ISSN 2451-2966


Paulina Kubas

Theatre Unmasked: An Experimental Production of Stanisław Wyspiański’s Daniel at Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Warsaw

Pres. Ignacy Mościcki of Poland, at <i>Daniel</i> by Stanisław Wyspiański, Irena Solska's company, 6 Dec. 1932. Photographer unknown / collections of the National Digital Archives.

Pres. Ignacy Mościcki of Poland, at Daniel by Stanisław Wyspiański, Irena Solska's company, 6 Dec. 1932. Photographer unknown / collections of the National Digital Archives.

Read Abstract

The present article undertakes an analysis of a production of Daniel by Stanisław Wyspiański (premiere: 6 December 1932), staged by the Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Warsaw’s Żoliborz district. The Żeromski Theatre, run by actor Irena Solska, was one of the most innovative interwar institutions and companies. The production which is the focus of this article has remained relatively little known and seldom quoted, both in historiography and in the context of contemporary-theatre studies. The author examines the production in a number of contexts: Irena Solska’s earlier life and achievements, Warsaw’s interwar theatre milieu and the reception of the original text. She analyses the innovativeness of the Żeromski Theatre with regard to its theoretical manifestos, institutional practice and aesthetic premises. The article presents the production not only as a piece of engaged theatre, but also one that was ahead of its time when it came to playing with convention, the audience and the culturally conditioned reception of a work of dramatic art. Danielemerges as an early attempt to introduce deconstructive practices into Polish theatre: practices taking form off its pedestal and presenting the entire text of a play in keeping with the letter of the original – but also with emancipatory practices, making company relations with audience a rightful feature of the encounter that is theatre.

Theatre Unmasked: An Experimental Production of Stanisław Wyspiański’s Daniel by the Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Warsaw

Operating in Warsaw for just under two years in the early 1930s and run by Irena Solska – actor, proponent of futurism and admirer of futurist poetry – the Stefan Żeromski Theatre, a long-neglected presence from Polish interwar history, has come increasingly to the attention of theatre scholars of late.1 To look at Solska’s company today can reveal similarities between its mode of experimentation and those of contemporary Polish theatre: how it impacts its audience and what questions it asks viewers.

With its emphasis on experiment and the creative process, the company cum work co-operative led by Solska stood out against the backdrop of Warsaw’s institutional theatres, with the latter’s meticulously staged productions. The aim of the Żeromski Theatre was to initiate events with a potentially (r)evolutionary take on Poland and to set aesthetic patterns and modes of reception. This article focuses on one such event: it introduces and describes the company’s premiere of Daniel (1893), Stanisław Wyspiański’s ‘operatic drama’. Their premiere will be understood as a theatre event, in that a piece by ‘Poland’s fourth bard’ [after the Romantic-era writers Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński], staged in the round in a public building, became an attempt to expose and redefine theatre’s basic components.

The Stefan Żeromski Theatre, founded late in 1931 and early in 1932, and operating until the end of October 1933,2 is one of the few examples in Polish interwar theatre that was experimental both in its structure and its approach. I must add here that I use variants of the term ‘experiment’ not only because they seem a particularly apposite way of describing the work undertaken by the Żeromski Theatre in its short lifespan, but also because a complex discourse (tinted with elitism, in my view) has accumulated around the concept over subsequent years. It seems that in Polish theatre the historic avant-garde was more widespread among individual creative professionals, who stand out for a string of highly original works, than among companies founded with a specific goal in mind which then adhered to any programme also encompassing institutional issues and aspects of management (director Juliusz Osterwa’s experimental Reduta Theatre is an exception, but Reduta’s relationship with the avant-garde was far from straightforward). Such companies emerged, to an extent, because it was difficult in the long run to pursue an independent artistic discipline outside a public institution.

Warsaw’s theatre crisis, particularly acute during the 1930/1931 season, brought about a reshuffle in the arts. Many actors were lost their full-time posts as funds for salaries began to run out. The Municipal Council, which funded three repertory theatres in the city at the time, offered to lease them to a private individual, Stefan Krzywoszewski, without consulting the Union of Polish Theatre Professionals (ZASP). Irena Solska, already a ZASP member, was employed at the Narodowy Theatre, one of the three institutions whose status was to change. A strike broke out, with Solska very actively involved. Protesters called for theatres to retain their status as public institutions: in their view, it fell to public theatres to embark on a mission to shape the community’s identity by making room for dialogue with the past, staging adaptations of Polish literary classics and providing institutional and financial opportunities for experiments and progress in the art of theatre. By contrast, a privatised theatre controlled by a single individual, beyond the scrutiny of municipal authorities, would be absolved of that mission and free to cater to the demand for entertaining, aesthetically pleasing theatre. However, after an almost month-long effort, the strike was broken. Along with other members of the Narodowy company, Solska, at age fifty-three, decided that rather than returning to her former employer or looking for another full-time job she would start her own company, modelling it on a labour co-operative. Solska sought to have genuine influence on the quality of productions and maintain relations with her audience. She was keen to start a theatre that would be open, team-based and collaborative.

Scores of temporary small-scale ventures, by groups large and small, were begun in the wake of the crisis. Theatre circles had in fact expanded and became more diverse, leaving smaller institutions casting about for new sources of funding and new ways of achieving what, to that point, had only been the stuff of debate and dreams: a new shape for theatre as an institution. Founded in the aftermath of the crisis and by private initiative, the Żeromski Theatre quickly came to resemble a co-operative theatre, offering an experimental institutional model where teamwork extended to both repertoire and means of expression. The company’s decision wasn’t motivated exclusively by their experiences with the hierarchy-based management style in Warsaw’s municipal theatres (extending from managing director down). They were also sensitive to the environment they were to operate in: the capital’s Żoliborz district, where intelligentsia and working classes lived alongside one another.

A suburb at the time of Warsaw ‘proper’, with a housing network that remained sparse, Żoliborz was among the most rapidly expanding districts after the First World War. This was due to efforts by the Warsaw Housing Co-operative (WSM), which aimed to build affordable flats as quickly as possible and provide decent living standards to working people – clerks and labourers – who were moving to Warsaw. Above all, WSM’s aim was to acquire funding3 to build flats then offer them for lease; in addition, the co-operative sought to provide members of its housing communities with arts-related leisure – another objective of the co-operative movement. Those in charge of WSM looked up to major figures in Poland’s political and public life, including Józef Piłsudski, the country’s de facto leader, and novelist Stefan Żeromski. The WSM target group was the fast-growing population of workers with modest incomes: they were unable to afford a flat in central Warsaw, and state (and municipal) funding policies still failed to recognise all their needs.

