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Dear Working Group participants,
We thoroughly enjoyed our meeting yesterday and hope the discussion was as productive for you as it was for us. We are writing to remind you that you should feel free to continue with post-conference discussions of your work if you have questions for one another or would like to continue to develop cross-project perspectives.
We hope to see you again next year in Nashville.
Dassia and Magda

Dear Magda,
Very interesting stuff. Is this the introduction to a collection of translated plays that you are working on? I hope so!

Re: Magda's paper is up. by Dassia PosnerDassia Posner, 19 Nov 2011 17:25

Oh, yes- and there was a very famous Soviet production of KING LEAR at the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre in the 1930s, with Lear played by Solomon Mikhoels. It was one of the most famous productions of the decade, though I don't have an answer to your question re: whether or not similar choices were made… Certainly Mikhoels defamiliarized previous interpretations of the character in his very original rendition.

Hi Virginia, a very interesting close reading of these two texts. You have already gotten a lot of feedback, so I have just a few questions.
• I’m curious about the long history in Germany of performing adaptations of Shakespeare and how this might fit into that conversation.
• What is a “pure adaptation”?
• You give an interesting discussion of the intertextuality of iterations that are repeated while retaining the memory and some of the meaning of previous iterations.
• Is there some “distancing” that occurs every time we see a play? This seems interesting to explore in the context of how Brecht’s unique version of estrangement compounds this effect. What happens when audiences are not familiar with the original?
• 103 different productions, or 103 showings of the same production, or some combination?
• Can you talk more about the system of signs of which Shakespeare’s plays would have been a part in Germany?
• Was Hauptmann involved in the adaptation of Coriolan, as she had been with Threepenny?
• Are there scenes that we know Brecht/Hauptmann cut that we also know Hauptmann later restored?
• I’m interested in differences between the many pre-WWII Shakespeare productions you cite and this play. I’m also interested in the play’s East German social and political context.
• What about other works Brecht adapts? Noh plays? Threepenny? The Galileo story? How are these adaptations different from Coriolan? Galileo was not a well-known “play” but the “history” of Galileo was well known. How is this the same or different from what you are talking about?

One of the reasons I am so drawn to the 1920s and 30s has to do with the high-stakes games that (theatre) artists were involved in. On the one hand, I love the fact that politicians and theatre practitioners alike believed in the power of the theatre to affect the citizenry, but on the other hand I am horrified by the atrocities committed against individuals because of their artistic decisions. That the cruel fate of Markov was so similar to victims of Stalin's purges the 1930s, although with a cold war twist, is striking.

When art means this much, the relationship between the artist and the state, essentially, turns into a patronage system. Your work makes me think that this economic situation is definitely something worth discussing in our working session. I can't speak for other Eastern European countries, but certainly in Soviet Russia, the system of rewards for prominent artists was in similar.

This is very interesting work and is beautifully contextualized through your references to the findings of post-Soviet scholars. You have already gotten a lot of feedback, so I have just a few questions.
• Why are more plays published than produced in Romania?
• What other kinds of plays have been given these prizes?
• I, too, am curious to know the connection between this play and Romanian versions of Snow White.
• What would you say is the significance of the fairy-tale metaphor? In the case of Shvarts, it was a genre through which he could explore aesthetic unreality and comment indirectly on his era. In Snow White, the fairy-tale references seem ironic, a reminder that this life is not a fairy tale.
• What happens to Snow White, I wonder, or is the play really about the other two?
• Why do the family want to eat Art? Is this referring to something specific?
• I’m hungry for more analysis and specific context at the end of each play discussion.
• I’m struck, in both cases, by the frequent use of varying sorts of irony. Irony seems to be a common thread with several of these papers…

