Archive for November, 2013


Wednesday, November 20th, 2013


I: How long were you working in the WPT?

M: For seven years and seven months.

I: When was that exactly?

M: From June 1, 1974 until the end of December 1981.

I: What was the last production you were in?

M: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Our production was more about the knights and less about King Arthur. So, the title was slightly different to reflect that; the literal translation was The Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. But in English, it doesn’t seem to sound very good.

I: How does it sound in Polish?

M: Rycerze Okrągłego Stołu Króla Artura. It sounds good.

I: Which knight did you perform?

M: Sir Galahad. He is the one who “achieves the quest of the Holy Grail” and the only one who sits in the Siege Perilous.

I: What is the Siege Perilous?

M: It is a vacant seat at the Round Table reserved (by God or Merlin, depending on the version of the story) for the perfect knight who would find the Holy Grail and become its bearer. For anyone else who sits in it, the Siege Perilous proves immediately fatal. So, it is a special but very dangerous place.

I: Does anyone other than Sir Galahad dare to sit in the Siege Perilous?

M: I don’t think so, not to my knowledge. But I did some solid reading on the subject and am pretty sure that no one does except Sir Galahad in the classical Arthurian legends.

I: Why is Sir Galahad perfect?

M: He is perfect because he’s pure, without moral flaw, and that, in turn, makes him spiritually strong and fearless.

I: How did you do that?

M: Do what?

I: Show perfection.

M: I showed it through movement metaphors and games of mimic illusion. In this world, perfection is unreal, we merely know longings and desires for it, but they are never really fulfilled. However, at the time when I was working on the part of Sir Galahad, I didn’t know that. I believed that perfection existed and that it was possible to find.

I: Did you find it?

M: Yes.

I: Where?

M: In dreams and imagination, in the same places Sir Galahad does, and those places are not of this world.

I: But what is it?

M: What?

I: Perfection.

M: How can I explain it to you?

I: How does Sir Galahad explain it?

M: He doesn’t. Or, rather, he tries to explain it to the other Knights of the Round Table but no one understands him, and that is Galahad’s tragedy.

I: What is the moral of it?

M: According to scholars, the knight who achieves the quest of the Holy Grail is or becomes perfect and because of this is “no longer suitable to live in an imperfect world. “

I: Why did you leave the company?

M: I defected to the West because of political reasons.

I: Which were?

M: The declaration of Martial Law in Poland and the crushing of the Solidarity Movement by the communist military regime, led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski.

I: How did you defect?

M: It so happened that when Martial Law was declared in Poland, it was on December 13, 1981, I was with the WPT on a tour in Western Europe. We were performing in Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland for six weeks. The last show we performed was just before Christmas in Titisee-Neustadt, a town in southern Germany. When the tour was over, I defected.

I: How did you arrive to the decision to defect?

M: I began to think about it as an option from the moment I found out that Martial Law had been declared in Poland. But I finally arrived to the decision to defect ten days later. It was during a meeting with the company at the end of the tour. Gerard Nowak, the administrative director, announced that our company had received an offer from Landgraf, our German impresario, to prolong the tour and perform in Italy for four more weeks and possibly longer. Gerard Nowak asked the members of the company if we would like to prolong the tour. Everyone enthusiastically agreed but me.

I said, “I will gladly continue the tour but only on the condition that the WPT makes a political statement condemning the declaration of Martial Law in Poland.”

To that Gerard Nowak said, “We cannot do that.” And then there was a heated discussion. The management was categorically against making any political statements, arguing that we were not a political theater but simply on a commercial tour.

I was arguing that in times like those, of Martial Law, everything became political and we should feel obligated to protest against Martial Law in solidarity with people detained and imprisoned back in Poland.

But they, both the management and the members of the company, were afraid to protest. They just wanted to go for a tour, make some extra money, stay safely out of trouble, and wait and see how the situation in Poland would play itself out.

I told them that we couldn’t pretend that nothing was happening in Poland. What would we tell the journalists? They would ask us questions about what we thought about Martial Law in Poland, if we were for or against it, if we knew what is going on there, if we had contact with Poland, and so on. “What are you going to tell them?” I asked. In fact, the journalists were already cruising around us in Titisee-Neustadt trying to find out the scoop. You know, it was an unusual situation; no one knew what was going on in Poland. And we were a Polish theater abroad. Obviously, we became the center of attention not only because of our great mime talents but also due to the political situation in Poland. I was telling them all of this but to no avail; they argued back trying to convince me to give up my stand and to go with them on the tour.

But I held my ground and finally said to them, “If you make a political statement condemning Marital Law, I will go with you for an extended tour and then back to Poland whenever we choose. But if not, I advise you to go back to Poland immediately to spare yourself from dubious political implications, and in which case, I will not go back with you but defect to the West.”

I: What did Henryk Tomaszewski say to all of that?

M: During the meeting he played possum, not saying much, if anything, yet his intent was clear, he was against any political statements. After the meeting, we coincidently met in the restroom. He turned to me while we were washing hands and said, “Mr. Christopher, I think similar as you do but what can I do?” Then he answered himself, “I have a whole theater to run. I cannot protest now. It would destroy the theater and ruin me. I cannot do that.” He said it somehow sadly. Then he turned to the dryer and was drying his hands.

I: What did you say?

M: At this point I said nothing. I didn’t know in particular what to say, how to respond. What could I say? But I was wondering why he was telling me that. I also remember noticing that he seemed to be looking tired and despondent. It was a strange moment that somehow stuck in my head. Then he turned toward me again and said, “I could have moved the Pantomime Theater from Poland to Germany a long time ago, but now it is already too late for that.”

I was surprised to hear that. So, I asked him with disbelief, “Have you seriously considered moving the Pantomime Theater to Germany?”

“Yes,” he confirmed, “a few times, whenever there was a political upheaval in Poland such as now, I doubted it all made sense, making theater in Poland, and thought to run away. But I didn’t.”

“Why not now then?” I asked.

“I am too old to begin everything anew,” he said.

“I understand that,” I said.

I: Did he say anything else?

M: No, he did not. That was it. After it, a few hours later, the management of the theater met behind closed door and decided to relinquish the prolonged tour and to go back to Poland the next day. We all were notified with no further discussion.

I: How did you take the news?

M: As a final verdict. In that situation, I had no other choice but to defect to the West.

I: Couldn’t you go back to Poland with them?

M: I could but it would have been a compromise on the expense of my integrity.

I: What integrity?

M: That I just newly asserted by making a political statement and standing up to the authority of the regime.

I: Were you afraid to go back?

M: Yes, I was.

I: What would have happened if you went back with them to Poland then?

M: At that time I had no way of knowing it, but for sure, I would have had to eat my words, and that I was not inclined to do.

I: So you stayed in the West.

M: That’s right.

I: What did you do then?

M: First, I called my friend, Andrzej Więckowski in West Berlin, who moved there with his wife and a child a few months before Martial Law was proclaimed in Poland. They already were settled there and had obtained the legal status of political refugees. So I thought he would advise me how to go about it. But when I told him that I had defected, but before I managed to tell or asked him anything else, he cut me short and said, “Come to West Berlin and stay with us.” So on the spot I started to consider that option, but I was hesitating and wondering how it would work out, if at all. I was not sure it was a good idea to go to West Berlin, an isolated city in East Germany at that time. I had bad associations with the wall and wires surrounding the city. And I was not sure I could even travel there on my Polish passport. I was afraid that the East German border patrol would stop me and send me back to Poland. But Andrzej was knowledgeable in legal matters and told me that I could travel safely both via air and by transit trains.

I: Was it so?

M: Yes, it was.

I: So?

M: So going to Berlin became a real option but I still hesitated. I needed to find out more about the legal conditions for political refugees like me in West Berlin before I could make my mind to go there. So, I kept asking Andrzej questions about this or that. He was assuring me that everything is going to be okay. He told me not to worry about anything. He promised to arrange everything for me in a few days: my own apartment paid for by the state, furnished, of course, and welfare money to pay all my expenses: food, clothes, furniture and even entertainment. It sounded so good that I was afraid it was not entirely true. Knowing my friend’s inclination to exaggerate, which he liked to do for literary purposes, I doubted him a little bit and asked, though jokingly, “Are you telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth or exaggerating a little bit because you want to see me?”

He laughed at that and then said, “Believe me, I don’t exaggerate a bit this time. Germans are very generous now to the refugees from Poland because of Marital Law. You have chosen no better time to emigrate. You will get everything that you need.”

In that way Andrzej dissipated my doubts, so I said, “I will arrive in Berlin tomorrow by the first available train.”

“We will wait for you and pick you up at the railway station,” he said. “Call me again when you know which train you will take and what time you will arrive in Berlin. “

“Alright, I will” I said and then we hung up. It was set.

