With Fire in the Head

A Glance around the Polish TYA Part 4

by Agata Drwiega

As I have mentioned in the last note in the middle of October 2016 I have spent one weekend in Gdańsk and then I went directly south to Wałbrzych for another meeting concerned with contemporary theatre for young adults.

Wałbrzych is situated in the South-West of Poland. Before the Second World War Polish, German, Czech, Gypsy and Jewish influences were shaping the culture of the population. After 1945 it was a prominent, mining and industrial city but since the last mine has been closed in the 90s, the unemployment has grown and Wałbrzych was reduced to a godforsaken place. Walking down the streets you can find some abandoned traces of its multicultural heritage and past wealth by falling into ruins of town houses, monuments and churches. It makes the city a fascinating place, surrounded by the Sudety mountains, full of mysteries and legends linked with the Książ Castle and secret underground tunnels built by the Nazis during the WW2. Wałbrzych is well-known in the Polish theatrical world thanks to the Dramatyczny Theatre – one of the most meaningful theatres in my country, where between the 18th and 22nd of October 2016 the second meeting about German dramaturgy for young adults,  'With Fire in the Head' ('Z ogniem w głowie'), took place.

How to address the audience?

The event’s curators were Dorota Kowalkowska – a theatre pedagogue from Dramatyczny Theatre and Iwona Nowacka – a translator of German plays. The meeting which they organized gave a broad and multiperspective insight into the topic from both Polish and German point of view. The main reason for the meeting were presentations of three German dramas: 'Traurigkeit & Melancholie' (…) written by Bonn Park, 'Du Hitler' by Kristo Šagor and 'Das Tierreich' by Nolte Decar (i.e. Jakob Nolte and Michel Decar), which were directed by young directors and students of the PWST National Academy of Theatre Arts  in Kraków. All the readings were well-prepared (actually, they were almost full-length shows) and innovative in their shape as well as in their content. I would say that their main common attribute was that they captivate the attention both of teenagers and adults. Apparently references to universal themes such as existential sadness or disrupted lives seem to be equally suitable for people in their teens, forties and sixties. Unfortunately I could not prove my prediction. Although after every presentation there was a discussion with an author, the youngsters did not take part in it. They either left the theatre immediately after the reading or stayed there without making a contribution.

Theatre productions for both adults and youngsters have a different objective in Poland and in Germany. In Poland there are many shows and plays for adults, which are appropriate for young people too. Whereas the German plays which were presented in Wałbrzych seem to be well-written dramas for young adults, which caught the interest also of older spectators.

Apart from the readings, the program of the meeting in Wałbrzych was filled up by speeches of both Polish and German experts, artists, theatre pedagogues, promoters and teachers who were involved in the theme of theatre produced for and with young adults. Five days of presentations were divided into the categories: 'Theatre in a classroom', 'The New Forms of Theatre for Young Adults', 'Participatory Theatre', 'Theatre Education at School' and 'Theatre of Growing Up'.

How to treat mixed audiences?

Nowadays theatre in a classroom is getting broad popularity in Poland, but the form of making theatre at schools and in kindergartens has been known since the beginning of the last century and the greatest artist who spread this idea was Jan Dorman. Last year the Theatre Institute in Warsaw organized a first competition associated with Dorman’s name. One of the winning propositions was a project of a show 'Tutaj jest wszystko' based on Guus’s Kuijer book 'Das Buch von allen Dingen', directed by Magdalena Miklasz in Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych. We watched it in a school gym and enjoyed it a lot. It was played by six actors in a small white tent and told a story of a boy who loved reading books and this passion protected him against anger of his religious and also rigorous father. The stage design of Mirek Kaczmarek and Amadeusz Nosal's video projections, the latter referring  to masterpieces of painting, had an artistic quality and were a nice complement for the story.  This sort of shows is an important counterpart to the pot-boilers which are often played at schools and kindergartens, and I hope in the future more of them will be made thanks to the Jan Dorman’s competition.

What I found most inspiring in the presentations of the German guests (but, believe me, all of them were appealing) was a speech of Anna Teuwen from Kampnagel, the International Centre for the Finer Arts in Hamburg. Unfortunately, we do not have this kind of a significant, independent and interdisciplinary laboratory with fixed funding. Therefore most of the projects realized there would not be work in my country. Apart from that,  in her speech Teuwen said that in Kampnagel they work on shows and events for the 'mixed aged audience'. That means, they develop a type of project (e.g. happenings, dance theatre shows or board games), which make the arts as democratic as possible. They use the same aesthetic and theatrical language for every spectator no matter how old they are. In Poland 'family theatre shows' are popular: they are full of subtexts incomprehensible for children and aimed at adults. Both type of shows relate to a 'mixed-aged audience'. But the first type is in my view closer to a modern way of treating juvenile spectators.

Another exiting part of the programme was dedicated to theatre work with youths and children. We heard speeches of Philipp Karau from the Skart Group, Sarah Thom from Gob Squad and Aleksandra Drzazga, a teacher and supervisor for a theatre class in a gymnasium in Bytom (Silesia, Poland). They told about different shows and projects which had one common point – they were developed including youths and children whom adults treat in exactly the same way as the others. In the work of those guests is no place for belittling someone on the grounds of their age. This democratic approach in the work with juveniles is rare and admirable.

Sharing modern experiences

'With Fire in the Head' in Wałbrzych was a meaningful and delightfully organized event to patronize the development of theatre and dramaturgy for young adults as well as theatre produced with them. The programme of the meeting gave a comprehensive impression of this topic in both countries. Guests from whole Poland and some regions of Germany took part in it, so we had a good opportunity to meet each other and share our experiences and approaches to the topic. It’s good to know which particular questions are asked abroad and in the country, as well as to hear the answers.