Re: On Feedback by Dassia PosnerDassia Posner, 19 Nov 2011 04:44

Thanks for sharing your work Christopher! I am not an expert on contemporary Russian opera by any means, but it seems to me that your research is very important as theatres like the Helikon and directors like Bertman continue to play an important role in current Russian theatrical culture. My only big suggestion at this point, is to reconsider how you discuss Bertman's influences, particularly Meyerhold. It's nice when a artist cites his/her influences, but unless they provide some explanation, it can be difficult to interpret exactly how the influence is represented in their works. And even then, artist can not always be trusted in this regard. For the Meyerhold/Bertman connection, maybe there is more than the voice/body interpretation you mention on page 2. I wonder if Bertman's connection to Meyerhold has more to do with his unconventional treatment of classical/canonical texts (i.e. Bertman as auteur). Maybe viewing Bertman as an auteur will be helpful as you continue to research influences.

Diana, Like with Dominka's paper, I see some interesting intersections between your paper and my paper. My main question is what kind of knowledge did Romanians have of the Snow White story? I know different cultures often have different variations on fairy tales, and I wonder what the Romanian version of Snow White was and how it affects the play. You mention that she intrudcues the theme of "making money without working and achieving happiness and a sense of self through money." Is that soley because of her representation in the play or is it a cultural understanding of this character?

Re: On Feedback by Virginia MurphyVirginia Murphy, 18 Nov 2011 20:47

Dominika, I really enjoyed your paper, and I see some similarities between your paper and mine in the sense that I think the director is much like the adapter because of the way the director is allowed to work with the text to potentially make it mean something that isn't necessarily already there in the text. My question, then, is how did his role as director allow him to imbue political meaning in plays? And how does that different than what a playwright does? And how did Grotowski use his power as the director to do that?

Hi Magda, I really enjoyed reading your essay and learning about Schaeffer's development and work. One question that I have, and this might be really general, is that you've titled this an introduction, so I am assuming that this is perhaps an introduction to a book project that you're working on? I am wondering, then, what the overall argument of the project is? And whether or not you see continuity across Schaeffer's plays, from early to late?

These plays all sound fascinating, and I really enjoy the mixture of narrative and argument that you weave throughout the essay.

As Dassia mentioned, I am also fascinated by your argument that the festivals were designed to "perform utopian socialism," and I love your turn of phrase: "to perform Moscow." For me, this is the glue that can hold everything together because it can connect your various ideas about Moscow Theatre Festival as an event manufactured for economic/political/cultural reasons. It seems to me that the political angle can be the most convincing, but I don't know enough about the ultimate financial aims of Intourist. Overall, I think the topic and argument are very cool! One question that came up as I was reading: Is there any evidence to indicate that foreign tourists with a particular interprets in theatre would be more sympathetic to Soviet politics? How deliberately were individual tourists targeted?

Hi Virginia,

In her latest book, A Theory of Adaptation, Linda Hutcheon points out that when discussing any adaptation, one should foremost ask oneself “what, who, why, how, when, and where” (xiv). You might find this book helpful in your analysis of adaptation. You might also find Jan Kott's book, Shakespeare, Our Contemporary, helpful. He describes a couple od Polish adaptations and different stagings of Shakespeare.

Just a few passages from my upcoming book which might illuminate further this topic.

