We would like to invite you to solo performances by actors representing different generations and styles of acting. Danuta Stenka, Mirosława Żak, Jan Peszek, Mariusz Bonaszewski and Maciej Buchwald will appear this year on Malta’s stage at Plac Wolności.
From a classic monodrama to performance-art shows
The classic monodrama, that is a show by one actor, has always been a risky form. You need considerable skill to maintain spectator attention for over an hour. An actor or actress is left alone on stage, with no real partner to have a dialogue with nor share the responsibility for the success of the whole undertaking. Rather talking back to themselves, or to a silent imaginary character, like in Jean Cocteau’s famous play The sound of silence in which a woman speaks to a man hanging around the flat. Sometimes the audience or an object becomes the partner, like in Patrick Süskind’s The double bass. It is not a real physically present partner, to help in carrying the burden of responsibility for the words uttered in the show. Of course, there is a script, usually tailored to a particular actor, ensuring the show has a closed and complete structure. It delivers the actor some sense of safety, creates a ready situation, builds the character personated by the actor, the actor’s on-stage “I”, and determines the role of the spectators in the show. However, even with a ready script the show may easily become monotonous and predictable. Thus, what matters in a monodrama is both the quality of the text as well as the on-stage excellence of the actor or actress, the personality and involvement, and the ability to engage in an intimate relationship with the spectators.
For this reason, the monodrama has for a long time been the domain of actor-individualists or those instantly recognizable whose name alone is able to arouse spectator interest. Today, a monodrama is more and more often transformed into a performance-art show, its structure is becoming more open, permeated with a music form or documentary convention, becoming the tale of a witness or an utterance engaged in social and political matters. The monodrama is also more and more influenced by the Anglo-Saxon tradition of stand-up and improv theatre. The boundaries between the genres become blurred, giving actors an increasingly more dynamic, lively, partnership-based contact with the audience.
The stand-up-like lack of moderation
In contrast to a classic monodrama, stand-up rarely starts with devising a situation: where and towards whom an actor is speaking. It usually assumes from the start that the addressee is the audience. It is an apparently simple art. It does not require complex stage sets, precise scripts or meticulous direction. A stand-up comedian performs a seemingly improvised monologue which involves telling the audience some funny stories. What matters is the ability to hold spectator attention. Consequently, nothing is sacred on the stand-up stage, and no one bothers with political correctness. There are audiences who enjoy crazy improvisations in the spirit of the Theatre of the Absurd and ones who prefer sharp socio-political humour.
In Poland stand-up is still in its infancy, but in the United States and Great Britain this type of comedy has existed for many decades and has a lot of devoted followers. Many artists who began as stand-up comedians went on to become household names of the American pop culture. Legends like Bob Hope or Woody Allen began their careers by telling jokes on stage. In the 1970s, when there was a climate for rejecting moral taboos, stand-up was very political. The humour concerned previously forbidden topics and so dealt with these quite bluntly, which often led to strong responses from the puritanical authorities. For instance in 1972, George Carlin delivered a monologue on the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” (popular swearwords) and was arrested right after his performance. The 1990s, on the other hand, witnessed the heyday of humour in the spirit of the Theatre of the Absurd. A virtuoso in this type of humour was Robin Williams whose talent for witty and surreal improvisation remains unsurpassed. The nature of a stand-up act depends on the comedian’s sense of humour. Some play on the popular imagination and work with front-page news, whilst others play on convention and treat the stage as a venue for their unrestricted creativity.
A scene out of the blue
Improvisational theatre (often called improv or impro) dates back to the 1950s and the workshops run by Viola Spolin in the United States and Keith Johnstone in the United Kingdom. They infected artists like Bill Murray, John Belushi and Robin Williams with a passion for improvisation. Unlike traditional theatre, improv does not assist its actors with scripts, costumes or sets behind which they can hide. The only help they can get is from the other participants of the game, hence the importance of close bonds within a group. Any actor who joins in an improvisation has to accept what is already there. They cannot reject the previous proposals, so their job is to contribute their own ideas to enhance a scene. This is the basic operating principle and plot development device in improvisational theatre. The second rule is spontaneity or “immersion in a moment”, the clearing of the mind. Acting on an impro stage resembles a game of ping pong where failure to respond quickly makes a move ineffective. The last major principle of improv theatre is audience involvement, spectators often decide about the “who, what and when”. They are asked, for example, to provide background noise, a theme or to suggest the settings for the unfolding narrative. In improvised solo performances, the role of the audience increases, because the spectators become the only point of reference for an actor. It is a very difficult situation, requiring even greater improvisation skills. The improviser can count only on themselves, there is no safety valve in the form of on-stage game participants. Solo and group versions of improv alike are a game involving an incessant mental exercise, associations and imagination. Everything is created in the here and now, each inspiration comes out of the blue.
