Conversation Open Access Open Access Translation Reviewed Translation Reviewed 21148 view(s) 21148 view(s) 21148

Returning to the Garden of Childhood


Krystian Lupa Polish theatre acting directing PWST landscape inner monologue spectrum of concentration dreambody waking theatre space Jerzy Grotowski Tadeusz Kantor Konrad Swinarski Jelenia Góra Jastrzębie Zdrój Europe Theatre Prize film Jerzy Jarocki drama school Alina Obidniak The Dead Class Witkacy Kraków German literature Austrian literature Robert Musil training design montage rhythm Factory 2 Kalkwerk staging text drawings Krzysztof Warlikowski


Krystian Lupa is a leading Polish theatre director, scenographer, and pedagogue. He has directed numerous critically acclaimed productions, including The Brothers Karamazov (1990), Kalkwerk (1992), Immanuel Kant and Ritter, Dene, Voss (1996), and The Sleepwalkers (1995, 1998), and has published several volumes of his writings on theatre. He has also taught at the State Higher Theatre School (PWST) in Kraków since 1983, with many of his students going on to become prominent directors and actors on the Polish and international theatre scene. In 2009 he was awarded the thirteenth edition of the Europe Theatre Prize.

Jean-Pierre Thibaudat is a journalist and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Libération and Rue 89, as well as publishing several monographs (recently on Jean-Luc Lagarce). He is an artistic consultant for the theatre festival ‘Passages’, with a focus on Eastern European performance, and has interviewed and written on many prominent Polish practitioners, including Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor, Krystian Lupa, and Krzysztof Warlikowski.

Béatrice Picon-Vallin is Director of the Laboratoire de recherches sur les Arts du Spectacle at CNRS, and Professor of Theatre History at the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique (CNSAD) in Paris. She has written extensively on Russian and East European theatre and actor training, specialising in the work of Vsevolod Meyerhold, whose complete writings she has also edited and translated into French. She is head of performing arts publishing at CNRS and directs the Mettre en scène series for L’Age d’Homme, which includes the volume Krystian Lupa (2004).

Since his debut as a professional director in 1976, Krystian Lupa has developed into perhaps the most influential theatre practitioner currently working in Poland, and a major figure of European theatre.

Counting Tadeusz Kantor, Jerzy Jarocki, and Brecht’s close collaborator Konrad Swinarski among his teachers and formative influences, and prominent directors such as Anna Augustynowicz, Piotr Cieplak, Grzegorz Jarzyna, Maja Kleczewska, and Krzysztof Warlikowski among his former students, Lupa’s career spans several decades of innovations and developments in Polish theatre. However, while Lupa’s productions have been widely acclaimed throughout continental Europe, culminating in his award of the Europe Theatre Prize in 2009, his work as a director and scenographer is still relatively little-known among Anglophone theatre and research communities.

This extended interview was conducted over three days by Jean-Pierre Thibaudat and Béatrice Picon-Vallin in December 2003, with the collaboration of Ewa Pawlikowska and Michel Lisowski, who assisted with translation. The text was initially compiled and edited from the audio recordings by Thibaudat, and was published in French in 2004.[1] The version that appears here constitutes the first comprehensive introduction to Lupa’s work available in English, and includes additional annotations and information from the PTP editors.

During the conversations, Thibaudat and Picon-Vallin posed questions to Lupa regarding various aspects of his work and his personal journey: his formative experiences and training; his impressions of the context in which he emerged as a young theatre practitioner; his approach to work with actors, text, and the theatre space; and his ongoing pedagogical practice as a tutor at the State Higher Theatre School (PWST) in Kraków.[2] Lupa’s responses provide a particular insight into key elements of his theatre practice and teaching – notably his methods of working with actors through concepts such as the ‘landscape’, the ‘inner monologue’, and the ‘long discourse’ – and also into his perceptions of the work of his Polish directing predecessors: Grotowski, Kantor, and Swinarski.


The Apple Tree (1991). Sketch by Krystian Lupa, from the artist’s personal archive.

The Apple Tree (1991). Sketch by Krystian Lupa, from the artist’s personal archive.


Jean-Pierre Thibaudat: You celebrated your sixtieth birthday during a memorable festival dedicated to your work in Kraków in spring 2003,[3] and I remember having met you for the first time – twenty years ago exactly – in the small town of Jelenia Góra where you worked when you left the State Higher Theatre School (PWST). You were then what is considered a ‘young director’, and yet you were already forty – but this is because you arrived at theatre directing through various byways. Therefore, I’d like to ask – what was the state of the theatre in Jastrzębie Zdrój, the small town where you were born?

Krystian Lupa: There was no theatre at all in Jastrzębie Zdrój, which is a small spa town in Silesia. It became a mining town, one of the three towns where Solidarność (Solidarity) was born.[4] Today, it’s a large town of more than 120,000 inhabitants, but it still lacks a theatre. I remember that towards the end of primary school, I played an old brigand in Snow White – a school play put on by a young teacher. It was before my voice broke and I had to work a lot to get the bass tones, because of course the old brigand had to speak with a deep voice. That’s the only anecdote I have left and perhaps I’ve contrived it for myself by telling it on several occasions. Because really this first theatrical experience was a disappointment for me.

Before then, I’d invented for myself a kind of theatre – for a single actor and a single spectator – at home, in the garden. We lived in an old school building with a large wild garden. When I found myself on my own – without it being at all intentional or conscious – I would straightaway begin to create a fantasy-world, a reality that I would imagine and act out at the same time. It was a country that didn’t exist: Juskunia. All my moments alone were occupied inventing this country; Juskunia had its own history, a totally invented language. I made enormous dictionaries, I became really interested in its grammar – I wrote secret texts that I translated into the language of Juskunia. The history of this country and of its kings was very bloody, with the result that, in our garden, I was always running around and shouting, with a stick in my hand. This was what I called ‘my garden theatre’.

Thibaudat: A solitary theatre that you shared with no one?

Lupa: When my friends came to see me, I showed them all what I’d just created in my intense excitement and solitude. They all believed in the existence of this State since I spoke to them about it as if it were something real. I had a kind of power over my friends. For example, for a few weeks I became fascinated by the chamois, whose existence I had come across in a book. I remember telling my friends to find pieces of bricks, which they then had to use to walk on all fours in the playground, for hours on end – because they were chamois and couldn’t stand up and walk on two legs. They ended up in rebellion.

Thibaudat: This was your first production!

Lupa: That’s why Snow White as a theatrical event didn’t seem to me to be fantastical enough.

Béatrice Picon-Vallin: Where does the name of this country – ‘Juskunia’ – come from?

Lupa: I invented it. I don’t know where it came from. Words that didn’t exist came to my mind. I could sustain long monologues just by creating words that I really liked. [Everyday] language, such as it was, didn’t give me enough pleasure. As a child, I liked to create something that didn’t yet exist, because things that already existed seemed disappointing to me.

Thibaudat: Did this Juskunia period last long?

Lupa: To tell you the truth, it’s still going on. Right up to my adolescence, I had a passion for Juskunia, a kind of madness. I was always immersed within this world. I created the capital of this state and I called it Yelo. I didn’t know the English word ‘yellow’ then. And when I discovered the existence of this word, I was furious because it compromised my plan. I was also fascinated by making maps, which became more and more detailed. I’d draw squares, cathedrals. It was undoubtedly the most beautiful town in the world. And, even today, I sometimes dream of this town. I remember drawing another map of Yelo five years ago.

Yelo. Drawing by Krystian Lupa, from the artist’s personal archive.

Yelo. Drawing by Krystian Lupa, from the artist’s personal archive.

Was there a theatre in Yelo?

Lupa: Probably, but I have to say that it didn’t particularly interest me.

Picon-Vallin: Why is it that you didn’t go directly from your ‘garden theatre’ to the theatre itself?

Lupa: A boy’s development from a provincial town towards artistic activity is always something very complex and strange. First of all there was this ‘embryo’ of what I’d call the ‘home–made’. I did an enormous amount of drawing for Juskunia. At high school my tutor asked me: ‘What do you want to do?’ I replied: ‘Study at art school’. There was a kind of general consternation – no one knew how to react. Art wasn’t included in my school’s ‘periodic table’. It was for this reason that I began to study physics. Finally, after three years, I went to art school all the same.

Photographic self-portrait by Krystian Lupa, taken at his family home in Jastrzębie Zdrój, 1960s. From Lupa’s personal archive.

Photographic self-portrait by Krystian Lupa, taken at his family home in Jastrzębie Zdrój, 1960s. From Lupa’s personal archive.

It was a shock. I felt a clash between the embryo of the ‘home-made’ and ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’. I had to understand the canons and the rules that were then observed in painting, by going through a period of general ‘falsification’. Everything in the ‘embryo’ was rejected. I almost lost myself in this entirely; I nearly lost that whole miraculous side, everything that springs up of its own accord in one’s imagination. There were quite a few of us who were capable of going on to do something with what we were learning about, but at the same time we didn’t know why we were doing it. In this phase of imitation, you forget your genesis, your origins – the mind becomes mutilated. I think that the majority of artists in the world are mutilated artists. All the schools that train artists contribute to this state of affairs. I don’t mean that this is something completely negative – this leap is essential, otherwise you’d just remain a naïve artist right to the end. But you mustn’t stop at that stage, disguising yourself and pretending to be someone else. I think especially about studying painting at that time, those years of the great avant-gardist trend that involved each of us elaborating a stylistic worth, trying to find something within this movement – an artistic lineage, for example. It was as though each of us was trying to find a lifebelt with which we could prove ourselves and, at the same time, that we could hang on to.

Self-portrait by Krystian Lupa, from his personal archive.

Self-portrait by Krystian Lupa, from his personal archive.

I realized that I was becoming dependent, that I was no longer able to come out of this temporary vision – like someone who’s losing their connection with what is deepest within. ‘Today, I have nothing, but tomorrow I’ll find something better – I will find an orange’, says the painter. But the day after that they don’t find something else, they still continue to paint this same orange. And for a long time they remain a painter of the orange. It’s a trap. I readily understand Picasso, who said, ‘If something becomes easy for me, I must abandon it’.

Thibaudat: When did you feel that you’d reached a dead end?

Lupa: The miracle of childhood, that creation I spoke about earlier, has always been for me a criterion, a point of reference. Compared to that true creation from my childhood, I’ve often had the impression that I was being dishonest. Anyone who has lived through a creative act will never again allow themselves to be deceived by a false taste. Because a true creative act possesses an inimitable, incomparable ‘taste’ – it’s a kind of happiness or joy, which bears within itself all the energy of transgression. You find yourself somewhere else, as if you’d been carried away. I didn’t experience this feeling of impetuosity when I was at art school.

One day, a teacher, Mrs Hanna Rudzka-Cybisowa – a well-known painter who belonged to a group that went by the name of the ‘Comité de Paris’ (a group of colourist painters, Bonnard’s epigones) – said to me: ‘You don’t paint, you tell the story’. It was like a flash of inspiration. In fact, my drawings were not an end in themselves. The aim was the narrative.

Thibaudat: And you branched off towards cinema?

Lupa: At art school, where I ended up staying for six years in order to get my diploma, my pet craze was the cinema. Every day without a film was for me a wasted day. The French New Wave were my idols, particularly Jean-Luc Godard. Finally, I took the entrance exam for the Łódź Film School and got in. But I didn’t see it through because I was expelled – for incomprehensible expression, dandyism, and a kind of mannerism. Largely, this was justified. When you are young, you sometimes experience those moments when eccentricity explodes – perhaps as a reaction to the fact that you feel they want to stifle you.

Krystian Lupa during his studies at the Łódź Film School, early 1970s. From Lupa’s personal archive.

Krystian Lupa during his studies at the Łódź Film School, early 1970s. From Lupa’s personal archive.

A film I made for an exam caused my expulsion. In comparison [with my work], I’d say that the narrative in Godard is highly constructed. What fascinated me was decomposition – a breakdown in the narrative and the idea of following very strange associations. The film told the story of two ‘creatures’ living together in a single room. It was an attempt to observe osmosis at the level of reflex actions. These two people did nothing rational, they were lying on the bed, drinking tea, playing with their toes, and there was this subconscious, seductive relationship between them. At the time, I was reproached for having made a homosexual film. In fact, you could find this orientation within it, but it’s not at all what I was focusing on. In this film and in others made at the school, I was trying to find camera positions that would be grating, as if there was an outside presence in the room who wasn’t allowed to see what was going on there. At that point, I was beginning to feel that through a fixed position of the camera and a certain way of leading the narrative, I might succeed in overcoming some kind of resistance.

Thibaudat: What remains of these student films?

Lupa: I don’t feel I can watch them. I probably wouldn’t like them at all... How can I put it...? It was destruction for the pleasure of destruction, an aggravated protest, and a narcissism – not turned towards myself but towards my own creation. I threw myself into it completely, and at that stage I was still amazed that I myself was creating something. It’s one of the characteristic stages for young people, who need to go through that process. Someone in the process of maturing ought to ask themselves questions ceaselessly, to go deeply into the question ‘who am I?’, to try on various masks and tear them off. They must come into conflict with others, push the others to concede that they are different. Obviously, in all this there is no true humility, there is no true observation – neither of oneself nor of the world.

Picon-Vallin: So is school necessary precisely for this whole process to take place?

Lupa: Yes, but school is also necessary in order to confront this process, in order for us to fight against it. I wonder what school gave me the most: great fascinations or great defeats? The most important thing remains the fascinations that you then surpass later on. The struggles against the teachers, against the ideas you find unacceptable. If these struggles are rigorous and authentic – and thus sincere and honest – then this can be something very creative. Recently, I was struck by the relations between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell. There was a flash of inspiration from Wittgenstein in his relationship to his mentor that – at a later stage – turned into a struggle against this mentor. Fighting against a mentor is like climbing a staircase. Each step takes you a little further away from the base, the effort seems to increase, but it allows you to get somewhere. At art school, you won’t get anywhere unless you engage in passionate controversy, even if this passion is something that is provoked. As a student I was accused of making mistakes, and now this is precisely what I advise students to do: ‘Try to develop there, where you are being criticized. You’ll feel the criticism if it makes you suffer. At this precise moment you are not in a position to understand why you did something badly. Someone is getting through to you and the blows are reaching the places where your desires are most passionate’. If I just submit, I become a good, obedient student. It’s a danger, particularly for actors, because their awkwardness or humility comes from the fact that they have difficulty in distinguishing between themselves and their work.