WSM’s Żoliborz development became the new theatre’s major partner-participant and benefactor. The development promoted ideas of the modernist-housing movement and the co-operative as forms of communal life. WSM members decided Solska’s idea for a theatre was worth acting upon, suitable for the area’s fledgling community. To cut a long story short, this was how the Stefan Żeromski Theatre managed by Irena Solska came to be.

Solska, born Karolina Flora Poświk in Warsaw in 1875, was the daughter ofBronisława Bierzyńska, a renowned artist and teacher. At eighteen, she was employed by Tadeusz Pawlikowski, a reform-oriented director in charge of one of Kraków’s theatres. She worked there until 1899, before moving to Lviv for six years to start a new theatre with Pawlikowski and her husband, actor and director Ludwik Solski. She returned to Kraków in 1905. She then became a star of modernist theatre, even the embodiment of modernist aesthetics, the fascinations and fantasies it harboured. From the 1920s on, her career underwent a series of critical changes. She relocated to Warsaw, moving frequently from theatre company to theatre company: she was often employed for a single season before changing jobs again, or supported herself as a guest performer. This was due in part to Solska showing early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. She joined the Reduta Theatre on a months-long tour. She tried to influence theatre, and not simply as a full-time actor. She joined forces with another great modernist actor, Stanisława Wysocka, and with their own touring company the pair put on productions in towns and cities across Poland: they toured to Łódź, Lublin, Gdańsk, Bydgoszcz, Rybnik and Zakopane.

It’s likely that Solska, a self-aware, engaged actor, used her experience to pursue her own goals. In my view, several strands can be identified in her experience: she worked with reforming directors including Pawlikowski, Solski (her spouse), Juliusz Osterwa and Leon Schiller, each of whom cultivated his own distinct style; she was widely read in (and attached to) work by writers focused on issues of Poland and Polish society (Wyspiański, Żeromski, the poet and dramatist Cyprian Kamil Norwid); and she took part in art events outside the mainstream, performing avant-garde poetry at readings given by futurists. Her quest for a distinctly Polish theatre style, her way of thinking about productions as a creative process, work on building relations with her audience (including a mass audience, members of which had no formal education) and, finally, the concept of a touring company operating beyond its home venue, all inspired Solska as she founded the Żeromski Theatre. She played an active role in the arts, and her approach combined influences from the strictly modern, art-nouveau Young Poland movement with the avant-gardism of the interwar period. As co-manager of the touring company, she staged literary classics in innovative ways, searching for what had gone unnoticed and undiscovered to date, and what could not be brought to light in the familiar space of the apron stage. Solska as modernist advocated simplicity in theatre, and sought to focus on what she considered its most important aspects: the dramatic text and the actor. A pared-down stage set, proper actor training and respect for the word – this, for her, was the basis for understanding the theatre of the future. As early as 1926, she had articulated her views in an interview.4

>Solska’s idea of the institution was based on several premises and thoughts that, while not new to interwar Warsaw, had yet to be embedded in a single institution or part of its programme since inception. These basic premises were as follows: to recognise creative process as more important than coming up with a perfect production; to place experiment before a theatre’s commercial success and attendance; to create theatre forms that would take into account audience experience beyond theatre (one example being film, which was then burgeoning); to educate emerging actors by emphasising craft and ensuring their contact with experienced colleagues; to work collectively; to make theatre into a temple (bearing in mind that dramatic art has its roots in antiquity), with the actor-priest officiating and the soul-word playing a major role;5 to understand classic Polish drama as a body of everlasting and ever-relevant texts; finally, to make use of avant-garde trends in art such as formism and futurism as necessary steps on one’s way to discovering a new form of theatre.

In addition, Solska was keen to hand theatre over to those who contributed to it. This approach was in evidence in many aspects of her venture. First, as word of the new institution began to spread it came to be known both by the more conventional names of the Stefan Żeromski Theatre, the Theatre in Żoliborz, and Solska’s Theatre, and as the Stefan Żeromski Theatre Actors’ Work Co-operative.6 This emphasises several aspects of how the new venture was represented on Warsaw’s art scene. A theatre including a patron in its name was an institution in the most rudimentary sense: an entity with the purpose of putting up and presenting productions. Solska’s Theatre and Theatre in Żoliborz pointed to an affiliation to a place and a person – this aspect determined the institution’s character and should keep coming up in its work, indicating what audiences could expect on their attendance there (fine acting, given that the managing director was herself an actor, and productions with subject matter relevant to Żoliborz). Finally, a ‘work co-operative’ states that the institution follows a collective work model and is co-owned by those who work there.

The Stefan Żeromski Theatre was an institution with a specific patron, a particular executive body in charge and a site-specific institution owned by the community of those who worked there. Anyone who played a part in the theatre’s founding became, as it were, its ‘co-owner’ – a dramatic artist who had rights and obligations towards the rest of the group. The co-operative’s administrative/organisational structure was as follows: the body in charge was the board, comprising managing director Irena Solska, the secretary and a representative of the ensemble (Szczepan Baczyński filled both these posts). Eugeniusz Świerczewski was another board member, but I have not found detailed information about his role. Members were elected at a general meeting of all employees. A supervisory board (its members were not allowed to be part of the board or to work at the theatre) oversaw the board’s work. Its members were Artur Górski, a writer who coined the term the Young Poland movement, directors Leon Schiller and Ludwik Solski, architect Szymon Syrkus and Wiesław Wohnout, a journalist with links to WSM, the Polish Socialist Party and the Robotnik [Worker] magazine. The size of the company fluctuated, depending on the production. Actors were the most sizeable group, doubling as musicians, decorators and directors; they were often in charge of work on costumes, too.

Solska served as managing director (though ‘artistic director’ was the title she used most frequently). She was also chief organiser of events and directed7 at least six productions: four independently, one in collaboration with Iwo Gall and another with Eugeniusz Poreda. Along with Solska, members of the Żeromski acting ensemble Jerzy Gołaszewski, Karol Benda and Adolf Nowosielski also tried their hands at directing. Directors including Leon Schiller, Michał Weichert and Edmund Wierciński were invited by the company to work on specific productions. In addition, the company would gain experience working with renowned set designers (Adam Jabłoński, Wincenty Drabik, Władysław Daszewski), artists (Jan Golus, Szymon Syrkus, Marek Żuławski), musicians (Henryk Gadomski, Roman Palester, Bronisław Horowicz) and choreographers (Tacjanna Wysocka, Janina Mieczyńska), most of whom worked on more than one production. Solska appeared on stage at Żeromski Theatre on only one occasion – she was cast in Przystań Zbłąkanych [A Haven for the Stray] by novelist, biographer and dramatist Helena Maria Dąbrowolska, (directed collectively by the entire ensemble). Under the guidance of Juliusz Osterwa, the ensemble also directed Sobowtór [The Double] by Janina Morawska.