The next morning I went to the bus to say goodbye. I stood at the base of the steps, and as the company was getting on the bus, I shook each member’s hand farewell. It was my final moment with them.

A few years ago, I met Ella, who was in the company at that time, and she vividly remembered that moment. She said that I was like the godfather shaking their hands.

I: The godfather?

M: Yes, that’s what she said. But it was her impression, not mine.

I: How did you remember that moment?

M: I mostly remember that people were very cordial to me.

I: All of them?

M: Well, yes, all of them with an exception of Henryk Tomaszewski.

I: How was he?

M: He, let’s say, was reserved, if not to say, hostile, but for sure, he was unfriendly.

I: How so?

M: When I was saying goodbye to him, he was reluctant to shake hands with me.

I: But he did shake hands with you, didn’t he?

M: Yes, he did, sort of. He gave me his hand but somehow inertly (it felt like a noodle) and then pulled it quickly back, before I really managed to grip and shake it. At the same time, he turned his head away to avoid looking at me. Then he scarcely said goodbye and hurriedly climbed the stairs and disappeared into the bus.

I: It’s all in your head.

M: I don’t think so, I knew him well enough to understand his pantomime language, not only on the stage but also in life.

I: How did you read his gesture?

M: That it was over between us. He gave me a clear sign that he had turned away from me for good.

I: What did you expect? It was you who left the company.

M: Still we could have departed in civil manners, as friends.

I: How did you take it?

M: I was taken aback because Henryk Tomaszewski never was unfriendly to me before. And yet, I was not so surprised, when I think of it, after all he never blessed the departing ones.

I: How did the others say goodbye to you?

M: Friendly, sincerely, or at least properly. They humanly rose to the occasion. I was positively surprised, even touched with some of them.

I: For example?

M: My good friend in the company, Czesław Bilski, took me aside and gave me 150 marks. I hesitated to take it but he insisted. He said, “Take it for the road.” Then he apologized that he was not able to give me more money because he spent it all for Christmas shopping.

M: Have you had much money on you when you left?

Me: No, I had not. I also spent most of my per diem on Christmas shopping. I did not know that I would not go back to Poland until the last moment. So I made the usual Christmas shopping in the West, you know, some attractive presents for my friends and family.

I: What did you do with those presents?

M: I gave them to Zygmunt, one of my colleagues, to take to Poland and to deliver them to my girlfriend, Malgosia. Unfortunately, those presents got lost on the way. He later said that he put them on the shelf in the bus, but when they arrived to Wroclaw, he could not find them there.

I: You would have been wiser to entrust those presents to Czeslaw Bilski.

Me: I know.

I: Why did only you make a political stand and nobody else in the company?

M: I don’t know for sure. However, I know that most members of the company felt as I did but failed to make a political stand because they were afraid of eventual persecution when they returned to Poland; or, if they chose not to return but defect, they were afraid of repercussions against their families in Poland.

I: And you were not afraid of the same?

M: You know, I was asked the same question by an official in the United States’ Embassy during an interview I had when I was applying for emigration there as a political refuge.

I: What was your answer?

M: I said that I was also afraid. But when I made a political stand, I stopped to be afraid anymore.

I: Do you think that you were seen as a hero in your colleagues’ eyes?

M: As a black sheep rather.

I: When did you go to West Berlin?

M: I took a train to West Berlin in the late afternoon, the same day (or one day later) that the company went back to Poland.

I: And so?

M: And so my self-imposed emigration had begun. But that’s another chapter of my life.


Tuesday, November 19th, 2013


Part IV from

A Theatrical Memoir: An Interview with Myself

written by

Christopher Vened

Biographical Note:

Christopher Vened is a Los Angeles-based writer and theater director. He is the author of the acting book In Character: An Actor’s Workbook for Character Development. In 1974-1981, he was an actor-mime in the Wrocławski Teatr Pantomimy Henryka Tomaszewskiego [Wrocław Pantomime Theater of Henryk Tomaszewski] in Poland.


“Playing Dionysus” is a fragment of my memoir on the Wrocław Pantomime Theater. It is about my experiences as an actor-mime working on the leading dual-role of the Guest and Dionysus in the famous production of Przyjeżdżam jutro [Arriving Tomorrow] that dazzled the world in the seventies. Those experiences were precious. The older I become, the more I realize how special they were. So I write about them to better understand them and to pass this knowledge to the reader.

I explore certain acting and movement techniques in this paper, which shall be particularly educational for theater professionals. I also analyze in depth the main theme of Arriving Tomorrow, which was a Dionysian frenzy, arriving to an existential message with a moral open to interpretation for the readers. In short, the message is that the Dionysian frenzy can take possession of anybody. So be aware. It can happen to you too.


The Wrocławski Teatr Pantomimy Henryka Tomaszewskiego [Wrocław Pantomime Theater of Henryk Tomaszewski] was a famous avant-garde theater that is credited for creating the Polish school of mime. Its phenomenon was to show human drama entirely in movement without words, the way it happens in the imagination, not reality, as if it were a dream or nightmare. The founder of this theater, Henryk Tomaszewski, said, “I build my theater on three elements: vision, movement, and change.” This simple and yet to-the-point statement shall be considered Tomaszewski’s artistic credo and the fundamental creative principle of his theater that was, as I shall define it, a total movement theater.

Henryk Tomaszewski founded the Wrocław Pantomime Theater [WPT] in 1956 and was its artistic director until the end of his life in 2001. During that span of time, the Wrocław Pantomime Theater produced 24 original productions, and Henryk Tomaszewski directed almost all of them. He was, no doubt, the main creative force and the author of this theater. And yet, he was only able to realize his ideas and visions with the ensemble of very well trained, virtuoso-like mimes that were the actors of the Wrocław Pantomime Theater. After Tomaszewski’s death, his theater has still produced shows directed by various guest artists and actors from the company.


Interviewer: What was your most significant role in the Wrocław Pantomime Theater of Henryk Tomaszewski?

Me: The dual role of the Guest and Dionysus in the production of Przyjeżdżam jutro.

I: How would this title be translated into English?

M: Arriving Tomorrow.

I: What was the character of the Guest?

M: He was a mysterious stranger who visits a bourgeois family and seduces all of its members, driving them into a Dionysian frenzy.

I: How seventies.

M: You bet.

I: What was the Guest’s power? Why did all of them fall for him?

M: He had the irresistible divine presence of a god. They couldn’t help but adore him and fall madly in love with him.

I: How did you pull off that trick?

M: It’s a secret.

I: Come on. There are no secrets anymore in art. Tell me.

M: If I were to reveal to you my Dionysian secret, you would burn alive in the heat of mad passion and desires.

I: That’s what it was about?

M: Yes. It was about the Dionysian frenzy that drives people mad.

I: What was the payoff for the characters that were seduced?

M: A moment of divine happiness with the Guest. But then he abandoned all of them, and they suffered terribly from being unable to find happiness again.

I: Like abandoned lovers.

M: Yes.

I: How did you get the dual role of the Guest and Dionysus?

M: Originally they were not a dual role but two separate parts performed by two different actors. First I took over the part of the Guest from Wiesław Starczynowski. It was in August 1975.

I: Why did he leave the company?

M: I don’t know for sure.

I: What do you know?

M: I know that he married a girl from Vancouver, Canada, and emigrated there.

I: And what about Dionysus? When were you cast in that role?

M: One year later.

I: How?

M: It was the result of the misfortune of my predecessor, Zbyszek Papis, who injured his spine and wasn’t able to perform Dionysus anymore.

I: How did that happen?

M: An actor jumped on his back at the wrong moment, much earlier than his cue, and Zbyszek didn’t expect it, he wasn’t ready, and it happened. It was an accident.

I: How serious was the injury?

M: It was very serious. Zbyszek was in a cast for a few months but never entirely recovered from that injury, became partly disabled, and never fully returned to the mime profession. He still acted but in, so called, walking parts that didn’t require difficult physical skill or effort. That was a pity because Zbyszek had a rare talent for reinforcing his mime-acting with acrobatic elements – after that accident, no more. Later on he became a choreographer-director.

I: How long were you playing the roles of the Guest and Dionysus, and how long were your predecessors?

M: Arriving Tomorrow was in the WPT repertory for four years. Wiesław Starczynowski performed the Guest for one year, I performed it for three; Zbyszek Papis performed Dionysus for two years, I performed it for two years as well.

I: Why did you play both the Guest and Dionysus when before two different actors played them?

M: I don’t really know.

I: Was there a connection between those two roles?

M: The Guest was a modern version or manifestation of the mythological god Dionysus.

I: But were they two separate parts?

M: Yes, they were. In Arriving Tomorrow there was a mythological prologue about the myth of Dionysus set in ancient times. Otherwise the play was set in modern times.