The painter may say: ‘It’s my picture, it’s me’, but the actor doesn’t experience this situation. At the moment when someone says: ‘What you’ve just done is no good’, something in the actor’s body shrinks away and they lose contact with their desire. In working with actors, I try to incite them to defend their desire. It’s another approach. To keep defending what you’ve just done and to keep defending something that you want are two totally different things. It’s true that school often arouses a passion for controversy in young people. I think that teachers and students ought to take into account this necessity to ‘fight with oneself’, to be in conflict. A young person’s experience can become extraordinary when a teacher acknowledges the value of conflict.

Theatre School

Thibaudat: After being expelled from Łódź Film School, you branched out towards the theatre. What were the circumstances around this shift?

Lupa: Firstly, I took the entry exams for the PWST in Warsaw but wasn’t accepted. Then I applied to the directing department that had just been set up at the PWST in Kraków, and got in. And there, as if encouraged by a voice, I felt I could take the bull by the horns. After a few months, I realized that I was really at home in this field. Of course, I experienced difficulties, dead-ends, and mysteries, but when I managed to get beyond them, I touched on the same impressions, the same states to which I’d had access during my childhood. It was something carnal, as though the whole of my body was set in motion. Before, when I asked myself where to place the camera or how I should stage a particular sequence, only my head was doing the work. I didn’t have the impression that something magical was happening, as in my childhood, when I had the feeling of creating the reality just by running around a table. Now, the creative process of the mind formed a unity with the whole organism. It’s something that’s difficult to formulate. Every actor or director knows that when they take the right path, when they enter the right stream and are subjected to attacks of inspiration, they physically experience something very special.

It’s very different from what we might call ‘sterile creation’, where you push against a wall, waiting for something to happen. You bang your fist against the wall, fully aware that each subsequent blow will be just as futile as the last. You have to wait for the wall to crack for the process to become possible. It’s only then that we manage to understand our relationship to the matter that resists us – with the result that barren periods and inspirational periods are very closely linked. As if they were different aspects of the growth of the same plant.

Thibaudat: You said that you went to the cinema every day when you were at art school; I have the impression that going to the theatre didn’t really figure in your life.

Lupa: Theatre as such appeared when I began my studies at the PWST in Kraków. Naturally, at high school we’d gone to the main regional town to see plays from the classical Polish repertoire, but this nicely illustrative theatre made no impression on me.

It was in cinema that new developments occurred. I remember those films when, at the end, we’d have discussions for hours – not about the ‘bad’ or ‘good’ side of the work, but about the films’ protagonists. We identified with feelings of happiness or unhappiness, we were captivated by strong personalities. A fascinating film character would ‘contaminate’ us. This wasn’t only a question of the cult of the actor, but of that fascinating mix between the actor and the character. For example, we spoke a lot about solitude through Jeanne Moreau (I remember that great film Moderato Cantabile). She was the one who guided us through this solitude.

In theatre, if you confine yourself to storytelling you’re always a loser in comparison to cinema. You must be able to go beyond the story, for the event to become an initiation. In Kraków, Jerzy Jarocki’s productions of plays by [Stanisław Ignacy] Witkiewicz, were a real initiation for me.[5] For the first time since childhood, I experienced my ‘garden’. As if a kind of carnal osmosis was being established between the actor on the stage and me. The actors – through their rhythm, their musicality, their strange manner of being – were radiating.

Afterwards, I read a passage from Kantor which fascinated me and became a touchstone for me (I quote from memory): ‘The actor on stage is someone shockingly distant from all that we know as human; he appears to us as terrifying as a corpse in his coffin. It’s with a kind of terrified trembling that we perceive [the actor]; he is similar to us all the same, for his humanity cannot be challenged. This expanse between the shockingly distant and the near is a leaven of metaphysical life, of what happens in the theatre. Participation in the theatre is like participation in the Mass, that is to say participation in a presence, an incarnation that accomplishes a kind of transfiguration in your body and soul, even – and especially – if you don’t know what this transfiguration is’.[6]

I experienced this feeling in the theatre. And then there came a kind of hunger. Theatre appeared to me to be like a celebration, whereas cinema became something ordinary. I’d been obsessed by cinema – it was like a drug – and theatre appeared like some kind of purification, something that brought me back to what had been irremediably lost from my childhood.

Thibaudat: [Konrad] Swinarski and Jarocki were your teachers at the PWST in Kraków...

Lupa: I had that good fortune. Jerzy Krasowski – who set up the directing department at that time, in 1973 (it was mischievously run ‘contrary to’ the Warsaw school...) – brought together all the best creative talents of Poland. Kantor gave a lecture, but left after half an hour when one of his students tried to have a debate with him. Konrad Swinarski [taught there] – I consider him to be my mentor as far as my method of inner work is concerned.[7] Actually, it derived from one of his personal characteristics: alcoholism. In the morning he would very often arrive at the school with a hangover and would destroy everything we’d built the day before. He challenged all of our discoveries. Usually, we become attached to our initial discoveries, which means that we don’t move on from them – like the painter with the orange that I mentioned earlier. ‘I’m frightened of breaking the precious stone I’ve just found, or of getting rid of it, because I’m scared of never finding that same thing again’. During rehearsals, when actors chance across something interesting, they cling to it the following day, as though they’d found a rare pearl. An artist who is frightened of putting in question the sum of their successive discoveries is not a creator. Discovery only occurs if the artist manages to break the synthesis they have just created.

In this, I was greatly influenced by Swinarski. Nevertheless, as with every other occasion that someone has influenced me, I also wanted to confront him. My sense of wonder has always been matched by my desire for confrontation. Deep down, I admired him a lot – which didn’t prevent me from clashing with him during our directing workshops. He impressed me, because he knew how to fight with me like a dog. He would then become child-like, he was no longer in his role of teacher. As if I were his senior; he was the one attacking me. That doesn’t mean that I derived any pleasure from my victories, because when he would come down from his teacher’s pedestal, I’d respect him all the more. Jarocki was someone quite different. A formidable, sadistic teacher. I came to know him as a fan of his productions.

Those years at PWST in Kraków were a particularly happy period for me. Something had calmed within me, as if things had become more real. I’d finished first in the entrance exam and got in to the school right when, inwardly, I’d needed to feel like I was the best. An artist shouldn’t be ashamed of wanting to be the best. It’s essential to have faith, to allow yourself to carry some divine element within you. From outside, it can seem ridiculous and even repellent to see an artist’s pride expressing itself in this way. But, after a few years, this pride burns itself out. I liken creation to the alchemist’s crucible. There it is subjected to a transmutation comprised of work, truth, and humility.

Thibaudat: There were just a few of you on this inaugural directing course in Kraków?

Lupa: We were a group of five student directors. Each group has its own special character. If two charismatic leaders clash within a group, then there is this fantastic ferment that also stimulates the other members. Like a spiral that drags each member towards the top. At the time there were three of us who competed with each other, but without any bad feeling: Mikołaj Grabowski, Izabela Poławińska, and me.[8] Life in this group was shot through with an extraordinary intensity of perception and the overcoming of individual issues.

No relationship with teachers, however good, is capable of engendering what the relationships within a group produce, which systematically call everything into question. Very often at drama school, our ‘discoveries’ are essentially like homework. It often happens that our performances are very ‘academic’. We aren’t in a position to push ourselves to reject our initial discovery and to continue to delve. However, within such a group my particular discoveries get challenged – but without bad feelings – and the criticism comes from other people who bring my work within the realm of their own desires and who submit me to the results of their own searching. All the great literary and philosophical movements have their origins in this kind of group. I owe an enormous amount to my friends, because a process was set in motion there.

Today, having become a teacher myself, I like to observe groups – their evolution, their way of maturing. Sometimes, you see a group emerge that’s apparently very interesting, and in which you place a lot of hope, but it goes no further than that. The group doesn’t progress, as if there were no internal process. Sometimes, there are very studious groups that give the teacher a feeling of security, but after a certain time, the teacher realizes that this is a very boring feeling. After a few meetings, you no longer know what to do with them. But there are groups who fill you almost with terror after the first meeting; you feel as though you won’t be able to interest them in what lies deep down inside you. You sense in them a distrust, a resistance. It’s often the leader of the group who displays this distrust. A sort of struggle can build up between the teacher and the leader. This can become an extraordinary inspiration for the others. But it doesn’t always happen like that; [as a teacher] I don’t always manage to dominate the leader of the group. Sometimes I’ve been dominated. It is through such experiences that I’ve discovered things I didn’t know and didn’t have within me before.

I learn the most when I’m teaching at the school – during those times when I’m not involved in producing performances. Because the approach there isn’t pragmatic. It’s as if we gave ourselves permission to go beyond and to discover the things that rejuvenate us. It’s only after such a process that you manage to do something new in the theatre. As a result, I often feel like a vampire who sucks the blood of the young – but evidently they also need this leech.

Thibaudat: Did your own group of student directors work much with the student actors?

Lupa: In my case, yes. The situation was fortunate: I’d placed first in the exam and Swinarski had also said that I was very talented. Consequently, the actors would come to see me so that I could help them prepare scenes to show their tutors. At night, in secret, we’d prepare these scenes, and then they were presented and assessed during classes that I didn’t attend. I wasn’t directly confronted by the assessors, I heard about their feedback afterwards – everything happened as if ‘by proxy’.

When we learn about something face-to-face, there’s something that I call a ‘lazy humility’ which pushes us to take into account someone else’s reasoning. But, when this reasoning is given to us by proxy, it becomes a shadow or a ghost against which we can struggle. For me, this was a very inspiring situation. I heard rumours, opinions about the scene I’d prepared the day before and which had been for me a moment of illumination. Every moment when you’re struggling against the resistance of the matter, it’s the struggle itself that is important, because it’s a struggle against any temptation towards fatalism. The most monstrous thing about theatre is this kind of collective apathy when faced with the dream. At the beginning of our work, we have before us a kind of primitive intuition of a ‘landscape’, and we try to reach it. Then comes a sort of crisis – at this point we want to get across to the other shore as quickly as possible. This far bank where we can land is called the ‘it’s good’, the ‘before it wasn’t good – now it’s good’. Of course, you could say that this state of ‘it’s good’ means that you give up your dream. Often in the theatre a crisis arises when, suddenly, you feel that what you’d dreamed about was truly the height of stupidity. You feel that you’re sinking into a marsh. In that case we have a duty to get to the far bank as fast as possible, to reach the ‘it’s good’. This is how ninety per cent of opening nights come about.

Krystian Lupa in Wrocław, 2009. Photograph: Francesco Galli.

Krystian Lupa in Wrocław, 2009. Photograph: Francesco Galli.

What were the teaching methods that prevailed at PWST in Kraków then – was it the Russian method?

Lupa: The Russian method is a primer. It’s difficult to teach directing, to teach acting, without referring to Stanislavsky, to Michael Chekhov, and so on. In Kraków, each teacher did it their own way, but no one was totally under its spell. Stanislavsky’s method is an attempt to reach the ‘geology’ of the actor, the so-called ‘inner layers’. This allows us to find a starting point from which we can draw inspiration and energy. It’s also a way of reaching the spiritual and physical regions of imagination and incarnation. Jarocki had studied in Moscow.[9] So it’s likely that everything he learnt there remained within him. He went on to create his own, organic method. He was also a man who liked to say: ‘What I teach you is mine, it belongs to me’. As students, we weren’t capable of dissecting Stanislavsky’s share in what he taught us.

Swinarski, in his youth, had been Brecht’s assistant at the Berliner Ensemble. After Brecht’s death, he plugged the gaps. Through him we got to share in the philosophy of the theatre of alienation, which is both cruel and contradictory, since Brecht’s theatre contains both distance and an absence of distance. It’s as though the flame had been stifled, as though the passion was being transformed into irony. You could say that in Brecht, passion is transformed into irony or indeed into the philosophy of the ‘V effect’.[10] Swinarski, who had been inspired by the classical motif of Polish Romanticism, was able to enrich this vision using the ‘V effect’ in his own work. Many critics have reproached Swinarski for his cynicism; for me it was quite the opposite: it was theatre constructed on a relentlessly stripped-down pain, transformed by a cruel distancing. All by himself, [by combining these two traditions], he formed a whole other school of theatre.

Apart from these two strong personalities, we must speak about Jerzy Krasowski and Krystyna Skuszanka, who are no longer remembered today but who were flagship directors of a bygone age.[11] They were the bearers of this Russian method in its standard, toned-down form. With Skuszanka, we discovered this work through kusoki (literally, ‘small pieces’ or ‘bits’ in Russian).[12] Thus we learnt about what characters want, and not what they are like. That provoked a strong protest in me. In short, my relationship to Stanislavsky was one of assimilation, but in a critical mode.

We also had in our department two leading intellectuals from Kraków: Kazimierz Wyka and Jan Błoński.[13] This was fascinating, as we entered into an analytic perception of literature – no longer just a pragmatic analysis of drama but a very perceptive penetration into literary structure, into the whole mystery of the triad of author, narrator, and protagonist. How can you define the ‘self’ in literature, what are the ways of seeing, and how, within this medium, can you succeed in grasping the reality of what I call today the ‘movement of the narrative’? What is the movement of the narrative in Kafka, or in Joyce? If, in reading a text, we manage to follow this transformation of the imaginary world into the literary world, we become ‘contaminated’ by it, so to speak. There’s a possibility of rediscovering this movement in its theatrical incarnation. What does it mean to stage Kafka in the theatre? The majority of directors approach this subject the wrong way around – from the outside instead of trying to trace ‘Kafka’s self’, which is not all that simple.

Picon-Vallin: Following on from that, how would you define the director?

Lupa: For me, the director is not a part of the machine that produces the performance, as often happens in contemporary theatre, where you could say that one person does the mise-en-scène, another tells the actors how to walk, a third explains to them how to dance, a fourth takes charge of the space, and so on. Of course, the result of this chaotic multitude can sometimes be interesting. Personally, I don’t know how to work like that. Even if in my performances something emerges of the order of dance, this dance must come from the actor’s ‘inner monologue’, from their desires and imagination. At that point, I can’t conceive of the director grabbing the actor by the foot and saying: ‘Place your foot like that!’ A director is an inspirer, someone who provides an initial dream, who comes along with a book and tells the others about the emotion they have experienced thanks to this book.