In all, at least seventy-three people contributed to the Stefan Żeromski Theatre in less than two years. They hailed from different backgrounds: many had worked at the Reduta, while others came from Warsaw’s other theatres and institutions: the Ateneum, Narodowy and Wojciech Bogusławski’s companies, as well as the Jadwiga Helena Hryniewiecka School of Drama and touring companies convened by Solska and Wysocka. Despite the company being so large and diverse, many names recur in historical records – perhaps evidence of the fact that the formula put forward by Solska proved attractive to theatre professionals regardless of age and experience. Those who actually made their debuts at the Żeromski Theatre were few and far between: a considerable number had been employed elsewhere, some outside Warsaw. Throughout the company, those born in the first decade of the twentieth century only slightly outnumbered those not much younger than Solska. The ensemble worked not only on upcoming productions, but also on processes that responded to their needs and were a means of striving towards self-perfection.

Yet when it came to putting on productions, the Żeromski Theatre faced institutional constraints. It wasn’t so much the number of premieres as the quantity of performances (“runs”) that was the problem. The agreement between the company and the Friends of Żoliborz Society (assisting the company in securing venues for their work) stipulated that the company would receive an annual subsidy of one hundred złotys provided it would put on productions in Żoliborz continually over a monthly period (which was in no way straightforward, considering the costs and the number of venues at once available and adequate for staging purposes). In other words, subsidy payment depended on... luck, ticket proceeds and the company’s willingness to expand beyond the immediate area. Employees were not paid regularly (which changed in May 1933, following the intervention of the Ministry of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment).

‘Project-based’ is the term that comes to mind when thinking of the company’s open yet precarious formula: an art group with a fluctuating line-up, working in different locations, inviting directors to stage productions of their choice, partially funded from public money but left to its own devices in every possible aspect and forced to face the full consequences of its own artistic and administrative choices.

At this point, I must emphasise that my assessment of the Żeromski Theatre is rather disparate from tendencies that have dominated studies on the subject so far. Both Lidia Kuchtówna, author of the first monographic study of Irena Solska, and theatre historian Bożena Frankowska cite the company’s on-going financial difficulties as the main reason for reviewers’ negative attitudes. In other words, they insinuate that greater financial resources would have influenced the form of productions. In my view, to argue thus is to deprecate Solska’s awareness as an artistic director: the subtext being that she opted for a particular form of staging as none other was available due to a lack of funds. Having examined Solska’s different writings, I conclude she has never claimed she would have done things differently were greater funds available (this is particularly evident in her Memoirs and Letters8sup>). To interpret Solska’s artistic choices through the prism of her budget is to eradicate the actual encounter between actor and audience as her objective in staging and production, and to give precedence to Solska’s alleged desire to create the most perfect piece of theatre possible.

I will endeavour to develop and substantiate all of the above arguments and insights by discussing the eleventh premiere by the Żeromski Theatre company: their production of Daniel by Stanisław Wyspiański. The production, deemed a flop by Warsaw critics, can be seen today as a polemical take on Wyspiański’s text as the guideline of and as a quest for new ways of constructing onstage space and undermining existing binary division of those taking part in a performance into actors and audience members, active and passive participants.

Daniel, a dramatic opera by Wyspiański, was written in 1893 when the author was in France. It is based on the well-known biblical story of the prophet Daniel and Belshazzar, governor to the king of Babylon, and focuses on the banquet scene when, in response to a profanation of the gold liturgical goblets, writing appears on the wall that reads Mene, mene, tekel, parsin. Summoned on Belshazzar’s orders, Daniel interprets the writing as a sign from God. In Wyspiański’s rendition, his prophecy has the power to transform the community: though he returns to prison, the chorus of Sons of the Conquered Land sees him off with the words:

‘This is our prophet, our Spirit-king, / his thought shall live on in us!’

The fact that Solska knew Wyspiański personally, greatly respecting and even revering him, undoubtedly influenced her choice of material. But in my view this wasn’t the only reason for staging Daniel. The work references theatre’s ancient roots: a matter of importance to both Wyspiański and to twentieth-century reformers. The chorus, essential to ancient drama, plays an important role here, too; many innovators in the twentieth century (and today, as well) regarded Wyspiański’s work as having the potential to restore theatre’s role in society. The theatre of Solska’s dreams was made with certain collective, socially significant practices in mind – it is no wonder she opted for Daniel as a possible suggestion of how this vision could come to fruition.

The Żeromski Theatre staged Daniel to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Wyspiański’s death. The production,9 directed by Eugeniusz Poreda, premiered on 6 December 1932 in the assembly hall of the City Council at City Hall–Jabłonowskich Palace on Warsaw’s Teatralny Square. The premiere was a gala event: the President of the Republic of Poland, Ignacy Mościcki, was in attendance, as were cabinet ministers and other senior officials. The national anthem was sung before the performance, and the eminent literature scholar Prof. Konrad Górski gave a lecture on the work the audience was about to see. Lead roles were played by Adolf Nowosielski as Belshazzar and Stanisław Szabłowski as Daniel. Poreda, the director, was also in charge of decor, and either Janina Mieczyńska or Tacjanna Wysocka took charge of choreography.10 It’s difficult to pin down statistics for the production. In my estimate, it ran for between nine and forty-four performances.11

Visual materials from the production are almost non-existent. A somewhat blurry photograph of Daniel’s prophecy scene, published in the newspaper Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny,12 shows a group of characters dressed in similar style, all wearing cloaks, several men in suits and Daniel, directly facing the viewer, with a sash around his waist. The prophet stares ahead, whereas those congregated behind him look slightly up. There are three poles among the crowd – probably part of the stage set but conclusive identification is difficult. Behind the actors, there’s nothing but the bare, unadorned entrances to the auditorium. The other photograph taken that evening shows the section of the auditorium where President Mościcki was seated.13 Three bending rows of chairs, arranged in non-amphitheatre fashion, are filled by audience members, while Mościcki is seated in a separate chair, slightly ahead of the front row, slightly to the side of stage action.