I: What was the literary source of Henryk Tomaszewski’s pantomime Arriving Tomorrow?

M: There were two sources: The Baccae (The Bacchantes), a play by Euripides, and Teorema, a novel and film by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

I: How did it translate into mime?

M: It didn’t really translate, in the sense that mime doesn’t illustrate words, but it showed what is beyond words.

I: What is beyond words? If I may ask such an unsophisticated, direct question?

M: A primary vision of human imagination, which is dream-like or a nightmare. If literature describes or at least insinuates this kind of vision, it’s good material for pantomime.

I: That’s interesting. But I’m not sure that I understand it.

M: No one really does unless you see it.

I: Oh great, that’s explains everything.

M: If it were possible to easily explain in words there would be no justification for making pantomimes. Henryk Tomaszewski’s pantomimes, in particular the best ones, showed what words couldn’t explain. That’s the whole point.

I: As in fine art?

M: Yes, you can find an analogy between pantomime and fine art, the difference is that the former is a vision in motion, the latter is still.

I: But why not use words, if you can?

M: You cannot.

I: Why?

M: Some things happen only in dreams. And a mime performance is a simulated dream. To use words in a mime performance would destroy the illusion of that dream for the audience, which receives it through the senses not the intellect.

I: I see.

M: Mime does not like words. It is an art of silence. I am talking in particular about the mime art of the Wrocław Pantomime Theater. Because, of course, there is mime that is used in verbal drama quite successfully, for example, in commedia dell’arte, but it is a different type of mime and a different subject.

I: Coming back to Arriving Tomorrow, which part did you prefer to perform, the Guest or Dionysus?

M: I liked to perform them both, each for different reasons. The Guest was more of an acting-mime type of role while Dionysus was more of a dancing-mime type, but both were spectacular roles. I found fulfillment in both. But I can tell you that the part of the Guest was much more difficult for me both to acquire and to perform than the part of Dionysus. At least that was the case in the beginning. But later on I handled it.

I: I wonder why?

M: Maybe because I was less experienced when I started to work on the part of the Guest, but also because they were different types of parts.

I: So you had problems with mime?

M: No, no, with acting.

I: With acting?

M: Yes.

I: How so? One would think that acting is much easier than mime.

M: In some respects it is, in others it is not.

I: So what was your acting problem?

M: In the beginning, when I was still in rehearsals, I had a problem with expressiveness. It‘s a common problem for the beginning actor; I internally experienced the role of the character but barely made it visible because I didn’t know how to sufficiently externalize it. After about one week of rehearsals, Tomaszewski began to worry if I was going to get it, so he double-cast the role. He cast Jerzy, a more experienced actor than I was who had no problem with expressiveness, whatsoever. In fact he was inclined to overact, to over-express. Nevertheless, seeing how he did it helped me. I got it. I understood what was lacking in my performance.

I: Nothing is more motivating than a little competition.

M: No doubt. I almost lost the part. Jerzy already had a costume made. But I began to make quick progress and Tomaszewski saw it. So he dropped Jerzy and went only with me.

I: That had to be a trial for you.

M: It was. But that wasn’t all of it.

I: What else?

M: I also had a problem with consistency. Throughout the first few months of performing, almost every other performance sucked. I had drastic ups and downs: one day I was very good, the next day very bad.

I: And you knew it?

M: Oh, yeah.

I: How?

M: I could feel when I was on or not. Besides, Tomaszewski never failed to tell me how bad I was.

I: Really?

M: In this respect he was brutally frank.

I: Ouch!

M: But not with everyone.

I: No?

M: With some actors he was more roundabout and diplomatic when they weren’t doing well.

I: I see!

M: But with me?

I: Yes?

M: He would burst into my dressing room after the performance and scream, “What the fuck have you being doing out there? It was terrible!”

I: How rude!

M: The worst thing about it was that he was right.

I: How did you take it?

M: I didn’t mind. In fact I appreciated it because it was an honest response, even if it wasn’t flattering. Besides when I did well, Tomaszewski never failed to tell me how good I was. And when he really liked it, he would show it.

I: How?

M: He was euphoric … as if he’d seen a miracle. I tell you, he knew how to admire the actor.

I: You felt appreciated.

M: I did.

I: How did you finally overcome your inconsistency?

M: I realized that one of my mistakes was that when I had a good performance one day, I tried to repeat it exactly the next day. But it doesn’t work that way.

I: Why not?

M: Acting is a live process; even though each performance is formally a replica of the others, emotionally and/or spiritually each performance needs to be performed as if anew, as if for the first time.

I: How do you do that?

M: By re-experiencing, not merely repeating.

I: Why did you have problems doing this in the part of the Guest but not in other parts that you had performed earlier, when you were even less experienced?

M: The Guest was basically built on the presence of the character in the moment, without clearly, if at all, defined drives, and that was different than the other characters I had played. The Guest is a mysterious stranger who appears from nowhere. He has neither past history nor future objectives. He just is, here and now. And that was the most difficult thing for me to figure out – how to just be in the moment, on a moment-to-moment basis, with seemingly no other purpose but being.

I: It seems simple.

M: That’s what I thought.

I: But it wasn’t?

M: No, it wasn’t.

I: What was the problem?

M: I was becoming self-conscious and stiff.

I: How were you supposed to behave?

M: I was supposed to . . . well, first, I was supposed to be relaxed and yet enticing. But, also, Tomaszewski wanted me to play the Guest as innocent.

I: Why?

M: Nothing is more seductive than innocence.

I: That’s right.

M: But you see it was tricky because the “innocence” was only on the surface; it was like a bait, but underneath there was supposed to be a hook. The Guest had Dionysian duality. He appeared seemingly innocent, but actually he was seductive and dangerous.

I: He was like forbidden fruit? Whoever fell for him had to fall?

M: That’s right. It was a game.

I: So how did you fix your problem with presence?

M: Henryk Tomaszewski wanted me to have personal but neutral presence. In order to achieve presence he once advised me to simply say to myself, “I, Krzysztof Szwaja, am here and now, and everything that surrounds me affects me on a certain level.” He also said to me, “Imagine that you are the focal point on which or, rather, in which everything focuses and then begins anew, transformed.” It was his magical formula about what presence is. I didn’t know how to exactly understand it but for sure it acted on my imagination. It helped me to put myself in the center of things and events and to experience them on my own. Yet it wasn’t enough to achieve a powerful presence. It was too vague to really intrigue the audience. I sensed that something more was needed, something specific but not revealed, something mysterious. So I started to play that I had a secret and it worked. The audience became intrigued. Then I learned how to radiate my presence on a strictly technical basis and achieve a hypnotic effect on the audience.

I: How do you radiate presence?

M: By sending energy into the entire theater – it’s a tangible process, you can feel that the entire audience focuses on you and you have a hold of them, as if you had hypnotized them.

I: By mere radiation of presence you can hypnotize the audience?

M: In the seventies you could.

I: No joking.

M: Well, Arriving Tomorrow was a big hit. And the Guest was an iconic figure that had an enticing power over the audience.

I: Iconic of what?

M: Iconic of the seventies’ spirit.

I: What was it?

M: It was the spirit of liberation.

I: Liberation from what?

M: Jesus, from everything, from all these restrictions that oppressed men and women throughout the centuries.

I: And that was Dionysian?

M: Yes, the spirit of liberation in the seventies was Dionysian.

I: Doesn’t it mean orgiastic?

M: According to some dictionaries, yes.

I: Was it?

M: What?

I: Orgiastic.

M: I prefer the term “liberating.”

I: Was it both perhaps?

M: Yes it was. And that was one of the dilemmas in Arriving Tomorrow. The Dionysian spirit is both liberating and/or orgiastic.

I: Why “and/or”?

M: Because it’s not clear, the Dionysian spirit is deceptive; it’s hard to draw a clear line between what’s liberating and what’s orgiastic.

I: But there is such a line?

M: I hope so.

I: What is it?

M: It’s a taboo.

I: So what was the moral message of Arriving Tomorrow?

M: The message was: if you cross the line you are doomed. But, you know, it was a message that no one heard, no one received: neither the characters in the play nor the audience. The appeal of Arriving Tomorrow was crossing the line of taboo. That’s why the audience came. That’s why the show was so popular.

I: Was it so popular because you performed naked on the stage?

M: Come on, let’s not exaggerate with that nakedness. Altogether I was on the stage for one-and-a-half hours and stark naked for only one-and-a-half minutes – twice, once as Dionysus and once as the Guest.

I: Still it was new for people. They had never seen entirely naked people on the stage before.

M: That’s right; Arriving Tomorrow was the first play in Poland that had naked actors in it.

I: Who else was naked in Arriving Tomorrow besides you?

M: The two actors playing the characters of the father and the mother. In fact, the mother, who was played by Danuta Kisiel-Drzewińska, was only half-naked in a scene with me.

