Academic journal article TheatreForum

In Search of a Fragile Balance: On the Infinite Story by Artur Palyga

Academic journal article TheatreForum

In Search of a Fragile Balance: On the Infinite Story by Artur Palyga

Article excerpt

Polish theatre has become absorbed with new playwriting. Many good plays have been written and many more have been well staged. The success of new playwriting may be attributed, among others factors, to influential playwriting competitions such as Metaphors of Reality or The Gdynia Playwriting Award, but to the greatest extent it is due to The National Competition for Staging a Polish Contemporary Play organized by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The competition enjoys great popularity; in 2016 over one hundred theatrical productions authored by Polish public and alternative theatres were submitted to the competition. It created a huge demand for new playwriting, since the competition's jury, apart from awards, grants a generous refund of the production costs; almost every play submitted to the competition receives a refund of 20% to 50% of the costs, depending on the artistic evaluation. A refund is given to all except the most outrageously sloppy productions.

However, the anniversary edition of the competition gave rise to critical comments on its ambivalent influence on contemporary playwriting. In fact, in the beginning, the competition rewarded the contestants only for the premiere and the first two stagings. This was an attempt to induce the country's theatre executives and directors to take an interest in new plays, which in the 90's were very few. Due to this new-play incentive, for several years many theatres have been involved only with those plays performing their debut. Although this competition rule was revoked five years ago, the mechanism has not lost any of its momentum. A great majority of new play stagings are for their first performances. Hence, the stage life of the new work is very short, often limited to one interpretation, and the playwrights themselves do not get a second chance.

Artur Paiyga's Nieskonczona Historia (The Infinite Story) is a notable exception; so far, it has been staged five times. The play premiered in 2012 at Zygmunt Hübner Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw. It was directed by Piotr Cieplak, a middle generation director with an impressive artistic output. The performance received great reviews and was granted numerous awards from the 18th annual National Competition for Staging a Polish Contemporary Play. Almost a month later, the play was staged at Nowy Theatre in Zabrze, a small town in Silesia Province, directed by Ula Kijak, a representative of the young generation and the founder of the feminist collective Teraz Poliz. This staging was also in the finals of the competition but at the same time courted major controversy on which I will elaborate later. In the subsequent years, The Infinite Story was staged by the Puppet Theatre Art Department of the Alexander Zelwerowicz State Theatre Academy in Warsaw as a graduation performance and later by the amateur 59 MINUT Theatre. Finally, in 2016 the last premiere (so far) was staged at the Wilam Horzyca Theatre in Torun in Northern Poland, directed by the fledging director Malgorzata Warsicka. This time the production not only passed the initial qualification, but it also received the 2nd place award in the same national competition.

What is it about this text that theatre makers want to get involved with and challenge it on their own terms? The answer is not simple. Let's start from the very beginning.

Artur Palyga was born in 1971. For many years he lived in Bielsko-Biala, a small town near the Polish-Czech border. After graduating from high school in 1989, instead of pursuing his academic career, he became a journalist of the new, liberated press and worked part-time as an assistant to a steel manufacturer, a carriage cleaner and a guitar teacher. He was awarded numerous prizes for his journalistic endeavors featured by, among others, Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's biggest newspaper. In the meantime, he received a diploma in Polish studies. He debuted as a playwright in 2006 with a play on the history of Bielsko-Biala. …

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