Artists* collective and production house Komuna Warszawa
Komuna Warszawa is one of the most important free avant-garde theatres in Poland, experimenting between the boundaries of the performing arts, video and media arts, and music. In its works based on original texts, Komuna Warsza explores important contemporary themes, constantly searching for new forms and means of expression. Komuna Warszawa has been invited to some of the largest festivals in Poland and worldwide and has performed at venues such as La MaMa in New York City, Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin and 104 Centquatre in Paris. Komuna Warszawa is also a production house in which various art worlds meet: Komuna has produced projects by “mainstream theatre artists*” (Grzegorz Jarzyna, Monika Strzępka and Paweł Demirski, Michał Borczuch, Markus Öhrn) as well as sponsored young talents from the Polish dance and performance scene (Marta Ziółek, Paweł Sakowicz, Iza Szostak, Ania Nowak, Cezary To- maszewski and others).
Komuna Warszawa cooperates with curators* from the performing arts and music. This results in extraordinary projects, each dedicated to a specific theme, e.g. “We, the Bourgeois”, “The Future” or the sequel series “Pre-war/War/Post-war” and “Musicals. Musicals”. One of the most important projects, which attracted critics’ praise and public interest alike, was the pioneering attempt at an “archaeology” of the performing arts, known as “RE//MIX”. Over a period of four years, productions were created that dealt with past masterpieces of the avant-garde of the performative arts.
One of the highlights of the Warsaw theatre scene in the 2016-2017 season was a new format, the series “Mikro Teatr” (Micro Theatre). As part of Polski Transfer, there will be a presentation of a Polish-German variant of Mikro Teatr.
How Komuna Otwock became Komuna// Warszawa:
A conversation with Alina Gałązka (AG), Grzegorz Laszuk (GL) and Tomasz Plata (TP)
TP: […] And our last project, the Mikro Theater. All the invited artists* played on the same stage: Grzegorz Jarzyna, Radek Rychcik, Weronika Szczawińska, Anna Smolar and Romuald Krężel. They worked under the same conditions: Their productions were to last a maximum of sixteen minutes; they were only allowed to use props that fit into a suitcase the size of a carry-on bag, as well as two microphones, four spotlights and a projector. The entire cycle consisted of eighteen productions plus others in Lublin and Poznań – on franchise stages [laughter].
Micro theatre was about different things. First, it was about making the production conditions visible at the theater. This gave the audience a clear impression of how theatre is created. It recognised the institutional conditions that determine what can be shown on stage. Secondly, it was about a concrete reflection on Polish theatre and, in this context, about a precise analysis. If you only have sixteen minutes, you have to be direct, without adornments, you have to clearly define what you have to say. I like such theatre very much: simple, conceptual. Theatre, so to speak, with a small dose of theatre. And thirdly, micro theatre was a special exercise for a guerilla theatre, something was created here with limited means and free from political pressure from different directions. As we know, contemporary Polish theatre must develop a strategy of resistance to political pressure, and quickly. And the micro theatre format can teach us a lot about how this works.
There was some criticism that said that our project was the realization of a neo-liberal dream: fast production, fast consumption, low costs, precarious working conditions, the system satisfied because it didn’t have to invest much, and the audience satisfied because it saw three performances in one evening. In my opinion, the Mikro Theater project has revealed these institutional entanglements rather than tacitly accepting them.
Where is Komuna now?
AG: We are in a difficult situation at the moment. Komuna Warszawa has become a large organisation and we can no longer maintain it without somehow paying full-time employees. Financial issues are very difficult for NGOs and without institutional support it is easy to make mistakes. They need to know that the curator is working for us for nothing, or at least almost for nothing, and the administrative staff are not paid for their work either. Some Komuna members also work for free. For the artists*who come from outside, we usually pay a small amount. Because of these conditions, we now need time to reconsider our approach.
GL: Alina is right: we lack institutional anchoring. Many important theatre people work with us (…) and many others, old and young, trust us and want to work with us. If we do not find a reliable source of financing, our concept will not work. It is an imperative of dignity to offer artists good working conditions.