I: Why was she half-naked with you?

M: She let herself go with the Guest. It was an erotic act.

I: Liberating, of course.

M: When we performed the scene the audience was so transfixed that no one even dared to breathe.

I: So it had a strong impact on them?

M: Yes, it did.

I: How was it for you personally to perform the dual role of the Guest and Dionysus?

M: It was an extraordinary experience . . . as if not from this world.

I: How so?

M: People identified me with the roles of the Guest and Dionysus and idolized me. It was great. Suddenly I was so famous and had many admirers. But it was also strange because some of my admirers were so infatuated with me, or rather with my stage persona, that they lost their heads and did a variety of crazy things to be near me.

I: Like what?

M: For example, one day when I was leaving the theater after a morning rehearsal, this girl approached me. She introduced herself as a student of literature and theater, told me that she was working on an essay about our production of Arriving Tomorrow, and asked if she could talk with me about the roles of the Guest and Dionysus.

“Sure you can,” I said, “but not now because I’m in a hurry and have to go.”

“Oh, no!” the girl exclaimed.

“Come another time,” I said and walked away.

But the girl followed me and said, “I live in Opole [that’s another town] and don’t know when I’ll have another opportunity to come to Wrocław.”

“What can I do about it?”

“Can I at least walk with you to wherever you’re going and talk?”

I thought, why not and said, “Okay, you can walk with me for a little bit, but we have to walk quickly because I’m really in a hurry.”

“Okay,” the girl said and we walked and talked. It came out that she had a train to Opole departing soon and intended to take it. So, since the railway station was on my way, we decided to walk together till that point and then depart.

Soon we came to the station, so I told her goodbye and wanted to go on my way, but she figured she still had some time to spare and decided to walk with me another block or two. So we continued. We passed one block and then another and she still kept walking with me.

I prompted her, “You should go back. You’ll miss your train.”

“So what?” she said. “There is another one in an hour or two”

At that moment I became slightly alarmed and thought, ‘How am I going to get rid of this girl?’ But she kept walking with me till the gate of my apartment building, which wasn’t far, just a few more blocks. There I decisively said goodbye, but it was clear to me that she wanted to be invited into my home. I won’t pretend that I didn’t consider it, but I was really in a hurry and gave up on that option for a date.

Then I forgot about the girl. But five days later her mother called the WPT and inquired about her daughter, who had been missing all that time. First she talked with the people in the administrative office, but they, of course, knew nothing about the girl. Then the mother asked to talk with me because she had found out that her daughter was infatuated with me and had gone to Wrocław specifically to see me. But it was only nine in the morning, and I wasn’t in the theater yet. The moment I arrived, the people from the office came out to tell me all about it and to say that the mother was going to call soon to talk with me. All of them were so stirred up. They smelled a scandal and possibly a criminal case because it came out that the girl was not, as I had assumed, a college student but only in high school, sixteen years old. “Do you know the girl? Do you know where she is?” they asked me. But their emotionally flushed faces were saying, “Have you slept with that girl? Is she still in your apartment? Do you know that she is under age?”

I: What did you tell them?

M: I told them what I knew and that wasn’t much. Then her mother called again, and I talked with her on the phone. I told her that I briefly met her daughter five days ago and that she was planning to train back to Opole that day. Her mother, of course, was worried. I asked her if she had notified the police. She said that she hadn’t because she didn’t want to ruin her daughter’s reputation. She thought that the police would investigate or notify the girl’s school. I was surprised to hear that her daughter’s reputation was more important to her than her daughter’s safety. So I urged her to notify the police right away. She told me that she was going to wait till the next day to notify them.

I: Did you finally find out what happened to the girl?

M: Yes I did. When I came back to my apartment that evening, I found out that the missing girl had been living in my apartment for five days. During that time, I had been out of town performing for a few days, and then when I returned to Wrocław I had been staying with my girlfriend, Małgosia.

I: How did the girl get into your apartment?

M: She somehow convinced my landlady that she was my girlfriend and madly in love with me. My landlady, moved by the girl’s story, let her stay in my apartment and wait till I returned. It so happened that I was not to return for five days, and the girl kept waiting.

I: That’s creepy.

M: It was.

I: Didn’t your landlady know better?

M: I wondered myself. She told me that she felt for the girl because she seemed to be so genuine and so desperately in love with me that she didn’t have the heart to kick her out. But when she found out the truth, she couldn’t believe that she could be so stupid to fall for it.

I: What did the girl say to you when you found her there?

M: When I entered my apartment, I saw someone dart through the door into the next room. I knew it was a girl because I caught a glimpse of her dress trailing behind her. I followed her into the room and found her cowering and hiding from me.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I confronted her.

“I am waiting for you.”

To that I got pissed off and coldly asked her, “How did you get into my apartment?”

“I knew it, I knew you were going to be angry,” she said and started to cry.

I: So you were moved and consoled the girl.

M: Not so quickly. But I didn’t see any reason to be cruel to her. I saw that she was emotionally lost.

I: What did you do with her?

M: I walked her to the railway station, bought her a train ticket to Opole, because she had spent all her money while staying in Wrocław, and then I put her on the train. I also waited till the train departed to make sure she really went home.

I: Did you call her mother?

M: I wanted to, but the girl begged me to spare her the humiliation. So I didn’t.

I: Did she harass you again?

M: No. That was the last time I ever saw her.

I: Have you had other stalkers?

M: No, at least not another one who succeeded to get into my personal life. But I had many admirers.

I: What is the difference?

M: Stalkers harass you; admirers adore you; but both want to go to bed with you.

I: Ha, ha, ha. Really?

M: Really. Ha, ha, ha.

I: Aren’t admirers potential stalkers?

M: No. I wouldn’t say so. But you can never know for sure who is the stranger waiting for you after the performance at the back door of the theater, with a bouquet of flowers.

I: Yeah?

M: Yeah . . .

I: What?

M: Ah, there was a girl who used to regularly send me flowers backstage with perfumed love letters attached to them.

I: How sweet.

M: She wanted to meet with me.

I: Did you?

M: No.

I: Why not?

M: She was too much for me.

I: What do you mean?

M: Her letters were passionate yet very exalted; it was unreal for me.

I: She was in love with you.

M: She was in love with Dionysus, not with me.

I: Was that a problem?

M: No, it was not a problem that she was in love with Dionysus – falling in love with the character is what the audience does. But she didn’t see the difference between Dionysus and me, the actor who performed it, and that was a problem. She mistook me with the role I was playing on the stage and wanted to have a date with me. But I was not into performing Dionysus and the Guest in real life for my exalted admirers.

I: Did she harass you?

M: No, not by any means. Although she was very persistent in pursuing me, she never imposed herself but only made herself available.

I: How?

M: After sending me flowers with letters, in which she entreated me to meet her after the show, she would wait for me near the back door of the theater, standing at a distance of fifty to a hundred yards in some dark spot in the alley. Curiously, she would never approach me or cross my path when I was coming out of the theater but instead she waited for me to approach her.

I: Could you see what she looked like?

M: I could see her shadowy figure, but not her face. She used to wear strange, stylish hats with brims that cast an additional shadow on her face. And, once or twice, I saw a veil on her face when I passed by her at a closer distance.

I: How mysterious.

M: It was her style.

I: Was it intriguing?

M: Theatrical rather.

I: So you never found out who she was?

M: Yes, I found out, but not till twenty-seven or twenty-eight years later.

I: How did it happen?

M: It happened during a visit to Poland while I was attending the opening of the Salvador Dali drawing exhibition at the City Hall Museum in Wrocław. Suddenly a stylishly dressed, middle-aged woman approached me and said, “It was me who was sending you flowers during Arriving Tomorrow.”

To that I answered, “There were many girls and women who sent me flowers at that time, which one were you?”

I: What did she say to that?

M: She playfully made a face and said, “I was the one who, altogether, sent you twelve bouquets of flowers with perfumed letters. Do you remember now?”

“I think that I remember now,” I said.

“I also sent you a cactus to the headquarters of the WPT. Do you remember the cactus?” she asked.

“I do.”

“The cactus was supposed to be for goodbye,” she explained.” “I sent it in anger because you didn’t want to meet with me. But then I couldn’t help myself and sent you some more flowers.”

“I know,” I said.

Then she formally introduced herself, “My name is Małgorzata. I am a glass artist” and so on. She invited me to her exhibition that was being held at the same museum but on a different floor.

I: Did you attend it?

M: What?

I: Her exhibition.

M: Yes I did.

I: How was it?

M: Her glass was very beautiful. She is a very talented artist.

I: Do you keep in touch with her?

M: Yes, I do. We became friendly and wrote letters via email to each other.

I: Did you ask her why she wanted to meet with you during Arriving Tomorrow?

M: Yes, I did.

