Wycinka Holzfällen – Woodcutters
A celebration of the beating pulse of life, bang bang tests the body’s resistance to being airborne. A spirited and obsessive dance, a veritable quest for transcendence.
A work of sovereign scope, theatre devoted to the infinite complexity of the human condition. Now in his twilight years, the leading figure of Polish theatre Krystian Lupa, a master and an inspiration for two generations of directors in Eastern Europe, presents his masterpiece.
For this first visit to North America he returns to the caustic Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard in a bold amalgam of theatre and cinema presented by actors whose performance rings with resounding truth. A few days after learning of the suicide of a friend, a writer is invited to an artistic dinner with a few oh-so Viennese bourgeois artists, former friends of his. But the air is fraught with the shadow of the dead woman, and he hates these people more than ever. Everything is in place for a merciless settling of scores – does making art demean artists irreparably? Lupa poses the question in dazzling fashion.
Produced by Teatr Polski we Wrocławiu
Written by Thomas Bernhard
Based on translation by Monika Muskała
Adaptation, direction, set and lighting design Krystian Lupa
Performed by Bożena Baranowska + Krzesisława Dubielówna + Jan Frycz + Anna Ilczuk + Michał Opaliński + Marcin Pempuś + Halina Rasiakówna + Piotr Skiba + Ewa Skibińska + Adam Szczyszczaj + Andrzej Szeremeta + Wojciech Ziemiański + Marta Zięba
Costumes Piotr Skiba
Musical arrangements Bogumił Misala
Presented with the support of Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw)
Written by Paul Lefebvre
Translated from Polish by Joanna Gruda
Translated to English by Neil Kroetsch
Krystian Lupa (Wrocław) Teatr Polski we Wrocławiu
The Polish director and set designer Krystian Lupa is a major force in contemporary theatre, imbued with the rich artistic tradition of central Europe.
Interested in putting the philosophical, moral and spiritual issues of our times on the stage, he has developed an exceptionally profound art form where the weight of lived-in silence and the passage of time give remarkable power to spoken dialogue.
Born in 1943, he first studied graphic arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow and then directing at the national film school in Łódź, while also pursuing interests in the theatre of his compatriot Tadeusz Kantor, the writings of Carl Jung and the films of the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.
He began his directing career in the mid 1970s by presenting the great Polish playwrights of the 20th century: Mrożek, Wyspianski, Gombrowicz and especially Witkiewicz, whose work he revitalized, bringing it much closer to reality. He also staged plays and tales by Russian writers such as Chekhov, Dostoyevsky and Bulgakov. In the early 1990s he engaged in a vivid dialogue with Austrian writers such as Musil, Rilke and particularly Thomas Bernhard, staging the latter’s The Lime Works, Extinction, Heroes’ Square and Woodcutters.
Since 1996 Krystian Lupa has been collaborating on a regular basis with Teatr Polski, the second largest theatre in Poland, encompassing three venues. Founded in 1946 in Wroclaw, the theatre is renowned for the quality of its actors, its important directors and its audacious program of plays.
You could have been a visual artist or a filmmaker, but chose theatre instead. What can theatre convey that other art forms cannot?
The art of theatre is to create alternate worlds and to fight against mulishness, so that theatre flourishes and survives. It doesn’t consist of telling a story so much as constructing a ritualized life that unites the space-time of the actor with the space-time of the spectator in a mysterious relation established by the two parties. By penetrating into the mystery of his character and embodying that character through a lengthy process, the theatre actor becomes one of the most powerful means of understanding the other and of understanding oneself.
It is not the ephemeral encounter with a character that an actor experiences while shooting a film. It is real immersion, an impregnation that is required for the character to come alive in the performance, and it thus constitutes a veritable cognitive process. Moreover, because of that very phenomenon of life – it does not exist in written, unchanging form but is alive in a living being during the physical moment of performance – the mystery of the magical, sacred action of the theatre performance can take shape. For all those reasons, the ephemeral nature of a theatre performance continues to fascinate me.
For more than 25 years you have been engaged in a dialogue with the work of Thomas Bernhard. How has that long-term engagement nourished your art and your thinking?
Bernhard is the most important literary encounter of my adult life. His work gave me quite a shock, the feeling of seeing myself entirely in a novel. It was an encounter that gave me new momentum, allowing me to go further into what is buried deep within us, what lurks in a state of hibernation. Bernhard’s uncompromising process of exposing and laying bare comes from a search for truth that entails unmasking lies: those that exist around us and those that are deeply hidden in our souls or in our ways of relating to others.
That process of stripping down not only changed my perspective on the world that permeates my creative work, but more importantly it transformed me personally and also my way of working as an artist. The duty of the artist – to reveal the world – also gives rise to many lies. Bernhard is my inner revolution. I often evoke Ingeborg Bachmann’s description, as I find it very apt: Thomas Bernhard is not only a new literary style, but also a new way of thinking. I view him as a whole new way of creating theatrical fiction, given the persistence of his presence and his narration.
In your adaptation and staging of Woodcutters, there is a little drama that Thomas Bernhard and Joana perform, The Naked Princess. That very moving sequence is not in the novel. Why did you create it?
In the piece we refer to the dramaticules that Bernhard wrote for Joana Thul and that the two of them then performed and recorded on tape. One of them has the mysterious title The Naked Princess. It caught our imagination and stimulated a desire to search for that lost little drama. We were guided by our intuition, by the conviction that these dramaticules, especially The Naked Princess, had great personal importance to him as regards the “impossible love” between Bernhard and Joana. The enigma of Bernhard’s traumatic fear of eroticism stirred our imagination, and The Naked Princess seemed to us to be somewhat like a spiritualist séance.
One has the impression that under this critique of Viennese artists lies much melancholy. What are the reasons for that melancholy?
It comes from the contradiction inherent in Bernhard’s reaction when he meets these people after not seeing them for many years. Despite all the negativity, all his loathing and his virulent criticism, he harbours a mysterious, natural love for these people, who in fact have made him an artist. We were convinced that without that tinge of melancholy, without that love, then his merciless critiques of both their self-destructive process and also of himself, would not be as poignant and as effective. Without that part of personal sacrifice, his critiques would have little weight.
“Krystian Lupa goes beyond the pamphlet on the society damaged by compromise, descends to the deepest nooks of the human soul, farther than the vanity, where everyone feels lonely and close to death.”
Agence France Presse, 2015-07-06
“At the age of 72, the master of Polish theatre produces this enchanting artistic manifesto, a human comedy, dangerous and witty at the same time.”
Fabienne Darge, Le Monde, 2015-07-06
“Both visionary and sarcastic.”
Hugues Le Tanneur, Libération, 2015-07-05
“Exceptional, an immediate must-see play!”
Armelle Hélio, Le Figaro, 2015-07-04