The City Council Assembly Hall, the venue chosen for the premiere, was located in the Jabłonowskich Palace, a building whose architecture and decorations combined elements of the neo-baroque and Renaissance. The result was that the seat of City Hall, a public building, with its ‘otherness’ and festive character, its wealth of bas-reliefs, portals, arcades, chandeliers, mock-antique statues and elaborate stairwells, was wildly divergent from the nature of events that took place inside. The room where the City Council met was relatively understated in terms of decoration but adorned with palms, ornamental shrubs and grasses – all meticulously documented in 1930s photographs of the room, including those taken before Daniel was staged.14

Along with Wyspiański’s characters – Daniel, Belshazzar, Two Other Strong Men, a group of Prisoners, Guards, Courtiers, Servants, the choruses of Poets’ and Sons of the Conquered Land – the Żeromski Theatre introduced the character of Chochoł (literally ‘rosebush-cane straw wrap’), who opened and closed the production and was given lines spoken by the Voice from the play script. Chochoł was an obvious reference to another Wyspiański work: his 1901 play Wesele [The Wedding].

Daniel’s costume was very simple: a white shirt draped on his chest, white trousers, white coat to mid-calf (undone) and a wide, dark belt; his footwear was most likely in peasant style. The three Strong Men were made up to resemble monarchs of the three empires that had partitioned Poland, erasing it from the map until 1918. Belshazzar looked like Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia (top hat, tails, walking stick, monocle, pipe, black cloak lined with red cloth). Strong Man II looked like Franz Josef I, the Austrian emperor (according to the eminent critic Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, he looked ‘like a little old man with sideburns, in a tattered tailcoat’), and Strong Man III resembled Tsar Nicholas II (also was dressed in modern tails). Belshazzar’s guards could be distinguished from the rest by their mountaineer-style cloaks (called cuchy or guńki) and steel helmets. The remaining personnel of the king were dressed in Polish military uniforms. Servants sported quite a contemporary look, resembling footmen and butlers from wealthy households and waiters in fine restaurants. Actors playing courtiers donned gala tailcoats and top hats, while dancers wore see-through red music-hall dresses. The Chorus of Prisoners wore labourers’ clothes and clinking handcuffs. The rest of the cast were mostly dressed in everyday clothes. Extras were hired for group scenes featuring ‘the crowd’.

Costumes mingled historic time periods with the current day, blurring the clarity of the production in the audience’s eyes. What was quite clear, however, was Daniel’s temporal location, with its heavy emphasis on an allegorical reading of the play relating to Poland. Thus one needs to consider the possible correlation between the production and circumstances in 1930s Poland. On one hand (and partially on the strength of an existing interpretative tradition), the Żeromski Theatre explored a link between the prophecy of the fall of the Strong Men and the forecast of Poland becoming independent again. On the other, allusions to Polish history had a touch of the current day about them, as actors were made up to resemble specific historic figures. One could argue the production was a metaphor for the new twentieth-century world prevailing over its nineteenth-century counterpart, the relevant prevailing over the archaic, and, finally, robust (working-class) people prevailing over expansionist power – were it not for the fact that such binary oppositions were distorted by Polish mountaineer guards (called ‘soldiers’ by reviewers) at the service of King Belshazzar. Just as plausibly, the mountaineer guards may have been a reference to one of the global workers’ revolutions – or to Poland’s May Coup in 1926 when, after heavy fighting with hundreds of casualties, troops loyal to Józef Piłsudski took control of Warsaw, and politicians who shared that allegiance went on to form a government, contravening the constitution. The former interpretation is substantiated by the scene featuring marching prisoners, reminiscent of Leon Schiller’s 1926 production of Nie-Boska komedia [The Un-Divine Comedy], the Romantic-era drama by Zygmunt Krasiński, while the ceremonial character of the premiere, with the president in attendance (who had taken office on the strength of Piłsudski’s recommendation), speaks in favour of the latter view.

However, it wasn’t the historical inconsistency of costumes that critics and historians came to regard as the production’s most important feature. Above all, their attention was captured by space arrangements that were new to Daniel and to Polish theatre.

Several rows of chairs for the audience were arranged in circles in the City Council hall. Within the circle outlined by the chairs, the dramatic action unfolded. Importantly, all chairs and the acting space were level – while in two opposite corners of the room two pedestals stood where one could wait as if in the wings (of sorts). According to Bożena Frankowska, the stage set comprised:

a few steps and a foreshortened view of a column portico – a wooden structure, probably meant to imitate the facade of Belshazzar’s castle, its arm compared by critics to a gallows arm, painted red. The intersecting line of the set, which was meant to represent the castle facade, played another role, too: an electric lamp was fixed there. In the toast scene, a curtain fell off the lamp to reveal the blinding light of several hundred candles, meant to be ‘an image’ of the sun.15

Other deus ex machinaeffects were on display. Director Poreda was personally responsible for producing sounds of thunder and lighting, using a prop pistol for the purpose. As for Solska, she was up in the balcony throughout the performance, changing lights and overseeing the orchestra.

The company’s simplicity, both declared and realised in practice, was meant to manifest itself in many aspects of the production. Taking the actor off the pedestal-stage (in both the physical and metaphorical sense) brought him or her closer to the audience. Suddenly, all those participating in the performance – creators and recipients alike – were on a par when it came to possible ways of experiencing each other, both in relations between actors and audience members, and among audience members (it’s worth bearing in mind that, at most theatres, rows of auditorium seats were placed on a ramp). From that perspective, it was only a matter of time before one realised that audience members were actors, too.

Surrounding actors with audience from all sides was another important aspect of the theatre experience that was Daniel. This obviously influences the way actors’ bodies move, and adds to the diversity of audience experience. Thus an attempt to deconstruct the prevalent staging method is evident in solutions, even at the most basic level. At the time, the dominant staging model depended heavily on what the auditorium looked like – and on reception strategies which see audience members driven away and separated from the actor by means of height and distance, the proscenium frame, the curtain, the differentiating lighting, so they become passive observers who may no longer be capable of making the effort of interpretation. Combining various aspects of simplicity on stage resulted in what could have been the most important characteristic of the production: it fell to the audience to interpret what they saw: to imbue the play, the production and theatre as the realm of experience with meanings of their own making.