I: What did she say?

M: She wrote me a passionate letter about it and told me everything.

I: Can you read her letter for me?

M: Certainly, I can. I already asked Małgosia for permission to print her letter in an English translation in this interview and she agreed.

I: How so?

M: She said, “I am little bit ashamed of my youthful raptures, but what the heck – I agree. After all it was such a beautiful thing.”

I: Please, read her letter.

M: Here it is:

Małgosia’s Letter Translated into English

Hi Christopher,

How are you coping with your flu? I hope you feel better because you will need a lot of strength to take what you asked for. But you want it, so you deserve to get it.

This letter is a present that I lay under your Christmas tree. It is my honest recollection, though it may not be quite accurate because a lot of time has passed, but it is certainly sincere. It will, doubtlessly, feed your vanity.

In 1977, I enrolled in the Academy of Fine Art in Wrocław to study glass. At that time I was a so-called girl from a good home, who was well mannered and diligently educated. I was knowledgeable and felt I had enormous potential. I received the highest score of all incoming students on my entry exam into the Academy, and I did it without any stress because I was confident that I would do well. At that time I knew that a new chapter in my life was opening, and I intended to only fill it up with revelations.

After the summer vacation, I arrived to Wrocław a month before my first academic semester started and was working in a factory doing the obligatory “working class practice for students” [It was a communist invention for future intelligentsia to teach them a lesson about the working class hardships. Trans.] Immediately – without wasting time – I decided to take advantage of what the city had to offer and went to see the Wrocław Pantomime Theater’s production of “Arriving Tomorrow.”

What a spectacle it was! The strange spell of this production disturbed the peace of my soul for a long time. Mystery, dark eroticism, and the tragedy of the heroes emanated from the performance. There was an enchanting prologue. Even the program was great: it had concise descriptions that grasped but never over-explained the essence of the show (for example, the first line started: “The Harlequin, a symbol and animator of the theater opens the show with participation of . . . ” and so on.) All that impressed me enormously. On top of it all there was this charismatic actor who was cast in the leading dual-role; he first appeared in the prologue as Dionysus and then in the modern part of the show as the mysterious Guest who was the perpetrator of all that is wonderful to experience in the present but proves devastating in its consequences later on. The entanglements and infatuations of the characters were already demonic, but, in addition, there was this incredible man with distinct, slightly sharp and rapacious facial features. He had an insanely beautiful, proportional body, a warm complexion of the skin, and supremely well-chiseled muscles. This man was you. Apparently for me, you were a living perfect cannon of male beauty. Besides this, what was affecting my senses strongly was your similarity in facial features to the figures of the Pre-Raphaelites’ paintings and the shameless secession graphics of Aubrey Beardsley. All these impressions affected me at once during the performance. Afterwards I went home in shock and total astonishment.

I described my impressions of the show to my two girlfriends, and I told them about this stunningly extraordinary-looking actor with whom I had become completely possessed.

One of my friends, Małgośka, advised me to send you flowers (behind the wings) and to wait for you at the back entrance of the theater after the performance. So I did as she advised me. In fact, she delivered my first bouquet of flowers to you. And I attached a perfumed letter to the bouquet. (Have you noticed that the letter was fragrant? Anyway, so were all the others that I sent later on.)

After the show I was waiting for you, ready to approach. But you came out in the company of a beautiful brunette with long hair who was holding a bouquet of sweet peas. Oh, my God! How awful – it was the bouquet I had sent you.

All hope to win you over left me, but I couldn’t resist the pleasure of seeing “Arriving Tomorrow” again. Of course I sent you flowers once more, but this time I sent it through an usher, and after that it became my permanent habit.

The show was really a masterpiece, and I liked to watch it more each time I went. YOU TOO. It was hard for me to restrain a growing wild passion and desire to be with you. I went to see many shows and the compulsion to see it over and over again became something like a narcotic addiction.

I was hooked! I wanted you so intensely but did not dare to speak to you because I was shy and had a low esteem of myself. However, I was not able to quit this strange ritual of offering flowers to my chosen man. You were supposed to be my first man; I had chosen you. Of course I loved you and how much! I loved you wildly, passionately and hopelessly. I was mad at you because of your lack of intuition to figure out that this eccentrically dressed woman, whom everyone else noticed because of her shocking and creative dresses, standing at the back door of the theater, was waiting for you. But you were passing by me, not stopping. Sometimes you would glance over at me and a slight smile flickered across your face. I was observing you, receptive to even your slightest gestures. I remembered that you have green eyes – is it true? I did not verify all those recollections when we suddenly met in September in the museum, and I simply started talking to you. It was so nice to talk with you that I forgot that you have any physicality. But then, in the past, your physicality was terribly important to me, as well as your acting, which had a very strong impact on me. And yet I didn’t even know how to try to reach you, and my unfulfilled desire became only an utter torment for me.

At that time there was a boy who used to pursue me. He was a fifth year student in the Fine Art Academy. He rode a Harley, which gave him an expressive pose. While I was waiting for you after the show, he, in turn, was waiting for me. One day, it was winter – I remember it exactly, he was also waiting. Of course, that evening I had again sent you a bouquet of flowers and was waiting for you at the back door of the theater, thinking that maybe by some miracle you would happen to notice me, but it did not happen. So, I went with that boy to his dormitory, got drunk . . . and in that way you lost irreversibly the chance to become my first lover. When he fell asleep, I ran away from him, losing an earring made from a peacock feather in his bed. Later he hung that earring above his writing desk. I didn’t want to see him anymore. However, many years later we met and got drunk together, just for fun. He married one of my girlfriends who, till this day, doesn’t know anything about my affair with him.

But coming back to the story, after that episode, I still continued to go see the show and nothing changed in my feelings toward you. But I began to realize that this love could not be fulfilled the way I saw it in my dreams and it was burning me up. I decided to fight it in myself, so I sent you a cactus with a letter attached in which I informed you that I would no longer be waiting for you. Nevertheless, the moment I left this cactus with Irena, the secretary in the office of the Pantomime Theater, I still felt unbridled passion for you. If I had touched you then, I would have burned up with the flame of passion that could take me over at the mere thought of you.

This story has subplots: although you are not aware of the influences you had on my life, there are many both beautiful and terrible things that have happened because of you. My life has been full of wild passions and emotions, uplifting moments and falls, happy moments, and even, unfortunately, moments of cynical cruelty. But probably you don’t want me to write a book for you now, though I certainly would be able to.

Instead I have written about the hub and the source of my, already-long-enough, life story in which you appeared without my will and left an everlasting mark on it. Till today the recollection of that love is not indifferent to me and certainly never will be. Knowing you is only joyous for me.

And what do you think about this story? Were you ready for it? Have you expected it? I know, I know, you were expecting it and were wondering to which extent I would have courage to confess it. I have enough courage for everything.

Have you decorated your Christmas tree yet? Take my burning confession and put it gently under your Christmas tree. Let it warm up your holidays while you think warmly about me during this occasion.

Keep well – I wish you always to stay strong as a superman.

Małgorzata (I am wearing a newly bought perfume that is suitable to this confession called “Madness”.)

I: What do you think about Małgosia’s letter?

M: I think that it’s a wonderful letter to receive from a spectator. It’s very flattering.

I: Does it feed your vanity as Małgosia suspected?

Me: When I think of it, it does, but only a little bit. Małgosia’s letter reminds me that I had a magnetic power over the audience, and I can’t help but enjoy it. I take that as vanity on my part.

I: Certainly, it is.

M: And yet I’m also disturbed by this letter.

I: How come?

M: It’s the story of a teenage girl who falls madly in love with an actor who refuses to meet her in person. And then she’s not able to get over it throughout her entire life. It stays with her as an obsession although she knows she would never be able to fulfill it.

I: It’s a paradox.

M: It’s also tragic.

I: Why?

M: Because unfulfilled dreams and desires produce disappointments in life.

I: What’s the remedy?

M: Not to cross the line between the audience and the stage. It’s a taboo. This line is a symbolic barrier that distinguishes fiction from reality. And those are two different worlds that shall not be mixed.

I: Tell her that.

M: It’s too late. She crossed the line a long time ago and now has to suffer the insatiability of desires for perfect love that can never be fulfilled.

I: It’s cruel.

M: She knows that.

I: So why does she do it?

M: She can’t help herself. She is an artist.

I: Why do you think she wrote this letter?

M: To get it off her chest. She was in love not with me as a real person but with a theatrical image of me, a phantom that had dwelled in her imagination for more than twenty-five years by the time she wrote that letter. It is a case of both obsession and possession. She probably had a need to confront this phantom with the real person and by that to rid herself of it. You know, when you confront your illusions with reality, the former must give way to the latter.

I: Was Arriving Tomorrow the biggest hit of the WPT?

