An Interview with Myself: a Theatrical Memoir Part II Getting Into the Wroclaw Pantomime Theatre

PART II: GETTING INTO THE WROCLAW PANTOMIME THEATRE

I: How did you get into the Wroclaw Pantomime Theater?

M: By chance.

I: As with the Wroclaw Operetta?

M: No, it’s a whole new story.

I: Tell me about it.

M: Well…

I: Yes?

M: This story begins about one year before I actually got into the Wroclaw Pantomime Theater.

I: Oh yeah?

M: Yeah.

I: How so?

M: In the summer of 1973 I took my new girlfriend, Gertruda, who was a singer in the Wroclaw Operetta, for a two-week vacation to Leba, a fishing village on the Baltic Sea. It’s a place famous for its vast dunes that are regarded as one of the natural wonders in Poland. But my girlfriend didn’t like it there. On the first day, I took her for a walk through the dunes hoping she would admire them as I do, but she wasn’t taken by their beauty. In fact, she was bored to death and was glad when the walk was over.

“Okay,” she said, “we’re done with that, we did it, and it’s done. Now let’s go to town and find some entertainment.”

So, in the evening, we went to the center of Leba, which is a village rather than a town, and looked for cafes and nightclubs, but there weren’t any. The best that we could find was a homey diner that had a terrace where they served fresh fish. We ate there (by the way the fish was excellent) and then we went back to our pension when the night was still young. Gertruda was disappointed and unhappy. When we came back to our room, she threw a temper-tantrum and screamed for an hour or two about how much she hates dunes, natural retreats, and, of course, me because I brought her there. It didn’t look as if we were going to stay long in Leba.

However, the next morning while on the way to breakfast, we met a couple, Andrzej and Kristina Szczużewski, whom Gertruda knew from Wroclaw. Wow, what a coincidence. The women were happy to see each other, all of us were introduced, and we found out that Andrzej and Kristina were staying in the same pension that we were. They were in the room next to ours. In fact, there was a door that connected our two rooms, but it was locked. I wondered if they had heard Gertruda screaming the night before –- they had to –- but they, of course, didn’t mention it, and we, of course, didn’t ask about it, although it was on our minds. Instead, we chatted about Andrzej’s impressive, golden suntan; it came out that he had gotten it on the Greek island Corfu, where he was at a theater festival with the Wroclaw Pantomime Theater. That is how I found out that Andrzej was an actor in the WPT. Then we said things like, “Great that we met, so long, see you later,” and we went our separate ways.

Over breakfast I said to Gertruda, “You could ask Andrzej and Kristina if they want to go with us to the beach.”

“No,” Gertruda said suddenly coy. “It would be unbecoming to ask them that.”

“Why?”

“They probably want to have their privacy.”

“How do you know that if you don’t ask them?” I pressured her.

“I don’t, but I won’t ask them. No, no way.”

“But why not?” I wasn’t letting her off the hook.

“I’m shy to ask them, okay?”

“Shy of what?”

“Ah, you know, Andrzej is such a huge star; I hardly know him personally,” she said turning away from me.

“But you know Kristina personally, don’t you?”

“Yes I do, but from the night bar. I’ve just talked with her a few times, and we were always drunk out of our minds.”

“Okay,” I said and finally let it go.

However, after breakfast Kristina knocked on our door and asked us if we would like to go with them to the beach. “Sure,” we said and went with them that day, and then we went with them to the beach every single day until the end of our vacation.

Andrzej liked to sport and found in me a willing companion. We ran, jumped, did acrobatic stunts, and even practiced some ballet exercises together. Seeing that, Gertruda advised me to ask Andrzej to recommend me to Henryk Tomaszewski, the director of the WPT. But I didn’t have the nerve to ask him.

I: Why not?

M: I was intimidated by the fame of the WPT.

I: Had you had a chance to see their performances at that point?

M: Yes, but only once.

I: How was it?

M: It was extraordinary.

I: What was it?

M: It was a show that had two pantomimes in the program. One was The Seed and the Crust, the other The Departure of Dr. Faust. They were formally two quite different pieces, as if they were done by two different theaters.

I: How so?

M: The Seed and the Crust was a pure-in-form type of mime, whereas The Departure of Dr. Faust was an eclectic type of pantomime.

I: Before we go any further, can you explain the difference between the terms mime and pantomime?

M: There is no significant difference between the terms; the latter is synonymous to the former. Etymologically the word mime is derived from the Greek word mimos or the Latin mimus meaning “imitator” as a noun and “to imitate” as a verb. The word pantomime has the same derivation plus the prefix panto, which is generic of pan and means “all.” So it can be translated as “all imitating” or “imitating-all” or “imitator of all or everything.”

I: Whatever, it appears that essentially there is no difference.

M: No, there is not.

I: Unless you want to find something significant in the difference between imitating and imitating all.

M: Not really.

I: Why not?

M: Because it will become too philosophical and no one, or almost no one, will have the patience to listen to it.

I: Then how shall I know when to use the term mime and when pantomime?

M: There are particular traditions of using those terms but unfortunately not consistently. The usage differs in different times and places. For example, in ancient times, the Greeks would prefer the term mime but the Romans pantomime. In modern times, the French and the Americans prefer the term mime but the British and the Poles pantomime.

I: So you can figure it out only due to the given tradition?

M: Basically, yes.

I: What if I don’t want to bother to study those mime or pantomime traditions; can I find the universal definitions of those terms in dictionaries or encyclopedias?

M: You can but I am afraid you will encounter plenty of contradictory answers.

I: Why do you think that is?

M: Beats me.

I: Take a guess.

M: I bet it is the linguists (who write the dictionaries and encyclopedias) revenge against mimes for claiming that they can do entirely without language because it is confusing.

I: Well, in this instance it is confusing. I still don’t know when I am supposed to use the term mime and when pantomime.

M: Use them interchangeably – in a general sense, they are basically the same.

I: How do you make discrimination?

