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The Warsaw Voice » Other » February 18, 2009
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Serious About Comedy
February 18, 2009   
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Wojciech Malajkat, director of the Syrena Theater in Warsaw, talks with Magdalena Błaszczyk.

You have been involved with the Syrena Theater since 2003. How did this involvement start and what made you choose this particular Warsaw theater?
This might sound a bit banal, but it was the Syrena Theater that approached me. What I proposed found favor with the public. People started lining up in front of the ticket office to see our performances and this is how this relationship started.

Can it be said that from the beginning you and the theater have had similar ideas with regard to the repertoire?
You could say that. When my colleagues and I received the invitation from the theater, we picked the play The Hypochondriacs Club ourselves. And it happened to suit the theater. In truth when people think of the Syrena they tend to think of the cancan and pulled-up skirts. This type of spectacle was indeed deeply rooted in Syrena's repertoire for a long time, but it has now been absent for a long time.

The last play you directed was Agatha Christie's Spider's Web. What made you diversify and choose a detective story?
I am always versatile. I like to try my hand at various things, and besides I like detective stories. I like to be caught unawares, to be teased on. I reckon that one of the basic principles of dramatic art is to tease the audience on. And we decided to do this with detective stories. I plan to stage plays on various topics. I do not want my theater and myself to be associated with just one theater genre.

Your predecessor, Barbara Borys-Damięcka, said about you that you are a kindred spirit. Does this mean that you will continue to run the theater in the same way as she did or do you have plans for reorganizing it?
I would rather avoid revolutions, manifestos and declarations-if for no other reason than you have to deliver on them later. Caution and profit and loss accounting favors such a way of working. Without revolution. However, you have to remember that the Syrena Theater is going to evolve, which means it will slowly change. I have much in common with Ms. Damięcka, such as our taste and sense of humor, and probably this is why we have been compared.

Previously you worked as an actor and play director. The post of theater director is not a just simple combination of these two roles. Are you prepared for the likelihood that administrative duties may dominate your time and leave less of it for artistic work?
I have prepared myself not to give in. I am doing everything for this not to happen and to not allow myself to be inundated with documents and various personnel and administrative issues. But the reality is that I have to spend some of my time on these things. That's just how it is.

Has your appointment as theater director in any way limited your creative work, for example in films?
I have had to put a certain part of my career on hold, the work as an actor, but I have done so without any special regret. And until I am certain that I have total control over the whole theatrical caboodle, I am pushing these other things aside.

You also lecture at the Leon Schiller Film, Television and Theater School in ŁódĽ. Will you continue to do so?
Yes, I am able to do so. The theater is closed on Mondays and this is the day when I travel to ŁódĽ and meet with students. I really do not want to resign from this work. Initially, I was going to be a teacher. Later what happened, happened, and I took a different direction but the teacher in me has remained. I want to teach people how I understand theater, how I see art, what style should reign, what must not be done, to what level you must never sink to in art. This is in a sense my mission.

Will the Syrena Theater maintain its reputation for comedy?
Naturally, this is a niche into which several Warsaw comedy theaters fit. I have absolutely no intention of putting on depressing plays that reflect the dark side of human nature in the Syrena Theater. However, should such a note now and again be reflected in some corner of this mirror, I will not fight against it. But the theater will continue to have a repertoire that makes people laugh, and even sometimes scares them, striking terror into their hearts.

How do you pick your repertoire? Are the choices your personal ones or do they meet the public's expectations?
With regard to Agatha Christie's Spider's Web, this was actually chosen because of my personal liking for detective stories and mysteries. And luckily it has met audience expectations too. But expectations is nevertheless the wrong word. The public should expect on coming to the theater to be moved, made to laugh, to be surprised by certain effects, or to cry at age-old problems. These are the public's expectations, and in the theater, in my opinion, you yourself help make it entertaining. If taste, temperament and imagination lead to the choice of a certain play, we cannot think "but what will the audience say?" We must create the play so that the audience will say "it's great that someone has done this."

Because of the current financial crisis, hard times are ahead for the entertainment sector. Are you prepared for this?
In January we had an average attendance of 96 percent. This is an excellent result and I hope that the crisis will bypass the Syrena Theater in a wide arc. However, I am taking on board the fact that Warsaw's mayor may need to take away some of the funding that we were allocated at the beginning of the year. In the event we would manage but it would nevertheless be better if she does not do so. My appeal to her is not to trip up a new director by taking away funding.

What are your current plans for the Syrena Theater's repertoire?
The current plan does not foresee any new play this season. We have so many plays in the repertoire that I want to give the public time and the chance to see them. At the end of September, the beginning of the new theatrical season, I want to have a play that will mark the beginning of my first proper season. I became the director of the Syrena Theater in January, which is in fact the middle of a season. Since I am currently in talks with the makers of this play, and being a superstitious person and even more so in this job, I do not yet want to talk about details.

Wojciech Malajkat (b. Jan. 16, 1963 in Mr±gowo, northeastern Poland) is a Polish theater and film actor as well as director. An academic with a postdoctoral degree, he teaches at the Polish National Film, Television and Theater School in ŁódĽ, his alma mater.

Malajkat graduated from the ŁódĽ film school in 1986. Since then he has regularly performed at the Studio Theater and the National Theater in Warsaw.
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