Saturday, November 14, 2009

Call for Stage Designers: Submit Works for U.S. National Exhibit for Prague 2011

SYRACUSE, N.Y., and PRAGUE: Out with the retrospective -- and in with the cutting edge. That, in a nutshell, will be the curatorial approach for the U.S. national pavilion currently being organized by a group of leading U.S. theatre designers for the 12th Prague Quadrennial (PQ), which will run for 10 days in June 2011 in the Czech Republic.

The U.S. national pavilion, which will be exhibited at the Veletrzni Palace (the building of the Czech National Gallery) in Prague from June 16 to 26, 2011, will then tour the U.S. until December 2012.
Theatre companies, boundary-defying collectives and theatre designers across the U.S. are strongly urged to submit online their designs from up to three productions, visually and aurally striking works that embrace all elements of design, including scenic, costume, lighting and sound and video.

In a radical break from U.S. national exhibits of the past decades, including the encyclopedic survey approach used for recent editions of the PQ, the committee of five U.S. curators appointed by the Syracuse, N.Y.-based United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) -- which has funded and realized the project since 1983 -- will rally around a specific theme for 2011: "Courage from the Edge."

USITT's new theme -- an exploration of non-traditional approaches to theatre in the U.S -- reflects PQ 2011's request that national pavilions present a strong curatorial concept and that explore the field of scenography as a discipline in-between the visual and performing arts.
USITT's official letter of invitation to U.S. designers reads: "We define 'courage' with the words bravery, will, daring, fortitude and also the ability to confront fear, pain, risk/danger, uncertainty or intimidation. 'Courage' may be artistic or sociopolitical or both. 'Edge' may refer to a leading edge, the pinnacle of artistic achievement, the edge of danger or the boundary that defines theatre as we know it."

Specifically, the curators, headed by Susan Tsu, aim to represent the U.S. through works that forge definitive or life-altering paths, incorporate practices for social and artistic change, and empower designers in the collaboration process.

"We are particularly interested in younger collectives and entire productions," says Tsu. She adds that PQ offers a unique perspective on the state of contemporary theatre design -- it was a bridge of cooperation and mutual understanding during the Cold War. "I hope our nation's artistic directors will come to PQ and see a range of approaches to plays that are non-Stanislavskian in derivation, nonlinear and visually challenging in ways we rarely see in the U.S."

Working with Tsu are Christopher Akerlind, curator for lighting design; Chris Barreca, for scenic design; Linda Cho, for costume design; Don Tindall, for sound. William Bloodgood has been tapped to design the exposition itself, with support from the designer Eric Stone.
Considered productions must have opened between June 2006 and April 2010. Submissions will be selected by a jury at the USITT national convention in Kansas City which takes place March 29 to April 2, 2010. All entries must be received before March 15.

To submit works for consideration, U.S. designers are asked to visit or to click directly to this submissions page.

Organized by the Arts and Theatre Institute of Prague, PQ recently changed its official name to Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space. The new name, it is believed, will break down the "often imaginary differences between the performance fields," explains Sodja Zupanc Lotker, PQ artistic director.

A PQ 2007 winner from Slovakia, the scenographer Boris Kudlika, was appointed to be the new general commissioner. Visit About 57 countries have officially signed up to exhibit in PQ 2011. See the list of countries and regions that have applied for the PQ.
To read about the U.S. national pavilion that was exhibited at PQ 2007, visit this link to "All the World's a Pavilion," which was published in the September 2007 edition of American Theatre magazine.

[ in the theatre of One World ]

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Top Ten Actions Steps to Achieve 50/50 in 2020 from Princeton University's conference on Women in Theatre

This weekend, Princeton University organized a conference of Women in Theatre. Here are the top 10 action steps that we must to work on to overcome the challenges. Please click here.

[in the theater of One World]

Friday, September 18, 2009

Listening to Governors Island

NEW YORK, NY: Early into LÂN (Land), Sytze Pruiksma's sonic-driven video composition at the Dutch-themed New Island Festival on Governor's Island, your mind and eye wander. The mind-drift and roving-eye are natural and inevitable, because the 70-minute piece is performed outdoors and because the horizontal bars and solid lines of images march across the two giant projection screens that loom in front of us and block our full view of the Manhattan skyline.
Thoughts stream forth: Do you keep your eyes focused at the screens, or do you watch the ferries rolling to and fro over the dark waves of ocean? Are those the synthesized sounds of birds singing in the night air, or are they coming from Pruiksma's musical instruments? Will I have time to drink a glass of white wine at the Boulevard of Broken Dreams before catching the last ferry back to my overpriced Manhattan apartment?