M: I use the term mime for all types of mime-artists. However, when describing a mime-performance, I call it a mime if it is small in scope, such as a solo mime performance or a mimodrama performed by no more than a few actors, but I call it a pantomime if it is large in scope, such as a big show or spectacle, performed by a large ensemble.

I: What is the logic in that?

M: It follows both etymology and tradition.

I: Good enough.

M: I hope so.

I: Could you now explain what is a pure-in-form type of mime?

M: A pure–in-form type of mime or, simply, pure mime is an expressive art of the body as distinguished from imitative mime that, as its name indicates, is an imitative art of the body.

I: Isn’t it redundant to say “imitative mime” since the etymological origin of the word mime means “to imitate” or “an imitator?”

M: A mime being merely an imitator is an old-fashion idea that doesn’t hold up anymore.

I: Since when?

M: Since the beginning of the twentieth century when all revolutions in art took place, including mime, and it was realized that the mime is not only an imitative but also an expressive artist.

I: What is the difference?

M: Pure mime is the art of expressing the inner world of man and woman, whereas imitative mime is, as its name indicates, the art of imitating the external world.

I: How does it work in practice?

M: The difference is essential in approach. Pure mime and imitative mime are two different schools of acting and performing. The pure mime artist expresses ideas and emotions from inside out through the body; but the imitative mime works in the opposite way: he or she imitates objects and persons from the external world with his body. The former begins with the internal, the latter from the external image of things. Both strive to embody the image or phenomenon of things in form, movement, and gestures of the body.

I: So, the difference between pure and imitative mimes is like the difference between abstract and representative art in painting and sculpture, isn’t it?

M: Yes, you may draw this analogy with fine art.

I: Who was the originator of the concept of pure mime?

M: The French mime and teacher Etienne Decroux, who originally called it “corporal mime. “

I: Because the ideas come from the body?

M: Yes, from and/or through the body.

I: How did he explain it?

M: He also, as you, used the analogy of fine art, of sculpting to be exact, to explain how the corporeal mime works.

I: What did he say?

M: He said, Our thought pushes our gestures in the same way that the thumb of the sculptor pushes forms; and our body, sculpted from the inside, stretches. Our thought, between its thumb and index-finger, pinches us along the reverse flap of our envelope and our body, sculpted from the inside, folds.”

I: Inspiring words.

M: He also simply said, “Mime is, at the same time, both sculptor and statue.”

I: It is being at the same time both the creator and the creation, isn’t it?

M: Yes.

I: Or a puppeteer and a puppet.

M: Yes, you can say it that way if you prefer. Though I, myself, was neither my own puppeteer nor puppet, but usually someone else’s.

I: Whatever.

M: Just kidding.

I: Which school of acting, pure mime or imitative mime, was preferred in the WPT when you saw them for the first time?

M: At that time both pure and imitative mime were practiced and cultivated successfully in the WPT, and the shows The Seed and the Crust and The Departure of Dr. Faust were each considered one of the best, if not the best, realizations of those two different schools of mime.

I: How were they done?

M: The Seed and the Crust lasted something like twenty minutes and was performed by only two actors, Jerzy Kozłowski and Paweł Rouba. What was particular about the show was that the actors’ faces were covered, so they showed everything through the movement and forms of their bodies, but their facial expressions, their psychology, were excluded.

I: What was the reason for this?

M: The technique of covering faces was typical for the corporal mime of the Etienne Decroux’s school. Supposedly, Decroux was covering the faces of mimes because he was a communist and thought that in the body, in nature, we are all equal, but the class inequality is the result of consciousness, so to speak, human psychology. So he wanted to rid of it.

I: Are you serious?

M: Not quite, not really, though I didn’t make it up. The leftist sentiment of Decroux is well known. Nevertheless, I mention it only for curiosity’s sake because, speaking seriously, something different matters here.

I: What is it?

M: Mimes cover their faces to take away their individual selves, to depersonalize their bodies and by that to objectify them. A mime without a face stops to be him or herself and becomes only a body that can be used to represent and express something other than one’s own self. In corporeal mime, the actor instrumentally uses his body as material to shape it into various forms of existence.

I: Like what?

M: There is a bold assumption among mimes that through the human body you can show everything that exists.

I: Can you?

M: If you are a mime, you better believe that you can. It is an exciting concept. It is worthy to try and see what you can or cannot do with your body. There are a multitude of forms to be discovered in and through it, but there are also limits.

I: Did the actors of the WPT often perform with covered faces?

M: Not so often, and if so, only in particular scenes but not in the entire show. The Seed and the Crust was an exception. And it made sense, because the actors were performing abstracted forces of nature, not human characters.

I: What was the subject matter or theme of The Seed and the Crust?

M: The course of life.

I: A whole life?

M: Yes, from the beginning to the end.

I: How was it done?

M: It was done symbolically. One actor represented the seed, the other the crust. So, in other words, you could say one represented animate and the other inanimate matter. And the whole piece was about the struggle between those two opposing forces in the natural cycle of life, from birth until death. In just a twenty-minute pantomime, they showed it all. While watching that piece, I had the impression that the mystery of life and death had been revealed to me.

I: What is it?

M: What?

I: The mystery of life.

M: Ha, ha, ha.

I: You don’t know?

M: It wasn’t explained to me but shown through artistic means. So, I don’t understand it, but instead I feel as though I saw it.

I: Can you describe the performance?

M: I can describe it, but it won’t adequately reflect that performance.

I: Why not?

M: The Seed and the Crust was a highly abstracted pantomime and that is hard to describe in words, as with all abstract art.

I: Describe it the way you remember it.