M: It was, for sure during my time in the company there was no bigger hit with the audience, in the sense that none of the other shows made such a stir as Arriving Tomorrow. It had the power to affect the audience directly to the core of their existence. It seemed that everyone related to what was happening on the stage. The reactions, the responses were always hot. This show had the power to wake up passion in people, to stir their desires. It was also disturbing. I never met anyone who was indifferent after seeing this show. It apparently changed them, some of them probably forever.

I: As Małgosia?

M: Yes. They felt personally affected and had to reckon with themselves.

I: About what?

M: About their own happiness, or rather lack of it. Arriving Tomorrow provoked people to go on the quest for their own happiness with no compromise.

I: Dangerous.

M: Very.

A Theatrical Memoir

Monday, November 18th, 2013


I: How was your first day of work in the Wroclaw Pantomime Theater?

M: When I arrived, there was an emergency situation in the theater. The whole company was called in. I remember them arriving and gathering around.

I: What was your impression?

M: It was the most beautiful group of people I’d ever seen in my whole life. They were stars. You could see that at once.

I: How so?

M: Each of them had something strikingly attractive or intriguing in their appearance.

I: What was it?

M: What?

I: That something “strikingly attractive or intriguing” in them that made them look like stars.

M: You had to see them to really understand it.

I: Oh. Come on!

M: It’s something extraordinary in a person that you see immediately and it grabs you. Maybe it’s a glow, charisma, or unusual features. You know, the stars shine and so did they. They were like gods who had stepped out of Olympus to earth.

I: Wow! You were really impressed by them.

M: Yes, I was. Besides, they were young, physically well shaped, and sexy. And they had cool-looking clothes bought in the West that were very rare but very hip in Poland at that time.

I: Ha, ha, ha.

M: All that was appealing to me.

I: Being a young man as you were at that time.

M: That’s right!

I: How did they behave?

M: The first thing each of them did was to check for a rehearsal schedule on the bulletin board, but it wasn’t there. “Where’s the rehearsal schedule?” “Why isn’t it here?” “Do you know what we’re doing?” they were asking each other.

But no one knew for sure, so some of them were getting frustrated. “What’s going on? How can it be? We are wasting time! Where is Tolek? Tolek! Tolek!” They were calling for Tolek Krupa, who was an actor and also the stage manager. But Tolek was in the office working on the schedule with Henryk Tomaszewski and his assistant, Jerzy Kozłowski. So we were waiting, I among them, hanging there. But no one was paying attention to me, as if I were invisible.

They were wrapped up in their own discontentment, which I sensed but didn’t know what it was really about. For sure, it wasn’t just about the lack of a rehearsal schedule. But I was soon to find out.

A little bit later Tolek came out of the office, and announced a partial rehearsal plan and promised to post the schedule for the whole week, as soon as he knew the plan. Going through the scenes to be worked on that day, he and the actors decided who had to stay and who could go.

Then Tolek approached me, “You are Mr. Krzysztof Szwaja, I guess,” he said.

“Yes, I am.”

He introduced himself formally and apologized, “Sorry that you had to wait so long. I have had no chance to take care of you yet because we have an emergency situation here in the theater.” Then he explained, “The company just returned from Paris yesterday after a month of touring in France. We were supposed to have a few days off to rest after it, but unfortunately, one actor had to leave the company immediately. So we urgently need to recast his parts in the production of The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa because the company goes with this show to the International Theater Festival in Greece in ten days.”

I: Was that the same festival that Andrzej Szczuzewski was telling you about in Leba?

M: Yes it was. The WPT went to this festival almost every year.

I: I see. So?

M: So Tolek continued, “Henryk Tomaszewski cast you to substitute the departed actor in some of his parts. The assistant of the director, Jerzy Kozlowski, shall come out of the office any moment, and he’ll tell you exactly which parts you are going to work on.”

Then Tolek took me to the men’s dressing room, assigned a locker, and told me to change quickly because my rehearsal would start in five or ten minutes. He also told me to come to the office after the rehearsal and to take care of the paper work for my passport because I was going to go with them to Greece, to the International Theater Festival in Corfu. Wow, could I imagine a better start in the Wroclaw Pantomime Theater?

I: No, you could not.

M: By the way, Tolek looked neither like a god nor a star. In fact, he looked extremely ordinary: a small balding man in his early forties, which was very old for the WPT.

I: What was the average age in the company?

M: I would say, thirty or less.

I: You were a very young company.

M: Mime is the art of the body, good for young people, even more so in the WPT where mime was reinforced with dance and acrobatics.

I: How was your first rehearsal?

M: I was working on the group scenes with the supervision of the assistant of the director, Jerzy Kozlowski.

I: How did you work?

M: First, he told me a bit about the scenes, then we were recreating the choreography and blocking, and then we were working on the physical routines of my parts with the company.

I: How it went?

M: It went great.

I: How so?

M: I got the physical routines rather quickly and tuned well with the company.

I: Good for you.

M: I was very happy because from the first moment, I found myself at home there. It was like, well, perfect.

I: Perfect?

M: Yes, it was perfect. But then suddenly, bam, an accident happened that almost ended in another catastrophe – ha, ha, ha, ha. Things can’t just be perfect, can they?

I: What happened?

M: Jerzy Stępniak, one of my scene partners, kicked me in the jaw during one of my first rehearsals at the WPT.

I: No!

Me: Yes!

I: Did he break it again?

M: No, no. Luckily, his kick only brushed my jaw. It wasn’t strong enough to break it again but strong enough to give me a jolt and make it numb for several hours.

I: How did he kick you?

M: My take on it is that he was dozing during rehearsal, woke up confused and thought it was his cue, so he entered onto the stage and did his acrobatic stunt at the wrong moment. Later on, I learned that it was like him to do that kind of unpredictable move. He would space out and then suddenly, boom, do something quite off.

I: Was that kind of behavior tolerated?

M: You mean falling asleep during rehearsals?

I: Yes.

M: No, not really. But that day it could be tolerated, I presume, because they had traveled from Paris the day before and were tired. Besides, Jerzy Stepniak was a big star, so he got away with it.

I: What was his talent?

M: He had many talents. He was good in all three movement-disciplines required in the WPT: mime, dance, and acrobatics. Yet, primarily he was trained as a dancer, and when he came to the WPT, which was only about a year before me, he already had a huge career as a dancer in different theaters and operas. He was technically very good, in particular, in jumps and turns. Some things that he could do were very spectacular. I always admired him. He was the best dancer I’ve ever worked with and, in some respects, the best dancer I’ve ever seen.

I: Better than Baryshnikov?

M: You bet.

I: Really?

M: Yes, in some respects, if we can really compare.

I: And he was the guy who kicked you in the jaw?

M: That’s right! Ha, ha, ha.

I: It’s funny what actors remember.

M: What?

I: Nothing.

M: After all it was my jaw.

I: Had you seen The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa performed on the stage before you joined the company?

M: Yes, I had.

I: So you knew what you were stepping into?

M: Oh, yes, I did. At that point, I had seen The Menagerie at least twice, maybe even more.

I: You don’t remember exactly how many times you saw that show?

M: No, I don’t.

I: Isn’t that peculiar?

M: Not really. I’d seen many WPT shows prior to joining the company, so I’ve lost count. But I remember the details of The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa from the point of view of the audience pretty well. It indicates that I must have seen it many times. I remember seeing it at least twice, as I already said. Maybe that was all.

I: Some shows stay with you better than others.

M: That’s right.

I: What is the point of seeing the same show many times?

M: In the case of The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa, I could watch it many times just for the sake of pleasure.

I: Because?

M: It was a very entertaining show.

I: Many shows are entertaining and yet people watch them only once.

M: It’s enough to see some shows only once (even the good ones). You watch them for the novelty sake. But when you get their contents and their message, that’s it, often there is no need to see them again.

I: That’s right.

M: But there are shows that you can see many times and never get bored with them. The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa was that kind of show. The second time, I watched it to get what I had missed the first time because there were plenty of activities going on in the background, parallel to the main action, that weren’t less interesting than the main action. And then I could have watched it again and again for the sake of the virtuosity of the performances. The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa was a masterfully staged and performed pantomime. It was always delightful to watch.

I: What kind of drama was The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa?

M: It was a libidinal comedy.

I: A libidinal comedy?

M: Yes, a libidinal comedy.

I: I’ve never heard this term used as a dramatic genre.

M: Nether have I. But I can’t come up with a more suitable label for the show than this one.

I: What was the show about?

M: It was about the sexual awakening of the Empress Phylissa and her quest to find a suitable lover who would satisfy her.

I: Did she find one?

M: No, she never did but her search was incessant, so it made for a good libidinal pantomime.

I: How was the show done?

M: The show ran one and a half hours with no intermission, and there were eight scenes, a prologue, and an epilogue.