But it’s not enough to provide a book, what’s needed is something that has been experienced. What I’m saying doesn’t constitute a definition – more a heap of leaves – but by sweeping these leaves together, you might begin to construct a definition. An example: I’m no longer afraid of losing the thread (you know, directors are very often afraid of losing the thread), I’m no longer afraid of arriving at the first rehearsal and of saying to the actors: ‘Listen, I don’t know how we’re going to do this performance’. I know how I’ve experienced this text, I also know what feelings it’s inspired in me, but it’s only a perception. When a text has remained within me for a long time, it becomes transformed into strange associations, it arouses in me a need to find answers. If I am in possession of this ‘thing’, then I feel entitled to prepare the performance. The text that I offer to the actors constitutes a universe all by itself – on the condition that my feelings are authentic and real. This inspiration must be set in place within a group of creative people. I can’t impose on this group a ready-made plan for a performance that the actors would then merely carry out. For me, the director is the head of this creative community – the person who provokes, who initiates this utopia.

Thibaudat: Certain paradoxes can be deduced from this. The less the director controls things, the more they fulfil the role of director; the less predictable – and therefore alive – is the reality of the group, the more it plunges into its own reality, and thus the more the performance speaks to the other reality, which is that of the world.

Lupa: It’s precisely these paradoxes that I wanted to express, that I wanted to reach.

Polish Predecessors: Jerzy Grotowski

Thibaudat: Let’s throw another name into the conversation, that of another of your compatriots: Jerzy Grotowski.

Lupa: I hardly encountered Grotowski. I only saw a revival of his final production, and by that time this production was already considered to be dead.[14] So it’s difficult for me to say what the situation was at the time of its creation. When I took up theatre, Grotowski was at the height of his fame. It was already when he was abandoning the theatre of productions and entering the paratheatrical domain – a kind of spiritual experience linked to what theatre practitioners experience during the creative process. On one hand, he had many followers who were in the process of forming a kind of sect, with an almost religious life. On the other hand, many people were reticent and kept their distance. As far as I was concerned, I must have seen Apocalypsis cum figuris at the time of my entry into PWST. First of all, I felt repelled by the celebratory atmosphere that prevailed before the performance. I was part of a group of students who didn’t have tickets but who were nevertheless admitted to the performance – unlike certain members of the government who, despite having tickets, weren’t allowed in. It was a kind of provocation. The fact that members of the audience were selected, scrutinized, and then admitted or not was something typical with Grotowski. It was said he was afraid of people who distanced themselves too much from his performances, because this negativity introduced a bad energy. He preferred a homogenous public more receptive to experiencing the metaphysical event that he was offering. So, we awaited the performance, which was to begin at the moment when Grotowski judged that the situation was ripe: there was no question of starting at the arranged time. Everything was ready, but the performance didn’t begin. Grotowski arrived in the theatre foyer, where we were waiting for him. He appeared like Jesus or Zarathustra and he gave us instructions. A group of people around him asked questions, he answered, and I had the impression that this introduction was part of a ritual. I don’t know why but that bothered me. I was a young man, I was looking at him from afar; I didn’t go nearer, as if I were ashamed – I must have been completely anonymous to him. But we never feel anonymous within ourselves – inside I was already Krystian Lupa, who as yet hadn’t accomplished anything. He was Grotowski, the Master, speaking to us in a low voice. I didn’t manage to focus on what it was that he was saying; I had the impression that he placed more importance on the manner of speaking than on the content, that this priestly function gave him great pleasure. Therefore, I can say that I entered the auditorium with a kind of strange aggressiveness, even if at the start I’d felt flattered to be admitted when certain important officials had been turned away.

Ryszard Cieślak in Apocalypsis cum figuris in 1979. Photograph: Maurizio Buscarino, courtesy of the Grotowski Institute.

Ryszard Cieślak in Apocalypsis cum figuris in 1979. Photograph: Maurizio Buscarino, courtesy of the Grotowski Institute.

When the performance began, I identified with the character played by Ryszard Cieślak.[15] The actor was in a trance and a certain energy emanated from him. I couldn’t say the same of the others. I had the impression that the whole performance suggested that it wasn’t theatre at all, but an act of offering, and that the actors weren’t actors but rather sacrificial priests. Cieślak bore this faith within himself, but the others pretended – for me it was repellent, a lie. From the very moment of Grotowski’s appearance, I had the impression that he wanted to bowl over the spectators, to get them on their knees. I have nothing against this intention: Kantor had this desire, in a sincere way. But Kantor doesn’t pretend to carry out a sacrifice for the benefit of humanity. I’m trying to express here in a general way what I felt then in a carnal, very spontaneous way: I had the feeling of being exploited and I didn’t manage to calm myself down about it after the performance. I can’t say exactly that Grotowski got my back up, but I experienced something irreversible. It was the same for me as a young man as for all young people: the things that fill you with wonder are idolatrous and the things you loathe are irrevocable.

When I began my work at Jelenia Góra, the manager, Alina Obidniak, who was a close friend of Grotowski and had studied with him in Moscow, was very insistent that we become acquainted.[16] I didn’t want to, and she just couldn’t understand this. However, she invited Grotowski to see my first performance there, The Transparent Room (1979). She wasn’t aware that in the first part of the production I’d used some of Grotowski’s words in an ironic way. Grotowski left at the end of the first act, offended, which detached me from him even more – it’s difficult to say that he detached himself from me. I found it strange to see this man, who enjoyed unquestionable status, react in such a pusillanimous way to any criticism. Later on, when I became known in Poland, I said a few words about him in interviews, but never to express my reservations about him. I tried rather to refer to his spiritual dimension: the searching for transgression, the possibility for the actor to become a kind of medium between the transcendent and the human body. I can say that I’ve always been fascinated by this territory, yet never would I dare suggest that my search has been successful. Grotowski, for his part, suggested that he had accomplished this search, and that has always irritated me. Grotowski was a priest claiming to have seen God.

Tadeusz Kantor and The Dead Class

Thibaudat: On the other hand, it seems that the links you maintained with Tadeusz Kantor have been very productive.

Lupa: At the start, my relationship with Kantor was idolatrous. I was lucky enough to start off in theatre in Kraków at the time of a transformation in Kantor, connected to the creation of The Dead Class (1975).[17] Of course, he’d been involved in theatre since the end of the war – one of his first productions, The Return of Odysseus (1944) had been highly praised. Subsequently, Kantor was perceived – in Kraków circles – as someone hawking Western art in Poland, and as a second-rate artist. An epigone. A sort of clown who creates a character for himself, somewhat in the manner of Salvador Dali. Particularly when he started to set up Western-style Happenings and developed this tendency towards a kind of narcissistic presentation of the self.[18] He always appeared in the role of a magus, as did Cocteau in his films. I was among those who smiled condescendingly when Kantor’s name was mentioned – even if his charisma was undeniable, and even if his classes at the Krzysztofory Gallery were very interesting. When he started to hang umbrellas on his canvases, that provoked a storm of laughter among the artistic community in Kraków. Everything seemed to indicate that the city had had enough of Kantor. And then there was the dazzling brilliance of two performances: The Dead Class, inspired by Bruno Schulz, and Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes (1973), both based on Witkiewicz.[19] These performances fascinated me greatly. Firstly, the actor took on a different dimension – this wasn’t the modest reproduction of a character from a play. What amazed me was that Kantor prevented his actors from acting: they were placed away in the corner, like children who’d been forbidden from doing something. An explosion of child-like behaviour prompted the need to act. There was what Kantor called ‘the fact in a corner’. I remember Zofia Kalińska, an actor with whom I later worked, and who played the lead role in Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes.[20] During that whole performance, she was locked away in a cage, constantly trying to escape. Whenever she succeeded, they put her back inside and she tried to gain the sympathy of the audience. But this took place as if she were outside the play, outside the narrative, as if the actor herself at a certain point could no longer bear the harshness of the production and of the director, and tried to ask the members of the audience to help her get away and to escape the performance. All the usual attempts at getting closer to the audience you find elsewhere – the actors shaking the spectators’ hands, pressing their naked bodies against them, trying to lure the spectators into the space – I perceived these as false gestures that increased the discomfort between the audience and the actors and not the opposite. But [with Kantor], the form of contact with the audience went beyond anything I’d come across before, and beyond all existing patterns.

The act of communion – which many people want to make the basis for theatrical ritual – is, in its very roots, false. But in Kantor’s case it was different. Precisely through what might be called a ‘loss of dignity’: it wasn’t something with lofty aspirations but rather a depreciation. Everything that was ‘on the sly’ or ‘hidden away’ was brought out in the performance.[21] For the spectators there was no sense of any barrier being put up out of embarrassment – or rather this was so radicalized that it finally shattered. It was at this time that I began secretly to adore Kantor – because officially, in polite Kraków society, it remained the done thing to greet his work with an ironic smile.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the first six people to see The Dead Class. Before the premiere, Kantor made a presentation for a selected group, and I accompanied one of the guests. After five minutes, I was aware that something incredible was going on, that I was present at a kind of transgression that no other theatre had touched upon. The motif – from Bruno Schulz – of the discovery of this child-like aspect in an old person, this whole motif of the school class, is one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve come across. Kantor interrupted the production several times by yelling at the actors as if possessed. Various profanities – ‘sons of bitches’ and ‘bitches’ – were flying through the air, and at one point he proclaimed that he was a great ‘European artist’, but that no one in the room realized this. He also told the actors that the premiere would be cancelled, that they ought to forget about ‘this shit’ they were creating. In short, he imposed such terror that I felt something different in the actors. To be given such a difficult time behind closed doors and for it to happen in public – even if there were only six of us in the audience – is not the same thing. I had the impression that the actors were about to tear him to pieces. I didn’t know about the particular customs within this company, so I wasn’t aware that this kind of situation took place all the time. Since then, I’ve seen The Dead Class twenty times, but its impact has never been so great. This first performance must have lasted more than four hours; Kantor often interrupted, he made them go back to the beginning, and I’m sorry it didn’t occur to him to do the same when the production was staged later on. I didn’t rediscover in it this feeling of energy and of mystery that came from those rehearsals. They were part of the subject-matter of the performance, this was what the ‘class’ was all about.

Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class in Edinburgh (1976). Photograph: George Oliver, courtesy of the Cricoteka Archives.

Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class in Edinburgh (1976). Photograph: George Oliver, courtesy of the Cricoteka Archives.

Contrary to what is often said of him in the West, Kantor didn’t establish a systematic approach to acting. He had a strong personality and he ordered the actors to do what he himself was feeling. He took the actors to extreme psychological situations through sheer terror, he filled them with the energy of a medium. Like people who are right at the culmination of an argument with a parent or lover. When Kantor’s actors lacked this determination, they acted badly. It was apparent in the later performances when the actors became more cunning, once they’d learned to be a step ahead of Kantor’s instructions, when Kantor was becoming too old to break all this up and to push them towards real determination. Subsequently, I began to feel that Kantor’s stylistics was becoming a style, that the actors did what he asked of them in a cynical way. I know this because I spoke with them about it, I know this because they hated him and made fun of him as soon as his back was turned.

At that stage I was on Kantor’s side, even if I myself didn’t approve of his method of obtaining high-level acting through terror. Nonetheless, the fact remains that it’s necessary to take the actor to certain heights, just like a tugboat leading a ship towards the open sea. If actors are taken off into a fantastical country, they will lose themselves in what they’re doing, they will reach a state of excitement (but personally I don’t speak about excitement as such when the actor is what I call ‘pregnant’ with the character). At the moment when the actors enter this land beyond normality, the characters can develop, and do so of their own accord. We’re often confronted with this just before a premiere: the actor can’t sleep, gets up at night, paces up and down the room, goes out onto the balcony, starts singing, takes a bath while thinking about the character, leaves home in the middle of the night, goes to a café and behaves a little strangely. The actor does all that in spite of their own will – this is what I call the ‘pregnancy with the character’ or the ‘dance with the character’. Often actors think that this process is abnormal: they take sedatives in order to be able to sleep, because they feel they should have a good night’s sleep in order to be ready to rehearse the following day. I think, on the contrary, that actors prepare better for rehearsals by not sleeping at night, by living this dance with the character that their bodies impose on them. Recently, I’ve been trying to make actors aware that it’s necessary to develop this dance with the character well before the first rehearsals. It’s a kind of madness, a kind of intimate contact with the character; I would say that it’s a maturing of the body so that it will be able to perform the character. Through this process, the whole body takes on its true secret rhythms, those you couldn’t manage to think up before rehearsals. This maturing of the body takes place outside what can harm this process – the actors’ conscious control and the gestures imposed by the will – through a long process of ‘dreaming about’ the character, which results in something equally unexpected for the actor and the director – those sudden flashes of inspiration that sometimes occur during rehearsals. Many people consider that these are due to chance, that you can’t bring them about, that you can’t work on them – but in fact the opposite is true.

This aspect of my ideas is close to what Arnold Mindell writes about the ‘dreambody’.[22] He’s an author whose discoveries concerning the body as an area of inspiration – and not only of obedience – have given me much food for thought. For Kantor, terror was a way of reaching the dreambodies of his actors. The rhythm was obtained not by a conscious order of the will but by a certain state that is sustained. I experienced this intuition during that rehearsal of The Dead Class which lasted nearly five hours. My absolute certainty of witnessing the birth of a masterpiece was accompanied by a certain fear, because I felt that I was also witness to a terrifying relationship between the director and the actors. With The Dead Class, Kantor suddenly passed from being just a hawker to a great genius of the theatre. I became a real fan of this production – I remember one day getting into an argument with someone who was mocking and ridiculing it.

Picon-Vallin: During this famous long rehearsal, Kantor was onstage with the actors, but did he perform the same role that he would go on to play in his subsequent productions?[23]

Lupa: No. And his presence [in the rehearsal] was also much better than later on. He was performing himself, and that’s something very risky. Afterwards, I’ve very often had the impression that Kantor would really have liked to be as he was during this famous rehearsal, but he didn’t know how to go about it with a large audience. In public he would hold back his irritation, even if I’ve seen performances where he openly expressed his dissatisfaction and called his actors ‘bloody sons of bitches’. There were two versions of The Dead Class.[24] The first was with a group of actors mostly from the Teatr Bagatela (Bagatelle Theatre) – actors who Kantor later rejected because they didn’t submit completely to his authority.[25] In the second version, he relied on older people, following Bruno Schulz’s influence, which suggested that the condition of the protagonists should be of people who are on the verge of old age.[26] I think all the same that this choice was mistaken and that the second version of The Dead Class is of secondary importance – even though it’s precisely this version that Kantor took on the majority of his tours abroad. When an actor is asked to play outside their age-range – either older or younger – this is a task that requires a very strong inspiration. The question is not for the actors to have the external appearance of old people, but really to confront themselves with what they think an old person is, with what their own old age will be. If the actors succeed in confronting themselves with their own fear of old age, this helps them access their subconscious. The actors who performed in the first version of The Dead Class weren’t much younger than those who performed it later on, but they were able to create a much more suggestive image of the condition of old people.