3. Grotowski: The Polish Context

In 1969, in his review of Grotowski’s production, Irving Wardle quotes Polish critic Boleslaw Taborski as saying that “Grotowski’s company was little prized in its own country until it won its reputation abroad, that is: from spectators who knew not a word of Polish and were dependent for understanding on non-Polish speaking converts like Raymonde Temkine and Grotowski’s own statements of intention in Towards A Poor Theatre.” Contrary to what Wardle suggests, however, Grotowski’s fame abroad was never the basis for his purported recognition in Poland. On the contrary, the fact that Grotowski became a guru to America’s flower-power generation actually contributed to marginalization of his work and his methods in Polish theatrical circles. This contradiction may seem bizarre at first, but praise for an Eastern European artist in the West, with a corresponding loss of prestige in his native country, was not unique to Grotowski. Czesław Miłosz, the Polish poet and writer, who served as cultural attaché of the communist People’s Republic of Poland in Paris right after World War II, and who defected and received political asylum in France, is another example of how success in the West often diminished the status of the Eastern European artist in his homeland. In 1960 Miłosz emigrated to the U.S., and shortly thereafter became an American citizen. In 1980, at the height of heated political protests in Poland, when the Solidarity movement was just beginning to gain momentum, Milosz won the Nobel Prize in literature. After Milosz’s defection, he was branded a traitor and his books had been banned by the communist government. In fact, many Poles heard about him for the first time on the day that the prize was announced. Although Poles generally embraced Miłosz’s Nobel, they were not quite convinced that he had won it on merit. On the contrary, many interpreted it as a political nod to the Polish Solidarity dissidents - a welcome gesture, but one suggesting the prize was not awarded on the basis of Miłosz’s literary talents alone. The Polish response to Miłosz’s Nobel Prize was additionally understandable insofar as Miłosz, who never actually lived under the communist regime, was seen by Western academics as an expert on Polish life under communism. This paradox was viewed as yet another example of the fashionable, but hollow, tokenization of an intellectual from behind the Iron Curtain. Miłosz’s Captive Mind, a study of the behavior of intellectuals under the totalitarian regime and a masterwork in its own right, was perceived in Poland as a signature book that built Miłosz’s political rather than literary identity. Moreover, the Polish public, as well as members of Polish literary circles, saw the work of many other writers - among them the poet Zbigniew Herbert, poet/playwright Tadeusz Różewicz, the experimental poet Miron Białoszewski, and the poet Wisława Szymborska (who won her own Nobel in 1996), to name a few - as far superior to Miłosz’s. These artists stayed in their home country, for better or worse. This decision contributed to their lack of visibility in the West but enhanced their reputations and credibility at home. Staying in the country meant learning to write between the lines, or often writing “into the desk drawer,” an effort both hopeless and heroic. While Miłosz enjoyed his life in Berkeley, Herbert and Różewicz consciously sentenced themselves to oblivion, food shortages, censorship and political instability.

For a along time, many Poles felt that the West, particularly American intellectual and creative elites developed a tendency to fetishize artists whose works have been banned or censored by their own governments. Depending on the unfolding events in Eastern Europe, they would become favorite causes célèbres for the bored New York artistic socialites, who often held highly idealized, misinformed and foolish views of Eastern European socialism. One interesting example is Eugenio Barba’s honest description of his own encounter with Polish socialism vis-à-vis his idealized leftist vision:

In this society which defined itself as socialist, my left-wing ideas collided with endless examples of injustice, abuse of power, bureaucracy, indifference and cynicism. My ingenuousness vanished, and in its place I felt acquiescence and apathy creeping in. I was confused. All my theories, both political and theatrical, dissolved. […] I had come to Poland because I believed that “communism restored its fertility to the human race.” But, as I saw it, socialism was an obscure caricature, often even a nightmare.

Did the idealized political view cloud the formation of cultural tastes of foreign audiences? Many Poles thought so. Although many prominent Polish artists like Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Andrzej Wajda to name a few, who succeeded abroad also continued to be revered in Poland - in fact, their Polish fame was often boosted by their international success - those who were initially not highly regarded in Poland, but who did succeed abroad, especially in the U.S., were perceived as doing so by humoring and manipulating the utopian political impulses of the American left, rather than on the merits of their own work. While this opinion was prominent among Poles, it was also a message emanating from the communist propaganda, which makes the task of differentiating between genuine and manipulated sentiment vis-à-vis the American art scene a difficult one. Many Poles see Miłosz as having been made something of a poster boy for the liberal Western cultural establishment, which to this day, even despite his now iconic status, continues to fuel some measure of Polish ambivalence about his literary virtues.

