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The Interpretations National Festival of Directing is one of
the youngest theatre festivals in Poland. However, it has
already secured a steady place in the region’s cultural map
and boasts almost twenty years of its own history. This
history is written by artists, critics and columnists associated
with theatre and, perhaps most importantly, audiences
attending each festival edition – their emotions, experiences
and memories. The festival has fostered subsequent
generations of theatre enthusiasts in Silesia.
The festival was first held in 1998 and has been competition-
oriented from the very beginning. The original edition
was won by Anna Augustynowicz for directing a brutalist
play written by Werner Schwab “Moja wątroba jest bez
sensu albo zagłada ludu” (“People Annihilation or my Liver
is Sick”). The very format of the festival was selected as
part of a competition. Two years before it was first opened
by the first director Kazimierz Kutz, Katowice authorities,
recognizing the PR potential of art, had chosen to create
a theatre festival to change the industrial image of Katowice
and the region of Silesia. At the time, this region connoted
steelworks being wound up and defunct mining shafts, and
Katowice was associated with its desolate railway station,
situated along the route between Kraków and Wrocław.
Several contestants were invited to join the closed competition.
Leszek Mądzik, a Lublin director, stage designer
and painter, came up with an idea of a festival presenting
a variety of art forms, one with a leitmotif of values. Marta
Fox, a poet, novelist and essayist involved with the region,
suggested that the festival should have a monograph for‑
mat. Each edition would focus on the oeuvre of one artist:
a playwright, director or a stage designer. Franciszek Rossa
emphasized the city’s European aspirations. In the capital
of Upper Silesia, he wanted to create a review of Europe’s

greatest productions. The idea of the Biennale – European
National Theatre apparently surpassed Katowice’s financial
capacity at the time. What a pity, festivals with a similar
format have then been very successful throughout Poland.
Festival concepts were also submitted by institutions
and associations of Katowice. Teatr Śląski, headed at the
time by Bogdan Tosza, proposed three concepts. One of
them was the Russian Playwriting Review, covering the
most interesting productions of Russian drama, especially
classics. The other one, called Contemporary Drama Week,
would showcase the winners of the National Competition
for Staging Polish Contemporary Drama. The last idea – the
Stanisław Wyspiański Festival – was aimed at highlighting
the patron of the festival. Towarzystwo Zachęty Kultury
came up with a festival idea dedicated to acting, and the
local Teatr Cogitatur suggested the A PART International

Theatre Festival. This idea did not gain favour, yet that
festival idea was executed and has been one of Katowice’s
cultural proposals to this day.
Eight jury members, representing local authorities
and cultural and media institutions, selected a concept
by a theatre critic Jacek Sieradzki, who found a niche on
Poland’s theatrical map and came up with an idea of the
Interpretations – Meetings of Directors. First headed by
Kazimierz Kutz, the festival aimed to promote and support
young directors – those who made their theatre debuts
no earlier than 15 years before each festival edition. This
criterion was in a way forced by the structure of theatre
at the time, where it was often impossible to make a debut
sooner and emerging directors struggled to break through
into reputed theatres. Festival programmers would pick

10 shows of the previous season; following a week of
shows, each of the five jury members handed one selected
director a pouch with PLN 12,000 of a prize. The winner
of the biggest amount of pouches would win the Conrad
Laurel – a statue representing Konrad Swinarski, the festi‑
val’s patron, sculpted by Zygmunt Brachmański.
It is worth mentioning that, in the early editions of the
festival, directors of TV dramas competed alongside theatre
directors on equal terms, often quite successfully – in 2002,
Wojciech Smarzowski was awarded the Conrad Laurel for
his play “Kuracja” (“Treatment”). TV dramas, screened late
in the morning in the lecture hall of the University of Silesia,
made a hugely popular, special event for the academic
community. The festival has provoked strong emotions
from the very beginning. Some plays were accompanied
by the sound of slamming chairs left by the viewers. The
winning play Augustynowicz (1998) announced the pres‑
ence of ‘new brutalism’ artists in Polish theatres, using
a very strong language and forms of artistic expression
that shocked bourgeois audiences. Heavily steeped in pop
culture, Maja Kleczewska’s ”Woyzeck,” based on a drama
written by Georg Büchner (2006), crossed the boundaries
set for staging canonical dramas at the time. By presenting
the youngest generation of artists, the Katowice festival has
mirrored aesthetic transformations in Polish theatre and
naturally exposed local audiences to them.
Following quite a long and artistically successful peri‑
od of Jacek Sieradzki’s directorship, following Kazimierz
Kutz’s term, the festival format changed. For three years
since 2014, Katowice would invite plays that were select‑
ed without the criterion of directors’ seniority, and the
programming was based on the festival’s leitmotif. Side
events and social projects were added. It seems, however,
that this festival concept did not quite meet the organizer’s
expectations and since 2018, the Interpretations returned
as a biennial festival to the idea of presenting young direc‑
tors. Competition shows have been complemented with TV
and radio dramas, competing for main prizes in their own
categories.
For many years, the Interpretations National Festival of
Directing has shown where the artistic heart of the Polish
theatre is. Some of the winners of the Conrad Laurel
include: Krzysztof Warlikowski, Grzegorz Jarzyna, Maja
Kleczewska, Jan Klata, Radosław Rychcik, Monika Strzępka
and Remigiusz Brzyk, who have written subsequent pages
of the history and the present day of the Polish theatre.
Social, worldview, aesthetic and technological transfor‑
mations have always left a mark on this festival. In this
respect, this year’s edition may be very special in that it will
be held when culture is heavily defined by the pandemic.

Aneta Głowacka
Theatrologist, theatre critic and a culture expert