The patron of the National Festival of Directing Art INTERPRETATIONS from the very beginning is Konrad Swinarski – theater, television, film and opera director, producer and set designer. He created his own style, thanks to which he is considered one of the most original and outstanding artists in the history of Polish theater. In his honor, the main prize of the festival is named after the director – it is Konrad’s Laurel.
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 inevitable.
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 limited.
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.