M: It was performed on a bare stage in silence (there was no music) and with minimal lights. It began in total darkness, and then a spot of light appeared in the middle of the stage, first dim then gradually it grew brighter to light something that was low on the floor, but it was hard to figure out what it was because it was metamorphic in shape. Initially it looked like a mass of matter that was partly liquid and partly solid, slightly moving and transforming in shape, as if it were a chemical soup giving birth to primordial forms of life –- that was my impression. It was boiling inside, spouting, and undulating. Then something sprouted out here and there and then disappeared again. Then the whole thing swelled and rose higher above the ground. There was a struggle inside, and then suddenly it partially divided in the middle, forming a hole. Then it kept dividing in other places creating openings here and there until it separated into two bodies that, though distinct now, were still bound together with some invisible force that was both pushing them apart in one spot and pulling them toward each other in another. So, they kept separating and joining in turns, forming various figurative but abstracted compositions that looked like Henry Moore’s sculptures, though in motion, transforming in shapes. (The similarity was not coincidental, the pantomime The Seed and the Crust was inspired by Henry Moore’s sculptures in the first place.) Then in the next stage of the performance, they arrived into a static composition with one body coiled up inside the other. It evoked an association with a fetus in the womb, or in an egg, or an egg in a nest, or a seed in the soil –- whatever, it was symbolic. Then the seed germinated into a plant. You clearly saw the roots shooting deep into the soil, then the sprout broke the crust of the soil and came forth to the surface, and then you saw the plant grow up, blossom, reach its maturity and then in turn wilt, wither, and dry. And finally, the plant fell back to the soil where it decayed and disappeared in the deadly embrace of the soil’s crust. At the end, the light first dimmed and then suddenly went black. It all was very dramatic.

I: I wish I could have seen it.

M: Well…

I: Can I still see it somehow?

M: I am afraid, you cannot.

I: Was it filmed by any chance?

M: Probably it was, since most of the shows of the WPT were, but I didn’t see it.

I: Hmm. Is The Seed and the Crust performed some place, or will it be, perhaps?

M: No, it isn’t performed anywhere, and it’s unlikely that it ever will be.

I: Why not?

M: It was a one-time thing, in a way, because in fact it was performed for twelve years. It had the longest run in the history of the WPT, from 1961 until 1973. I saw it sometime in 1973. It probably would have even run longer, but Pawel Rouba left the company, and it was hard to replace him. No one else was as good in corporeal mime as he was.

I: I see.

M: Henryk Tomaszewski thought about a replacement. I remember there was talk about it many times. And there were even some rehearsals with another actor but it was never finalized. The Seed and the Crust was a mime masterpiece, but it was also technically very demanding, very difficult to perform. So, it couldn’t be easily revived, and it won’t be revived in the future unless there are performers with the commitment and skills of Pawel Rouba and Jerzy Kozlowski.

I: What was the other piece like, The Departure of Dr. Faust?

M: The Departure of Dr. Faust was a grandiose pantomime spectacle. It was performed by the whole company, which had about twenty-five players at that time. And it ran two hours in the shortened version that I saw.

I: How long was the opening evening version?

M: I believe it was two and a half hours.

I: It was a very long show, particularly for a pantomime.

M: Yes it was, but it didn’t seem so. Quite opposite, while watching it I felt that time flew by very quickly because so much was happening on the stage that there wasn’t enough time to fully appreciate the wealth and riches in this show.

I: What was the appeal of this pantomime?

M: The variety of means of expression, theatricality, and the scope of production were impressive. However, the main appeal was the magical power of the theatrical illusion. There were some devilish tricks in it that cast a spell upon the audience and charmed them.

I: Did you fall for it?

M: Yes, absolutely.

I: How so?

M: I was tricked and bewitched by many things in the show. In fact, each scene had something in it that surprised me. Nothing was boring in it, nothing at all.

I: What was the literary source of Henryk Tomaszewski’s pantomime The Departure of Dr. Faust?

M: It was Tomaszewski’s creative adaptation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust.

I: How accurate was his adaptation?

M: I must admit that when I watched The Departure of Dr. Faust the first time, I hadn’t yet read Goethe’s Faust or any other literary version of this legendary myth, which are many.

I: You were an ignorant then.

M: I would put it differently.

I: How?

M: At that point in time, I was a perfect spectator for this pantomime because my interpretation of the Faustian myth was not preconditioned by literature.

I: Probably this was the case with most of the spectators in the audience.

M: Yes, it was. One doesn’t even need to know how to read and write to watch pantomime. It is a pre-language art.

I: But it doesn’t hurt.

M: No, it doesn’t.

I: Did you feel the lack of words as a limitation while watching The Departure of Dr. Faust?

M: No, I didn’t. Nevertheless, inspired by this pantomime, I later read Goethe’s Faust (as well as many other versions of this myth) and realized that Tomaszewski’s pantomime version of Dr. Faust’s story could stand alone as an autonomous work. What is interesting is that even the dramatic plot with all of its turns and machinations was easy to follow, which is not always the case in pantomime; in fact, it is rare. In this respect, The Departure of Dr. Faust was one of if not the most successful pantomime adaptation of literature in the Wroclaw Pantomime Theater. And this is not only my opinion.

I: What was the formal concept of The Departure of Dr. Faust?

M: The Departure of Dr. Faust was a gigantic hybrid of many styles and theatrical conventions.

I: A postmodern hodgepodge.

M: Seemingly so, now it could probably be labeled like that, but no, it wasn’t that. We didn’t even know the term postmodern then, in the seventies.

I: What did you call it?

M: We called it “the total theater.” And it was the type of theater Henryk Tomaszewski was doing, as he declared himself.

I: What is the difference?

M: Both total and postmodern theaters are eclectic in styles and multiple in means of expression. The difference is that the total theater i I s made of an integral mixture of formal elements that holds together well as a whole (or at least is supposed to); but postmodern theater is a random mixture that does not hold together as a whole.

I: How so?

M: The postmodernists do not believe that the comprehension of the totality of things is attainable for human beings, so they don’t bother to strive for it in art. They mix everything indiscriminately and whether it holds together as a whole or not does not make any difference to them.

I: Why not?

M: Everything degenerates, that’s why.

I: Mmm.

M: Yeah.

I: Give me a better explanation than that.

M: Okay, I’ll try again.

I: Please, do.

