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The Warsaw Voice » Society » November 5, 2008
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Polish Actors' Association Turns 90
November 5, 2008   
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The Polish Actors' association (ZASP), the oldest organization of Polish artists, was established Dec. 21, 1918. The first president of ZASP was Józef Śliwicki, while the signatories of the statutes included such noted actors as Stefan Jaracz, Juliusz Osterwa and Aleksander Zelwerowicz.

ZASP was a strong and efficient organization in the years leading up to World War II. It quickly became the chief organizer of the Polish theater community. It outlined and regulated the rights and duties of theater actors, and defined the legal relations between actors and theaters and between theaters and ZASP. It set up various forms of material aid, such as funeral and jubilee funds. ZASP also published its own magazine, Scena Polska, and helped establish the Polish Institute of Theater Studies in 1925 and the State Institute of Theater Art (PIST) in 1932. In 1936, ZASP members gathered at what probably was the most important convention in the association's history, devoted entirely to artistic affairs. That same year, the organization's efforts led to the completion of the monument of Wojciech Bogusławski in front of the Narodowy Theater in Warsaw.

In 1926, ZASP became a member of the International Federation of Actors (FIA) which associates actors' trade unions around the world. Other lasting achievements from those years include the Veteran Actor Home in Skolimów, built in 1925, and the house at 45 Ujazdowskie Ave., which ZASP bought in 1939. Partially destroyed during World War II, the building was renovated and since 1949, it has housed the headquarters of the ZASP Main Board.

During the war, ZASP worked underground. It kept patronage over classes for actors held at teachers' apartments, and in 1940, it helped establish the Secret Theater Council, which was an initiative of Bohdan Korzeniewski, Leon Schiller and Edmund Wierciński. The council prepared plans for the organization of theaters in free Poland and worked out draft principles of exposing actors who broke the ban on taking part in events licensed by the Nazis.

After the war, ZASP was renamed several times. In the memorable year 1981, the organization's Special Convention approved the idea to restore its prewar name. Nearly a year after martial law was imposed in Poland Dec. 13, 1981, ZASP was dissolved Dec. 1, 1982. The founding convention of a "new" ZASP was held Dec. 19 of that year; the new organization had 300 members. The former ZASP had associated around 5,000 people.

At the beginning of 1989, the two ZASPs made a constructive agreement and at the end of October, a Special Convention took place to reunite the community of Polish actors, largely thanks to efforts made by Kazimierz Dejmek, Andrzej Szczepkowski, Gustaw Holoubek and Andrzej Łapicki. The latter led ZASP in the new Poland, presiding over the association for two consecutive terms.

Another important date was Feb. 1, 1995, when ZASP was authorized to collectively manage actors' and related rights. ZASP President Kazimierz Kaczor (1996-2002) established the mechanism, and the financial condition of ZASP improved. Even though state subsidies for ZASP were discontinued, the organization survived and even made considerable investments, which included enlargement of the Veteran Actor Home in Skolimów, renovation of the ZASP House on Ujazdowskie Avenue and a new plot of land near the Veteran Actors' Home. Consecutive Presidents Olgierd Łukaszewicz and Ignacy Gogolewski reorganized ZASP with a new Program Council and a Managing Board, currently led by Krzysztof Kumor.

As it marks 90 years of existence, ZASP is facing new challenges. Developments such as the establishment of the Trade Union of Polish Actors, local governments taking over most theaters, the absence of a theater law and the diminishing role of ZASP in the training of managerial staff and shaping of the artistic side of Polish theaters-all necessitate reforms in ZASP and a discussion on the future structure of the organization.

ZASP is celebrating its anniversary year with numerous activities, involving major events such as concerts, academic sessions and exhibitions. The 90th anniversary celebrations will culminate in Warsaw Dec. 21 and 22 with the following events: The Founding Fathers of ZASP, an exhibition at the Wielki Theater (organizers: The Z. Raszewski Theater Institute and the Theater Museum); the launch of the anniversary publication Artists of Polish Theaters in ZASP 1918-2008 (edited by Andrzej Rozhin and Barbara Osterloff), and a theater study session entitled "ZASP Yesterday and Today". The celebrations will conclude with a Jubilee Evening at the Narodowy Theater, featuring a concert, "Poetry Emergency Room on the ZASP Anniversary" (produced by Krystyna Gucewicz) and the premiere of Heroes and Comedians, a film by Krystyna Piaseczna with special participation of Andrzej Łapicki.

Compiled by Andrzej Rozhin, Polish Actors' Association (ZASP)
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