I saw LÂN last night (Thursday) around 10 p.m. after two helpings of a big pasta dinner that came with an intense performance of Orfeo in one of the tents at the New Island Festival, a smorgasbord of location-based Dutch performances running through Sunday September 20 at Governors Island. I was fed well and felt kind of sleepy. It did not help that we, the spectators, were looking up at the visually arresting landscape while lying on our backs on low fold-out chairs on the grass. The crisp velvet of evening stretched across the vast expanse of the sky. There were no stars up above, but there were also no skyscrapers or neon lights marring our view of the cosmos. Those archetypal urban blights were laid out on the flatline of the horizon, flickering at the extreme right of a video-projection screen. So close yet so far. Standing at the extreme left was the Statue of Liberty, our appreciation of its all-night green-glowing vigil obscured by the thick branches of a tree.

Presented in an open-air environment, with a white cubic structure designed by the scenographer Sjoerd Wagenaar serving as Pruiksma's stage, LÂN wants us to meditate on the splendor of the islands of New York City. A concert of recorded natural sounds, loops of electronic compositions and long rows of stacked film projections of watery landscapes, LÂN (Land) mashes up music, nature and video, asking us to tune in to the sensory experience of the New York geography. Hailing from the bucolic northern province of the Netherlands called Friesland, Sytze Pruiksma is a composer, musician, birdwatcher, and one-man band. He performs his own rhythmically propulsive minimalist score (with sample of real sounds) while audiences are seated and watching an abstract film montage on two huge screens--a concert of images that refract the same natural location in which the piece is performed.

This time, however, Pruiksma and the filmmaker Herman Zielstra have included samplings of the grass parks of Governors Island itself. Several weeks before the official opening of the New Island Festival (which runs through Sunday September 20), the two Dutch artists shot a time-lapse video of the New York island and spliced it into the already existing montage of the beaches of Friesland.

At the Oerol Festival, where I first saw LAN this past June, Pruiksma performed his own experimental compositions on the vast expanse of the dunes. That version on the Dutch island of Terschelling was nothing less than a singular meditation of the Friesland landscape itself. This being a location-based live performance, LAN felt quite odd and put me in a quizzical mood, because the film refracted, re-framed and deconstructed the very same pastoral geography that surrounded us. Urban visitors, especially foreigners like myself, can't help but be awed by the look and feel, as well as the shapes and sounds of Friesland. Although Pruiksma's classical compositions were entrancing to listen to (and more colorful and melodious than those by Philip Glass), what exactly was the point of laying out in the dunes, with blankets on our lap, and contemplating the graphic qualities and electronic adumbrations of a geography that was, with no human intervention necessary, so seductively ethereal by itself and so amply available?

Terschelling was spectacular on its own. And if you've spent the better part of the day cycling from performance to site-specific performance from one end of the long island to another, you could be forgiven if LAN, with its backdrop of the orange-blue sun setting in the dunes, lulls you into a deep sleep. Instead of making us acutely conscious of the landscape, the Oerol version of LAN leaves you to move entirely inward. Left in a state of aloneness with neither a narrative to follow or enough of a build-up to the score that might lift your experience to the level of a spiritual trancendence, you simply surrender to the day's exhaustion.

Something about Governors Island has forced Pruiksma to open up of LAN as a film concert experience and to pick up the propulsive percussive beats in terms of performance. In New York, where it is being co-presented by the HERE Arts Center and the Province of Fryslan, LAN looks, sounds and feels re-invigorated. It's edgier and more bracing and completely satisfying.

You first hear the gurgling of water, presumably from the laps of water hitting the row of wood pegs on the Frisian sea (on film) or hurtling toward the shores of Ellis Island (looming like a dark shadow behind Pruiksma). What follows are furious rushing patterns, which match the hurtling linear speed of filmed elements (depicting water, oceans, birds, grass, sand, clouds) across the huge screens. Every so often, you hear bird whistles. Loops of recorded sounds and melodies mingle with Pruiksma's drumming and screeching, and then underscored once more by the insistent hum of Governors Island itself.