M: The postmodernists do not believe that an absolute hierarchy and order of things exist in the universe. Therefore, they don’t believe that it is possible to fully comprehend human fate in the world or the world itself. The postmodernists are relativists for whom the world is a chance cluster of unrelated, or not well related, parts and fragments, so, likewise, their art is fragmented. Oppositely, the proponents of the total theater cultivate an art of integrating parts into wholeness. (They strive to totally comprehend human fate in the world.)

I: Who is right, the postmodernists or the totalists?

M: In a realistic sense, the postmodernists are right because the actual comprehension of the world fully as a whole is impossible. However, the totalists don’t merely depict the actual world but strive to create a fictional world. The total theater is a fictional art, not realistic, not actual. Its subject is the myth of man and woman in an imagined world, but not the fate of man and woman in the real life. The total theater is a theater of imagination, in which the artist sees the world the way he wants to see it, the way he imagines it, but not as the world actually is. A total image of the world can only be conceived in our mind, in our imagination – and it can be only expressed metaphorically, symbolically, and as an illusion.

I: How did you come up with this idea?

M: It is nothing new. The word theater is a transliteration from the Greek word theatron (JeaJron), which means “the seeing place” (also translated as the “place for watching”). Greeks also called the theater “the house of vision,” which implies that the total theater concept of theater as a vision (not actuality) goes back to the source of theater in general.

I: What was Henryk Tomaszewski’s concept of total theater?

M: He never directly formed it. Nevertheless, once he said, “I build my theater on three elements: vision, movement, and change.” I like to consider this simple and yet to-the-point statement as Tomaszewski’s artistic credo and the fundamental creative principle of his theater, which was, as I shall define it, a total movement theater.

I: Vision, movement, and change. How am I supposed to understand it?

M: Practically.

I: How so?

M: On this base you can imagine how Henryk Tomaszewski worked and created in the theater. First, he imagined it, creating a vision; next, he stirred it into motion; and when he exhausted it, he introduced a change, transforming the scene to something else, into a different scene. Simple, isn’t it?

I: Yes, it is.

M: I always wanted to discover, not to say to steal, the secret of Henryk Tomaszewski’s creativity, and now I managed.

I: How so?

M: It comes out that there never was any creative secret of Henryk Tomaszewski . The master was always saying how he did it.

I: Can you describe how The Departure of Dr. Faust was done?

M: I can.

I: Please.

M: The Departure of Dr. Faust began and ended in modern times, which was at that time the end of the sixties, beginning of the seventies. But every thing else, which was practically ninety percent of the show, was set in various historical and mythological periods.

I: What was the justification for the modern framework?

M: To involve the audience with the show through familiarity. To start and end with something they already knew, so they could find links between their lives with what was going on in the story on the stage.

I: How?

M: The modern prologue introduced and led the audience into, what to say, not a well-known world, or worlds rather, of the Faustian myth from their own perspective.

I: So that it mattered to them personally?

M: Yes. And it transported them smoothly into the remote and unfamiliar territory of other worlds (that they maybe already sensed existed but didn’t know it yet).

I: So it was just a theatrical trick to bridge the audience to what was happening on the stage. To immediately involve them.

M: It was that and much more.

I: What else?

M: It was also a commentary on modernity and how the old Faustian myth matters and is manifested in the present.

I: Describe how was it done so I can better understand what you are talking about.

M: In the modern prologue, a group of young hippies were hanging out together. Out of boredom, they started to play theatrical games on the Faustian themes.

I: Which themes?

M: According to the program, they played theatrical games on the subject of good and evil.

I: How?

M: They pulled theatrical costumes, props, and masks out of black boxes, and then they dressed up in them and seemed to be just messing around. At the same time, they were arranging those black boxes, which were of different sizes, into a theatrical set. It wasn’t clear what they were up to, but their spontaneous games were engaging. Then, before we knew it, before we figured out how it had happened, the stage was set anew in the theatrical convention of a late nineteenth century opera. The hippies inconspicuously disappeared, and there, alone on the stage, was Dr. Faust as an old man. The transformation was striking. Before he was one of those young playful hippies and now he was a gray-haired, long-bearded old man tired with life.

I: Just a theatrical trick of dressing up in front of the audience.

M: Yes, it was. And yet, again, it was something more. I was a young man then, and this sudden transformation from youth to old age frightened me, as if it were happening for real, even though I saw how the actor was putting on, or rather how the other actors were putting on him, the gray wig and beard. Despite this, I fell for it; I was besieged by the power of the theatrical illusion and believed in it as a child, even more so because Pawel Rouba, the actor who played Faust, got into a role of the old Faust very convincingly, as if suddenly he (and his youth) were imprisoned in the costume and mask of old age forever. Old age appeared to me then as something terrifying, a nightmare, even though it was only an external image of it and not my experience yet. I was so shaken by this illusion that I decided, promised myself, never to get old.

I: Ha, ha, ha.

M: I regret now that I was not able to keep my word.

I: Seriously!

M: Yes?

I: What was the idea behind this trick of dressing a young hippy into the disguise of an old man in front of the audience?

M: By the sudden transformation in the prologue of the protagonist from a young to an old man, Tomaszewski at once introduced the audience to the core of the problem, only inversely, and prepared the miraculous, or if you prefer, the devilish, metamorphosis of an old man into a young one, which was about to happen as written in the original story.

I: What was the message in it?

M: That man, when he is young, wants to become old because he desires the maturity and knowledge that comes with it. But when he is old, he wants to become young and enjoy life again.

I: And here is a Faustian paradox!

M: Yes, it is.

I: And Henryk Tomaszewski delivered this message without words.

M: Yes, he did. He showed it.

I: How did you receive it then?

M: I admit that as a spectator I wished for nothing more than for Pawel Rouba to become young again and regain his joy of life.

I: Did he?

M: Yes, as it is written. But for that we had to wait a bit.

I: What happened next?

M: Hector Berlioz’s music from the opera La damnation de Faust came up and the next scene began. It was a nocturnal scene, full of pathos. In it, Dr. Faust created an artificial man, Homunculus, in his workshop. At the same time, Faust was haunted by his inner demons; he suffered because he was torn between good and evil. Then the demons materialized.

I: How?