Polish theatre circles were similarly suspicious of Grotowski’s international success. Critics questioned the degree to which his success was based on artistic merit rather than Grotowski’s usefulness as a position statement for the politically engaged New York avant-garde, a fad that would pass with the first winds of political change. Adam Hanuszkiewicz, director of the National Theatre of Poland, bluntly summed up prevailing sentiment, questioning the Western motives for embracing Grotowski:

//Anything exotic always fetches good prices on the Western market! Grotowski is a “child” of Stanislavsky, and his theatrical father-figure creates all the problems for him. I despise mystification. Grotowski’s theatre lacks a truthfulness of purpose and is typified by a confusion of intentions. It is a hybrid, a deformed birth of naturalism and expressionism. He starts with physiological naturalism and ends up in his own cul-de-sac of stylization and formalism. It is too real to be art, and yet it is too contrived to be real or spontaneous in the manner Grotowski intends us to believe it is. I respect immensely the Living Theatre. Its members are not hypocritical. They come and touch you in the audience. I would not mind if they spat at me, and hit me as a member of the audience they would like to activate. In Grotowski’s Theatre on the other hand, to profess utmost naturalism or realism with all its sexuality, and tend to audience-involvement, and then at the same time ignore that there even is any audience, not involve them, or even attempt to do so, to respect them as others, it is sheer hypocrisy; it defeats its original purpose and is a new guise for the old Fourth Wall business. Grotowski’s is a theatre of peepholes….The audience is put in a position of Peeping-Toms. To witness therefore, the reactions of disgust on the part of the audience is a more rewarding theatrical experience than the actual performance. […] To defy respect-worthy critics is all very exotic-esoteric for you in the West, and it will soon wear out though. Inevitably it happens to all art that lacks truth! To philosophize on laboratorial improvisation and then spend weeks discussing whether the forefinger on the middle finger must come forward in a certain pose the actor strikes, is cheating one’s own principles, and is a betrayal of one’s audience.

I have personally two arguments against Grotowski’s type of theatrical expression. Firstly, theatre, by definition, by its very nature and essence is a live, collective art and must make sense to the masses, from the child to the professor. Good theatre cannot be limited to an audience of initiates, familiar to the secret rites of their society. Secondly, if Grotowski were serious in his commitment to discover in the theatre an equivalent to religion in an atheistic society, then he would not limit his audience to a select few. The concept of the Chosen is basically a negative, fascistic attitude. Religion shares the same essence with Theatre, it is meant to the masses, the child and the professor must be able to pray together in the same church. The utmost Grotowski may hope to evolve would be a Cult, a mystery-cult of a Secret Society, which is never a Religion.//

As Hanuszkiewicz can see no redeeming qualities in Grotowski’s work, he concludes that explanation for its popularity in the West is the West’s own appetite for exotic cultural treats. Although Hanuszkiewicz’s statement may seem reductive and dismissing, to fully understand its implications, we need to understand the psycho-political framework of Polish postwar culture.

One of the primary reasons for Grotowski’s poor standing on the Polish theatre scene had to do with what appeared to be his exceptional political status. In their 1986 article, Jerzy Tymicki and Andrzej Niezgoda capture the complexity of Polish sentiments towards Grotowski during these early days of his international career:

In those days, Grotowski was in a very special position. He was both conservative and radical, compliant and blasphemous. He was backed by the authorities, having been a member of the Party for years (as were his actors). Critics praised him as an innovator. Groups of youth regarded him as a guru. At the same time, he was never accepted by the larger Polish public because he rejected traditional national and religious values and beliefs. Grotowski’s deconstructions of Polish classics (Mickiewicz’s The Forefathers’ Eve and Kordian, Slowacki’s The Constant Prince, and Wyspiański’s Akropolis) were regarded as offenses against national treasures. Apocalypsis cum Figuris, with its scene of fucking the sacred bread, caused people to cry, “blasphemy.” Abroad, Grotowski’s reputation was much stronger. In Poland he was accused of manipulating his actors and spectators. Indeed, people said, Grotowski appeals only to the youth because they are easier to manipulate. When in the mid-I970s Grotowski announced his “exit from the theatre,” many felt relief. He ceased to be a challenge and a provocation.