AG: For some time now we have been thinking about a new model, which I would like to outline briefly. A non-public cultural institution is defined by the fact of its permanence: it has a permanent repertoire team of regular employees* and a recognizable profile. Not public here means that the cultural institution does not receive regular grants and is not administered by state or local authorities. It applies for funding in a competition by submitting a programme concept. In this competition, the city or the ministry can select several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are recognised as “figureheads”, stable and with a secure repertoire. In such a situation, competitions should only be tailored to this form of cultural institution (NGO). And interestingly, this is possible under Polish law. But there is another alternative: one non-governmental organisation is run by another. The law on cultural activities allows this. They open a tender procedure or enter into a direct agreement. In this way it can work. Together with Aldona Machnowska-Góra [an NGO activist], we have tried to arouse the interest of female politicians for this topic, but unfortunately without success.
In such independent cultural institutions it is possible to develop the programme as a group, as a team. This is how it works at Komuna: decisions are usually made together. Grzegorz has one idea, Tomasz has another, someone else has another, then we talk about everything and in the end we take care of the money. We want to develop our projects autonomously and not adapt at any price to the desired issues of the donors.
GL: We have certain tastes, we are an experimental theatre. Nevertheless, our performances are usually sold out. It’s good that the mature audience is growing.
TP: Komuna Warszawa is a unique cultural organization in Poland. The group has developed its own productions for thirty years, maintains a permanent venue and has also become a production site. Given the size of this city (Warsaw), this is quite an achievement. Komuna has also become a point of reference for other institutions, especially since many directors and actors are leaving the official institutional cycle because of the politics of the Law and Justice Party. Suddenly they have to look for new forms of artistic work. Here the story of Komuna Warszawa can be helpful.
Excerpt from Polish Theatre Journal 2017: Arkadiusz Gruszczyński (Ed.)
On the occasion of the Warsaw premiere of “The Trial” (Franz Kafka) in November 2017, the dramaturge of the Nowy Teatr Warsaw Piotr Gruszczyński had a conversation with the director Krystian Lupa. The interview is printed here in abbreviated form.
Why did you decide to stage the “trial” of Franz Kafka and not “America”?
“The Process” came as an answer to reality, because our reality constantly allows the same motifs to sound. This kind of strange, dark attack on man with the help of the court, the indictment, elimination and violation with the help of the law, as well as this astonishing, demagogic discourse that the rulers – but not only the rulers – use today in the settlements between the government and the individual, all this constantly reminds us of Kafka’s pattern, of irrationality and of the feeling of panic, as well as of the futility of defense and the loss of the feeling of reality that we have been given. All these are components of Kafka’s, perhaps appearing here in a different constellation, in a different cocktail, but basically the same. The moment we look at these components separately, they can become an instrument for the theatregoer to understand today’s reality. And vice versa, perhaps today’s reality gives a different key to understanding Kafka. This works in both directions.
It’s interesting to note that in Poland it’s only now that people are beginning to realize how much legislation creates reality. In the play “Angels in America” there is the sentence Roy Cohn says that it was the lawyers who built America. It used to seem strange to me because it seemed so far away, but at the moment we are experiencing for ourselves how legislation can work.
Yes, and that is very dangerous, because it contains many traps, almost Egyptian traps, into which we fall. It can also be said that the lawyers are cheating democracy. Democracy is proving to be a construction with too weak a legal basis, which can be deformed at will. And then there is a hybrid structure, a monster, which is reminiscent of a democratic structure, where justice, human development and all the positive things that make up the state as a human crowd are supposedly still at stake, a common culture that advances and sets new goals for new generations. All these things can in some way be outwitted and forced in the name of the law, and man is deceived. In search of a competent man, Kafka dives into court, where he finally meets the lawyer Masala. It is an odyssey in the search for salvation in which man sinks further and further and comes to destruction, basically self-destruction through all these rescue movements. In his search for competent people who could help him, he comes up against the perversion and absurdity of the legal systems and structures. Finally, he arrives at the initiates, who prove to be insane and in these machinations have forgotten the principle of being human, all the positive things that exist in relations between man and man, in social relations. We must not forget that behind Kafka’s trial there is a mysterious entity: it is not an official state. Kafka says that it is not an official court. In the state, an invisible structure emerges that arrogates things, builds structures that creep parasitically into what is found…until it finally grows through the whole organism… Like a proliferation, like a state dominated by the mafia.