Director Poreda explained the ideas underlying the production as follows:

We are experimenting! The theatre of today hovers between underlying class divisions and being stuck in a rut. As we look for new forms, we regard our art as an end in itself – and so, to us, the extensive work invariably implied by socially engaged art is a foreign thing. Our experiments are not unprecedented. Similar attempts have been made by, for instance, Piscator in Berlin and Schiller at the Bogusławski Theatre. But the actor was never brought down from stage. Never was he free of the curtain. In our quest for new means of on-stage expression, and in aiming to extract the most important components of theatre, we decided to do away with the stage in order to ensure more immediate, more lively contact with the audience, and to increase dynamics by staging dramatic action on an open plane. Formal advantages aside, this attitude is vitally important when it comes to actors’ work. It implies extensive simplification of stage decor: by reducing [the number of] marginal accessories, it turns the audience’s attention to the cast’s acting. We have embarked on a quest – which is why working in our company is like working in a laboratory. We have confined ourselves to tailcoats, and even to our everyday jackets, not with a view to making Wyspiański’s theatre ‘more contemporary’ – but in order to explore modes of expression inherent in the acting itself. (Wyspiański’s theatre, by the way, is contemporary through and through – perhaps it has yet to reveal the extent of its relevance.) To deform Wyspiański’s style in the name of ‘contemporary relevance’ by introducing present-day interferences in their most superficial form (at a theatre in Łódź, the Chochoł musical theme was supplanted with a rumba dance!) is to act frivolously and go skin-deep. Daniel, Belzshazzar and the Voice are the drama’s three central characters – therefore their distinctness needed to be emphasised. This is why Belshazzar appeared in a cloak lined with red fabric, and Daniel in a white costume. As regards the Voice, I don’t wish to diverge from Wyspiański’s style, so we relied on what he’d left us. Hence the Chochoł costume: its formal links to the rest of the production may be insufficient, but it’s consistent in ideological terms.16

This single statement, made to mark the premiere of Daniel, encapsulates the company’s thinking (it’s worth noting the plural: ‘we are experimenting’, ‘we have embarked on a quest’). The deconstruction of the drama did not spring from the need to keep it up to date, but from the need to trace and explore, in a laboratory-like fashion, forces at play in theatre.

The Chochoł character, opening and closing the production, was an important and much commented-on aspect of the whole. The cane straw-wrap, an iconic feature of the reception of Wyspiański’s work, is not only an aesthetic reference to folklore and the countryside (which also have links to Daniel, with his peasant-style dress), but also an allusion to complex symbolism well-known from The Wedding. Chochoł appears in the finale of that play as the ambiguous symbol: it represents the ‘necrosis’ – the dead past stymieing creative activity; but it is also a straw wrap around the rose, and thus it stands for living poetry. If we pursue this line of thought, we may argue that Poreda was trying to counter the stereotypical reading of Wyspiański’s work. He references that stereotype by introducing the epitome of lifelessness, lethargy and sterility at the opening of the play – only to put it in the corner (or consign it to the margins) as the play goes on. However, at no point is Chochoł stowed away or destroyed: it is assigned a role in the production, authorised to speak, and thus seen as a potential collaborator. Finally, following Daniel’s speech (where the prophet is also a poet who brings hope), Poreda re-introduces Chochoł, as if to close the performance, and to remind his audience that the rose poetry is concealed underneath this straw wrap, and it can flourish on stage. In this interpretation, Chochoł may be regarded as a functional metaphor of theatre as the space for creative discoveries, a realm where the potential of a poetic piece may come to life.

Review of Daniel by Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, photo shows scene of Daniel's prophecy. Ilustrowany Kuryer Codzienny, 11 December 1932, no. 343, Kraków, p. 2. Collections of the Małopolska Digital Library.

The reviews for Poreda’s production were overwhelmingly negative. It was probably the piece by the critic Boy-Żeleński, a figure of authority, that carried the greatest weight. Boy was unsparing in his criticism of the stage and auditorium: in his view, this layout made it impossible to hear the lines and follow the acting – and those, for him, were the two main means by which Wyspiański’s writing can be conveyed in theatre. Disapproval of the production’s failure to follow the author’s ideas word by word is evident in this excerpt – though it must be added that neither Poreda nor Solska changed a word of Wyspiański’s text:

Each person in the audience saw something different, depending on where they were seated, but what you could mostly see were the actors from the back, crowded onto the space in the middle of the room. Scraps of words could be torn from this fluctuating crowd, but only bits of it fell within the audience’s earshot. If Wyspiański’s two main means – the word and the image – are taken away from him, what else is there? The compulsion to mark an anniversary, no more: and that’s lethal to poetry, the greatest deterrent to the audience. I think a person who had had no knowledge of Wyspiański’s text would have had no idea what Daniel was about – particularly as there had been no advance warning of the piece having been modernised. [...] This [the modernisation] was due to two factors, and it’s difficult to say which had been the prevalent one. First, there’s the awareness that the biblical story is but a form  – the play is about Poland (as the poet knew her). The other reason is simple and quite moving: it’s the need to economise, the hardship faced by this nice little company, whichwould have be unable to afford the operatic opulence of the biblical story [...]. Whether this flight of fancy was suitable for turning it into a festive occasion, and reeling it in front of such a venerable audience, is for others to judge. There’s nothing of a master of ceremonies about me. But if it was an experiment, then leaving all else aside it only served to bear out old truths: in theatre, the viewer needs to see, the listener needs to hear and the audience need to understand things (at least in part). From that point of view, the audience would have been better served by a solid reading of Daniel from the stage than it was by this pretentious spectacle, which no doubt required more work than it merited.17

Paradoxically, however, Boy’s negative review gave substance to the premises outlined by Poreda. The experimental rearrangement of the auditorium and change of acting method led, among other things, to differences in reception. If each audience member saw something different, his or her seat defining the angle from which they saw (and heard) things, it becomes impossible to define the Daniel experienced by the entire audience, impossible to say anything as general about the interpretation chosen by the company – in other words, it’s no longer possible to define the model of understanding that the company sought to impose on their audience. To opt for this solution on stage is, first, to deconstruct audience assumptions about and expectations of theatre, and, second, to free theatre (to an extent) from the yoke of the dramatic text – and, in the longer run, from the baggage of productions accumulated around that text. Boy makes a note of these results, yet, from his point of view, this liberating approach to staging Daniel has a detrimental effect – particularly on those who haven’t read Wyspiański’s play.