Because Pruiksma can hear (but not see) the movement of ferries behind him, he has no fear of exploiting the coastal sounds of New York. As the piece progresses, his very physical performance seems to want to be in competition with the ferries rolling by, but he never steals attention to himself in a vulgar way. Compositionally, Pruiksma invests himself ardently in the most familiar flourishes of natural sounds. He understands that even cliches can resonate if modulated in the right tone. In Oerol, his tonal minimalism sounded like a call to a silent prayer. But at the New Island Festival, the percussive electronic score of LAN rises to become a salute to Governors Island.

And yet Pruiksma does not aim to messily implicate LAN into the history of this once-inaccessible New York island. Every so often, the film stops to show us gorgeous landscapes of a grassy park on the island, but that's as much of a reveal as it allows. The rest of LAN plays like a call to new awareness.

In the dunes of the Terschelling island at the Oerol festival, LAN only wants us to surrender to the Mark Rothko-like abstraction of moving colors, stacked sounds and filmed textures. But this time around, the odds are against Pruiksma. As a sparring partner, Governors Island is rope-a-dope; it is a formidable opponent with its own agenda. Sometimes things happen that raise the dramatic stakes, as when an oil tanker appears out of nowhere and parades its mammoth shadow in the background, quietly wresting our attention. At other times, allegory, meaning and our own personal associations attached themselves to the experience.

LAN is performed at the intersection of three New York islands. Ellis Island juxtaposes itself in the background. When the images of several rows of birds stream across the video screens, the film evokes memories of the millions of immigrants who passed through that island's facilities, now a musem. Obviously, the island of Manhattan impresses itself and runs counterpoint to natural world which LAN celebrates.

And if you took notice of the empty seesaws and red-metal slides of the children's playground nearby, along with the rubble of demolished barracks and unoccupied apartment buildings that were once a home to the families of the U.S. Coast Guard, you cannot help but feel suddenly attuned to the reality of this former military installation, a lost legacy that has recently been turned into a virtue.

That's because LAN in New York feels a hymn to a ghost town. At the New Island Festival, it beguiles us to want to discover this island's undulating parks and rough harbors. It awakens our senses to the thrill of re-discovering a landscape that is isolated no more. [in the theatre of One World]

For ticket information, visit

NoPassport Press Celebrates the Release of 12 Collected Plays and Single Edition Works

NEW YORK CITY:  Seven collected plays under the NoPassport press imprint will be launched on Thursday February 25 at ACROSS THE UNIVERSE WITH NoPASSPORT PRESS, a conversation and book presentation moderated by New York writer and editor Randy Gener.  

Join playwrights Oliver Mayer, John Jesurun, Mathew Maguire, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Alejandro Morales, Chiori Miyagawa, Caridad Svich and press editors Otis Ramsey-Zoe and Stephen Squibb for a conversation & celebration of publications of their plays from NoPassport. This event takes place 6:00–8:00pm at New Dramatists (424 West 44th Street, bet. 9th and 10th Aves.). Admission for this event is free.  For information, call (212) 757-6960. For further information contact

This book launch is a pre-conference launch for the 2010 NoPassport Conference. DREAMING THE AMERICAS: UTOPIA IN PERFORMANCE at Nuyorican Poets Cafe is a two-day conference with the support of The Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance, Idiom, The Internationalists, 50/50 in 2020, Conni's Avant-Garde Restaurant, and New Dramatists. 

Join Migdalia Cruz, Erik Ehn (Brown University), Randy Gener , Henry Godinez (Goodman Theatre), Jeff Janisheski (O’Neill Theater Institute), Lisa D'Amour, Catherine Filloux, Karen Hartman, Melanie Joseph (Foundry Theatre), Jeff McMahon, Oliver Mayer, Chiori Miyagawa, Katie Pearl, J.T. Rogers, Ian Rowlands, Alberto Sandoval, Octavio Solis, Saviana Stanescu, and a distinguished roster of established and emerging artists for the fourth annual NoPassport “Dreaming the Americas” Conference held at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City with pre-conference event at New Dramatists.