Assistantship with Konrad Swinarski

Thibaudat: A third decisive figure of Polish theatre, but one unknown in France, is Swinarski. You mentioned him previously in his role as a teacher at the drama school, but he was also a great director. Moreover, you were his assistant when, tragically, he died in a plane crash, at the time when he was rehearsing Hamlet.

Lupa: Swinarski was already starting to become a legend in Kraków when I arrived at the school. He had just presented Adam Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve, 1973), a production considered to be a masterpiece – the event of the decade. And he was completing his preparations for Stanisław Wyspiański’s Wyzwolenie (Liberation, 1974). In the Stary Teatr repertoire there also remained two of his famous productions based on Shakespeare: All’s Well That Ends Well (1969) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1973).

Above all, Swinarski possessed incredible theatrical instincts. He had developed an analysis of the actor that was not at all psychological and which moved through the creation of a very dense space of dependencies, of potentialities, of links inherent to the human condition. I think that he was the first practitioner in Poland to be interested in the psychology of a fully determined human being, humiliated by their own love, by the slavery of conventions, and by falsity. In a way, a person who behaves like Pavlov’s dog. It’s this that fascinated me. If I owe something to Swinarski, it’s this fascination with ‘determinings’. Paradoxically, what resulted from this very careful analysis was that people always confounded our expectations of what they would be like.

With Hamlet, Claudius is usually considered to be in the wrong, but Swinarski defended him as a modern pragmatist, a man of the Renaissance – whereas Hamlet’s father was someone of the ‘old school’, someone essentially medieval. The murder became necessary because the elder Hamlet was a despot. In Swinarski’s version, Hamlet has the impression that he’s going to lose his battle, and – deep down – what he needs instinctively is to live on in the memory of future generations, to remain as a man of suffering. Swinarski was thus working towards the creation of his own myth, pouring out his own suffering, his complexes, and his solitude in a quite tragic manner – just as he was becoming famous as a director. It was also through Hamlet that he expressed his drama of homosexuality in a very interesting way.[27]

As I’ve already told you, I was always arguing with Swinarski. One day this argument became focused on Ophelia’s madness. Swinarski had constructed a certain layer of meaning around Ophelia’s fantasy with her little poems, her stories – but in my opinion he hadn’t taken into account that [by the rationale of the production] Ophelia was in fact mentally ill. I said we should acknowledge this diagnosis of mental illness, try to define where in her afflicted mind her expressions came from – and, above all, to consider that this shouldn’t produce a homogenous construction. Swinarski replied by citing his production of Peter Weiss’s Marat-Sade (1970), in which he’d suggested that all psychological illnesses produce autonomous and highly logical constructions, regardless of having been elaborated by people who were ill. He was the one who was right. His mode of logical construction was so sound that it really touched on mental illness.

In my production of The Asylum (2003), based on [Maxim] Gorky’s The Lower Depths, I followed in his footsteps. Today, I feel that to consider these inner torrents simply as a product of illness leads us to an externalized view that omits trying to understand the ‘other’ world. I remember the extraordinary phrase of the mentally ill Clarisse, in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, who says that in order to understand someone, you must act with them, to understand a murderer you must ‘co-act’ with them. Of course, you could say that this is an idea that condemns us to madness in order to understand madness, but I think that an artist is precisely this kind of mad person who wants to understand other mad people.

Thibaudat: To some extent this is the relationship you have with the texts that you adapt.

Lupa: I immerse myself entirely in them, I don’t try to keep a distance from them – and besides, I know that I won’t manage to overcome this distance fully in any case. To make a diagnosis about reality with a certain feeling of detached superiority is a leftover of twentieth-century rationalism, and in our contemporary, spiritual world, this can only result in failure. If the contemporary world is sick, it’s precisely because the people who try to run it approach reality as if from outside it.

So Swinarski suggested that I be his assistant for Hamlet, but I wasn’t the only one. There were three of us. To tell the truth, he didn’t really know how to make the most of our presence. At the beginning, we flicked through texts on Hamlet, we compared different translations and then, at the moment when Swinarski really began to work, he forgot all about us. And I stopped arguing with Swinarski. I realized that our discussions were futile and stupid, and how much they might be disrupting his work. Swinarski was then in the process of ‘immersing himself’ with the actors, of creating an intimate dialogue with them. He went into a period of alcoholism, and held private rehearsals at his house that lasted until five or seven o’clock in the morning. At ten o’clock, we would meet at the theatre for the next rehearsal, wait for him until noon, then someone would have the idea of going to fetch him – and finally Swinarski would appear, looking very pale and haggard. He’d say that he was ashamed, and then he’d tell the assistants to get lost. It was at this point that I left for good, and this was the end of my assistantship.

Departure to Jelenia Góra

Thibaudat: Was your departure to Jelenia Góra – to the provinces, far from the two cultural capitals of Warsaw and Kraków – a predetermined act?

Lupa: For my directing diploma (1977), I’d done Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes, after Witkiewicz. It wasn’t because I’d been dazzled by Kantor’s performance – the play itself had stunned me prior to beginning my studies. I’d worked on it for my entry exam to the school, and I wanted it to be my end-of-course performance. It was suggested that I stage it experimentally at the school, with fourth-year acting students, for whom it would be their diploma presentation. And so I worked with this group of ‘mad’ people – in a positive sense – twenty-four hours a day. Teachers came to see us to tell us that what we were doing was unacceptable, that we were conducting an incoherent discourse. For the preview, we invited the directing teachers, and among them Professor Jerzy Goliński – an important personage and himself a director.[28] He was someone who didn’t concern himself with conventions, who had his own dark world – and he appreciated our ‘incoherent discourse’, saying that incoherence belonged to the very soul of the cosmos, and thus to the theatre. To the general consternation, he declared that it was the best performance of Witkiewicz he’d seen, thereby cutting off all the attempts by the teaching body to boycott our work. The production was very well received; they spoke about the ‘birth’ of a young director and I owe a lot to the success of this performance.

A director must meet with success quite early on in order to be able to continue to work. Immediately after this diploma, it was proposed that I work at Kraków’s Stary Teatr and at the same time Alina Obidniak offered me work at her theatre in Jelenia Góra.[29] I’d heard that many interesting things were going on in Jelenia Góra, that there was a group of enthusiastic young people there. This group seduced me and drew me in. It was a community in which it was no longer really possible to discern everyday lives from theatrical creation – we lived in a kind of ‘magma’. Witkiewicz’s first play, Maciej Korbowa concerns a group of artists who come together to create, and who consider their own lives to be a creation.[30] All this was linked to a certain challenging, a certain questioning of bourgeois ethics. With our production (1986) we therefore created a kind of hermetic sect, our private life became a kind of ritual; we listened to music and smoked marijuana together. When I gave the word, we would write texts that delved deep into our emotions, our impressions, we’d write texts on our bodies. And we would read them, treating ourselves as experimental objects in an atmosphere of reciprocal fascination, with our erotic lives also linked to our work.

Krystian Lupa (left, facing rear) and Alina Obidniak (centre), in Jelenia Góra, 1979. Photograph from Lupa’s personal archive.

Krystian Lupa (left, facing rear) and Alina Obidniak (centre), in Jelenia Góra, 1979. Photograph from Lupa’s personal archive.

It was a happy period, and right until today I’ve never experienced such things as I did during those sacred rehearsals, which we approached as an act of madness – inspired by the examples that we found in Witkiewicz’s play. It was an initiation period in which I began to believe in myself – not only in my creative possibilities, but in my ability to take on the role of a leader. This also allowed me to get rid of my outer shell of fears, of the bourgeois anxieties that paralyse the majority of artists. It’s true that I realize today that it was a very juvenile first creation, but it seems to me that I’ve always been younger than I was in reality. I’ve matured very slowly, and I bear the child that I was within me right to this very day, with its good and its bad sides. Artists owe it to themselves not to mature too early; I’m not speaking about intellectual maturity but a profound inner maturity. The term puer aeternus (eternal child), developed by Jung’s disciples, is something that could also be applied to me.

Thibaudat: Would you have been able to experience all this in Kraków?

Lupa: No. In Kraków I had to have ‘a success’. The need for a success is terrible. Artists who don’t have space to free themselves from this compulsion to be successful and who have no opportunity to risk total failure will never reach their fullness, will never develop their potential, will always be tired artists. Each of us knows some such tired artists. I remember a comment by Swinarski before staging Hamlet: ‘What is there still left for me to do? I’ve already done everything: total theatre, mad theatre, theatre beyond the frontiers of life; now all that there remains for me to do is to burn down the theatre’. It’s the neurosis of success. Swinarski always created in places of great renown, where it was necessary to ‘have a success’. This is why, for many years, I refused all the proposals that came to me from Warsaw – I felt a certain vampirism in them. Warsaw attracts young talents in order to destroy them by imposing too many expectations. I’ve seen colleagues burn themselves out like moths to a flame.

Thibaudat: However, after seven years you left the cocoon of Jelenia Góra to plunge into the Kraków arena.

Lupa: We were burnt-out, dried up. The actors began to start families, to live their own lives, and they no longer had that same energy, that same madness in them. I felt that the life of this period of youthful creation is much shorter than our biological life. An artist is a creature who lives about as long as a horse: twenty years. If the artist wants to go on longer, they must be reborn. One horse must die for another to be born. A ‘youthful artist’ lives as long as youth lasts; it would be a mistake to become an old ‘youthful artist’.

Sketch for the set design of Maciej Korbowa and Bellatrix (1986), by Krystian Lupa. From the artist’s personal archive.

Sketch for the set design of Maciej Korbowa and Bellatrix (1986), by Krystian Lupa. From the artist’s personal archive.

Working with the ‘Landscape’

Thibaudat: In the mid-1980s, you found yourself back in Kraków at the Stary Teatr. There, you began to explore German, Austrian, and Russian literature – often prose writing. Let’s add that you have direct access to these texts since you speak German and Russian. So, for instance, you’ve worked on texts by Robert Musil.

Lupa: The Temptation of Quiet Veronica, a short story by Musil, is a very difficult text.[31] This whole literature attempted to perceive the imperceptible, the inexpressible – and trying to transpose it into the theatre, to make it ‘alive’, is probably the greatest challenge I’ve faced.

Essentially, I decided to approach it like the actor’s dance with the character that I spoke about earlier, but here it was more like the ‘director’s dance with the literature’. It was something that I started to do spontaneously – I began to record on tape not those moments [in the process] when I felt I knew what was going on, but rather those moments of intense decomposition, of psychological disintegration. And the very fact of making this recording [at such moments] began to provoke a similar state in turn. Following this recording process, something began to emerge. I wasn’t expecting it, but sometimes I would just suddenly start to create the scenes [for the adaptation], and thus to work out the text for the scenes. Dialogues followed one after the other, the monologues took shape; it was as if working under hypnosis. Then, on several occasions, at night, I’d wake up and switch on the tape-recorder, in a state that [Hermann] Broch describes in The Sleepwalkers as ‘dreaming in a heightened wakefulness’, or as ‘waking’.[32] It’s a state from which you have a lot of difficulty emerging. Sometimes, when you remain in a wakeful state for a long time at night, you have difficulty understanding space, you’re completely plunged into thoughts you can’t control, which go of their own accord – just like dreams. I would try not to emerge from that state; I’d go back to sleep for five minutes and then I’d be woken up by the awareness that the tape machine was still recording. When I got the actors to listen to the tape later on, they had the impression that I was under hypnosis when I made the recording.

Playing one of these recordings to the actors allowed me to find the basis for working on a scene that we hadn’t known how to approach for the previous fortnight. Before, we hadn’t been able to find its rhythm or its ‘inner monologue’. After listening to the tape, we conducted an improvisation and then there appeared what we were looking for, as if things were happening by osmosis, as if our subconscious minds were exchanging information, as if the actors were discovering a secret music.

Adam Szczyszczaj and Ewa Skibińska during rehearsals for The Temptation of Quiet Veronica [Kuszenie cichej Weroniki] in Wrocław (1997). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Adam Szczyszczaj and Ewa Skibińska during rehearsals for The Temptation of Quiet Veronica [Kuszenie cichej Weroniki] in Wrocław (1997). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Moreover, during the actor’s ‘pregnancy’ with the character that I mentioned earlier, music very often becomes a space of inspiration. The actors find a trail they haven’t yet followed, and the very fact of subjecting themselves to a space or rhythm is already more fertile than when they merely force things with their conscious minds. Just listening to this music makes the actor approach another landscape, helps them to get started in a different way. They enter a landscape of inspiration, confront their partner with something unexpected, and, all of a sudden, both of them find a trail that they hadn’t been able to approach up to that point – a trail that leads them to discoveries. For a long time, when I’ve observed actors in the process of exploration, if I’ve got a musical instrument to hand – such as a tambourine – very discreetly, as if I’m doing it for myself, I’ll use the instrument to ‘enter’ further into the bodies of the actors, to follow their rhythm, to listen to them and allow myself to be taken away by them. It’s then that I understand best what’s going on inside them. It’s as though the actor’s route becomes more visible, clearer for me.

Very often, the person sitting in the auditorium sees better where the actors are going than they do themselves. It’s only a matter of saying to them: ‘Yes, it’s that way’, or whispering in their ear that they should take more risks. If you say it to them after the rehearsal, it’s too late. Often I have particular moments of clarity but when I try to formulate them for the actors after the rehearsal, I feel that I’ve already left this landscape, that it’s not clear any more. I’d been aware of something during the rehearsal, and then I no longer have this awareness. I realized that, as a director, if I wanted to take part in the actors’ rhythmical improvisation, I couldn’t express myself verbally but rather through a musical movement, a rhythmical movement. It’s in such moments that the actors might be able to follow a path they wouldn’t have taken if they’d worked on their own.

