You are an actor, director, poet, writer, educator, and founder of a monodrama festival. Which one of these activities is closest to you?
The most important thing is to be a Pole. In all of these activities I am able to maintain some of the things that my motherland gave to me in terms of inspiration and experience. In Poland I was working with Łomnicki, Zapasiewicz, Seniuk, and Wajda, who encouraged my devotion to art. I remember Jan Peszek interpreting my poetry for Theatre of Television. It encouraged me to write more. At the American college I direct spectacles based on Polish literature and I invite Polish artists for theatrical festival in New York. I also share things that used to inspire me and which inspire me currently in my life.
How did it happen that you arrived in USA?
During my studies at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw I travelled for over a month with a group of students in order to take part in a music spectacle prepared for Lincoln Center. This first visit to New York was an interesting experience. However, I didn’t know that I would return here for something more. Four years later I played my solo show at the Independent Theatres Festival. From there I began spending significant time in the United States; I performed in New York’s staging of “Othello,” I conducted theatrical workshops, and I took part in a poetry spectacle with the participation of legendary Susan Sontag. A few years later I was given permanent work as a Professor of Theatre at Williams College, where I have been working for eight years now.
What is the biggest challenge for a man who works with language, in a new country?
It is not hard to find yourself in the environment of “Babel Tower.” Paradoxically, people can get along excellently in New York, and you can find yourself simultaneously experiencing the symbiosis of many cultures, languages, and beliefs. You are also able to find there a way to live in harmony with others. It concerns me when I’m looking at the conflicts in this world and see places where people of two cultures cannot communicate so they fall into hatred and fight each other. New York offers a balance and a place for everyone.
Once, the New York Times wrote that you were born to play Othello. What do you consider to be your biggest artistic achievement in America?
The role of Othello was certainly key. Later, I performed in other productions in Los Angeles and Chicago. Recently I acted in a play by John Guare, a drama writer who was nominated for a Pulitzer award and an Oscar. He wrote a role in the show specifically for me. The show “Three Kinds of Exile,” which was presented in the Atlantic Theatre in Manhattan, drew the attention of the American press, was recorded, and currently belongs to a rare collection of performances in the Library of New York. My work in America was also noticed by the Department of State, which ordered the preparation of a series of films on my artistic and academic works. Those films were part of an information campaign during Barack Obama’s visit to Poland.
In some ways the international one-actor festival United Solo has become your hallmark. What inspired you to organize the monodrama festival?
My inspiration originally stemmed from my own solo show. After the premiere of “True Theatre Critic” on the Chamber Stage of the Słowacki Theatre in Cracow I started a trip around the world and performed an English-speaking version of this show in the USA, England, Germany and Canada. I was sharing this show with the audience but at the same time I was gaining experience by performing at international festivals. Through this experience I became ready to open my own festival on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Upcoming this year we are presenting the fifth edition of United Solo with 130 monodramas from six continents. It is also considered to be a major presence for Polish theatre. Among many actors, Małgorzata Bogdańska performed and was awarded with a standing ovation for a play based on the texts of Krystyna Janda and directed by Marek Koterski.
You teach at the Department of Theatre at Williams College. Do you spot any difference between the education of artists in Poland and the USA, and also in the approach of the adolescents to theatre?
Broadway provides entertainment, European theatre provokes. Of course it is a generalization but also an observation after many years of working on both sides of the ocean. Students in the USA appreciate my approach to the theatrical art. They are inspired by the aspects that used to inspire me at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw. Recently I was a guest teacher at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and there, in turn, I was sharing the perspective of American theatre. In my artistic work I try to open students’ minds to a new, previously unknown style of art.
On this side of the ocean you work in an American environment. Do you also keep professional contacts with Poland and Polonia?
Along with the Polish consulate in New York we take care to choose a Polish show for United Solo each year. The Consul, Ewa Juńczyk-Ziomecka, along with her crew, helps us in promoting Poles’ presence at the festival. Recently I had an opportunity to share our festival’s successes with President Bronisław Komorowski during his visit to New York. My contact with my homeland is constant. I visit Poland regularly. Two years ago we opened a European edition of United Solo along with Warsaw’s Syrena Theatre. I sometimes also pay a visit to my family sites. With great satisfaction I have accepted the title of the Ambassador of Stalowa Wola. Recently I was invited to be a part of Gdynia Film Festival’s jury and I had an opportunity to meet friends from the artistic environment. The festival’s directors, Michał Oleszczyk and Leszek Kopeć, lead this festival on a world‑class level. Next year I am going to direct a departmental production at Williams College with the participation of an international group of artists. Actors from Williams are going to play in a English-speaking production of the Polish play “Princess Ivona” in which a Polish designer will create the set, an American will create an original soundtrack, and German members of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch will provide choreography.
From New York Andrzej Dobrowolski / Polish Press Agency
Photo © Julia Kwinto