RANDY GENER is the New York writer, poet, editor, playwright and visual artist.  A lecturer and public speaker, Gener recently gave the keynote speech at the 2009 Swedish Theatre Biennial.  He is a co-founder and editorial board member of a new international web journal, Critical Stages, at He is a core member, an editorial board member and a series editor of NoPassport theatre alliance & press. Gener has been praised by the New York Daily News as an “internationalist, a champion of cultural exchange and dialogue” and by Instinct magazine as “the visionary.” 

NoPe - NoPassport Conference SCHEDULE


NoPassport and Nuyorican Poets Cafe present a two-day conference with the support of The Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance, Idiom, The Internationalists, 50/50 in 2020, Conni's Avant-Garde Restaurant, and the Lark Play Development Center, and the cooperation of New Dramatists.  

Pre- Conference Event:

FEBRUARY 25, 2010 at New Dramatists, 424 W. 44th St, NYC from 6-8 PM

Across the Universe with NoPassport Press, Moderated by Randy Gener

 Join Tanya Barfield, Oliver Mayer, John Jesurun, Mathew Maguire, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Alejandro Morales, Chiori Miyagawa along with press editors Otis Ramsey-Zoe, Stephen Squibb and Caridad Svich for a celebration of publications of their plays from NoPassport.

*Admission to this event is free.

Conference @ Nuyorican Poets Café/NY

Fri. February 26, 2010 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

& Sat. February 27, 2010 11:00 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.  

For further information contact  


Preliminary Schedule–Program is subject to radical change

FEBRUARY 26, 2010 Panels:


with DANIEL BANKS (DNAWORKS), DANIEL GALLANT (Executive Director, Nuyorican Poets Cafe), CARIDAD SVICH (Playwright; founder, NoPassport)



Moderated by BIANCA BAGATOURIAN (Playwright & President of Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance) and MEGAN MONAGHAN (Dramaturg)

Panel: MARCY ARLIN (Immigrants Theater Project), STACIE CHAIKEN (Storyteller/Performer),ERIK EHN (Playwright), CHRISTINE EVANS (Playwright, to be confirmed), CATHERINE FILLOUX (Playwright), J.T. ROGERS (Playwright), DAWN AKEMI SAITO (Storyteller/Dancer), KELLY STUART (Playwright),

*This is an Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance session.



Erik Ehn is Head of Playwriting at Brown University, and former Dean of California School of the Arts.

 We are in the middle of an extraordinary time, if utopia is understood to include moral diversity (heaven and hell). The ways in which we are being disregarded, forced into strange shapes, misunderstood, privileged, urged - are now (briefly) the fracture that permits growth. Making art in holy shadow in obedience to disaster.


This special lunch/performance costs $10 (separate from registration and at event only).

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant (a Village Voice Choice and Time Out New York favorite), is not a locale but a group of bold (if fictional) theatrical performers, devoted to the ongoing celebration of the work of Conni Convergence, the beloved icon of stage and screen. Hailed as “devilish dinner theatre” by The New York Daily News, these unique theatrical-culinary events mix the ingredients of fine food and drink, brash Vegas-style song and dance spectacle, and a loving sendup of avant-garde pomposity.


Moderated by Tamilla Woodard and Jake Witlen

Panel: MELANIE JOSEPH (Artistic Director, The Foundry), MALLORY CATLETT (director), STEPHEN SQUIBB (C-Artistic Director, Woodshed Collective), LISA D'AMOUR (Playwright), KATIE PEARL (Director/Performer), IVAN TALIJANCIC (Artistic Director, Wax Factory), IAN ROWLANDS (Playwright, Advisor, Welsh Arts Council), MELISSA FENDELL (Founder, The Anthropologists) and more TBA

*This is an Internationalists session.






NoPassport Press presents excerpts from new work (read by authors) and a conversation about the global voice in the age of globalization with five writers who have newly available plays, along with scholars and theatre-makers who've written about their work.



11:00 AM: “Utopia/Dystopia & The Global South: The Networked Self in Performance"

With CARIDAD SVICH (playwright & founder, NoPassport)

a reflection on inscription, virtual spaces, the wired self and writing about and for the Global South. 