The Brothel. Sketch for The Sleepwalkers [Lunatycy], by Krystian Lupa. From the artist’s personal archive.

The Brothel. Sketch for The Sleepwalkers [Lunatycy], by Krystian Lupa. From the artist’s personal archive.

I suppose that in ancient theatre the music that was being created entered into a state of communion with the actor. This is something like the theatre of Dionysus, in which the actor’s body and the actor’s ritual stimulate the music, in which the music is improvised as in jazz, in which the musician – inspired by this ritual – is engulfed within the same landscape and, in turn, inspires the actor. Thus a kind of space of ‘co-production’ is created where the active participation of the person watching provides a perspective beyond that of the actor. I am no longer a director. I am a spectator who provides inspiration. At that precise moment, I’m not in the process of creating a reality I want to attain, but rather I give myself to the actors just like the spectators give themselves – except that I possess an instrument with which I can convey my gift, my offering.

Thibaudat: From which comes this increasing impression, as your productions go by, that understanding is achieved more through the rhythm than the meaning of the words.

Lupa: The space between the spectator and the actor is dominated by the rhythm. And at the very moment when the rhythm manages to penetrate the two spaces there arises a phenomenon of intersubjectivity – the phenomenon that Teilhard de Chardin dreamed about with his concept of psychical interpenetration.[33] It’s exactly the same phenomenon as spiritualism: there’s a circle of people and a mechanism is set in motion that goes through the body, and at that moment the contents of each individual’s subconscious are brought into the creative domain. I think that a spiritual séance is not something entirely fake, but neither is it the conjuring-up of spirits; it’s the image of the collective unconscious of the group. In fact, the theatre is also a spiritual séance, which isn’t the case in cinema because with the film there isn’t this carnal, bodily involvement – which is absolutely essential.

Piotr Polak, Krzysztof Zawadzki, and Krystian Lupa rehearsing Factory 2 (2008). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Piotr Polak, Krzysztof Zawadzki, and Krystian Lupa rehearsing Factory 2 (2008). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

You give the impression that you guide the actors through music. Does that mean you don’t use verbal instructions? Some directors get up on stage and act; this doesn’t mean they want the actor to reproduce what they are performing, but that they try to enter into a physical dialogue with the actor. Do you use this form of ‘acting demonstration’?

Lupa: Yes – in a spontaneous way. But I don’t use words or even refer to the scene that the actor is performing. In other words, I don’t point things out head-on. I will never point out – as do other directors who are also actors – what the intonation of a phrase should be. With us, this happens spontaneously, in a different way. And in fact I’ve realized that in general, what I point out [to the actors] amounts to an attempt to set in motion the actor’s [inner] monologue. It’s not a matter of indicating to the actors what should be brought to light but what is happening in the landscape in which they find themselves. The ‘landscape’ is like the active imagination prior to the actors’ movement, before they express themselves. This landscape must exist before the words.

The actor has to learn the text by heart and you can’t escape this, but at its root, this mechanism is distorted. In the beginning is the word. [Often in the theatre], memory plays back the text like a cassette-tape, automatically, and the emotions follow after the words. This is what I call the ‘recitative’ way of acting, because with this approach the emotions have difficulty following the memorized words (at that point they are something secondary), and it happens this way whether the actor wishes it or not. But if an individual truly expresses themselves, it’s because their already existing ‘landscape’ allows them to speak in this way. As if there were something inside them – their desire or their imagination – that transforms itself into a movement-word. The landscape must be something much greater, neither completely identical to, nor consistent with what is written in the play. If the actor only has in their soul what has already been written, they aren’t in a position truly to express what they have to say.

Like any human being, the actor ought to want to say more, to say something else; then it can happen that speaking the lines becomes an extraordinary adventure, because the flow of words creates its own logic, which is always ‘to come’. Here’s a basic example of something becoming autonomous and even inconsistent with what we intended to say: I try to answer the question, ‘Why do I love you so much?’, but suddenly, in spite of myself, what comes out is why I loathe you so much at that particular moment. Constructing the tension between the landscape and the words that are to be said is very important. In rehearsals, I get up onstage when I sense that things aren’t alive prior to the words. The actor often says to me: ‘But I can’t do it like that’. And I reply: ‘Of course, you must do something completely different. What I’m showing you at the moment is just for you to oppose it – it’s what will allow you to create the inner tension’. Very often, when we speak in life we aren’t happy with what we’re saying. We’re unhappy because we don’t always manage to express ourselves the way we want. This puts us under pressure, and it leaves its mark on what we say. When we aren’t able truly to express what we’re going through, we often over-emphasize what we’re saying and give the impression that it’s particularly important at that point. All this makes up what I call the ‘landscape’.

Lupa rehearsing The Temptation of Quiet Veronica in Wrocław (1997) with Mariusz Kiljan (foreground) and Adam Szczyszczaj (at the table). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Lupa rehearsing The Temptation of Quiet Veronica in Wrocław (1997) with Mariusz Kiljan (foreground) and Adam Szczyszczaj (at the table). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

When I explain certain things to the actors, I tell them that I’m doing it for myself – I ask them to be patient, I build a kind of ‘fantasy’ around the theme that we’re working on. Basically, I don’t express what I already know, but I try to set in motion a state through which I hope to learn something about myself – through the words that I speak, through the challenges I impose upon myself. I often do this when I get the feeling that everything we’re doing onstage is too illustrative, too rational, because in life nothing is really like that. In life, we aren’t aware of everything that accompanies our actions – or, at least, we aren’t in a position to observe this ourselves. But when we try to stage a scene, we take an over-simplified path. The scene is constructed from what we know, and the moment comes when I realize that it’s flat, lacking in mystery, lacking that unpredictable element which is always present in life. Now that’s what gives energy to real events.

Lupa rehearsing The Temptation of Quiet Veronica with Ewa Skibińska. Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Lupa rehearsing The Temptation of Quiet Veronica with Ewa Skibińska. Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

When we were preparing The Master and Margarita (2002), the actors regarded my fantasies with a certain consternation, they felt like I was going mad. Then they began to realize that these areas were something I was moving towards consciously – that I wasn’t trying to find something to ‘perform’. When I spoke to them about the Moscow residents in Bulgakov’s book, it was difficult not to see this element of absurdity, of subterranean madness, this whole irrational motif; this meant that their relations weren’t based on psychology, but rather, as if from a tropism, the characters cut across the fields, they take shortcuts, like birds that suddenly fly away at the onset of autumn – birds who aren’t at all conscious of why they’re acting this way. We didn’t manage to explore these instincts through what are termed the actor’s ‘usual’ techniques – through the Stanislavsky method, for example. You can’t solve everything by answering the questions ‘What does the actor want?’ and ‘What does the character want?’ Very often the character doesn’t know what they want. It’s a very frequent situation in our contemporary reality: that of a person who doesn’t know what they want, but to whom something happens regardless.

Thibaudat: So, the actor must struggle against the straitjacket of the ‘text known-by-heart’ with the help of the landscape – which is its counterpoint – and the director too must struggle against the ‘knowhow’. The actors, like the director, must constantly put themselves at risk – must break the known, the knowhow.

Lupa: That’s it. Breaking, at a certain point, with something that has been accomplished successfully leads us to a despair that functions a little like how terror does in Kantor’s work. The actors put their trust in me, and I must push on past that border of the known, to force them into a situation in which their trust wavers. Because when we’re in a situation in which we feel completely at ease, then this is a state of death.

Of course, you might respond that after a certain time we can all meet up and tell ourselves, ‘Great, both parties allowed something to happen’. But when this was actually in the process of taking place, we were full of anxiety, of suffering, of mutual embarrassment, of reciprocal hostility – and this hostility too is a substance we can draw from. Conflicts are necessary – even conflicts that are quite far-reaching – because this demands that we discover within ourselves things we wouldn’t be able to find without this conflict. For a couple, a long-term relationship often leads to falsity: you begin to view the other person in a dishonest way, and yourself too. My relationship with the actor is a perverse relationship in which the two parties inflict suffering on each other in order to keep their union alive, but I would say that it’s a union that’s full of passion.

Lupa in rehearsals for Extinction [Wymazywanie] in Warsaw (2001). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Lupa in rehearsals for Extinction [Wymazywanie] in Warsaw (2001). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

I come back to your notion of the ‘landscape’. How do the actors construct their landscapes, and how do you help them to do this?

Lupa: It’s something very intimate for each actor. Visualizing this landscape is a phenomenon that occurs automatically in real life, but for an actor onstage, it remains a problem.

I know actors – particularly older actors – who don’t manage to attain a landscape. The actor’s personality combined with the presence of the landscape can make one actor great, whereas an absence of landscape might result in another actor lacking mystery and charisma. If great actors have always done this [activated their landscape] – instinctively, without necessarily doing it in a conscious way – it’s because, quite simply, at a certain point in their professional practice they managed to acquire this ability to mobilize themselves through a vision, or else they began to act and the vision immediately appeared from this.

In traditional theatre, you move straight to the staging of a scene: the director explains how they envisage the scene and puts this in place as if fitting together little pieces of wood or assembling blocks of Lego. ‘You sit here – first you stir your coffee with a spoon, next you clench your hands, and at that point you get up’, and so on. You notice that actors who work in this way often display an incredible awkwardness onstage. People who know how to walk normally suddenly forget how to walk when they get onstage, they have difficulty stirring their coffee with the spoon; they must re-learn everything. Gestures such as shaking hands or getting up from the table can only be attained after many rehearsals. This way of working is what happens most often in the theatre. By definition, it’s a failure, because the actor is a very complicated instrument – an actor is more complex than any Stradivarius; I read recently that Marilyn Monroe was once described as the ‘Stradivarius of sex’, and this is an image I really like.

Sandra Korzeniak as Marilyn Monroe in Lupa’s production of Persona: Marilyn (2009). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Sandra Korzeniak as Marilyn Monroe in Lupa’s production of Persona: Marilyn (2009). Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

On the other hand, when – through improvisation – something touches on the inner landscape, you come to the event, to the scene, in a deeper way. Of course, each time the result is different from what we’d previously imagined. Directors – especially young directors – are often afraid of what escapes their imagination. It’s the essential tension of the director’s imagination: the fear of seeing the actor get away from them, of the actor not doing what the director wants them to do. It seems quite normal today for the director to demand that they be obeyed, but such a director can only obtain an approximation, a reality much less profound than the true reality, because theatre produced in this way is always greatly over-simplified compared to reality itself. I’m not only speaking about psychological or realist theatre, but also about formal, choreographic theatre. Pina Bausch showed what it’s possible to achieve with the improvisational dimension that comes from the landscape, from the inner monologue: it’s very far from conventional ballet. That’s why Pina Bausch’s arrival on the scene was deeply striking.

Thibaudat: For you improvisation is never a mere exercise – but does it end up being a defining element of the process?

Lupa: It’s the most important part of the transition from imagination to incarnation. Afterwards we can assess if the improvisation has been beneficial – we can take such and such from it, and reject something else. But the actor ought never to stop improvising, even when performing night after night in a production. In each new scene, each new performance, you should reconstruct the landscape and not recall what you did the previous night, as this memory [of previous performances] constitutes a great danger. When an actor has had a flash of inspiration during a rehearsal and thus found a new path – a new, personal ‘armour’ for their character – very often, at the next rehearsal, it becomes over-simplified, monstrously automatic; the actor gives the impression that they’ve lost contact with their desire, with what the character desires. After the rapid progression of the night before, the actor wants to rediscover the same bodily movements, the same intonation they achieved then. Wanting to do the same thing again becomes a great threat. It’s what detaches us from true desire, because the character does not want to do something again; they simply want to do.

The ‘Inner Monologue’

Thibaudat: Can you expand on the connections between what you call the ‘inner monologue’ and the landscape?

Lupa: The inner monologue is a method that we use in the first phase of our confrontation with the character, when the character and the character’s imaginative world are being created, through everything that appears during our contact with the text – everything that is difficult to perceive and to express. When you make the initial contact with the character described by a given author, what’s essential is what is not expressed. The actor experiences a character like a body, like a dream; sometimes they experience it in the form of a piece of music, in the form of a laugh, sometimes they evoke an event from their past, sometimes they experience this character as someone they know, as a friend (but under no circumstances should they just start to move and to act like that friend). When I perceive the text in this way, it’s as though, through the theatre, I better understood my friend from the past, as if I experienced his presence inside me, his energy, and all that I wasn’t necessarily aware of when I was in actual contact with him.

The first improvisations – the ones in which we are trying to discover the characters and the meaning of the event – might concern the scene we are working on, or indeed something alongside the scene that is going on simultaneously in another space, or that took place the day before. Something must arouse our contact with the theatrical material. Each actor writes one or more inner monologues, and we can consider the series of these monologues to be like a stream of psychological events; some clearly perceived, others less explicit. For example, right now, as I’m speaking to you, I’m thinking at the same time about your hair – because it’s in front of me – and it might happen that my thoughts become caught up around your hair. Or I could be focusing on this cup while thinking of something else, or I might also focus on the door handle while listening to what’s going on in the street. Our senses are always in a permanent interrelationship, and if we aren’t aware of this in our inner monologue, we deprive it of its essential element. The actors who prepare in this way will write several monologues in a single day, according to different situations.

Krystian Lupa, Sandra Korzeniak, and Piotr Skiba in rehearsals for Persona: Marilyn. Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Krystian Lupa, Sandra Korzeniak, and Piotr Skiba in rehearsals for Persona: Marilyn. Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Writing a monologue is at the same time a way of trying out a pathway and a technique for inspiration; it’s like entering a garden and describing what you see there. There are lots of paths in this garden. If we walk alongside the fence, we won’t see the arbour [in another part of the garden] but our focus will be the nettles growing by the fence instead. If we cross the garden and go right over to the arbour, our focus will become that, and we might forget about the existence of the nettles. Thus, throughout the process of writing the monologue, different paths are explored and different elements are acquired that we’d never be aware of through a straightforward analysis of the situation. Moreover, writing the monologue is also a training for the character’s body. An actor knows that they won’t be able to write a good monologue and identify physically with their character if they don’t start to feel it out within themselves, if they don’t start pacing up and down the room in the footsteps of the character. Writing the monologue is a setting in motion of the character.

Picon-Vallin: You say ‘writing the inner monologue’. Is it really a matter of writing?

