeed the smallest element in relation to which something may exist...

(in the context of this philosophy his suicide, which he committed in 1939, gets particular importance in the face of the atrocities just then being launched by the machine of history...) 

He was developing his genuine conception, breaking down physicalism, solipsism, psychologism, in opposition to Wittgenstein and Vienna Circle. He was the precursor of existentialism. In his catastrophic visions he was predicting end of art in the light of inevitable demise of individuality and bestiality of the whole mankind.

Within the scope of aesthetics he created Theory of Pure Form referring mainly to visual arts, but he tried also to adopt it in theatre and became one of the most radical 20-th century theatre reformers.

Witkacy felt strong aversion to contemporary theatre. He was tending to refute the basic postulate of traditional theatre, namely idea of representation. As opposed to Stanislavsky method, he did not accept principles of deep 'agonizing' of the matter of the role and impersonating a character. Instead, he approved pursuit to the ultimate unity of the troupe and elimination of a stardom status.   

Characters of his plays purse discovery of The Mystery of Existence, sensation of uniqueness of their own personality, they yearn for the metaphysical sensations. Conventionality of the scenic world comes across like some fun theatre game, what is highlighted by the breach with traditional drama illusion, unlikelihood of the peripeteia, vocabulary expressing "programmatic absurdity". Witkacy was set against psychologism and realism on stage, i.e. the "bowelishness" of art.

Theatre Cricot was realizing theatrical ideas of Witkacy still at his days. Later, after the II WW, the continuator of theatrical ideas of S. I. Witkacy was Tadeusz Kantor, who dedicated him Cricot-2 Theatre and contributed to proliferation of his plays.  

The consequence of the theatrical workshops on multifaceted relations between Witkacy and Cricot-2 Theatre and our meeting in Trieste is an ontological spectacle in three acts with a prologue and an epilogue tableau, inspired by life and works of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz.  

called: Against Nothingness or 3 cm Above an Empty Head …

The premiere took place in London at The Barn Rose Bruford College Theatre, on 6th & 7th February 2014.


The spectacle had been created during an intense process lasting for 5 weeks with 55 students of the 3rd year of Rose Bruford (European Theatre Arts Course) in the direction and cooperation of Andrzej and Teresa Wełmiński. The methods of work derived from many years of theatrical practice, worked out by these artists, especially invoking to the idea of the autonomous theatre, for which  all  the components of a piece of art are equal, and reaching to the basic postulates of contemporary art, and highlighting the function of risk, creativity, uncertainty,  irreversibility and co-responsibility on the eventual shape of the spectacle. 

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