M: The devil, Mephistopheles (played masterfully by Janusz Pieczuro), appeared upstage with his entourage. He was magnificently demonic, stylized in the mode of Romantic Satanism. He was all in red, outlined in black. He had a long cloak flowing behind him that he could spread with his arms and hands. He manipulated it as if it were a curtain, and then from behind it he, like a magician or wizard, pulled out three grotesque characters in the Luna Park style. They were a harlequin-like clown, a woman with six breasts, and a naked devil that had only a devil mask on his groins and small horns on his forehead. Mephistopheles and his grotesque helpers cornered Dr. Faust, surrounding him from all sides, and tempted him to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for a second chance at life, to live it again but this time to get the best of it with the help of the devil, who promised to serve him as part of the bargain.

I: And as the premise of the story states: Dr. Faust signs the pact with the devil with his own blood.

M: Yes, that is the scene.

I: Well?

M: I will not go into analyzing the content of the play now. I only want to demonstrate how various styles were used. In only one scene, Henryk Tomaszewski mixed a few styles, namely, the pathos of a nineteenth century opera, romantic demonism, and the grotesque in the Luna Park style. And it went that way, more or less, throughout the course of the entire play.

I: How can you mix various styles and achieve unity of a whole piece?

M: It is a matter of how you mix them. Mixing styles in The Departure of Dr. Faust was justified by the content of the story. First, Dr. Faust is an alchemist, who knows how to mix various substances and to invoke various worlds. He then travels in time and space into various real and imaginary worlds. All that is magic, an art of transformation and/or metamorphosing from one world to another. Henryk Tomaszewski showed it by staging each world that Dr. Faust travels to or merely imagines in a different style. It was the formal concept of the production of The Departure of Dr. Faust and it worked pretty well in mime.

I: What is “style?”

M: In my understanding, style is a character manifested in form.

I: How does the actor create a style in mime?

M: By imitating it.

I: From what?

M: With period styles you imitate from images: paintings and sculptures that are preserved in the museums and illustrated art books; with modern styles you imitate from life, by imitating people.

I: Can everybody do it? Acquire it?

M: No, not everybody can. It is not as easy as it sounds.

I: What does it involve?

M: An actor has to train his or her body to become plastic to be able to acquire different characters of forms other than one’s own. Besides that, an actor needs to know techniques to know how to acquire external forms and to embody them. It involves many skills. The actors of the Wroclaw Pantomime Theater were very well trained and they knew how to act in different styles. The Departure of Dr. Faust was their best showcase for it. It was delightful to watch how they mastered various styles.

I: Which styles were the most conspicuous? Can you give me a few more examples?

M: For example, later in the first act, the seduction and tragic death of Margaret was stylized as a semi commedia dell’arte and was staged as a satire.

I: A satire?

M: Yes.

I: Those are tragic scenes.

M: They aren’t, not really.

I: Poisoning the girl’s mother by mistake (by an overdose of sleeping potion); Faust killing Margaret’s brother in a duel; Margaret killing her own (and Faust’s) child out of remorse for her dead mother and brother; and finally, Margaret going to prison for murder and getting the death sentence isn’t tragic?

M: Don’t you see that it’s funny?

I: How so?

M: It’s absurd.

I: Still death is death.

M: Yet it’s not a real death.

I: Not a real death?

M: In the sense that those kind of horrific events are hardly probable in real life; they are too exaggerated to take seriously, but they are excellent material for the macabresque –- a type of horror-theater that makes fun of death. A realistic interpretation of these scenes is a dramatic mistake, and if done so, the scenes come out fake.

I: Usually those scenes are played on the tragic note. But Tomaszewski made parody out of tragedy.

M: And it was the funniest part of the show.

I: Did you laugh?

M: I was laughing almost out loud, I say “almost” because as is often the case in tragicomedy one never knows for sure whether to laugh or to cry.

I: How were the scenes of Walpurgis Night done?

M: They were done in a futuristic style and performed to music by Santana at the end of act one. The actors performed it in modern clothes, in t-shirts and jeans, and what was most conspicuous is that they held motorcycle handlebars that had headlights on them and the headlights were blinding the audience as they strained their eyes to see the sabbatical orgies that were performed on the stage at the same time.

I: Cool.

M: It was a highly dynamic scene – very exciting, in particular, for young people.

I: How was the second act done?

M: The beginning of the second act was made in baroque style. It had a splendor and richness that the reviewers very much admired. It was impressive, I admit, but for me it was a bit overdone, a bit too mannerisitc in style for my taste. I didn’t understand why Faust suddenly appeared half-naked but draped in garlands and wearing a long wig with golden curls.

I: Just a theatrical extravaganza?

M: Not quite, there was a hidden or implied meaning in it that I only understood when I read Goethe’s Faust.

I: What was it?

M: The following dialogue explains how Henryk Tomaszewski got the idea for the scene.

FAUST:

What am I, if I am not able

To reach the crown of mankind

For which I crave with all my senses?

MEPHISTO:

In the end, you are exactly – what you are!

Put on a golden wig with a million curls,

Put the highest heeled boots on your feet,

Yet you always remain forever what you are.

You see?

I: What?

M: We are used to baroque costumes and wigs being worn on the not-well-made and/or sickly bodies to cover up their inefficiencies and defects and instead to create the splendor of an artificial identity or disguise. But here, in Tomaszeski’s Faust, the refined, long wig and the golden garland loosely hanging over the shoulder were worn on a half-naked body that was healthy and athletic. This juxtaposition had quite a different significance.

I: What was it?

M: It showed the contradiction between nature and culture, or rather showed their mutual incongruity. It was a theme that Henryk Tomaszewski was often exploring not only in The Departure of Dr. Faust but also in other shows.

I: In what style did Henryk Tomaszewski stage the Homeric world of antiquity?

M: In the classical Greek style.

I: How was it?

Me: It was the most beautiful part of The Departure of Dr. Faust.

I: How so?