Lupa: Yes. I conduct this writing exercise as an initiatory period [in the process]. When you write, thought becomes clarified, the way it is formulated becomes more intense and it has the power to establish itself. Writing is an incitement to develop something further. I tell the actor: ‘When you don’t know something, try to clarify the question in writing’. Once it’s been written down, the question continues to act on our minds, and in the morning when we wake up, we may have a response. Picasso used to say: ‘When you don’t know how to go on, change tools’. Writing is also a tool to get in touch with your soul, with your imagination; it’s not a way of practising literature but of stirring up the fires of your imagination.

When one of our actors approaches an improvisation, they have in front of them the sheets of paper they’ve written on, which give them something to refer to. Very often before an improvisation, I catch actors reading through their monologues, so I say to them: ‘When you want to have something to refer to, read your monologue, but don’t learn it as if you were revising for an exam. In any case, you already have it inside you; if you’ve written it down, you don’t need to read it – that will come at the appropriate time. Then, what emerges won’t be only what you’ve written, but also areas that you hardly touched on – if at all – during the writing process’. A written monologue contains ten other monologues that haven’t yet been written out, that I carry within myself; actually, it’s enough to believe I have them to have them in reality. If the actor doesn’t lose faith, their inner monologue in performance will be an entirely different creation.

When the actor begins to establish a landscape – for example, ‘she’s just insulted me’ – they must be struck by this landscape. Very often, when I observe an actor in performance, I have the impression that they don’t know precisely what they are doing because they haven’t constructed the landscape that precedes what they are saying. This prior landscape provides a way of accessing the actor’s energy. An actor who embellishes the spoken word with feelings and emotions is an actor lacking in energy – they are without mystery. They’re an industrious worker, the painstaking craftsman of a fixed form, someone who imitates. And if they imitate, that means that they’re not managing to access the mystery of their own energy.

Picon-Vallin: Does the inner monologue remain entirely personal, or is it actually material that the director and the acting partners know too?

Lupa: When the actors improvise, they don’t know their partners’ inner monologues. You could say that their inner monologues confront one another through the improvisation itself. At the drama school, following an improvisation, we read out the monologues and ask ourselves which parts were ‘active’, which had potential, and which were dead. We’ve always done this. At the theatre, this didactic element isn’t present. When the actor writes a monologue, it’s their secret. I don’t ask them to read it publicly. Even at the school, at a certain point, I tell the actors: ‘Write your own inner monologue – something you don’t have to show and that you can be sure no one will make you read’. It can happen that the actors do wish to share their personal monologues with the others. This occurred during rehearsals for Klara’s Relations (2003), a play by Dea Loher, where the majority of the actors were my former students. These are extraordinary moments, confessions, and we feel the happiness of sharing in a loving community. But I have never initiated such experiences.

Picon-Vallin: Does the inner monologue written by the actor still remain within them as they rehearse, or can sections of this inner monologue interfere with the author’s text or with the adaptation?

Lupa: The inner monologue creates some distance between the actor and the playtext. But gradually, through the iterations of work with the text, it’s as if the actor enlarges the landscape: by enriching it with elements that weren’t present before and by opening themselves up to discovering actions they could never find in approaching the playtext directly. It’s when the inner monologue is at its fullest and most anarchic in relation to the playtext that the extension of the character is developed; it’s in this phase that I discover many things within my body, pathways into the space, it’s there that the mystery – which I couldn’t discover in a direct way – appears in the ‘colour’ of the relationships with my partner. This is when I discover my own music and rhythm. Once it’s been written, the monologue only acts like a reservoir, a store that the actor may draw on at any time.

You could say that when the actor gets closer to the playtext, when they approach the final stage of the character’s development, the inner monologue becomes transformed. Its initial versions stay in the shadows, but they remain in the form of a memory, a feeling, as something that you simultaneously possess and no longer possess. Very often, the director tells the actors: ‘This is something that you should know, but also that you should forget immediately. You certainly shouldn’t play it out, and you shouldn’t think about it’.

These are deep layers, which enter into the body but will remain present within the actor’s emotional aura. When they act, all these elements cannot be on the same psychological level. I’ll take an example: someone is in a state of extreme anxiety at two in the morning because someone close to him was meant to come over at ten the previous evening and still hasn’t arrived. I can’t get through on my mobile, I’m going mad, my landscape is telling me he’s gone under a tram (he always has to cross at a dangerous place, and he nearly got hit by a tram last week), I start dripping with sweat. This image means that I pace up and down the room like a caged animal; I pick up a book because I tell myself: ‘No, no, it’s not true, there’s some innocent explanation for what has happened. I’ll find out what it is in a minute’. I pick up a book but I’m in no state to read – even worse, I read this book and all I see in it is macabre sentences. I put on a record, my favourite Beethoven quartet, and I find my favourite piece unbearable – something screams at me through this quartet that he’s fallen under a tram; I find in the music the landscape of the accident, I hear the ambulance siren, and so on. After two hours, my body is filled with anxiety, the landscape has sunk into my body. Suddenly the telephone rings. I pick up the receiver and answer: ‘Good morning, sir. Yes, yes, everything’s going well. Yes, yes, I’m very optimistic about our deal, we’re getting to the final stages without any problems’. At this point, the action is optimistic because the boss and I have a deal that’s going well, but this is entirely distinct from what I’m living through at the same time. In order to perform this scene, I must hide my landscape very deeply (‘My God, what’s happened to him?’) and must place an optimistic action in front of the ‘viewfinder’ of my will. If the actor sets these two elements at the same level, he’ll never be able to perform this phone call. When he speaks on the phone, he’s going to perform his anxiety, but it’s not something that he should ‘act’, he should already have it within himself.

You could say, therefore, that the inner monologues settle deep down, like sediment. The artist who sculpted the figures at Notre-Dame de Paris sculpted them for God and not for men, and it’s thanks to this that the architecture gives us the impression of being so profound and authentic. If we make do only with what is going to be seen, we obtain a flat, false effect. So I sometimes tell the actors that their ‘outer wall’ is false. They reply that the audience won’t be aware of this, but I tell them that this is of importance to the other actors, who are the ones who will be near this ‘wall’. When another actor approaches this wall, if it seems inauthentic to them, they’ll never be able to have a genuine relationship with the space.

Thibaudat: Does the notion of the inner monologue take into account the staging?

Lupa: [Often in the theatre], the staging of a scene comes to fruition through what I’d call ‘acting from instructions’. The staging of a scene and the memory of this staging create a series of instructions for the actor: ‘First you sit down, next you pick up the spoon, then you listen to what your partner has to say, then you step back’. Of course, this kind of instruction still functions for us within our work, because you can’t act a scene that is totally lacking in instructions. It all depends if these instructions are placed to the fore, in the actor’s psyche, or if they are pushed towards the background, on the sidelines.

Lupa rehearsing Kalkwerk for the 2003 revival of his 1992 production. Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

Lupa rehearsing Kalkwerk for the 2003 revival of his 1992 production. Photograph: Katarzyna Pałetko.

With an actor who works by improvising through the inner monologue, these instructions are hidden. And essentially, it’s enough for them to have faith that they know the path to follow for them not to feel obliged to cling to it obsessively. It’s like when the lines from a play come to you as you speak them; you shouldn’t get nervous or anxious about ‘fixing’ them, because a text that’s been learned too well paralyzes the actor. Personally I never set out to learn the text, but when the first night arrives I know it by heart – I’m able to prompt the actors. It’s very interesting to note that actors who use the ‘staging by instruction’ method are often completely helpless when they forget their lines. It’s the result of an entirely artificial approach, whereas on the other hand, these two elements of the landscape and inner monologue become part of the ‘stream’ that serves the actor in performance. It’s obvious that the actor functions differently from the character. A complete identification of an actor’s experience with that of the character is neither possible nor useful, and nothing good ever results from such attempts at identification. Even if, of course, the dream of identification still exists within us.

We always come back to the inner monologue. Let’s take an example: if the actor, when approaching the character, writes several monologues, they can feel as if they are entering spheres that relate to their intuition – through their emotions and everything that is imperceptible in their vision of the character. In this there lies an extraordinary energy, a fantastic reservoir we don’t normally have access to. On several occasions – notably at the drama school, where the improvisations can take on a more experimental, more radical nature – we’ve been able to show that the actor, armed with these written monologues, is much closer to the character and that the fruits of their work are much more authentic. Moreover, their results go beyond our expectations, because if the actor is well prepared, they no longer need to concentrate exclusively on themselves during the improvisation. The actor who feels uncertain about what is going to happen focuses on themselves, on their fear of being compromised. Here there is a vast territory that has never been completely explored, as though everyone is wary of approaching it. This fear still exists within the theatre. The actor who has prepared using the inner monologue loses this fear, because they desire to act rather than working out how to act. Lacking this fear of becoming compromised, they’re in a position to concentrate more on what their partner gives them. Conversely, the actor paralysed by fear can’t do this – they’re not fully aware of what their partner is doing. And if all the actor does is respond to their partner’s movement within the narrow confines of what they were doing the day before, the spectator will always sense the falseness of this acting, or will be deprived of the emotions that should have extended beyond the partners’ exchange and been conveyed to the audience. Hence the importance of the inner monologue, which allows the improvisation to be ‘primed’ and the actor to be ready to listen to the partner. The inner monologue doesn’t anticipate the development of the scene, which, when we’re truly improvising, can take a route that the author hadn’t anticipated – for example, a happy ending instead of a catastrophe. The improvisation is a penetration into a certain area and not the illustration of an event that’s been described.

The inner monologue is a path, while the landscapes are the key moments along this path – those points when we have to change our character’s trajectory. At these moments, the landscape strikes us. Let’s take an example of a landscape: ‘My God, what she just said really hurt me; it’s scandalous, impossible, I can’t just accept it or let it go!’ This is a landscape that I must visualize and experience, so my trajectory changes. The landscape is an active motif along the path of the monologue. Of course, the inner monologue of an actor in a particular performance can vary: ‘Why is she smiling like that today? Why is her smile so different from yesterday? Why has she got a spot on her nose?’ This concerns my acting partner. This landscape is entitled to exist inwardly, in secret; it intervenes in my relationship with my partner. Thus, in the actor’s inner monologue we find motifs derived from the character, just as we find motifs concerning the actor’s present relationship with their acting partners. If someone drops something onstage, this becomes part of my inner monologue. An actor who didn’t incorporate this would see the spectator’s trust disappear immediately.

The artist’s ‘moral code’ consists in making the greatest self-sacrifice to create the best possible work, the closest to their desire. Then, it’s up to the spectator to accept or reject it. If the artist plays for the spectator, it’s prostitution. There is a paradox here: the artist who takes the spectator into account offers them something mediocre, whereas the artist who doesn’t offers a work that aspires to the highest possible value. Therefore the artist who doesn’t play for the spectator actually does so to a greater extent because they offer the spectator greater spiritual nourishment.

Determining the Space

Thibaudat: Continuing with paradoxes, we could also speak about the paradox of space in your productions, which are organized around a void.

Lupa: In the theatre I’ve always been considered a visual artist, and it’s always been said that I give a lot of importance to the composition and rhythm of the space, to the aesthetics of the image. I agree with whoever says that an image or object is beautiful when it is useful or when it expresses a truth. I feel very close to the observation Broch made when he criticized romanticism for considering beauty to be an objective in itself. If we strive towards beauty as an objective in itself, it eludes us. Beauty is revealed to us when it appears in passing, when we are striving towards a completely different aim. I’ve always wondered about what a space means for the person who enters it. A new space has to be tamed. When we enter a café and look for a table, we aren’t making a random choice. Personally, I always have to have a wall behind me. If I’m like you are at the moment, with my back to an empty space, I probably wouldn’t be able to keep focused.

When we come into conflict with another person, we move around in the space like predetermined particles. The actor and the director must understand the space into which they introduce the character. A person who feels threatened will experience things differently from someone who feels safe. If someone is afraid that the person they’re waiting for has had an accident, they will experience their room as a prison cell.

Odysseus’s Bed. Preliminary sketch by Krystian Lupa for The Return of Odysseus (1999). From the artist’s personal archive.

Odysseus’s Bed. Preliminary sketch by Krystian Lupa for The Return of Odysseus (1999). From the artist’s personal archive.

[In our work], we’ve created something called ‘the spectrum of concentration’ of a certain state – just as we would speak about the spectrum of a particular kind of light, which is made up of several different colours. In just the same way, when you examine a person’s psychological state, their ‘spectrum’ contains several different motifs of space. Someone who is waiting anxiously will begin to listen out for noises from the street, for the creaking of the stairs; they will have a different perception of the sound-space. They will also regard what we might call ‘daily’ objects in a different way: for example, a chair to sit on, a sofa on which to lie down. Someone who feels calm doesn’t have a problem with these objects, but someone who feels anxious might end up avoiding the chair and the sofa. [Another example:] the space of a café is a routine space – it’s very different from a beach. Let’s say that two people who were going to meet up at a café end up meeting at the seaside. They’re not going to sit down opposite each other at a table but side-by-side on the beach, to speak of their love as they look out to sea, and so on. This ‘determining’ of the space will also lead their conversation along a different path. When you elaborate a scene for the stage, you determine the space. If someone really manages to ‘read’ this description of the space, they will discover the truth of this scene. On the other hand, if they don’t manage to decipher this space, if the resulting space is false, this scene can never be something revelatory.

The Lake. Sketch for the set design by Krystian Lupa for Unfinished Work for an Actor, based on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and Yasmina Reza’s A Spanish Play (2004). From the artist’s personal archive.

The Lake. Sketch for the set design by Krystian Lupa for Unfinished Work for an Actor, based on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and Yasmina Reza’s A Spanish Play (2004). From the artist’s personal archive.

We are aware of [the possibilities for] determining a scene through the space and, conversely, of determining what’s happening within us in a particular space through the scene – which means that we can take whichever path is needed. If we manage to make a real discovery, the composition of the scene becomes very beautiful; but if we don’t manage to discover the truth of the situation, we get the impression that the composition of the scene is incidental, unsatisfactory, and therefore ugly. I never start from the principle that it must be beautiful, because that emerges of its own accord, provided that we manage to unravel the mystery of the determining.

Thibaudat: Which means that the space is constructed as the rehearsals proceed.

Lupa: Absolutely – it’s the actors themselves who discover the space. I never say to the actors: ‘You should stand over here’; they find this through improvisation. If I feel that something isn’t quite right, I don’t try to impose a position, but I speak to them at length about their stresses, their fears, until they themselves find the right corner of the space.