As Tymicki and Niezgoda allude, there was something uneasy about Grotowski’s relationship with the communist regime. For once, under the Soviet regime, it was literally impossible for the average Pole to obtain a passport, Grotowski visited Russia, China, and India. Such travels were unfathomable for anyone who was not somewhat connected to the Communist Party; Polish citizens were simply not allowed to travel beyond Polish borders. Only those who somehow collaborated with the Communist Party were permitted to travel. As Barba recalls: passport was “a document that nobody possessed in a socialist country. [….] Poland was a prison, where you could neither have a passport nor travel abroad as could citizens in capitalist Europe. The secret police were omnipresent and the friendliness of a girl could conceal the interest of an informer.” In 1956, Grotowski traveled extensively abroad, even writing a reportage on his travels, titled “Between Iran and China.” These early travels alone put Grotowski in a politically questionable position. Eugenio Barba recalls his conversation with Grotowski about his meeting with Russian, Yiru Zavadsky, “the grandson of a Polish aristocrat who had been deported to Siberia during the Warsaw insurrection of 1863. [His] productions were in the worst socialist-realistic style and had won him innumerable honours.” While visiting Zavadsky’s apartment in Moscow, he showed Grotowski his passport, saying: “‘I can go to Capri or to London tomorrow if I want to see a show in the West end.’ [Zavadsky led Grotowski] to the window and pointed out two large ZIM limousines parked in the courtyard, each with its own chauffeur inside. ‘The Soviet people put them at my disposal day and night. I have lived through dreadful times and they have broken me. Remember Jerzy, nie warto, it is not worth it. This is the harvest of compromise.’” According to Barba, Grotowski talked about “this moment as of a turning point in his life. […] Zavadsky had been his great master.” It is difficult not to ask oneself why….

Two, even most important, reading Grotowski’s newspaper articles from that period of the late 1950s to the early 1960s, and knowing the historical currents that governed Poland’s political life at that time, one is struck by a certain blatant opportunism glaring from Grotowski’s writings. In 1955, at the height of Socialist Realism, Grotowski openly denounced those artists who chose to engage in any kind of private, and therefore unchecked, art-making. He wrote: “We often hear of a peculiar style for double life among artists. They create one kind of art for the critics and the official exhibits, and another kind of art for themselves, their friends and families. This is the art in which they reveal their true selves.” Denouncing such a double lives, Grotowski called for everyone to embrace Socialist Realism: “We ask for an atmosphere in which we could openly speak the same way that we speak in private. […] The common goal: Socialist Realism. The strategy: honesty, bravery of expression and artistic exploration.” The exact language that Grotowski uses in this article nearly echoes the clichéd language used by the Communist Party in its propaganda materials. In another article from 1955, Grotowski literally uses the same vocabulary that had become a signature party line: “We, the young would like to dedicate ourselves to a theatre that evokes revolutionary passion, love, class brotherhood, cult of heroism, and hate towards capitalist oppression.” In 1956, at the height of the October Thaw, Grotowski again opportunistically follows the trend, this time however, denouncing Stalin and Social Realism. In the October issue of Dziennik Polski, he writes: “From the mid-1930’s, that is, from era of the cult of Social Realism, Stalin has drastically limited the creative freedom of Soviet artists.” By then, Social Realism was no longer “one common goal” and Grotowski modified his position to fit the current political winds. In 1957, however, the wave of temporary freedoms was again slowly receding, and Grotowski, again, renewed the call for Socialism, repeating the propaganda slogans of the Communist Party in a communist youth journal: “We are obliged to fight against those who want a return of capitalism, who want the land to be returned to the landowners, who want the factories to be returned to their owners. We need to fight against those who want the return of dictatorship over the proletariat.” Reading Grotowski’s writing from this period, one finds it difficult not to at least suspect Grotowski of collaboration with the regime. As the times changed, the tone and message of his articles always paralleled the official party line. In his book, Grotowski: Przewodnik [Grotowski: A Handbook], Dariusz Kosiński writes about a 1997 meeting with young students, during which they accused Grotowski of having an “unclean” political record, on account of running an official theatre in what was back then a totalitarian country. Defending himself, Grotowski reportedly responded: “We could do nothing and lose our only chance or try to do as much as we could under the circumstances.” Kosiński wonders if the compromises were always necessary, and about the extent to which Grotowski availed himself of politically expedient solutions. Whatever the answer, Grotowski’s ambivalent political sympathies put him in the Communist camp, which made him suspect for the Polish artistic circles, which generally opposed the regime. As could be expected, anyone suspected of collaborating with the Party was automatically suspected of being an informer, and needless to say, informers were unwelcome in artistic circles - their presence inhibited private conversations, and, more importantly, could be dangerous. Of course, there remain many unanswered questions swirling around the communist past: Who collaborated with whom and for what reasons? Who now wants to know and why? Was it at all possible to be even slightly successful without appearing as if one collaborated with the regime? What that collaboration entailed and how far it went? How are we to judge it from the current political perspective?