M: Those scenes had the charm and power of a hypnotic vision where the illusory spirits of the past, namely, mythological creatures, gods and half-gods, fantastic monsters, and half-animals and half-humans appeared. That kind of unrealistic world, the world of fantasy and myth, is great material for pantomime.

I: Why?

M: Because it is an art that specializes in showing nonexistent things – I’m sorry, I shall say, existent things, but which are not visible everyday.

I: How was the rest of the show done?

M: The resolution in The Departure of Dr. Faust differs from Goethe’s Faust. In Goethe’s tragedy, Faust, in the moment of his death, does not give his soul to the devil as he promised. The angels take mercy on Faust and steal his soul before Mephistopheles manages to take it.

In The Departure of Dr. Faust, this was not the case. Tomaszewski sent Faust to hell together with Mephistopheles for everlasting damnation. Shortly before his death, Faust tried to free himself from Mephistopheles, so they fought with each other. It was a very expressive mime scene, staged as a nightmare, in which the protagonist fought with the powers that cornered him from all sides. Fighting with each other, locked in a mutual embrace, Faust and Mephistopheles fell into the abyss of hell.

I: So this is why the title of Henryk Tomaszewski’s pantomime is The Departure of Dr. Faust.

M: Yes, Dr. Faust departed to hell and will stay there forever, for everlasting damnation.

I: No angels’ mercy for Faust in this version?

M: No.

I: What is the message?

M: Faust belongs to the devil. He is forever bound together with Mephistopheles by myth. The angels cannot just snatch his soul in the last moment of his life, since they were not around during his whole life.

I: Very tragic.

M: Despite that, the show ended on a positive note.

I: How?

M: Henryk Tomaszewski added his own apotheosis to the Faustian myth in which Homunculus, an artificial man from an incubator, is born and is showed as a symbol of hope.

This character is already in Goethe’s Faust but his story is executed differently. There, Wagner, a scientist and a friend of Dr. Faust, creates Homunculus and Dr. Faust is not directly involved in it. The subplot of Homunculus is secondary and, as a matter of fact, does not adhere to or crisscross with the main story. Goethe portrays Homunculus as a miniature man, who already exists as a spectrum but without a material body yet. He still lives in an incubator and appears merely as a flame or light.

I: Was it Goethe’s concept of a soul that is without an assigned body yet?

M: Yes, apparently it was the idea.

I: Quite a science fiction concept.

M: Who knows, maybe it is quite real.

I: Never mind.

M: Okay.

I: Go on.

M: Homunculus, still merely as a spectrum and still in an incubator, travels, hovering above the earth, in search of a suitable place and form in which to be physically born.

I: Where does he travel?

M: First, into the world of classical Greece where he meets the philosophers of nature, Anaxagoras and Thales. They take him further into the past, into the mythological world of ancient Greece. There he meets the mythological semi-gods, Nerus and Proteus (who have the ability to metamorphose their bodies, in other words, to reincarnate, and by that to change the forms of creation in the cosmos, consequently, to manipulate destiny.) From the mythological creatures, Homunculus learns about the beginning and evolution of life, and it seems that he has a free choice about what kind of form and where he wants to be born. But when this theme is intellectually exhausted, the subplot of Homunculus ends without him being physically born. It is as if Goethe forgot about him and became focused on other themes. But Henryk Tomaszewski developed the subplot of Homunculus quite differently than Goethe.

I: How?

M: First, he got rid of the character of Wagner and instead made Dr. Faust the creator and, consequently, the father of Homunculus. It changed a lot, because the creation of Homunculus became the main creative objective of Dr. Faust’s life that he successfully achieved.

Second, in Tomaszeski’s pantomime, Homunculus was born, in the last scene of the show, in the concrete bodily form of a man. He was a young man dressed in a white leotard tightly fitted to the body, which obviously implied the innocence of youth.

I: The concept of “tabula rasa.”

M: Yes.

I: How was it done?

M: In the scene of his birth, Homunculus (performed by Stefan Niedzalkowski) emerged from a bowl, which was shaped like half of a pterodactyl’s egg from a Salvador Dali painting.

I: We are back in modernity again.

M: Yes, but this time with a surrealistic accent.

I: So?

M: The half-egg was placed on top of a black box that was more than five feet high. In the beginning of the scene this half-egg began to slowly swing on its own. It was magical, and became even more so when something began to emerge from the swaying egg and then disappeared only to appear again in a different place. It was the waving or rather meandering hand of the mime who began to perform the birth of Homunculus as a bird coming out of an egg. Then other parts of his body emerged in succession and we saw a whole mime etude on the subject. In the culminating moment, Homunculus stood up high on the inner shell of the half-egg and spread his arms and hands sideways, making flying motions that imitated a flying bird. At the same time, the half-egg swayed to its maximum inclination until it seemed it was going to cross beyond the point of equilibrium at any moment; if the egg swayed only an inch further, it would inevitably fall off the box and crash onto the floor. It was suspenseful.

Notwithstanding, Homunculus stepped out of the egg, stood on the side of the box, and then jumped down pretending to fly away. He safely landed on the floor and now began to dance to Hindu flute music. It was a dance similar to the dance of Shiva, but modernized in the hippy style of that time. This dance led to the finale of the whole show.

Flower children, the same ones we saw in the beginning of the show, appeared on the stage. They joined Homunculus in the dance, following him in a joyous procession.

I: What was the message of this uplifting dance?

M: Homunculus is an artificial man created by man, not by a god-creator. In literature, we have many versions of this creature: beginning with Golem to the monster created by Frankenstein. Usually, the artificially created man is portrayed as a monster, as a failed or incomplete creation, who is a beast with a human body but without a soul. Goethe’s Homunculus is not a monster but a creature not fully realized. He is merely a nonmaterial figure of the mind.

In contrast, Tomaszewski’s Homunculus was a fully embodied and perfectly well made human creature.

I: What was the message of this last scene?

M: In my interpretation, Henryk Tomaszewski probably wanted to say to the audience that if a human being, man or woman, had the power to create another human being, it would be a perfect creation.

I: Which is?