Malta’s stage on Plac Wolności will feature different forms of solo theatre by:
Danuta Stenka (born 1961) – graduate from the Acting School at Teatr Wybrzeże in Gdańsk (1984), since 2003 actress at Teatr Narodowy in Warsaw. She is very successful in commercial film productions, and is not afraid to undertake artistic challenges, especially in theatre. She collaborated with Robert Wilson, recently with Yana Ross in the renowned Koncert życzeń, on many occasions with Krzysztof Warlikowski, Grzegorz Jarzyna and Maja Kleczewska. Her acting is versatile, with exceptional talent and outstanding acting skills. The general public knows her from her roles in such films as Nigdy w życiu!, Chopin. Pragnienie miłości, Lejdis, Nad życie. For her film roles, she received for instance the Eagle – the Polish Film Award (2003 and 2008) and the Golden Duck – the award of Film monthly (2003, 2009, 2011, 2012).
Mirosława Żak (born 1982) – film and theatre actress, graduate from Ludwik Solski Academy for the Dramatic Arts (PWST) in Cracow (2006). Since 2010 she has co-created the acting team of Teatr Dramatyczny im. Jerzego Szaniawskiego in Wałbrzych. In the same year, her debut album of sung poetry Bez odpowiedzi was released. She also performs in Cracow-based theatres: Łaźnia Nowa, Teatr im. Juliusza Słowackiego, Teatr Nowy. In 2010 she played the lead female role in Robert Gliński’s film Benek.
Jan Peszek (born 1944) graduated from Ludwik Solski Academy for the Dramatic Arts (PWST) in Cracow where he still teaches. His strong on-stage personality combines precise acting skills with a tone of unpredictability and frenzy, rational attitude towards the role with care for the physical presence of the character, curiosity and the ensuing courage to become involved in projects that are not self-evident open new theatrical avenues. The most prominent directors in Polish theatre of the mid-20th century, such as Kazimierz Dejmek, Jerzy Jarocki, Jerzy Grzegorzewski, Krystian Lupa, Michał Zadara, Grzegorz Jarzyna, Monika Strzępka, have cooperated with him on numerous occasions. Jan Peszek has played important roles in several dozen Polish films including: Był jazz by Feliks Falk, Ferdydurke by Jerzy Skolimowski, Śmierć jak kromka chleba by Kazimierz Kutz, Łabędzi śpiew by Robert Gliński, Ucieczka z kina Wolność by Wojciech Marczewski, Ubu Król by Piotr Szulkin.
Mariusz Bonaszewski (born 1964) – graduate of the Aleksander Zelwerowicz National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw (1988), since 1997 actor at Teatr Narodowy in Warsaw. He cooperated on numerous occasions with the most outstanding theatre directors of the late 20th and early 21st century, including Jerzy Grzegorzewski, Jerzy Jarocki, Krzysztof Warlikowski, creating the unforgettable parts of Tinker in Cleansed, Ludwik in Kosmos, Charles Swann in Francuzi. His acting combines a demonic character with intellect. His characters “carry in the body some danger and some crack”. The actor focuses on his career in theatre, but occasionally also appears in films (such as Daas by Adrian Panek, Glina and Jack Strong by Władysław Pasikowski, Jeziorak by Michał Otłowski, Powidoki by Andrzej Wajda) and TV series. The role Jan Sarapata, a medicine professor, in a TV series Na dobre i na złe brought him popularity.
Maciej Buchwald (born 1986) – actor, screenwriter, improviser, performer, previous year was a student at the Film and Television Direction Department of the Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź (PWSFTviT). He is co-founder and member of the well-known group Klancyk, an improv theatre which has been opening live comedy shows since 2004. In 2008 his film Nie ma o czym milczeć won the Grand Prix in the Independent Cinema Competition at the 33rd Polish Film Festival in Gdynia.