Many years later, Grotowski reportedly defended his approach, arguing that his theatre was, in fact, apolitical in order to be political. He also suggested that his complicated relationship with the communist regime and Polish culture was multilayered and ironic.

I really appreciated and enjoyed your paper as an introduction, for me, to Markov and the socio-political context of his theater-making. I do think that even more information on the political situation and the mechanics of censorship would be useful for this of us without a background in Bulgarian communism. The way you structure the paper, violence committed by the state seemed an underlying theme throughout the work. I am interested in understanding how the state was using violence at the time Markov was writing and during the period depicted in Communists. You could speak more about the risks Markov knew to be taking in writing his politically critical works. I think elaborating more on the corruption Markov was resisting could help to explain why he resisted in the way he did. I also think it is interesting to ask why the state came to feel that Markov had become an active threat that needed to be killed rather than simply an "enemy" who could be conveniently inserted in state-sponsored narratives. And how common was this type of assassination in the period? I am also interested to know how these plays fit within Markov's total oeuvre and within Bulgarian theater of the period.

On a more general note, your description of Markov's depiction of state-party corruption and his refusal to glorify self- and social-sacrifice, leads me to believe that at least to Markov the communist regime in Bulgaria pursued its policies not in service to higher ideals or values but in service to its own power. When dealing with the Soviets, I frequently wonder whether there were any "true believers." And if so, how that affects the moral evaluation of their actions. But of course, sincerity of belief in ideology seems morally irrelevant in so many cases, e.g. suicide bombing or genocide. But how do we escape the role of power and the fact of hegemony in determining the acceptability of certain ideologies. If the American Revolutionaries had lost, would they only be considered traitors, treasonous criminals? Similarly, I find it impossible for me to ignore my ideological circumstances and commitments as I try to understand and analyze life and theater under communism, but I am not sure how to account for my subjective ideological location. I am interested in talking perhaps about how others negotiate this. Similarly, I am very interested with how we infer sincerity or true belief in materials that are almost always impossible to take at face value.