Picon-Vallin: Is that also why you are also the set designer for your productions?

Lupa: At the beginning of work on a production, I’m not in a position to be able to prepare the set design; I can’t prepare a theatre set in advance of rehearsals. I can’t picture the space. During the rehearsals, I begin to visualize it. What’s very important in my idea of set design is that we make a performance where the space can evolve. It’s then that we discover the ‘matrix-space’ that contains within it all the other spaces – an archetypal space. If the set designer restricts themselves to portraying a succession of different spaces, each of them is only illustrative in relation to the needs of a given scene. And if the spaces have no connection between them, the whole performance becomes illustrative, it loses the ‘mystery’ of the space. The evolution of the space during the [creation of a] performance is a part of the progression towards discovering its mystery. To succeed in understanding exactly what this matrix-space consists of is always a kind of illumination for me. If I don’t reach this point of illumination, I end up with a ‘compromise space’, which is what happened with the first version of The Sleepwalkers (1995).

Approaching the Text

Thibaudat: So I understand that when you design these spaces, you do so as the rehearsals go along. At the start, when the rehearsals begin, is there the text and nothing but the text?

Lupa: If we’re working on a play, yes. Initially, I don’t want to read all the peripheral aspects – the various interpretations and critiques of the text. If it’s an adaptation, then at least at the beginning, I try to find my own landscape. Not according to a fresh reading of the text, but according to the ‘deep text’ – the result of a reading that dates back several years. The memory of a text that’s been read five or more years ago is like something that has remained submerged out under the sea. All kinds of plants take root in it. If I’ve only just read the text, I don’t get to work with these plants, the scenes become an obstruction for me – I have the impression that my room becomes very cluttered. [When I was working on] The Master and Margarita I only re-read the whole text at the end of the first series of rehearsals [having already read it years previously]. Up to then I’d only re-read certain key scenes, which – in a way – I loaded onto the structure that I’d already assimilated from before.

If we stage a play, we remain in contact with the text for some time. We read it three, four, or five times, we immerse ourselves in it; then comes the moment when we must abandon it and begin to rehearse without having learnt the text. The actors carry out their initial improvisations in relation to the text but with their own words, while keeping within their landscape what they’ve read. I come to another paradox, which is that the text then appears at the end of the process, like foam carried along by underwater currents, and the truth is written within these currents. We often end up being dishonest in what we say in a text – when we speak, we don’t always manage to say concretely what it is that we want, or we allow ourselves to submit to the pressure of the dialogue. In other words, we don’t say what we want to say but what the course of the dialogue pushes us to say. We often end up in a situation where we have to go and see the boss because we’re upset about something. But, in actual fact, we end up speaking a bit about how we are, about where we’ve been, about the latest gossip, and the conversation stops there. For the actor, after the first reading, in which we emphasize the text itself, there then emerges what we call the ‘underwater currents’. This is something embryonic, barely sketched out, and sometimes it doesn’t get beyond that stage. In the theatre, you very often get the impression that you’re hearing words that are very heavy, like bullets, and that everything I call the ‘currents’ – all these energies, these internal motifs – are only like little sperm tails: wretched, unimportant little things. Often directors consider a scene to be simply an illustration of the text, and they say to the actors: ‘Maybe you could sit down when you say that’ or ‘Maybe you could move your fingers on the table’. It’s this ‘maybe’ that is characteristic here; there isn’t any necessity in it, just a potential possibility that evokes everyday life – so it’s not a discovery of the mystery which, at that moment, is inferred by the text. At a certain stage of the creative process the actor must abandon the text in order to return to it from ‘underneath’, and to push it again to the surface as an expression of their desires, their lies, their strategies, as an outburst of emotion.

Thibaudat: In your work we can speak about two families of texts. On one hand, your adaptations of long prose texts (Musil, Broch, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, etc.) and, on the other, the plays – which are often short. On one hand, a textual ‘magma’ that you dive right into, and on the other, ready material in which the text interests you less than what lies between the lines.

Lupa: I’d be lying if I were to say that this is something deliberate or planned, like when farmers rotate their crops. Sometimes when I’m finishing an adaptation, I dream about a play and vice versa. To stage only plays would be like mass production; I’m repelled by this prospect, because I see a risk of just creating a production line. There is, therefore, a certain alternation. But there is also a difference between the effects of these two different paths, which is a result of their very nature. When I do an adaptation from a ‘magma’, this doesn’t come only from the nature of the texts themselves – these literary texts I adore which confront the very limits of the human condition, these pages in Broch or Bernhard where human beings no longer understand themselves.

Dead Hentjen: sketch by Krystian Lupa for The Sleepwalkers (1995, 1998). From the artist’s personal archive.

Dead Hentjen: sketch by Krystian Lupa for The Sleepwalkers (1995, 1998). From the artist’s personal archive.

In The Sleepwalkers, Broch chooses a protagonist who is opaque to himself; he’s not a man with a gift for self-reflection, he’s an instinctive, sombre man, who rather moves around in a sphere of magical impressions, whose nature was unknown to Broch. The author ‘sinks into’ his protagonist as if into a space that he doesn’t seem to know himself, and it’s that confrontation with this other person that allows him to plunge into this sphere – as if jumping into deep water. He got to know [the character] as he was writing him. He wasn’t writing what he already knew; this is what fascinates me, this ‘magma’ that I find in his books – but also the fact that all his works are possessed of a dimension that goes beyond what it is possible to perform. They are journeys. Novelists undertake this kind of experience more and more often. To enter a novel is to enter a universe that goes beyond the realms of human life, of our spiritual capacities. If we take Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, we are dealing with a search for lost time. Such a book can never be finished. The writing of it becomes an increasingly bigger task, it’s like seaweed that keeps on growing – each motif gives rise to ten other motifs. In this case, to approach a reality, whatever it may be, is a process independent of our will – that is, if we want to be faithful to this reality that we discover through the writing process. Musil died while writing his novel; I find that very interesting, independently of the private tragedy of his death. Because in this way a hybrid work was being created, a work that – up to a certain point – is woven by the author and which then breaks up, explodes into thousands of notes, with multiple variations, things that exclude each other. But why should these different descriptions of reality be mutually exclusive? At a certain moment, the author might reject something; but perhaps it might be better not to reject it? The death of Musil during the writing process allowed a fascinating book to come into existence – precisely through this breaking-up, this explosion of any construction. Perhaps we wouldn’t have the impression of such a great, metaphysical dispersal (because, for me, this explosion is something metaphysical) if such a vigorous discipline hadn’t come before it. Thus, we can see that there is a pole of organization and a pole of chaos, and between them we can discover the truth of human work, in which these two elements are in constant conflict. It’s this category of works that attracts me.

Content image
Costume designs by Krystian Lupa for The Sleepwalkers (1995, 1998). From the artist’s personal archive.

Costume designs by Krystian Lupa for The Sleepwalkers (1995, 1998). From the artist’s personal archive.

As far as plays are concerned, I’m delighted that young dramatists are moving away from the conventional ‘well-written’ dimension of plays that tell a story. It’s only the great geniuses like Anton Chekhov who manage to tell a story and at the same time keep the truth of the dialogues, while also sustaining this internal energy. When people talk among themselves, they aren’t interested in a story; when they engage in dialogue, [the story] breaks up, what they wanted to achieve quickly becomes dragged out – this is the truth of human conversation. The Polish critics attacked Dea Loher, the author of Klara’s Relations (2003), by saying that my production was good, but that Dea Loher had written a bad text, that the characters’ language was inauthentic. Dea Loher wrote a good text, but it happens that the dialogue is not always faithful to the psychological truth, that it departs into a lyrical sequence or transforms into a newspaper piece, or becomes a kind of sketch. The author manages to display a great sensitivity to the dialogue and to its human side, but at certain times she departs from this and begins to explore something else. Why shouldn’t this happen? These contemporary dramatists write more for the truth of what is happening within what I call ‘the writing organism’ – in this case that of the author, who up to now had to hide away everything that wasn’t relevant to the ‘theme’. This tendency in new writing for the theatre is something very promising and very innovative.

Pedagogical Practice

Picon-Vallin: Today, you teach at the PWST in Kraków, where you were a student. How do you approach teaching directing there?

Lupa: It’s not possible to learn about directing as a whole. What is possible is to take a look at various areas and then set out on a common path. For several years, we concentrated on space. From our observations, we tried to examine how the space can be hostile to us and to take our research as far as possible – to discover the various imperatives that impose themselves on us [in staging a scene]; in other words, to investigate how to read the demands of the material we’re working on. We used the same approach when we were trying to determine the subtle and hidden demands that can emerge from working on literature. When you begin to study their logic, sentences that previously seemed obvious suddenly cease to be so, and we discover another truth that calls them into question. In other words, we need to establish our tools as soon as possible in order to understand the particular requirements of literature, starting with the genesis of a literary work. Because usually [during the classes] we don’t restrict ourselves to drama, and we also look into literature as a means of transmitting a spiritual message, an attempt to recount an event, a means of describing the world, of acting as a bridge between human spirituality and the world. Understanding literature as a universe in itself also provides a model for the creative mechanisms that will then begin to function in the theatre – because creation in the theatre depends on this attempt to reach the ‘low’ or the ‘primary’ regions of the literature.

I’d like to approach the same question from another angle that I consider to be very important: how to establish the best creative relationship between me – the teacher – and the student? The situation will be of greatest benefit if the student comes to know more about the basic material than I do; whether it’s a question of the reader (the student) being the one who discovers the text, or a question of using a text about which I know nothing at all. All I do then is prompt the student with questions, and it is they who teach me. In such a situation, they get to explore their fascination to the full and, at the same time, my questions are genuine questions and not Socratic questions, which I find condescending. If, when faced with certain material, the teacher senses nothing new and thus learns nothing, then this relationship is lacking in life.

Another important point: the relationship between the director’s imagination and the actor. It’s very difficult for a director to create a distance between what is in their imagination and the actor. This is especially the case with young directors, who possess their own vision and want to transmit it through the actor – who they only consider to be a body (an object) that should serve [the director’s] image. This is a completely ‘normal’ relationship between the image and the creative material. The image is internal, the stone is external. The image is internal; the words, the language, and the flow of the writing are external. We always have to deal with this simple figure of the relationship between what is internal, and its external representation. In a difficult and interesting way, this figure becomes more complicated in the theatre because the actor is not just something material, they also have an imagination. The image emerges on two levels: on one hand there is the one that creates the performance, and on the other is the one that bears the character – that is to say, the actor accomplishing this alchemic transfiguration of their own body into the body of the character. This is the only instance [in the arts] in which the creative matter is another individual, who has their own feelings of shame, their dreads, their passions, their obsessions, their worries – and all this will be swept up into the stream of the creative process.

Lupa (second from right) observing students’ work with colleagues at the PWST in Kraków in the 1990s. Photograph from the director’s personal archive.

Lupa (second from right) observing students’ work with colleagues at the PWST in Kraków in the 1990s. Photograph from the director’s personal archive.

At the beginning, the young director often has the impression that all these elements only serve to hinder them, and that the personality and imagination of the actor impede the director’s own process of creation; this persists for as long as these elements remain unrecognized. The director is afraid of the resistance of this stranger who they don’t know and don’t like (because very often they may come to dislike the actor during the process of creation). This can even go as far as hatred because, during the work, the actor may seem to be too rigid, too lazy, and doesn’t manage to anticipate sufficiently the director’s wishes. This hatred is something organic, and we have no right to ignore it or to lie to ourselves about it. A great deal of dishonesty in the actor-director relationship arises from the refusal of this truth. It is sustained at a deep level and distorts our work. And on the evening of the premiere, there can be a deep hatred, a degree of humiliation, and a bitterness between the actors and the director.

This hatred constitutes a precious creative material, on the condition that it is allowed to be expressed. Because there is also something else that can be born from a performance, and this is love: an extraordinary friendship – not personal, but the friendship of a creative community. This friendship and this love can assimilate the hatred on condition that we understand this hybrid relationship between the director and the actor. The actor must know how to go beyond their own small patch, and the director must allow [the actor] to co-direct with them. I don’t believe in creation in the theatre in which the actors do not participate in the directing. The actor who doesn’t understand the director considers them to be a terrible egoist. The director who doesn’t understand the very complex process of creating the character truly becomes an egoist, because they see the actor as a threat to their dream. This is something else that we learn during the directing class [at PWST], but I prefer to speak about dialogues between the director and the actor, because what we are really doing is learning to discuss.

Picon-Vallin: At the school, do you work simultaneously with the directors and the actors?

Lupa: I work each year with a group of actors and a group of directors. Separately during the first semester, then together on a joint project. It’s only being able to conduct this dialogue between the director and the actors that allows us to realize just how much we each misunderstood the other before. We’re always more comfortable with what we’ve said ourselves than with what we’ve heard. But it’s at the moment of confrontation, at the start of constructing the scene together that we can see just how far we were from understanding each other.

Krystian Lupa in 2007. Photograph: Piotr Skiba, from the director’s personal archive.

Krystian Lupa in 2007. Photograph: Piotr Skiba, from the director’s personal archive.

An example: the actors are showing us an improvisation that’s in process, in which they’ve moved forward in elaborating their characters’ desires – they know the image and the desires of their characters, and they’re already at the later stages of writing their inner monologues. And the group of directors watches this improvisation for the first time. At first, the actors who’ve just been improvising aren’t allowed to say anything. For two hours, the directors try to analyse what they’ve seen, what they’ve maybe guessed about. At this stage, I ask the actors to be patient and to listen. They aren’t allowed to argue or to reject what they consider to be false trails, but they must allow themselves to become interested in what these spectators – who weren’t aware of the starting point for the improvisation – have been able to see in it. The director may develop their own vision – they define their own stage logic and allocate tasks to the actors – but we don’t consider all this in a formal way.

Then I suggest to the actors that they respond to the thinking of each of the directors. It’s their turn to speak and they have the opportunity to express themselves at length. Everything lies in this ‘long discourse’.[34] I can’t be satisfied only with noting something [and moving on]; I try to go into things more deeply, I think out loud, I contradict myself. In this way the actors express themselves in the most exhaustive manner about what the director has added to the characters. ‘What inspired me?’, ‘What am I missing?’, ‘What do I want to go away and work out on my own?’, ‘What don’t I accept about what the director has given me?’, ‘What troubles me about the character that has begun to develop in me?’, and so on.