CARIDAD SVICH is an award-winning playwright, translator and lyricist. Her adaptation of Allende's The House of the Spirits premiered February 2009 at Repertorio Espanol in NY. She is alumna playwright of New Dramatists, founder of NoPassport, associate editor of Contemporary Theatre Review (Routledge/UK), and contributing editor of TheatreForum. Visit her at


Jenny Greeman and Melody Brooks (New Perspectives), Susan Jonas and more TBA

New Perspectives Theatre Company, The League of Professional Theatre Women and 50/50 in 2020 explore what it means to make art in a culture that only values capital. Is the act of creation a radical act? Can theatrical space be viewed as utopian space? The panel will investigate these theoretical questions and move toward practical solutions for reassessing the value of theatre and its makers. In particular, representatives of the newly formed 50/50 in 2020 will share their plan for achieving parity for women artists by 2020.

1:00-2:10 PM IDIOM: Between Art and Theater: Genealogies of Performance

Organized for Idiom by Stephen Squibb, Panelists: TBA

The arrival of widespread interest in performance amongst contemporary artists has not immediately translated into an expanded interdisciplinary interest in that other, classically time-based medium, the theater. Nor has the theater, broadly speaking, seen fit to expand its categories to correspond with the sudden promiscuity of its traditional methodology. What is the nature of this reciprocal ignorance? Is it simply a question of incompatible constituencies? No doubt there is a deep divide in each community’s respective method of production – but are we so determined? This panel aims to examine the recent history of performance as it relates to current patterns of production and dissemination, with special consideration given to the divide between contemporary art and theater.

Idiom is an online publication of urban artistic practice. By allowing emerging artists, writers and arts professionals to report on, review, and otherwise cover overlooked or under-thought aspects of the larger creative community, Idiom offers a local, engaged counterpoint to the prevailing discourse of contemporary art.


Counter Indications, a collaboration between writer Jeff McMahon and media designer Jacob Pinholster, is a live performance/installation examining forced confessions, the parameters of what is considered "cruel and unusual" treatment, and the role of influence in determining truth.

Jeff McMahon, Assistant Professor in the School of Theatre and Film at Arizona State University, is the recipient of 8 NEA Fellowships in Choreography. His live  works combining live speech and movement with media have been presented since 1980 at P.S. 122, Dance Theater Workshop, The Kitchen, PS 1, LACE, Cleveland Performance Art Fest., Jacob's Pillow, Highways, and numerous other venues in the U.S. and Europe.  He recently completed a writing residency at the Edward F. Albee Foundation.






 Panel: ELAINE AVILA (Playwright, University of New Mexico), KATE WEISS (Canadian Theatre Alliance), CHARLOTTE MEEHAN (Playwright, Wheaton College), LISA SCHLESINGER Playwright, Columbia College Chicago), MATTHEW MAGUIRE (Playwright, Fordham University), LINSEY BOSTWICK (Big Art Group), and more TBA

6-6:30 PM CLOSING 

7:00 PM RECEPTION hosted by the Lark Play Development Center, 939 8th Avenue.

NoPassport was founded by playwright Caridad Svich in 2003. It is an unincorporated theatre alliance & press devoted to cross-cultural, Pan-American performance, theory, action, advocacy, and publication. Caridad Svich and NoPassport is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of [Caridad Svich & NoPassport] may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

The Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance
strives to fulfill its mission of projecting the Armenian voice on a world stage through theater and film by offering contests for new writing, play readings and various educational programs. For more information, please see or

The Internationalists is a collective of directors from around the world whose mission is to create a more open, sustainable and interactive global theatrical community.  We foster creative diplomacy in order to build bridges between artists and audiences of all nations.  By developing a global network of artists, we promote the creation of contemporary performance with an emphasis on cross-cultural exchange and collaboration.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

First Book on "Theatre and Humanism in a World of Violence" Published in Europe

SOFIA, BULGARIA: Randy Gener's Nathan Award-winning essay "See Under: HOMELAND," has been published in a new book, Theatre and Humanism in a World of Violence, an anthology of essays edited by Kalina Stefanova and Ian Herbert. Published in Sofia, Bulgaria, by St. Kliment Ohridski University Press, the book serves as a record of the proceedings of the 2008 World Congress of the International Theatre Critics Association and was financed by the Ministry of Culture of Bulgaria.

Theare and Humanism in a World of Violence is the first attempt in a book-length form to answer such hot-button questions as: "What makes violence onstage today so sexy? Until recently, violence for its own sake was the prerogative of B-movies and junk mystery novels. What made theatre follow suit? What is the impact of the theatre of violence on the audience? Doesn't it actually make us conformists? Is there a place for humanism among all the postmodern "ism," including post-human and or meta-human theatre? What is the relationship between violence and the aesthetics of ugliness?"