The Żeromski Theatre’s experiment, to an extent unburdening the production of the literary text, in my view has not so much had a detrimental effect on the reception of Wyspiański’s work as made room for the audience’s thoughts and their involvement – both at the level of intellect and of perception. The unusual space interfered with audience members, modifying the surroundings within their field of vision, and making them participants rather than observers. Even if the audience found the sense of deconstruction a distraction and a disadvantage, it nonetheless made them focus their attention on the performance, encouraging them to ‘ask questions’, cast doubt on things – to create their own interpretative experience. Thus it legitimised the audience’s very existence. This kind of task for audience members, inherent in Daniel, may not have been essential to ‘action’ itself – the actors did their thing regardless of whether the audience did theirs. Still, it undermined the divisions, blurred the boundaries between an actor who is pure activity and an audience member as the epitome of pure passivity.

The sentiments expressed by Boy and other reviewers18 bear out the power of literature and the sway it holds over theatre. The Żeromski Theatre’s production of Daniel targeted Wyspiański’s playwriting as a part of the former canon – and, in some quarters, the one still existing. Between the wars, in particular, Wyspiański was revered as ‘Poland’s fourth bard’. He was read and listened to, watched and admired; and efforts were made to keep his legacy intact (traditions of reception and staging his work included). However, such unqualified regard for the authority of the dramatic text alone runs counter to what Wyspiański had practiced – a contradiction evidenced, for instance, by his 1901 production of Adam Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve), referenced in reviews of Daniel.

Reviewers welcomed Solska’s idea of staging Daniel to mark the anniversary of Wyspiański’s death; what they disapproved of, however, was her attempt to approach a venerated author differently. Paradoxically, however, reviewers19 who noticed that the Warsaw production was a concoction of several different orders, leaving the audience dissatisfied and confused, confirm in my view that her company had been right to adapt a deconstructive approach, where the text of the play, words uttered from stage, stage space, stage set, the presence of audience members and costume as a political (rather than simply artistic) idea, are all equally important.

By deconstructing the play on stage (changing the aesthetics of costumes and shifting them to a different time; placing the stage space inside the auditorium and incorporating excerpts from other works by Wyspiański into the production), the Żeromski Theatre presented Wyspiański as a complex and difficult author whose work can be read in many different ways. It also opened up the possibility of theatre serving entirely different ends: no longer a safe haven for the dramatic text, but a style workshop where the play is regarded as a tool at hand in the process of making art.

The reviewer who seems to come closest to this way of thinking about the Żeromski Theatre production is the eminent critic Bolesław Miciński. While he does not regard their Daniel as a full-blown production, he does note its attempts at deconstruction, dissecting the play but also shifting attention to the theatrical process as the production’s main theme. (According to the Żeromski company, the process would have become invisible in a conventional space.)

Motto: ‘a sound is heard, perhaps that of distant thunder: that’s several lead balls being sifted through a metal chute, concealed backstage. The protracted booming and banging of thunder follows, alternately appearing and disappearing: this is a drum, banged on with great skill, making hollow sounds, and hidden away on an upper platform’. (Wyspiański, Wyzwolenie [The Liberation]20

One thing is particularly striking about the vast and very ugly City Council Assembly Hall, the temporary home of Irena Solska’s company: the absence of the stage. Rows of chairs line the walls, encircling the middle of the floor; two pedestals placed at the opposite ends of the stage space are separated halfway through by a makeshift structure of wooden boards painted red. That is all. We will be able to watch the action on stage from all sides.

Director Poreda is holding a large pistol in his hand. Powder will be put into the barrel, a cap will be inserted, and thunder will strike during Belshazzar’s feast. For a moment, a prop assumes the proportions of a symbol: it is, after all, the tragic mask of ancient Greek theatre. [...] To analytically dissect an act of creation is to relinquish Pure Art. An intellectual approach to the mystery of the creative process deprives a given work of art of the opportunity to make a direct impact by means of its constructiveness. A piece of drama thus dissected resembles a clock dissected into gears and wheels: it is, no doubt, an interesting sight, but its very essence is lost: as the purpose of the clock is to show the time. I thought for a moment that the company who staged Daniel were driven by just this aesthetic attitude. If it were so, however, a gong would need to be hung in the auditorium, and the pistol should be fired above the heads of the audience during Belshazzar’s feast. One would even need to display the tables with mirrors and greasepaint, brought out of the dressing room, point to them and say: THIS IS THEATRE! This is the thunder that makes you tremble, this is the sun – in fact a multi-candle unit; this is the tragic grimace, painted on one’s face with a coloured pencil. But that was not the case.21

It would be difficult to argue about appropriate staging, given that Wyspiański wrote Daniel as a libretto for an opera. For that reason, any interpretation that is more or less realistic, practically amounts to an experiment.

As regards experimental work on Wyspiański’s theatre, it has to be said that Daniel was a suitable choice indeed. If I am not mistaken, the play has never been staged before, and thus it has no ‘legend’ of its own, no staging pattern that would hinder the director’s inventiveness, and take away from the freshness of the experience. [...] Daniel is simply a dramatic fragment, and, as such, it makes for good material for experimental work. And one more thing: extreme freshness, always peculiar to new plays, is one of Daniel’s essential characteristics. It is a freshness that stems from the pressing need to objectify metaphysical sensations into a work of art; from creative passion, as yet unfettered by a definite aesthetic attitude. And this, in my view, is the reason why we saw Daniel in a new form, divergent from the patterns known thus far.

Abandoning the stage in favour of an exposed stage space is, in my view, a misjudgement, failing to grasp the essence of theatre. However, when it comes to experimental work whose aim is to crystallise theatre’s components, this new staging will no doubt bring about many interesting developments.

Daniel as rendered in Irena Solska’s theatre is not yet a performance: it is a highly significant essay.22

Interestingly, in quoting Wyspiański’s The Liberation, Miciński highlights the significance of an array of theatrical means not hidden (not ‘masked’) by the company staging Daniel: producing thunder with the help of a pistol, a high-power light source doubling as the sun, the contrived and sketchy nature of the costumes. Paradoxically, well-known features of classic productions, put to use with full awareness of them being on display, become quite a direct way of presenting theatre as an art of illusion, where artificiality is an underlying assumption. They call into question the visual itself, distancing themselves from it – at the same time, they don’t undermine the agency of theatre.