And, again, I ask the directors to give of themselves completely – not to be rigid, not just to attack ferociously. If we reach the stage where we find a genuine interest in what we’re being criticized for, then we no longer consider it as a personal attack. Of course, at the beginning, this process is painful, but generally we manage to create a situation in which the element of threat disappears. We feel that we are able to remain friends precisely because we can each speak implacably about what we feel. It’s exactly like with a couple who, in arguing with each other, learn that love is precisely that. We can speak in a cruel way about what we see in the other person. And you can only expect such cruelty from the person who loves you. This reciprocal cruelty is a great lesson that we can and must draw from the extremely difficult relationship that is being formed between the actor and the director.

Picon-Vallin: We haven’t heard much of the words ‘acting’, or ‘to act’, and the whole playful side that that implies.

Lupa: Because we don’t need them. We’ve created the notion of ‘the healthy actor’. A healthy actor is someone who forgets themselves, and forgets the question ‘Am I great?’, because they devote themselves entirely to developing the individual that they bear within them. And at that very point, they give themselves up entirely to the mystery of what is taking place. We are present at the actor’s immense happiness, at that joy which the actor passes on to the spectator. We could say that one of the mysteries of catharsis is the existence of that joy.

Translated from French by Jancis Clarke, with Duncan Jamieson and Marie Magneron.


  1. ^ The French version was published as Krystian Lupa, interviews by Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, with the collaboration of Béatrice Picon-Vallin, Ewa Pawlikowska, and Michel Lisowski (Arles: Actes Sud, 2004). Unless otherwise stated, all footnotes are by the PTP editors.
  2. ^ PWST: Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Teatralna.
  3. ^ The ‘Lupa Festival’ celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the director’s artistic practice was held from 7 to 24 May 2003 in Kraków. Seven of Lupa’s performances were presented, accompanied by a seminar session. The production of Kalkwerk (originally premiered 1992) was revived for this occasion, and this version of the production was later shown at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York in 2009.
  4. ^ Along with Gdańsk and Szczecin, Jastrzębie Zdrój became an early centre of the Solidarity movement in August 1980. Jastrzębie Zdrój was the site of the Porozumienia jastrzębskie (Jastrzębie agreement) made on 3 September 1980, in which the communist government made further concessions to workers linked to the well-known Gdańsk agreement (30 and 31 August, and 3 September 1980).
  5. ^ Jerzy Jarocki (b. 1929) graduated from the Acting Faculty of the National Drama School in Kraków. He studied directing at GITIS (State Institute of Theatre Art) in Moscow. Jarocki staged his first production in 1957 in Katowice, and in 1962 became a director at the Stary Theatre (Old Theatre) in Kraków. (J-P.T.).
  6. ^ It is likely that Lupa is referring from memory to passages from the ‘Theatre of Death’ manifesto, in which Kantor describes the actor as follows: ‘OPPOSITE those who remained on this side [the audience], there stood a HUMAN DECEPTIVELY SIMILAR to them, yet (by some secret and ingenious “operation”) infinitely DISTANT, shockingly FOREIGN, as if DEAD, cut off by an invisible BARRIER – no less horrible and inconceivable, whose real meaning and THREAT appear to us only in DREAMS. [...] This must have been a SHOCK – a metaphysical shock. [...] ...this specific relationship,/which is terrifying/and at the same time compelling,/this relationship of the living to the dead, [...] as if we/were seeing them for the first time/placed on display/in an ambiguous ceremony [...] it is only in the presence of the dead/that there is born in us a sudden and startling/realization [of the] lack of difference/ between them’. Tadeusz Kantor, ‘The Theatre of Death’ (1975), trans. by Michal Kobialka, in Kobialka, Further On, Nothing: Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), pp. 230-239 (pp. 237-38).
  7. ^ Konrad Swinarski (1929-1975) died in an aeroplane crash near Damascus on 19 August 1975, at the age of 46. He had been returning from the Shiràz Festival in Iran, to complete work on his production of Hamlet. A graduate of the Warsaw Art School, he had then travelled to Germany to work with Brecht, and had later become his assistant. Back in Poland, he worked in various theatres and in 1965 officially became director at the Stary Theatre in Kraków. (J-P.T.)
  8. ^ Mikołaj Grabowski (b. 1946) also went on to become a successful actor, theatre director, and teacher, having graduated from the PWST in Kraków with diplomas in acting (1969) and directing (1977).
  9. ^ In Moscow, Jarocki studied at GITIS in the academic year 1955-1956, along with his fellow directing student Jerzy Grotowski. Jarocki’s principal tutor was Nikolay M. Gorchakov, a collaborator of Stanislavsky and the author of Stanislavsky Directs, trans. by Miriam Goldina (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1954).
  10. ^ Verfremdungseffekt: alienation or distancing effect. (J-P. T.).
  11. ^ Krystyna Skuszanka (1924-2011) and Jerzy Krasowski (1925-2008) – a married couple – were artistic directors of various theatres in Kraków, Nowa Huta, Warsaw, and Wrocław from 1955 to 1990.
  12. ^ For further details of Stanislavsky’s use of kusoki, see Konstantin Stanislavsky, ‘Bits and Tasks’, in An Actor’s Work, trans. by Jean Benedetti (Abingdon, Oxon, and New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 135-151.
  13. ^ Kazimierz Wyka (1910-1975) was a literary critic and professor at the Jagiellonian University, specialising in Romanticism and Młoda Polska (the ‘Young Poland’ school, 1890-1914). His literary seminars in the 1950s initiated the ‘krakowska szkoła krytyki’ (Kraków school of criticism) which included figures such as Jan Błoński, Ludwik Flaszen, Andrzej Kijowski, and Konstanty Puzyna (see ‘On Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class’, elsewhere in this volume, pp. 343-53 of the print edition). Błoński (1931-2009) was also a critic, translator, and professor at the Jagiellonian University, as well as being a student of Wyka. He was author of a famous essay on Polish-Jewish relations after the Second World War, ‘Biedni Polacy patrzą na getto’ (The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto; 1987), and editor of the Polish edition of the complete works of Witold Gombrowicz. For Ludwik Flaszen’s comments on Wyka, see A Word About Poor Theatre’ in Voices from Within: Grotowski’s Polish Collaborators, ed. by Paul Allain and Grzegorz Ziółkowski (London: PTP, 2015), pp. 17-35.
  14. ^ Apocalypsis cum figuris was presented in three different versions between 1968 and 1980. Lupa would have seen the final version of the piece, which was performed from 1973 onwards.
  15. ^ In Apocalypsis cum figuris, Cieślak played Ciemny (in Polish literally: ‘The Dark One’; translated in the Teatr Laboratorium’s English-language programmes as ‘The Simpleton’). In the production, Ciemny is taunted, mocked, and abused by a group of drunks, who cast him as the Saviour, and themselves as Biblical characters: Simon Peter, Mary Magdalene, John, Judas, and Lazarus. Konstanty Puzyna comments that Cieślak’s ‘is a great performance, probably more brilliant than his Constant Prince, though apparently less graphic’. See Puzyna, ‘A Myth Vivisected: Grotowski’s Apocalypsis’, in The Grotowski Sourcebook, ed. by Lisa Wolford and Richard Schechner (London and New York: Routledge, 2001; 2nd edn), pp. 88-106 (p. 94).
  16. ^ Alina Obidniak (b. 1931) is an actor and theatre director. She graduated with a diploma in acting from the PWST in Kraków, and studied directing at GITIS in Moscow (where she became one of the closest friends of Jerzy Grotowski), and then in Łódź. She served as artistic director of theatres in Kalisz (1964-1970) and Jelenia Góra (1973-1988 and 2000); following Lupa’s final performance at PWST, she invited him to work as a director in Jelenia Góra.
  17. ^ See the DVD of The Dead Class published by PTP.
  18. ^ Kantor began to experiment with ‘Happenings’ during the mid-1960s, and was among the first artists to do so in Poland. In 1965 he conducted the Happening Cricotage, followed by The Demarcation Line in 1966, and The Letter and The Panoramic Sea-Happening in 1967.
  19. ^ This production was documented by the filmmaker Ken McMullan in Edinburgh in 1974, in the film Lovelies and Dowdies.
  20. ^ Two English-language video recordings documenting Zofia Kalińska’s workshop practice and featuring an interview about her work with Kantor were produced by Peter Hulton of Arts Archives in 2001. See Objects and emotions – a Kantor legacy (DVD-ROM) and On Kantor (CD-ROM), (Exeter: Arts Archives, 2001).
  21. ^ In Kantor’s programmatic text ‘The Theatre of Death’ (1975), which is contemporary with the period that Lupa is discussing here, Kantor states that: ‘Any new era always begins with it actions of little or no importance; actions which happen as if on the sly; which have little in common with the recognized trend; actions which are private, intimate, I could even say, shameful. Vague. And difficult! These are the most fascinating and essential moments of a creative act’ (p. 234).
  22. ^ See Arnold Mindell, The Dreambody in Relationships (New York and London: Penguin, 1987). See also the psychologist’s website at <>. (J-P.T.).
  23. ^ For a discussion of the changes in Kantor’s personal presence onstage up to the late 1970s, see ‘On Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class’.
  24. ^ There were in fact three versions of The Dead Class: the first premiered in 1975 (filmed by Andrzej Wajda in 1976), the second was performed from 1977 to 1986 (filmed by Denis Bablet), and the third – in which Kantor additionally ‘placed a live child in a school uniform among the dolls in the benches’ – was prepared at Kantor’s Festival of Theatrical Works in Paris in 1989 (filmed by Nat Lilenstein). On the differences between the versions Lupa mentions here, Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz writes that the second ‘did not include the characters of the Repeater, the Stranger, and the Ordinary Old Man. It also lacked the whole Grammar Lesson, which is where everything had begun. The Doppelgängers, the First World War Soldier, and the Dead Girl, on the other hand, were added. The Janicki brothers, Jacek Stokłosa, and Krzysztof Miklaszewski returned. Celina Niedźwiedzka, Teresa Wełmińska, and Michał Krzysztofek appeared for the first time’. See Pleśniarowicz, The Dead Memory Machine. Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre of Death, trans. by William Brand (Aberystwyth: Black Mountain Press, 2004), p. 119.
  25. ^ The first version of The Dead Class included actors from the Bagatela Theatre (Zbigniew Bednarczyk, Maria Górecka, Bogdan Grzybowicz, Zofia Kalińska, and Wojciech Łodyński), the Groteska Theatre (Mira and Stanisław Rychlicki), as well as several painters (Zbigniew Gostomski, Kazimierz Mikulski, Roman Siwulak, Maria Stangret-Kantor, and Andrzej Wełmiński), and the Cricot 2 technician Jan Książek. After the initial performances of The Dead Class abroad (1976), Kantor removed the Bagatela actors from the performance – the official reason being that it was not possible to give performances outside Poland with actors working full-time in a state theatre.
  26. ^ See, for example, Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass, and especially the story ‘The Old-Age Pensioner’.
  27. ^ For further discussion of this performance see: Józef Opalski, Rozmowy o Konradzie Swinarskim i „Hamlecie” (Conversations about Konrad Swinarski and Hamlet) (Wydawnictwo Literackie: Kraków, 1988). This volume also includes an interview with Lupa (pp. 46-60).
  28. ^ Jerzy Goliński (1928-2008) was an actor, theatre director, and pedagogue, and was associated for many years with the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Kraków. Twice elected Dean of the Directing Faculty of the PWST in Kraków, from 1967 onwards he taught several generations of theatre artists in Poland.
  29. ^ Alina Obidniak, who invited Lupa to Jelenia Góra, recalls this event: ‘I saw the showing of Lupa’s Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes. [...] I was asking myself: “Is this supposed to be a debut? Is this the debut of a young theatre director? It is stunning – a complete work of art”. [...] There were other directors from renowned theatres present at the performance. I thought to myself: “If I go backstage to the dressing room and the big names follow, I won’t stand a chance”. So I entered and said this: “Mr Krystian, currently I consider you the greatest artist of Polish theatre. Here is my business card – I suggest we collaborate. I would be delighted if you would accept my offer”. Krystian, a tall man, looked down at me. And I left. So the conversation was short. A week later my secretary called me: “Mrs Director, Lupa’s coming”. I was glad it took him only a week to make his decision. Krystian later told me: “After you, such and such a director came – I had offers from other cities, from Warsaw, from [Józef] Szajna, from Kraków, from the Stary [Theatre]. All of them said something like: ‘Mr Krystian, you undoubtedly showed your talent but you’ll learn a great deal from our superb ensemble’. I gave it a thought – and essentially considered that the best partner for me would be Obidniak”. And this is how my very agreeable and long-term collaboration with Lupa began’. ‘Pepiniera dla orląt’ (A Nursery for Eaglets), Waldemar Wasztyl in conversation with Alina Obidniak, Didaskalia, 90 (2009), 12-16 (pp. 12-13).
  30. ^ This play recently appeared in a new English translation: Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Maciej Korbowa and Bellatrix, trans. and introduced by Daniel Gerould (Ashby-de-la-Zouch: Inkermen Press, 2009).
  31. ^ Lupa staged this short story under the same title at the Teatr Polski in Wrocław in May 1997, as the second part of his Dama z jednorożcem (Lady with a Unicorn) series. The first had been Hanna Wendling based on fragments of Hermann Broch’s novel The Sleepwalkers. Lupa subsequently adapted both parts in two separate productions for the Polish Television Theatre (on TVP 2). The Temptation of Quiet Veronica was broadcast in April 2001.
  32. ^ Lupa also staged The Sleepwalkers at Kraków’s Stary Theatre in 1995 (The Sleepwalkers: Esch, or Anarchy) and in 1998 (The Sleepwalkers: Hugenau, or Matter-of-factness).
  33. ^ For more on this conception of intersubjectivity, see for example, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, trans. by Bernard Wall (London: Harper Centennial, 2008).
  34. ^ For more on this dialogical methodology as applied in the practice of Warlikowski, a former student of Lupa, see Justyna Drobnik-Rogers, ‘Krzysztof Warlikowski and Collaborative Processes to Performance: An intertheatrical reading’, elsewhere in this volume (pp. 23-51 of the print edition, especially pp. 39-45).

Next article: ‘“...a signal of shrinking time”: Tadeusz Kantor on film’ by Daniel Watt →

Return to contents page: PTP 1 (2015) →