Poetic Street Performance

A Glance around the Polish TYA Part 1

by Agata Drwiega

The polish 'cucumber season' lasts from the end of June until the end of August. During this period municipal theatres (which are the majority, as there are not many independent groups making an interesting theatre for children in Poland) do not stage performances in the regular schedule. But it does not mean they are locked away! Many of them organize workshops called "Lato w teatrze" ('Summer in the Theatre', the main coordinator of the program is the Theatre Institute in Warsaw) – for a week or two children take part in artistic activities dedicated to varied theatrical aspects. They work all together in small thematic groups (e.g. musical, acting, stage designing, journalistic and so on) preparing a final presentation of their collective work.

A different (and not that popular) way of keeping in touch with the audience are performances designed for out-door staging. In July I watched 'W kole' ('In the Circle') directed by Sebastian Swiader and produced by Baj Theatre in Warsaw. A 'linguistic game for theatre' (a special sort of theatrical script which was developed by Krystyna Milobedzka) was the basis for the performance. It was played in the backyards of Praga, Warsaw's poorest neighborhood, which is also the home of Baj Theatre. The performance was not a usual summer potboiler teeming with gags, with a clear plot and obvious characters. Quite the opposite – the show was made by the oldest professional puppet theatre in Poland, played by very good actors and based on a unique, poetical screenplay.

Milobedzka is one of the most notable Polish contemporary poetesses. Her 'linguistic games for theatre' refer to nursery rhymes in their sound and non-verbal meaning as well as in the manner of creating reality. They are also inspired by children's games which are full of improvisation and whose rules are not rigid.

It was a risky decision to stage one of Milobedzka's scripts in front of the street audience somewhere in a courtyard, where everything could be more interesting than theatre. To perform it in front of children who are not used to art's language, whose parents probably never took them to theatre or to any other cultural facility seems even more daring. However, it turned out to be a good decision – children watched the show as if they were enchanted. A world created almost out of nothing seemed to be familiar to them.  The world in which bottle caps were butterflies, where a bell was a sheep and where a doll made from a rubber slipper and with a bell as a heart was a treasure. The theatrical space was created from a couple of wooden boxes placed inside and outside the circle, which had been drawn by young spectators on the ground before the performance began. Five unnamed characters played games, and the outcome was a story on relationships between neighbors, friends and family members. When the performance was finished, confused elders asked children what it was about. Children often understand things better than adults sometimes expect.