You discuss the “inextricability of Grotowski’s artistic practice and the socio-political context
from which it emerged.” This seems absolutely relevant to all our work.
How does one embrace, avoid, or subvert censorship?
Grotowski’s “strategic evasion” of censorship is interesting in counterpoint in Serban’s wry, ironic post-show comment on his nearly censored Odipe, as presented in Anikó’s interview with him. How are many of these artists both complicit in and resistant to censorship?
What are the “family” [and other] sources you are drawing from re: Grotowski’s early anti-Communist stance? I’m eager to see more of your sources in general. I wonder if you might consider adding your works consulted to your works cited?
I’m curious about Grotowski’s apparent adolescent shift from anti- to pro-Communism. Can you discuss this? I’m not sure I yet understand the through-line of the Grotowski political dance, but maybe this is simply because these are still preliminary explorations.
Is Grotowski’s “Little Red Balloon” also related in spirit to political szopka? I only know The Little Green Balloon in the context of the szopka staged there that later grew into a form of political satire. Would Grotowski’s cabaret have been political in nature, aside from (or because of?) the balloon’s change in color? Or is it more in the spirit of the “creative fermentation” of early 20th century cabaret culture?
Grotowski’s polemical response (p. 4-5) reminds me a bit of the Russian Futurist “Slap in the Face of Public Taste.” It has a manifesto feel to it.
Can you talk more about Flaszen’s attempts at reform?
Your paper, like many others in our Working Session, addresses the difficulty in finding print/manuscript sources that tell us what “really” happened in a political situation when certain things were rarely said openly. This seems like a fruitful common point of discussion.

Dear Anikó,
It is so exciting to see projects like this in their newness. Thank you for making us a part of this. What a fascinating interview.
I don’t have formal feedback, but will instead share my thoughts and questions as they arose while I was reading, in case you choose to answer some of these questions later in an introduction or notes.
• What are possible issues of nostalgia/homecoming when one’s home has radically changed. Or are these issues not relevant, since Serban never fully moved back? Was this like a visiting gig in his native land?
• What did Hungary and Romania hope to gain by the 1991 returns of these directors? What did the directors hope to gain? Why the (at least initial) carte blanche (in addition to his being a prodigal son)? What were the political motivations? Is it similar to the return of Gorky, say, to the Soviet Union? Or were they hoping for a new, “Western” ideological approach to theatre to supplant the old Socialist one?
• What is Serban’s definition of theatre that is “old-fashioned”? Lacking in quality, content, or edginess?
• I love Serban’s description of the two times he visited the National Theatre. What a gold mine for you to explore!
• What was his Romanian work like stylistically and thematically with respect to work he was doing at the time in the US and Europe? More political, yes, but I wonder how much of it hearkened back to his early La Mama work? I saw his Winter’s Tale and Lysistrata in the early 2000s… Both seemed similar to his 1984 King Stag in their colorful lightness. Was the idea that a return to the early “American” avant-garde (Trojan Women) could provoke a theatrical revolution on Romania, as well?
• Why was Serban’s revolution impossible? What were the political changes between the time he was hired and the time he left? What was the “new political orientation?” Or had interest in the prodigal son faded? Or were the authorities just interested in a flashy return to temporarily help them with the transition rather than real change?
• How does one sustain the newness and purity of being able to finally speak? Or is this impossible?
• Again, there seem to be many similarities between Serban’s return, ultimate disillusionment, and departure that parallels similar instances in the Soviet Union.
• I’d be very interested to hear his follow-up impression of having returned to the National this fall.
• Serban’s speech after Odipe is fascinating, as is his surprise that its seemingly deliberate ambiguity might be misinterpreted. What are your thoughts on this?

Dear Dominika,

Thank for revealing a side of Grotowski I didn’t know anything about! Starting from your paper’s title, I was continuously surprised by the different person you revealed, as I grew up [in Romania] with the cliché of a heroic apolitical artist. I have never thought of Grotowski as “a true ideologue and sincere supporter of the Polish communist state” (2), advocate of “social realism in art and theatre” (3), and “combative revolutionary” (4).

Are there any testimonies that speak to the possible relation between Grotowski’s political disillusionment after the 1957 demonstration and his choice of the first play, “The Chairs”, he directed? Whereas the allegorical connection is rather obvious, I was wondering if it could have been a coincidence [a title in the repertory].

I was also startled, although amused, by his solution to save the theatre by asserting it as a “Communist cell” (7) but, with much pain in the name of my teenage perspective, I am now wondering if a discussion of the political compromise would be one day necessary.