M: It would be without any natural blemish, innocent, without primary sin, and fully happy, without the pain of slowly getting old and dying. A human being created by another human being would most probably be immortal, as, anyway, were the flower children in the sixties.

I: Wow, what innocent times they were.

M: The times were not innocent, but there was desire for it. And still some hope that it was possible.

I: Did you like The Departure of Dr. Faust as much as The Seed and the Crust?

M: I liked them both for different reasons. The Seed and the Crust astonished me; The Departure of Dr. Faust delighted me with stylish games of transformations. However, The Seed and the Crust had a stronger, more direct impact on me. Seeing it was a personal revelation, in the way that art can touch the unknown and reveal it to the audience. At that moment, I became really hooked on the art of theater — probably for good reasons because the impression of that pantomime lasts in me until now.

I: What about The Departure of Dr. Faust?

M: The Departure of Dr. Faust was like a rich, lavish feast. It was impossible to refuse. It was hard not to enjoy it.

I: Did you think to join the WPT then, after seeing them the first time?

M: I don’t remember that, so if I did, it was subconscious. There is no doubt that once I became a dancer I thought it would be great to be an actor in the WPT. But I thought my aspirations were unrealistic. I was just a beginning dancer in operetta, but the WPT was one of the best movement theaters in the world, if not the best.

I: Did you think your aspirations were unrealistic for the same reason that you didn’t have the nerve to ask Andrzej Szczuzewski for a recommendation?

M: Exactly.

I: Were you afraid of rejection?

M: More so of ridicule and disregard. I imagined that Andrzej would think or say, “Who are you that you dare to aspire to join the WPT?”

I: Did you finally dare to ask him for the recommendation?

M: No, I never did. But since I kept asking him questions about the company he probably realized that I was interested, it was hard not to, and he asked me.

I: How?

M: It was on the last day of our vacation while we were walking on the promenade, returning from the beach to the pension. I remember that it was a very beautiful and pleasant late afternoon, and we didn’t feel as to go back yet. So, we were slowly strolling on the promenade, our women, Kristina and Gertruda, a few steps in front of us, and Andrzej and I were walking together and talking about the theater. At a certain moment, Andrzej asked me if I would be interested in joining the WPT. When I said that I would be, he also offered to recommend me to Henryk Tomaszewski. However, he strongly advised me to first improve my ballet and movement skills and then, when ready, to contact him to set up an audition.

I: He thought you weren’t well trained enough?

M: Apparently so. Although he pointed out that I had a very good movement predisposition and already some skills, he was concerned whether it would be enough to get into the WPT or, even if it were, that I’d get stuck waiting as a backup before I could get cast in a performance. He said, “Nowadays, it is better to come to the WPT already with good skills and experience.”

I: What did he mean by that? How was it different than in the past?

M: Andrzej told me that in the past there was a mime-school at the theater where students of mime trained for three to five years before being admitted into the company and cast in performances. He said this with a tone of nostalgia. “But now,” he continued with slight disapproval in his voice, “Tomaszewski likes to hire dancers with virtuoso-like ballet skills and cast them almost at once in new productions”.

I: So what did you do?

M: I took Andrzej’s advice to heart and committed myself to intensive training for half a year. Then when I felt I was ready to go for the audition, I called Andrzej to set it up. But it proved to be difficult because the WPT was often out of town touring either abroad or around Poland or, even if they were in town, Andrzej was telling me that it was not a good time because of this or that. I was trying to set up the audition for three and a half months but Andrzej kept putting me off.

Finally, the WPT was performing in town for a few days. I went to see the performance and also took this opportunity to set up the audition. So, before the performance started I went backstage and asked for Andrzej. He came out, his face already half in make-up, and seeing me he said at once, “Good that you came, Tomaszewski is someplace around here. Wait a moment, I’ll go find him.”

He soon came back with Henryk Tomaszewski. Tomaszewski chatted with me a bit; he was very open, friendly and interested but also in a hurry. So, without much ado, he asked me to come for an audition the following week. I believe we set it on Tuesday. He asked me to come to the eleven o’clock ballet class explaining, “Because you’re a dancer, it’s best for your audition to be in the ballet class.”

Then he went away but quickly came back and said, “I didn’t think about it in the first place, but Clara Kmitto now teaches our ballet classes. So, if you come at that time to audition, she’ll find out that you want to leave Wroclaw Operetta. If you prefer, we can keep your audition a secret and schedule it at a different time.”

I said, “Thank you very much, but that won’t be necessary because I already told Professor Kmitto that I was going to audition for the WPT.”

“Did you?” He was surprised to hear that. “If so, there is no problem,” he said and went away.

I: How did Clara react when you told her that you were going to audition for the WPT?

M: First she said that she was disappointed to hear that. “I put a lot of work into your training and now when you become a good dancer, you want to go away,” she said and added angrily, “It is unfair on your part!”

I told her that I was sorry that it happened this way, that I was grateful for her training and appreciated working with her, but still I wanted to try my chances with the WPT.

My words softened her a bit and she said in a more conciliatory manner, “I understand, who wouldn’t? After all, it’s a famous theater, highly acclaimed around the world. If you want to leave, I have no right to stop you. Still, I ask you to reconsider. I had my own plans for you. If you stay, I will make you a soloist. You can go far and have a good career in operetta.” She tried to sway me but seeing that I was unyielding, she concluded, “But that’s up to you. If you want to go to the WPT, I wish you good luck.” That was our conversation, more or less.

A few days before the audition, I found out that Henryk Tomaszewski had been inquiring about me from Stephan Keiser, a dancer in operetta who knew Tomaszewski personally. Stephan said that Tomaszewski asked him what kind of person I was and that he, Stephan, answered, “He is the kind of person who if he cannot get in through the door, he will get in through the window, and if he cannot get in through the window, he will get in through the keyhole.”

Tomaszewski responded, “That’s good; that’s the kind of people we need.”

I: Wow. That was quite a recommendation.

M: Yeah, that was.

I: Was it true about you?

M: I wondered myself. But whether it was true or not it flattered me, and I decided to keep up with my reputation.

I: How was the audition?