Gener's scholarly essay address the role of theatre and humanism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on U.S. stages. This timely and relevant essay tackles how Israeli writers like David Grossman and Ian Hatsor have ceased to directly address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their plays or fiction, after years of violence, military attacks, bombings and innumerable truces that have frayed Arab sympathy. Meanwhile secular Israelis and some Americans who have tackled the conflict in their writings have been villified. On the other hand, it has been very difficult to grant ordinary Palestinians their humanity on U.S. stages without someone insisting that the words "suicide bomber" and "Hamas" need also be uttered in the same breath.

In addition to the range of critical voices from around the world, Theatre and Humanism in a World of Violence contains the acceptance speech of the second winner of the IATC Thalia Prize, the French critic, director and playwright Jean-Pierre Sarrazac, who can be said to have first identified the notion of a post-dramatic theater. There is also a postscript: a text by Richard Schechner, the distinguihsed American director and theatre scholar, on the notion of the five avant-gardes.

Copes of the book were distributed this past April at the Europe Theatre Prize in Wroclaw, Poland, exactly year after the events it records. To purchase copies at the published price of 60 euroes, please contact Kalina Stefanova at this email link, and she may be able to arrange for her Ministry of Culture to send a copy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Dialogue with the Polish Master Krystian Lupa

NEW YORK CITY and WROCLAW, POLAND: In Europe, the Polish stage director Krystian Lupa is considered a theatrical giant. As attested by the 13th Europe Theatre Prize that was bestowed upon him this past April, Lupa is ranked alongside such major world figures as Harold Pinter, Peter Brook, Ariane Mnouchkine and Pina Bausch. A director, stage designer and writer, Lupa has been honored with an Austrian Cross of Merit in 2001 and the French Order of the Fine Arts and Humanities in 2002.

In Poland, Lupa is considered a patriarch. As head of the directing program of the Krakow State Drama School, he has trained generations of actors and directors, notably Grzegorz Jarzyna (TR Warszawa), Krzysztof Warlikowski (Krum at Brooklyn Academy of Music) and Piotr Cieplak, all of whom are Lupa disciples. So strong is Lupa’s influence that these latter directors actually create works that either run counter to his vision or consciously move in completely new directions. There is a strong argument to be made that Lupa, not the late Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, is the true shadow that looms behind today’s Polish directing scene, since for many younger directors Grotowski is a figure of myth and legend whose 1960s experimental work they have probably not witnessed firsthand.

In the United States, unfortunately, Lupa is a complete unknown. Unlike Grotowski, whose roots in the U.S. remain deep and profound and whose legacy is being remembered on both sides of the Atlantic with the Grotowski Year 2009 celebrations, Lupa has yet to find his audience. That situation may change after Lupa’s signature production—the Krakow ensemble Narodowy Stary Teatr’s much-praised 1992 production of Thomas Bernhard’s Kalkwerk (The Lime Works)—makes its U.S. premiere from July 14 to 18, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival 2009.

The key word to note in that previous sentence is “may.” It is possible that Lupa’s recognizability factor might increase as a result of this Lincoln Center outing. It is conceivable that his Central European aesthetic might penetrate the Western-leaning blockbuster mentality of America’s current international scene. Among close observers and lovers of world theater, Lincoln Center Festival 2009 will be remembered not only for the great artistry displayed by Ariane Mnouchkine and her company Le Théâtre du Soleil’s Les Éphémères, but also for boldly sticking its neck out on such a risky proposition as Lupa. Thanks to the support of the Polish Cultural Institute, Kalkwerk. marks Lincoln Center Festival’s first foray into the Polish theater. But will this Polish production be another one-off at this summer festival, similar to, say, the great Romanian director Silviu Purcarete’s one-time-only-U.S.-appearance in the summer of 1997 (never to be seen since)?

Believe it or not, the answer to that question goes beyond the ability of our U.S. theater reviewers to fully come to grips with Lupa’s work. Although it would be a positive sign if Kalkwerk actually receives positive critical notices, the probable truth is that American audiences in general would have to learn how to embrace the challenges and complexities of this Polish master’s layered, interpretive creations. Given their cultural specificity and their philosophical dimensions, those challenges can be considerable, since Lupa is nothing if not obsessed with exploring the problems and myths associated with human spiritual development.