I: What was the set up?

M: The basic set up of the story was like a fairytale (for the adults, of course.) In the prologue, the curtain slowly went up, and we saw a beautiful young girl–princess, still a nymphet, playing childishly innocently with her doll while sitting on the edge of her royal bed. The bed was the only, but very elaborately designed piece of furniture on the stage, placed upstage center.

At a certain moment, the girl abruptly stops playing and freezes, stunned by a flash of unfamiliar emotions in her body. We guess that she is sexually aroused and doesn’t know how to handle it. First, her face becomes distorted in an expression of blissful imbecility, but then she becomes disturbed by the weirdness of her imagination and tries to disregard it. Terrified, she goes back to playing with her doll as if nothing has happened. But it did happen and she is not able to shake it off. Her playing with the doll becomes erratic, growing frantic, and then she loses it –raging hormones overpower her and mess her up — she throws her doll away with anger and explodes violently in a mad fury. Then she falls into a catatonic stupor.

The royal court pronounces her sick and calls for the court doctor. He examines her carefully and finds no signs of physical illness. But he is more than a medical doctor; he is a wise man. So, he realizes that the Empress Phylissa is experiencing a sexual awakening and that her case is extreme. Urgently he writes her a prescription on a long roll of paper with only one word – MARRY.

I: What does Phylissa do?

M: Phylissa rejects his prescription with a gesture of indignation. (Who would get married unless one had to?) But the doctor flips the roll to the other side and reveals an almost full size skeleton drawn there.

I: Ha, ha, ha, ha. It is funny.

M: She has a choice either to marry or to die.

I: What is her choice?

M: Facing that ominous predicament, she decides to marry. The question is only whom?

I: What are her options?

M: Her options are unlimited.

I: How so?

M: We are in the theater of illusion watching a surrealistic play. Anything she imagines will come to life. So, she can have any man she can fancy. Besides, she is the empress; her desires become royal orders. So, as she wishes, the choicest suitors arrive to the palace, one by one they come.

I: Who were the suitors?

M: They were the famous male personages of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries that were idolized in different time-periods as iconic lovers. Each of them represented a different type of manhood and/or offered a different recipe for happiness in love.

I: Why didn’t the empress choose any of them to be her husband?

M: Because none of them was able to fully satisfy her as a lover.

I: And she would not settle for less than ultimate fulfillment in love?

M: No, she would not. She was uncompromising in her quest for the perfect lover.

I: What were her criteria?

M: Who knows?

I: She had to have some.

M: At the least, she didn’t want to be disappointed, I guess.

I: And at the most?

M: I guess she wanted to be “mastered” by a man.

I: Really?

M: Isn’t it what all women want?

I: Wow, wow, wow! Now you have feminists screaming their lungs out in protest.

M: Let them scream. It is in vain.

I: How so?

M: What do feminists know about what a real woman wants?

I: Come on, what about her famous suitors?

M: What about them?

I: Did they know what a real woman wants? Did they figure out what Empress Phylissa wanted?

M: They all claimed that they knew how to please a woman, not to say, to master her.

I: Okay?

M: Each of them had a reputable theory. Each of them had his ways.

I: Did any of them make her happy?

M: No, none of them did, and it was a problem looked at in the play.

I: What was the message?

M: That there is no fixed recipe for love.

I: Don’t people fall in love?

M: Yes, they do but it happens without recipes, without theories, without love potions. It just happens for mysterious reasons and in mysterious ways and when it does, we know it.

I: What was wrong with Empress Phylissa’s suitors?

M: They were all narcissistic.

I: How so?

M: They were men in love with the fame, power, and beauty of their own superman-like egos that they created, but when there were stripped naked, metaphorically speaking, they appeared as insignificant as dwarfs.

I: What was the literary source of The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa?

M: It was based on the mime play The Empress of Newfoundland (Kaiserin von NeuFundland) written in 1892-4 by the German playwright Frank Wedekind.

I: A mime play?

M: Yes.

I: Written mime plays are very rare, are they not?

M: Yes, they are almost nonexistent. The Menagerie of Empress Phylissa was the only mime show in the history of the WPT (that I know about) that was based on a written mime play. Most of the shows were based or inspired by verbal drama or literature, but also by the visual arts, such as painting and sculpture.

I: Have you read Wedekind’s mime play?

M: Yes, I have. But I read it for the first time just a few years ago in English. (For the record, it was translated from German by Anthony Vivis.)

I: Why didn’t you read it earlier, when you were working on it?

M: Because there was no Polish translation of The Empress of Newfoundland at that time.

I: So how did you work on the play without reading it?

M: Henryk Tomaszewski read it in German; he knew German as well as he did Polish, if not better. Then he adapted it for his production. We worked on Henryk Tomaszewski’s adaptation of the Frank Wedekind’s mime play. At that time, I only knew Tomaszewski’s version, but now I also know the original, so I can compare.

I: How faithful was Henryk Tomaszewski’s adaptation to the original?

M: It was a creative adaption.

I: What does that mean in this case?

M: Henryk Tomaszewski took almost everything from the original but then he deconstructed it.

I: How did he do it?

M: He took the initial set-up of Wedekind’s The Empress of Newfoundland, the same existential predicament of the girl’s sexual awakening, but then he slightly and yet essentially remade the character of the heroin and by that changed the course of the whole drama arriving at a different resolution.

In Frank Wedekind’s play, the Empress Phylissa is a lunatic who is going mad with delusional love and commits suicide at the end of the play while still being a virgin. It’s a tragic case of a virgin suicide. Something went wrong: Is it a defect in Phylissa’s nature or her mental derangement? This is the question that Wedekind’s play poses, but there is not an easy, ready-made answer; the audience can only speculate about it. The play doesn’t resolve this puzzle but presents its case. And it is a horrifying story that may terrify young girls as the worst possible nightmare, as the worst possible scenario of delusional love. I guess there is a didactic message in this play that warns young girls not to indulge in this kind of love — an inclination many of them have. (I am not saying a girl should sacrifice her dream, but please, don’t turn it into a nightmare.)

I: How different is Henryk Tomaszewski’s Empress Phylissa?

M: In Henryk Tomaszewski’s pantomime she had no vulnerability and didn’t commit suicide. Quite opposite, she was perfectly healthy, both physically and mentally, and had an enormous appetite for life. But she had a mercurial temperament, very moody, inconstant, and quickly bored. Henryk Tomaszewski staged the Empress Phylissa as a female version of Don Juan who searches for absolute fulfillment in love. But is there a lover who could fully satisfy her? Henryk Tomaszewski’s version of the play went on this quest.

I: What is the answer?

M: The answer is: no, there is no such thing as a perfect lover, at least not for Empress Phylissa.

I: How come?

M: In the course of the play, she had many lovers, chosen among the greatest men in history during the last three centuries, but none of them was able to fully satisfy her.

I: How many lovers did she have?

M: She had nine lovers chosen from about a dozen suitors, which is different than in the original play where Phylissa had only four suitors and fell in love with one of them, though only idealistically — there was no sex. Whereas the original Phylissa was a puritan, Tomaszewski’s Phylissa was a hedonistic libertine.

I: What was your role in The Menagerie of the Empress Phylissa?

M: I performed Hidalla’s Medium who becomes one of the Empress Phylissa’s lovers.

I: Who was Hidalla?

M: Hidalla was a famous racial supremacist, nevertheless, only a fictional character that Henryk Tomaszewski presumably borrowed from another Frank Wedekind’s play Hidalla, oder Sein und Haben (1905).

I: Did you read this play?

M: No, I didn’t read that play, but I know it is a satire about the breeding of races by matching people based on their physical beauty.

I: What an outrageous concept!

M: Yes, it is.

I: Who was Hidalla in your pantomime?

M: In our pantomime, Hidalla was a mad hypnotist who conjured up an apparition of a superman imagined as a German fascist dressed in the military uniform of an SS officer and played by me.

I: How did you get this part?

M: It was a fluke, a total fluke.

I: How did it happen?

M: Oh, it was stupid.

I: Tell me about it.

M: During the first few days in the WPT, I rehearsed two supporting parts, Napoleon’s Companion and Ludovico’s Companion, with the supervision of Jerzy Kozłowski, the director’s assistant. Henryk Tomaszewski came to the rehearsal for the first time at the end of the third day. He came to see what we had done, and then he took over for the last half-hour. Afterward he addressed the whole company, “We still haven’t cast the part of Medium.” Then he giggled mischievously and asked, “Which one of you knows how to do the wavy, snake-like motion with your stomach muscles that this part requires?”

But no one answered, so I said, “I know how to do that.”

“You do?” Tomaszewski asked visibly both surprised and amused with my audacity.

“Yes, I do.”

“Show me,” he said.

So I did.