M: It was challenging. I was auditioning in a class with a group of the most advanced dancers, and I was tense as hell to do my best. Ten minutes into the class, Henryk Tomaszewski entered the room. He sat on a chair and observed me for a few minutes. I don’t know exactly how long he sat there but it seemed very short. Then he stood up, approached Clara, whispered something to her ear, and quickly left the room. I didn’t know what to think about that, but he didn’t seem very interested in what I had to show. Clara said nothing and kept me exercising until the end of the class. Only then did she call me over and say, “Henryk Tomaszewski would like to talk with you; go to the director’s office, he’s waiting for you there.”

So, I went to the office. Besides Tomaszewski, the administrative director, Gerard Nowak, was there.

The first thing Tomaszewski said to me was, “What have you being doing so long in operetta? Why didn’t you come to us sooner?”

I answered, “I didn’t feel ready yet.”

I: What did Tomaszewski say to that?

M: Nothing, he only laughed in recognition. Then I believe he said, “If you had come one or two months earlier, I could have cast you in our new production, “Arriving Tomorrow.”

Next, we talked about my contract. Tomaszewski proposed a 600zl raise on top of what I was making at Wroclaw Operetta, which was 2100zl.

But Gerard Nowak protested, “We can’t do that. It’s against regulations to give a double raise to a new hire.”

“So how much can we do?” asked Tomaszewski.

“We can go up one group, 300zl. Altogether it will come to 2400zl.”

Tomaszewski apologized, “Sorry we can’t pay you more right now.”

I: Was it a good offer?

M: For me it was a very good offer, considering how short my experience was in theater. Anyway, I didn’t think about money but was happy to be hired.

I: I bet. It was a big deal to get into the WPT, wasn’t it?

M: Yes it was.

I: Did you start right away?

M: No, not right away, six or seven weeks later, on June 1, 1974. Tomaszewski wanted me to start immediately, but Clara wouldn’t let me.

I: Why not?

M: She argued that she was short of male dancers and didn’t have a replacement for me. I was bound by contract until the end of the season. I couldn’t just leave without her permission.

I: Did you mind?

M: No, not at all. I didn’t mind but…

I: What?

M: My stay in operetta had two unfortunate events.

I: Why? What happened?

M: Ah…

I: Tell me!

M: First my girlfriend, Gertruda, left me.

I: Ouch. What was the reason, if I may ask?

M: Because I got into the WPT.

I: What?

M: When I told her that I’d been hired, she said, “Now you’re going to become a playboy from the WPT and women will eat you alive. I’m not going to wait for you to dump me later; I’m going to dump you right now. It’s over between us. I’m leaving you.” She said it and she meant it.

I: She had to be an insecure person.

M: She was a little bit insecure about fame, but she was more concerned with the fact that she was seven years older than I was. She didn’t think our relationship had a future.

I: Was she right?

M: I think it was a real issue.

I: What was the second unfortunate event?

M: A guy broke my jaw in a nightclub.

I: Oh my God!

M: Yeah.

I: How did it happen?

M: In the evening of the same day that Gertruda dumped me, I went after the performance to the nightclub Dreptak, which was a popular hangout for artists, snobs, and, occasionally, gangsters. When I entered the café, I spotted Genek, an old friend from high school, who, completely drunk, had fallen under a table and was trying to stand up. I approached him and tried to help. At the same moment, someone put his hand on the nape of my neck. I thought it was a drunkard who had reeled and put his hand on me involuntarily for support, so I brushed his hand away and continued to help my drunken friend get to his feet. Once again, the stranger put his hand on the nape of my neck, but this time he firmly grabbed my neck and when I turned to look at him, he pulled me toward himself and head-butted me in the jaw.

At the last moment, I managed to turn my head to the side so that the guy didn’t hit me front-on but on the right side of my jaw. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to block the blow with my hands because I was pulling my friend up at the same time, which pinned my hands under the table. After the head-butt, the perpetrator ran out of the cafe. It all happened so fast, and the place was so packed and swarming with drunkards that no one paid attention to what had happened. So, I forced my way through the crowd to the bathroom and checked my jaw in the mirror. It looked strangely deformed. And although there was no blood and I felt no pain, I had no doubt that my jaw was broken. I went to the bar, borrowed their phone, and called emergency for an ambulance. Shortly after, it arrived and I was taken to the hospital. The doctor’s diagnosis was that my jaw was badly broken in three places.

I: Oh my god, that’s terrible.

M: It was. I had surgery and stayed in the hospital for a few weeks. The one good thing about it was that Gertruda came back. She visited me a few times per week in the hospital bringing treats, such as broth and chocolate, and having sex with me in the bathroom.

I: Ha, ha, ha, ha. So nevertheless, she was a good woman.

M: Yes she was.

I: So how did it all end?

M: I left the hospital in the middle of May, just two weeks before starting to work at the WPT. The problem was that I was wearing these braces that tightly wired my upper and lower jaw together. I wasn’t able to open my mouth and had to eat through a thin straw.

I: That had to be a drag.

M: It was. I could only eat liquid food. But I would have managed that. The real problem was that I was supposed to wear those braces for six weeks, but I was to begin working at the WPT in two weeks. I didn’t want to start there with braces on my mouth.

I: Why not?

M: It would be bad luck.

I: What could you do?

M: A few days before starting, I took the braces off.

I: Oh my god. Wasn’t it dangerous?

M: It was, particularly since I did it myself.

I: How did you do it?

M: I unwired my jaw.

I: How?

M: With small pliers.

I: Was it easy?

M: No, it wasn’t. I had to unwire each tooth separately. It took a lot of patience and time.

I: But was it all right?

M: Not quite, until now my jaw is a little bit crooked. You can see it if you look closely. Do you see?

I: I’m not sure.

M: You see, the occlusion is a little bit off. The lower jaw is narrower than the upper and doesn’t fit exactly on both sides.

I: Aha, I think I see it now.

M: The lower jaw is confused which side to match, the right or the left.

I: Does it bother you?

M: A little bit.

Leave a Reply