Consider this: Kalkwerk. is a four-hour stage adaptation of Das Kalkwekbrings, a dense, difficult 1970 Austrian novel by Bernhard. It is a complex surrealist work about a homebound scientist in an abandoned lime works who compulsively invites his own ruin. Kalkwerk belongs to what can only be described as Lupa’s classical period. In the mid-1980s, Lupa put on plays based on available texts. He frequently adapted great Austrian, German and Russian literature works by Rainer Maria Rilke, Robert Musil and Fyodor Dostoyevsky for the small stage (Scena Kameralna) of the Stary Teatr in Krakow. In 1995–1998, Lupa produced an adaptation of Broch’s The Sleepwalkers. Recently, however, Lupa has turned his attention to pop-culture figures and self-mythologizing figures, frequently creating performances based on hundreds of hours of videotapes of actors doing improvisational experiments.

If that description already seems too unapproachable, Kalkwerk retains and pursues the imperceptible mutabilities of Lupa’s brand of immersive art-theatre. Fascinated by the Polish avant-garde artist Witkacy and the psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s writings on psychoanalysis, Lupa asks us to submit to slowness and subtlety—not stretched-out slowness á là Robert Wilson, but sluggish plotting, extended time, immersion and digressive unfolding. This quality of heightened focus could prove to be too much for our fast-paced, gratify-me-now, ADD culture.

In the Polish city of Wroclaw, where Lupa formally received the Europe Theatre Prize, I had the opportunity to see his current productions and works-in-progress. Factory 2 was an eight-hour dramatization of the oft-told story of American Pop icon Andy Warhol and his Factory acolytes, as fantasized by Lupa and his actors. Lupa was also present during an open-rehearsal presentation, clocking in at three hours, of the Marilyn Monroe section of a planned nine-hour triptych, Persona, that will also meditate on the figures of the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff and the philosopher Simone Weil.

Since Lupa and Grotowski belong to the same theatrical culture, there is a strong symbolic sense in both Wroclaw and in the Lincoln Center Festival that Lupa might be taking over the mantle that Grotowski left behind. Although the distinguished Polish theater critic and translator Malgorzata Semil insists that “Lupa is Lupa is Lupa is Lupa, with or without Grotowski (he has earned his position on his own),” there is an argument to be made that Lupa is indirectly indebted to Grotowski, whose anniversary-year celebration has made it possible for a great deal of contemporary Polish theater work to be exported abroad.

And yet Lupa does not consider himself a disciple of Grotowski. Like many contemorary Polish directors, Lupa consciously distances himself from the physical and vocal pyrotechnics developed by Grotowski and his disciplines—so much so that in a published interview, Lupa goes so far as to call Grotowski a fake and a sham. It was a charge that caused some consternation among several Polish actors who knew Grotowski and had worked with him closely.

As my interview with Lupa below shows (conducted with a Polish translator), Lupa is deeply aware that many gurus are emperors with no clothes—that often actors blindly follow a great artist by simple virtue of their charisma. In his most recent works, particularly Factory 2 and Persona, Lupa seeks to expose the irony of the phenomenon of personality, and he doesn’t mind besmirching the sacred idols to prove his point.

RANDY GENER: Mr. Lupa, in the past, you have shown a very strong and special interest in adapting the works of such Austrian writers as Rilke, Musil, Broch and Bernhard. What did you aim for Polish audiences to understand or learn by creating works based on Austrian literary works?

KRYSTIAN LUPA: Austrian writers of the first half of the 20th century, including Bernhard—he was an uncompromising and critical continuator of their tradition—mapped out a literary path for extreme penetration of phenomena within the human personality. They discovered personality not as a formula for the man’s character but as an unpredictable and mysterious process. An attempt to carry out this process through the theatre (in particular through the actor) was for me an opportunity to expand the potential of the theatrical language, and, at the same time, it was a testing ground for the theatre and the audience, for new topics of contemporary reality, in which the existing language and the way the man has been seen so far are no longer true.

GENER: Kalkwerk is a 1992 production that is only now premiering in the U.S. What do you hope American audiences today will understand or learn through seeing this production?