Dear Virginia,

I greatly enjoyed your analysis of Brecht’s adaptation of “Coriolanus” using Derrida’s concept of “the iterability of words and signs” (1).

The comment on the exchange between the serving men at the end of 4.4. and the beginning of 4.5 was particularly interesting because it clarified the political significance of Brecht’s adaptation. You mention that only having knowledge of the original can help an audience member perceive the message, which I completely understand. As I didn’t read this particular play, I’d be happy to learn more about how Brecht negotiated the efficiency of his political message, as Coriolanus isn’t among Shakespeare’s most famous plays.

I hope we’ll also have time to talk about the other changes Brecht made to the play on top of what you identify as “subtle omissions” (5) and/or additions. Also, are there any testimonies to how an unknowing audience might perceive Brecht’s adaptation?

Although Shakespeare’s works have been often staged in Romania, I don’t recall a similar type of adaptation. One of the Romanian classics, Tudor Musatescu’s “The Midwinter Night’s Dream,” vaguely alludes to Shakespeare’s play. In the 1990s, however, Horia Garbea wrote a series of intertexual adaptations/collages that combined several plays in a new and, in my view, original works, heavily relying on Shakespeare’s famous characters and lines. During the communist regime, I remember many productions of Shakespeare’s works that resignified the originals in order to give them subversive meanings, without drastically changing the texts themselves.

I look forward to talking more on this topic!

Best wishes,

Dear Magda,

I greatly enjoyed reading your paper and was very impressed with Bogusław Schaeffer’s work – thank you! I’m particularly interested in Polish theatre as I’m now directing “He Left Home” by Tadeusz Różewicz.

One point that particularly drew my attention was your analysis of Schaeffer’s entering the mainstream after 1989. You state that through their lack of “references to Polish national themes, Polish politics, or Polish history” (10), his plays liberated Polish theatre from “the Polish complex” (10) and offered the audience a medium of transnational reflection on/of “the quirks and absurdities of life under capitalism” (10). In this context, I would like to learn more about what you call, quoting S. Stabro, “the exhaustion of political language in drama” (11). Are there Polish plays that attempt to redeem the communist past? Did Polish playwrights engage this topic to “exhaustion”? According to my research, Romanian playwrights rather avoided it and I’m very interested what was the case in Poland.

As a side note, I was surprised by the idea of “a play one can see multiple times” (13) and would love to talk what it takes for a play to achieve this type of popularity. Are Shakespeare’s plays in this category and, if yes, for similar reasons? Does watching a play more than one time create the distancing effect Virginia Murphy mentions in her paper (2)?

Finally, a more practical question: are the TV adaptations of Schaeffer’s plays available (with English subtitles :-) ?

Thanks again – I can’ wait to read Schaeffer’s plays and maybe direct one of them.


Re: Magda's paper is up. by Diana ManoleDiana Manole, 16 Nov 2011 05:27

Dear Aniko,

Thank you very much for your comments and questions. I would argue that although Romanian theatre lost its glorious role as one of the main subversive media, it didn’t experience the crisis of relevance noted in other post-communist countries. Whereas uncovering the reasons behind this phenomenon is an interesting but huge topic for further research, my first answer would be that theatre was able to revert to the role it had in Romanian culture and society from its inception. As an institution, it was born during the mid-19th century attempts to establish a Romanian national identity and eventually nation-state. Historical drama fuelled national pride, while theatre artists were perceived as ambassadors of the national culture when touring and/or working abroad. On the other hand, theatre was an efficient medium of social and political commentary, starting from the first anonymous 18th century scripts preserved. Whereas apparent political commentary is toned down in Romanian post-communist theatre, the social themes are quite common.

No, Stanescu wrote the play a few years before moving to the US. Yes, Nicolau and Stanescu belong to the same generation and thus have been influenced by the same cultural and political context. I hope we’ll have a chance to talk more about this when we meet.

Thanks again,

Re: On Feedback by Diana ManoleDiana Manole, 16 Nov 2011 05:19
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