There is another aspect of this premiere of Daniel that was no less significant to reviewers. The Polish president, Ignacy Mościcki, was in the audience. As I mentioned above, the president was seated in a separate chair, at a remove from the rest of the audience. The chair was placed on a small rug, with a floral ‘installation’ directly behind it: a sort of ‘step and repeat’, slightly arched, decorated with leaves and shrubbery. Interestingly, Mościcki is said to have given a lot of attention to the ceremonial aspect of the presidency: he would check whether the national anthem was included in an event he was to attend, and whether a special seat had been prepared for him and placed in front of the other seats, as it was for Daniel’s premiere.

Seated among other audience members, some in seats with restricted visibility, reviewers agreed that the Żeromski Theatre production had been below par, and inappropriate to be shown to such an eminent theatregoer (Boy-Żeleński was seated behind a pillar, which is reportedly why he saw almost nothing of the production and thus wrote such a scathing review23). Meanwhile ‘President Mościcki, who nonetheless congratulated Mrs. Solska on the production, said: “My mind is filled with Daniel!”’24 The presidential exclamation (favourable, in my view, although it might just as well have been purely a matter of courtesy – along with the fact that no one blocked the president’s view) reflects the goal the Żeromski company had set themselves: to present the different orders and multiple interpretations of Wyspiański’s text – a diversity triggered by deconstruction of classic theatrical means and conventions. And if the mind of the Polish president was full of Daniel, perhaps a prophet had thus entered it, heralding the fall of a government that was unjust, brutal and unworthy of the posts it held. If this was the case, then perhaps Mościcki saw himself as Belshazzar, and the City Council hall as a Babylonian palace. In other words, the work of the Żeromski Theatre carried a certain political potential. The president, as if called out to speak – known to everyone, noticed by everyone, invited to the premiere as its most important and celebrated audience member – was put in the position of a participating subject of the deconstructed stage process. In this specific instance, the relationship between actor and audience member may even have taken the form of a theatre of many actors coming into contact with a very particular kind of one-person theatre. This is no place for me to offer a more in-depth analysis of Polish politics between the wars. Suffice it to say that, despite having made an oath to uphold the constitution, Mościcki would not oppose the authoritarian power of Marshall Józef Piłsudski: in fact, he was a figurative representative of that power on the political scene at the time.

The phrase ‘theatre unmasked’ that I used in the title (following Miciński’s example, to a degree) can be read in (at least) two ways. To unmask theatre is to expose it – in this reading, the mask is a veil, barring access or concealing the unknown. Secondly, unmasking can be understood as revealing the mechanisms of theatre, while questioning their (usually hidden) power. In the first instance, unmasking is a positive kind of exposure, one that affirms the exposed. In the second, it acquires a critical dimension. It seems that Miciński’s phrase that I reference here aptly captures this dual affirmative-critical effectiveness of theatre. In Daniel, the Żeromski Theatre has both exposed theatre as operating in the public domain and critically deconstructed the dominant stage convention, stripping it of its basic features and calling its self-evident status into question.

The unusual space that came across as an eclectic aesthetic mix, the choice of a text that had hardly been staged before, a cast featuring both professional and amateur actors, and finally the awareness of audience habits, combine in this production to result in an experimental, innovative work, doing away with the requirement that theatre should be described in terms that precede it.

As we read reviews for the production, it becomes all the more evident that Daniel in the capital’s City Hall was the Daniel of the Stefan Żeromski Theatre, operating within a specific theatre environment, rather than a play by Stanisław Wyspiański (a play published and interpreted posthumously, we may add). The reviewers’ harsh, critical approach may result not only from their personal views, but also from the habits of the Warsaw audience. The theatre milieu noted the breakthrough achievements of the (traditionally institutional) Bogusławski Theatre with Leon Schiller at the helm – but seldom were innovative productions of a single company quick to ‘contaminate’ other institutions. In other words, Schiller’s two seasons at the Bogusławski Theatre were regarded as a curiosity or, at best, an attempt to put into practice ideas gestating in Western theatre, rather than a programmatic experiment making repeated attempts to work out a new formula and shape of theatre in Poland.

The production of Daniel at the Stefan Żeromski Theatre run by Irena Solska offered the company a way to express their disapproval of clichéd, ready-made means of stage expression, and be vocal in their rejection of the dramatic text (particularly if understood as a tragedy) as an exceptional thing to be celebrated and treated very seriously indeed on account of the author’s grandeur, and far removed from everyday life. Solska was opposed to spectacular effects, the curtain and decor. In her view, modest means and solutions may be just as successful in creating an interpretative field for the audience. Faced with accusations of obscurity, chaos and putting on a bad production, she responded:

If a person is capable of sitting through a two-hour film at the pictures, listening to poor-quality sound equipment, they should spare at least an hour for theatre.25

Translated by Joanna Błachnio


Boy-Żeleński, Tadeusz, Ludzie i bydlątka (Warsaw: M. Arct 1933)

Frankowska, Bożena, ‘Golem na arenie i Daniel w teatrze kolistym’, Pamiętnik Teatralny 3–4 (1962)

JAR, ‘Daniel Stanisława Wyspiańskiego’, Tygodnik Ilustrowany 51 (1932)

K.L. ‘“Wyspiański, Norwid, od nich nasz teatr przyszłości zaczniemy”’, Teatr 8 (1983)

Listy Ireny Solskiej, ed. by Lidia Kuchtówna (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1984)

Miciński, Bolesław, ‘Rozmowa z reż. Poredą; O inscenizacjiDaniela; Uwagi o«Danielu»’, Zet: sztuka, kultura, sprawy społeczne 18 (1932)

Niżyński, Marian,‘Przystań zbłąkanych. List z Warszawy’, Gazeta Literacka 4 (1933)

Solska, Irena,Pamiętnik (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1978)

Świerczewski, Eugeniusz, ‘Daniel Wyspiańskiego w teatrze Ireny Solskiej’, Polska Zbrojna 339 (1932)

Wyspiański, Stanisław,Dzieła zebrane, vol. 5, ed. by Leon Płoszewski (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1959)

1. Two recent theatre-history publications include a refreshing new portrayal of the Stefan Żeromski Theatre:Procesy Doktora Weicherta by Rafał Węgrzyniak (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 2017) and Przedstawienia by Krystyna Duniec (Warsaw: Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego, Instytut Sztuki PAN, SWPS, 2017).

2. The production with the Żeromski ensemble of Jesień… Zima… Wiosna by Jadwiga Rzepecka (directed by Adolf Nowosielski) was presented in various Warsaw theatres until the end of 1933, but the Żeromski Theatre wasn’t always mentioned.

3. Along with collecting membership fees, WSM applied for funding from the Warsaw Trade Union Council, the BGK Bank and the Committee for the Expansion of the Capital City of Warsaw.