LUPA: First of all, I hope they will meet and appreciate Thomas Bernhard. I think the reason this author has not been very successful in American theaters yet is that this literature is treated too formally—in conventional terms of literary avant-garde. Let me quote [the German writer] Ingeborg Bachmann’s brilliantly insightful comment on Bernhard: “Thomas Bernhard is not a new literary style; it is a totally new genre in human thinking.” Not until the director and subsequently the viewer understand that, may they get infected by the author. And that is a kind of illumination.

GENER: Why is it that your Polish productions are only now being presented in the U.S.? With the exception of your directing a Chekhov play at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., have you ever tried to break into the U.S. theater market before?

LUPA: Well, perhaps a good idea would be to ask somebody in the U.S.? As far as I am concerned, I have never tried to break into any market. I was always absorbed by the place (the esemble and the audience) where I was working at the moment.

GENER: Recently in Wroclaw, I saw the Marilyn Monroe section of your three-part production of Persona. What other explorations do you wish to do? How are the sections about Gurdjieff and Simone Weil connected to the Monroe section?

LUPA: In Wroclaw, Marilyn was a work in progress. It was at the final phase of the actor’s process but still before the final editing of the staging and technical elements. In that part of the triptych, a view of personality as a reservoir of desires and potentials (rather than the actual condition and achievements of an individual) is combined with an object of self-mythologization and hypocrisies on the way to fulfillment. It is also a magic area of interpenetration by other personalities that cuts into and works secretly inside a self as role models. It also tackles transgression, the man’s eternal desire to step beyond his own personality, which he perceives to be a prison.

GENER: Based on what I observed and learned, you seem to be exploring new paths as a director, in which you are exploring the figure of celebrity artists like Warhol and Monroe, and the critics observe that these latest pieces of your are really self-portraits. Do you agree? Why or why not?

LUPA: Self-portraits? Mine or of the actors that identify with the characters they play? This [assessment] might be true in the sense that we follow the path (method) of identification. Working for a long time on the latest two productions, I and the actors lived a kind of parasitic life within the bodies and souls of our characters. This is an extreme experience. In the course of doing it, both sides changed: the artists and the characters subjected to that experiment. It is rather an attempt to take a personal trip inside another man to see what and how happens in there. This is a very intimate process that heads in a direction opposite to giving a character the actor’s own features.

GENER: In a published interview for a Warsaw publication, you called Grotowski “a fake.” What did you mean by this remark? In Wroclaw, there were other Polish actors present at the symposia who disagreed with you about Grotowski—how can you explain their disagreement? In what way was Grotowski “a fake”?

LUPA: This is another motif discussed in Persona (section about Gurdjieff). I was talking about what many spiritual masters do all too eagerly—believing in their unique road to initiation, too easily considering themselves spiritual masters in relation to their partners in the creative process. Jung calls it an unlawful (usurper) use of the power of a “great magician.” I treat my opinion of Grotowski as something very personal and subjective, no wonder some may disagree.

GENER: Would it be fair to describe your directing as “hyper realistic” and “immersive”? Why do your productions seem to be wedded to reality and text, while many other Polish directors seem to prefer abstraction and/or highly physicalized language?

LUPA: I can only suggest that I treat my performances as autonomous realities. They seek to live and not to imitate life. In order to live they need to have life mechanisms installed in them. But this is not an issue of the significance of the text. Human monologue (especially internal monologue) and dialogue are invaluable access paths to the man, who is ritually incarnated in the theatre. But they are not the only ones...

GENER: Now that you have won the Europe Theatre Prize as a major theater artist, what do you hope to create or explore artistically in the next five years?

LUPA: I would not like this prize (or any other one) to have any effect on how new subjects come up or evolve. By the way, this is a mystery even for myself. To a large extent, it happens by itself; my role is only that of a medium or carefully alert intuition. More motifs emerge as I walk my road, and the experience of the road owns them. They surface or are found, or they appear as still unattained. And they form an area of less and less free choice.


Lincoln Center Festival at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 899 10th Avenue (btw. 58th & 59th Streets), New York, NY 10019

Tickets: from $35; online, tel.212.721.6500, Festival Box Office: Avery Fisher Hall (Broadway at 65th Street) @ 7:00 PM

***Special thanks to Kinga Glowacka to the translation from Polish to English.