“Yes, you know how to do it,” he agreed and then added after a short pause, “Okay, you will work on the part.”

Then he thanked everybody for the rehearsal and quickly left the room.

I: Incredible!

M: That’s what I thought, but a moment later, I realized what I’d done.

I: What do you mean?

M: There was a silence, an icy-cold silence in the room. No one said a word. Then the actors left the room without the usual chatter.

I: So?

M: Obviously they weren’t happy that I got a solo part.

I: Why?

M: There were many young actor-mimes waiting for years to get one. And then someone like me, an unknown dancer who came from, alas, operetta, immediately gets a large role.

I: Were they envious?

M: Maybe a few of them were, the younger ones who wanted that part. But the others were, let’ say, reserved, and some of them were maybe resentful.

I: Why?

M: They didn’t know me yet and were reluctant to accept me fully to the company until I proved myself at work. They assumed a “let’s wait and see” attitude, and the question was, “Is he going to handle the solo part or not?”

I: They didn’t trust you yet, did they?

M: No, they didn’t. But it was not personal. They didn’t trust my abilities and were very judgmental.

I: Do you blame them for that?

M: No, I don’t blame them for that. The reputation of the company was at stake. They had very high standards and it mattered.

I: So it was a challenge for you.

M: Yes, it was a challenge, but it was also a chance to prove myself.

I: Did they let you know that they didn’t trust your ability to handle the solo part?

M: Oh, yes, they did.

I: How?

M: For example, at a certain moment during a rehearsal I was supposed to raise Danuta Kisiel-Drzewinska, who played the Empress Phylissa, high above my head in a way that she could lie horizontally, straight as a board, on my extended hands. Then I was supposed to carry her, maintaining that position, to the bed, which was upstage center. However, the first time I tried that bit in rehearsal Danuta was afraid that I was going to drop her. She asked me, “You aren’t going to drop me, are you?”

“No, I’m not going to drop you,” I reassured her.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

But just a split second before I was supposed to pick her up, she ran away, exaggeratedly acting scared. “Oh, oh, he’s going to drop me. He’s going to drop me!” she shouted and hid behind the other actors.

“Come on, Danusia, he’s not going to drop you,” said Jerzy Kozłowski.

“I’m not going to do that with him. I’m afraid.”

To appease her, Kozłowski asked a few guys to stand around and spot her in case I dropped her.

So she came back and took her position but ran away again right before I was supposed to pick her up.

“He’s going to drop me. He’s going to drop me,” she cried again.

“Danusiu, please, come back,” Kozłowski was begging her, “Give him a chance.”

“Okay,” she said, “I’m going to do it this time.” And she came back and behaved as if she were going to do it, but when it came to it, she ran away again.

I: How did you take it?

M: She stretched the limits of my patience.

I: No wonder.

M: I realized that she was like a child and wasn’t going to quit the game.

I: So, how did you handle a naughty girl?

M: When she came back again and stood in the initial position, I grasped her a split second before I was supposed to. She intuitively bent her knee to help me catapult her and I raised her high above my head, placing her flat on my hands, and carried her to the bed.

I: And it was fine, wasn’t it?

M: Of course, it was. If anything, I knew how to raise a girl into a pose. I had done that many times in operetta. Besides, Danuta was very light, very easy to pick up.

I: Why do you think she was doing that?

M: To amuse her colleagues.

I: She was just playing with you, huh?

M: Maybe she was just playing. Maybe she was fucking with me, it’s hard to say, but I think it was both.

I: How so?

M: My take on it is that she channeled the resentment against me that was in the company and acted on it. It wasn’t personal; it was testing the novice who got a large part too quickly.

I: Did she keep fucking with you?

M: No, not really, at least not in this production. But we had some friction in another production later on.

I: What was it?

M: It was one year later. I was substituting for another large part, this time for Stephan Niedzialkowski, who left the company with a few other actors to start their own theater. I was taking over two parts from him in the production of The Departure of Dr. Faust: Paris and Homunculus. Homunculus was entirely a solo part, but as Paris, I was again paired with Danka (one of Danuta’s nickname) who of course played Helen. There was a scene in which Dr. Faust visits the ancient world in his metaphysical search for the most beautiful woman of all times, Helen of Troy, whom Mephistopheles has promised to deliver to Faust. However, Helen is bound in eternal harmony with Paris. We cannot imagine Helen of Troy without Paris and Paris without Helen; they belong to each other forever. They cannot be separated. Alas, and herein lies the rub, Faust could not have Helen without Paris — a compromising triangle that Faust didn’t care for. So he let Helen go with Paris back to the ancient world where they belong — as apparitions, they disappeared as they had appeared.

So, that was the scene.

I: What was the problem?

M: The problem was that Danka and I couldn’t synchronize well for a while. She complained that I threw her off balance and rhythm. And she wanted me to do the part exactly as Stephan had done it. I tried, after all I was replacing him, but to a limit. I could imitate the forms of his body, movement, and gestures but not the sensibility of his soul. That is something one cannot imitate. It’s a matter of individual interpretation.

I: Couldn’t she understand that?

M: I think she could.

I: So?

M: She had done that part with Stephan for five years before I took it over, so she was used to him in that part, not me, and her routine was fixed. Maybe it was also psychological. She didn’t want to accept that I had replaced Stephan Niedzialkowski.

I: Why not?

M: He really was a mega star, one of the WPT legends. And there was a notion that some of them were so good and so unique that no one would be able to replace them. Stephan was one of them. After he left, I heard many times that he was irreplaceable.

I: But you did replace him successfully, didn’t you?

M: Yes, I did. I was there to prove that no one is irreplaceable (including me.) Ha, ha, ha.

I: Ha, ha, ha.

M: But it took me some time to convince them.

I: Did you hate Danka for being difficult?

M: No, I didn’t hate Danka. How could I? How could anyone hate Danka? She was so beautiful and talented. Quite the opposite, I loved her. She was my muse — on the sly, of course. She inspired me.

I: How did she inspire you?

M: You see when she played Helen, the most beautiful woman of all times, I didn’t have to use any acting devices to make-believe, such as parallel actions or images. No, Danka was for me the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. She had no problem convincing me that she was Helen; the problem was how to convince her that I was Paris.

I: Ha, ha, ha. Were you in love with her?

M: That’s what it was?

I: It looks like it.

M: If so, it was only platonic.

I: What was that you loved about her the most?

M: Everything she was doing in movement had utter grace. It was alluring and enticing.

I: What is grace?

M: Grace is a good sense or feel for form.

I: And she had it.

M: Yes, she had it.

I: Did you two work out your differences and click as Paris and Helen?

M: I think so, if not entirely it was only getting better. After one performance, Danka said to me, “The part of Homunculus you now do even better than Stephan but in the part of Paris you are still worse than he was.” Or maybe it was opposite; maybe she said that I was better in Paris but worse in Homunculus. I didn’t quite get it. She said it so suddenly and, without waiting for my reaction, left to the dressing room. I was so flabbergasted that I failed to respond. But in that moment, it occurred to me that I had been compared to Stephan Niedzialkowski in regards to my mime talent.

I: What did you expect?

M: I don’t know what I expected but not that. At the time, I was still humble. I was just happy to be in that famous company and had no higher expectations. But Henryk Tomaszewski kept casting me in one part after another. In the first two years in the company, I became an actor-mime specializing in replacing other actors. I was taking over many parts, small and large, from actors who either left the company or got injured. However, each time Tomaszewski cast me again, particularly in a large part, I was surprised. I really didn’t expect it.

I: Why were actors leaving the company?

M: It was a temporary phenomenon. Tomaszewski had a falling-out with some of the primary members of the company.

I: What was the reason for that?

M: It seems that they were done with each other and it was time to separate.

I: Do you know why Stephan Niedzialkowski left the company?

M: Yes, I know. Stephan Niedzialkowski and Andrzej Szczuzewski prepared their own pantomime (it was titled The Mirror) and wanted to perform it as a WPT production, but Henryk Tomaszewski didn’t agree to it. There was a big fight. All the members of the company were called for a meeting. The Department of Culture in Wroclaw was the mediator in the conflict but to no avail. Tomaszewski said that if Stephan and Andrzej want to do their own performances they should leave the WPT and start their own theater, as he, Tomaszewski, did when he founded the WPT. So they did. They left with three other actors and started a pantomime theater in Warsaw called The Warsaw Mime Theater.

I: So it was a schism in the company.

M: Yes, it was. Regretfully, a few great mimes left the company.

I: How did you feel about it?

M: I was disturbed. Nevertheless, I didn’t mind taking over their parts when they left.

I: In which way were you disturbed?

M: There is always something wrong when the best people are leaving.

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

Friday, November 15th, 2013


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.”


“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.


What am I, if I am not able

To reach the crown of mankind

For which I crave with all my senses?


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.