4. Kazimiera Alberti interviewed Irena Solska for Comoedia magazine in October 1926. ‘We come to the theatre and all we want to do is look. We don’t care to listen. We long for strong ocular impressions […]. Theatre of the present day finds the actor unprepared. The actor did not have enough skill, wasn’t striving enough or creative enough – he did not cope. And when everyone where assigned their place – the electro-technician, the decorator, the director – the actor let himself be entirely sidelined, he let others tie his hands. […] We must return to theatre as it once was, and return we will. Its components must be made as simple as possible […]. We came out of a temple and to a temple we will return. We will make a deep obeisance to the word. We will bare our heads and join hands. […] The huge theosophical theatres in South America, out of doors – might this be a beginning? Wyspiański dreamt of a theatre like this: free, out in the open’. Quoted in L.K. ‘”Wyspiański, Norwid, od nich nasz teatr przyszłości zaczniemy”’, Teatr 8 (1983), p. 36.

5. In my view, Solska’s choice of words was influenced by Juliusz Osterwa and Reduta, and by Wyspiański’s work and the Romantic tradition, still very strong in Poland at the time.

6. This title (and the Stefan Żeromski Theatre Artists’ Work Co-operative, its variant) can be found in the theatre’s official documents from May 1932. It was the result of a legal agreement between the theatre and WSM. It’s likely that WSM demanded it be called ‘theatre in the form of a co-operative’: this was necessary if the collaboration between WSM and the theatre was to go on.

7. Accounts of who was responsible for directing and/or staging a given production vary enormously between different historical accounts on and reviews of the Żeromski Theatre. For this reason, I have decided that the individual in charge of staging should also be known as ‘director’ or ‘co-director’.

8. Irena Solska, Pamiętnik (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1978); Listy Ireny Solskiej, ed. by Lidia Kuchtówna (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1984).

9. This was the world premiere of Wyspiański’s work in Polish. On 15 January 1927, Daniel had been staged in Yiddish, by Kraków’s Jewish Theatre. As for Poreda’s production, it was entered in Poland’s first-ever theatre contest for the best production of a play by Wyspiański in 1932. Sadly, Daniel did not receive even an honourable mention.

10. Accounts of the production differ, making this issue inconclusive. Bożena Frankowska and Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński name Tacjanna Wysocka, who ran her own company, as the choreographer for Daniel. On the other hand, Solska makes no mention of Wysocka in her diary – she, does, however, name Janina Mieczyńska (another choreographer and dance teacher) as creator of ‘scenic art’ for the production (not to be confused with decor). It’s possible that Solska put Mieczyńska (a former fine-arts student) in charge of making props or costumes. However, in Polish, the adjective plastyczny used by Solska to describe Mieczyńska’s ‘scenic art’ relates both to fine art and to malleability, thus I consider it possibile that she meant dance. The term ‘malleable dance’ had currency among reviewers at the time, and the concepts of rhythmicity and malleability were used with reference to body movement.

11. A statistical gap of this scale comes after consulting several sources. Having analysed Kurier Warszawski magazine issues published while the Żeromski Theatre was operating, one can compute Daniel was played on nine occasions (once per day). By contrast, according to notes from the archive of theatre historian Stanisław Marczak-Oborski (available at Instytut Sztuki, Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences), the production was put on sixteen times in an unknown location, five times at City Hall (in the room where it premiered) and twenty-three times in the Academic Home on Warsaw’s Narutowicz Square (Bożena Frankowska may have cited the last two figures and locations from Marczak-Oborski).

12. Ilustrowany Kuryer Codzienny 343 (1932), p. 2.

13. Accessed on 28 September 2018.

14.,,,, Accessed on 28 September 2018.

15. Bożena Frankowska, ‘Golem na arenie i Daniel w teatrze kolistym’, Pamiętnik Teatralny 3-4 (1962), p. 536.

16. Bolesław Miciński, ‘Rozmowa z reż[yserem] Poredą’, Zet: sztuka, kultura, sprawy społeczne, 18 (1932), p. 5.

17. Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, ‘Daniel Stanisława Wyspiańskiego (Uroczyste przedstawienie w sali warszawskiej Rady Miejskiej)’, in Boy-Żeleński, Ludzie i bydlątka (Warsaw: M. Arct, 1933), pp. 154–159.

18. JAR, ‘Daniel Stanisława Wyspiańskiego’, Tygodnik Ilustrowany 51 (1932), p. 832; Eugeniusz Świerczewski, ‘Daniel Wyspiańskiego w teatrze Ireny Solskiej’, Polska Zbrojna 339 (1932), p. 9.

19. JAR, ‘Daniel’: ‘The audience was disoriented in the City Council Assembly Hall. They couldn’t see or hear properly – couldn’t see, above all. Large groups of extras did not produce the desired effect because the performance as a whole was not homogenous enough’. Eugeniusz Świerczewski, ‘Daniel’: ‘The audience are extremely perplexed: i s it a sketch, a music-hall piece or cabaret? […] An attempt at staging? A new approach? Or a misguided snobbish experiment? Artistic heresy or simple ineptitude? Suffice it to say that the production in question is an excruciating misunderstanding and a mistake’.

20. The quotation from Wyspiański’s play comes from the stage directions to Act I of The Liberation. Stanisław Wyspiański, Wyzwolenie , in Wyspiański. Dzieła zebrane, ed. by Leon Płoszewski, vol. 5 (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie 1959), p. 27.

21. Bolesław Miciński, ‘O inscenizacji Daniela’, Zet: sztuka, kultura, sprawy społeczne 18 (1932).

22. Bolesław Miciński, ‘Uwagi o Danielu’, Zet: sztuka, kultura, sprawy społeczne 18 (1932).

23. No front-of-house staff were present at the premiere of Daniel, and so no one was there to ensure critics were allocated better seats. See: Solska, Pamiętnik, p. 178.

24. Marian Niżyński, ‘Przystań zbłąkanych. List z Warszawy’, Gazeta Literacka 4 (1933), p. 75.

25. Niżyński, Przystań zbłąkanych.

Paulina Kubas


has graduated from the Polish Department of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, with a degree in Theatre Studies and Performatics. Her MA dissertation looked into Warsaw’s pre-war Stefan Żeromski Theatre, with a special focus on the institution’s links to the mechanisms of participatory art. Her interests include Polish theatre in the first half of the twentieth century, with an emphasis on the interwar period. She moderates a theatre-theme website for students.