An organism that is eaten by the mushroom.
Yes, this path in the search for competent people is symptomatic and says a lot. We could follow Joseph K.’s path through this mysterious structure today. We know who governs us, who our government is, but de facto we know less and less. What we see from the outside, with our government headed by Kaczynski, is beginning to have less and less significance. It seems that we have fallen into a strange trap with them all. They will try to save their existence, because for them it is about either – or. At that moment we don’t know into which room of the Minotaur our ship will be thrown.
In communist Poland, “The Trial” was often staged because it was ideally suited to the totalitarian vision of the state. What does this mean to you? Does that mean that we have returned to something? Or perhaps that view of Kafka was simplistic?
At that time they tried to build allusions. I am also afraid that this work has such a good effect on our intuitions that it immediately spurs us on to certain associations and is very contagious. This leads to superficial allusions. For this reason we have tried to take away the Austrian-Hungarian aftertaste of the work. A year ago, when we started rehearsals in Breslau, we were also interested in the Jewish trail; at the moment it is not in the foreground because it would have fascinated us too much and we could have drowned in it. Above all, we try to tell the story of a person as if “The Trial” had been written today. It wasn’t about making risky updates, but rather about highlighting the roughest anachronisms. Suddenly it turned out that it was enough to remove this typical taste of the 19th century. This tale of attack, defence and guilt is absolutely contemporary, without any allusions. It itself contains enough thoughts that are of enormous importance at the moment and sound very strong. We have tried to follow another trail and have been interested that Kafka did not complete the novel.
We speak of guilt, there is a trial, a court, of the accused or arrested Josef K. What is his guilt for you?
Kafka seems to me to be as fascinating as he is suspicious, incredibly secretive, he was too hurt and deported from the world, too lonely to be a normal person. That’s what everyone says: no innocent person behaves like that. Kafka himself has a strangely sadistic and hateful relationship with his protagonist, we can even say that Kafka kills his hero in a vengeful way. It’s a kind of demonstrative suicide act, which is very complex, that’s why psychiatrists love to ride Kafka as a sick person. The morbidity of Kafka’s personality cannot be overestimated. Kafka is an example of our social cultural disease. He is not a sage who stands above society, or someone who presumes to be a sage. Kafka says something different: everyone is guilty, there are no innocent people, innocent people were invented by the law, everyone is corrupt and condemned to lie in the face of the law, innocence is pure imagination.
Look how that has changed; for a long time this novel had been read in such a way that Josef K. was innocent, a victim of the system, the machinery.
The book was not written as the story of an innocent man, that is the story of a man who has a hidden guilt. We participate in this novel like in a dream in which we are persecuted, but this protagonist is neither sympathetic nor understandable. He is morbidly egocentric, does not settle consciences, he is a strangely dishonest person who only follows the trail of his salvation, he is drawn into a machinery of lies. The process itself does not strive for truth, but for the extinction and destruction of the individual.
I understand that in such a way that Josef K. r is not an empathic hero for you?
He is not a role model at all. Josef K. only defends his life, you cannot make a hero of him. But if he already remains such a man, crippled and asocial, whose ambitions are exclusively egoistic, who has no dreams connected with the world and no mission to give the world anything – there are no traces of it – then in the moment he is attacked he lets go of many observations, sentences not spoken at the end in the moment of reflection, a desperate struggle, complete dazedness by this process that lasts too long – these words are accurate for us. We do not need to identify ourselves with the protagonist, we do not need to show him as an example, he should remain an unfinished human being. Because of this imperfection and his lack of courage, his lack of consistency, he is killed. Kafka kills the wretched man in himself. I thought it would be difficult for me to identify with this hero, but unfortunately or fortunately it is unavoidable. When we begin to stage Kafka, I immerse myself in this person with all his ailments and find myself in him. This is as frightening as it is fascinating, we all experience it when we try to go deeper, a kind of self-abasement. This vampire-like author demands very strange experiences from the actor, who tries to understand him courageously, not superficially, to the last.
Translation from Polish by Agnieszka Grzybkowska
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