Swinarski about himself, directing and theatre.
A never-held interview*
The path that brought you to theatre was long and winding.
I have changed art schools four times in my life. My journey began in Katowice. In
the meantime, I also popped up at film school. Then I went on to study at the school
of directing in Warsaw that I graduated from in 1954.
The following year (1955) you won a scholarship and left for the Berliner
Ensemble to assist Bertolt Brecht.
It was perfect timing because it was the final stage of my studies and have completed
the so-called directing workshop on “Karabiny matki Carrar.” I went there to work as
an assistant for “Life of Galileo.” The reality likes to surprise you, though. It turned
out that, with Brecht, who definitely opposed any specialization in managing theatre
work, the role of an assistant brought a variety of duties together, with writing some
lengthy reports on theatre meetings being just a trifle. All of that was to reflect the
saying Brecht would repeat quite frequently: “These days, the human is the manager
of their own happiness.”
I have been interested in theatre from very early on. In the beginning, however, I
didn’t know what I could do there specifically. On stage, I feel confident as I am
always free to intervene. I think that, with the sensual presence of the human in it,
theatre corresponds to my practical temper, as opposed to the temper typical of
theoreticians. I used to want to be a filmmaker, though.
You have also worked with television.
Working with television lets me test small forms; it’s an opportunity to produce
directorial etudes. For this reason, I see it as an opportunity to experiment; however, I
do not overestimate the technological means of expression provided by television,
since, in my opinion, their scope is rather limited.
Are you not concerned that your audience will stay home, in front of their TV
sets, preferring to watch television shows rather than going to theatres?
I do not think this way. Many films are made about animals, and yet I haven’t seen
this result in closing any zoos. Audiences visit theatre houses to ‘touch’ the actor, see
them smile and stumble or slip… I admit that whenever I direct a show for television,
I am disappointed to see it is neither a theatrical show nor a film.
What is direction in your view?
Just as poetry, directing is hard to define. The key thing is what the director has to
say, with their goal being to express their relationship with the reality. The practical
skills are of the secondary nature. If you ask me to reflect upon my concept of
directing, then I would take the view that it is about telling, or representing, certain
stage events by means of actors. I would not be interested in directing if it was not for
the possibility to interpret literary material.
Your interpretations are often surprising, strange and incomprehensible.
Sometimes, I seek to be faithful to the author. Sometimes, I can be faithful to the
point of exposing and compromising them. After all, the only principle I follow is to
be faithful to the changeability of one’s own thinking. I do not hope, as many do, to
save or heal the world with a ready-made theatrical recipe. I speak on my own behalf
by executing authors’ thoughts. I believe that the two thousand years of human
thought contained in dramatic literature offers more than the most wonderful ideas of
a single director. And then the changes I make in my plays are not to alter authors’
concepts but to help the audience understand them.
What is the directing profession like as pursued by Konrad Swinarski? What is
important to you?
As a director, I seek to be independent from the enterprise that any theatre is. First, I
pick a play I am interested in. Then I choose a theatre house that in my view offers a
group and proper conditions to produce my show. While carrying out my directorial
duties at rehearsals, I feel and respond just as the audience does during shows. After
all, my views are similar to those of many other people, some of whom have interests
akin to mine. After all, I am willy-nilly just a limited part of this society.
What problems do you face as a director in Polish theatre?
The biggest difficulty is its inadequate repertoire. I have waited many years to see a
play written by a Polish author. I believe that the profession of a director is
exaggerated in Poland because of the complete scarcity of dramatic literature. As a
result, directors are required to impart their plays with the character that has
previously been given by the author and actors. In addition, the form of theatres is
obsolete. The fixity of theatre groups. Literature needs to be adapted to the groups.
What is your work with actors like? You are known for giving ample freedom to
the artists you work with, but conflict between you and the actors seems
This conflict has existed, will exist and should exist. But it should exist in a way that
makes some sense. Some want this, others want that. The director has to be a bad guy
because they pose some requirements – they build the whole thing, and the actor
builds just a part of it. These two paths do not always converge. I like to differ with
actors in my opinions and I often accept their ideas – obviously during our work
rather than the final rehearsal. The problem is that the majority of actors have some
idea about their appearance on stage rather than their role; they care to show
themselves rather than to act. It is the best ones that act because their acting is
What gives you the sense of fulfilment in your profession?
I am satisfied when I contribute something to a play and when actors contribute to it
as well; through discussion, we just discover new things. It seems to me to be the
most wonderful thing in theatre as I enjoy my work, working with a group of people
who show commitment and pursue the same goal.
Konrad Swinarski (1929–1975), theatre, TV, film and opera director and stage
* The interview has been compiled based on Konrad Swinarski’s statements gathered
in the book Konrad Swinarski. Wierność wobec zmienności, ed. M. Fik, J. Sieradzki,
Warsaw 1988. Compiled by Agnieszka Markowska.