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Polski Theater Marks 100 Years
May 28, 2013   
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Warsaw’s Polski Theater is marking 100 years in show business with a roster of new, ambitious productions.

Founded by playwright Arnold Szyfman in 1913, the theater, based at 2 Karasia St., offers a predominantly classical repertoire that includes both Polish and foreign classics as well as contemporary drama and popular plays.

Szyfman was a novice playwright with a Ph.D. in philosophy but with no experience or money to run a theater. In the difficult economic climate of those days, when government-funded theaters were losing money, no one believed that his private theater would ever get off the ground and survive. And yet, within two years, Szyfman managed to raise funds to open the theater, which was modeled after the best such venues in Europe.

The original building, designed by Czesław Przybylski in 1912, was furnished with what was then state-of-the-art equipment, including Poland’s first revolving stage. It was one of the largest and most beautiful theater buildings in Warsaw with the main auditorium seating a respectable 1,000.

Szyfman believed that, apart from a modern theater, Warsaw needed something new in terms of an artistic vision, directing and stage production. And he wanted to set up a theater that would cultivate a classic repertoire and foster audience interest. As the manager of the Polski Theater, Szyfman built a team of outstanding stage directors, actors and stage designers, setting an example for other theaters nationwide to follow.

In the interwar period, top Polish theater directors worked with the Polski, staging plays by the country’s most prominent playwrights and writers, such as Zygmunt Krasiński, Stefan Żeromski, Juliusz Słowacki, Adam Mickiewicz, and Antoni Słonimski. The Polski also staged foreign plays, including those by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. The theater also attracted top stage designers, including Karol Frycz, who was considered to be the father of modern stage design in Poland.

At the beginning of World War II, the theater building was badly damaged when the Germans dropped bombs on Warsaw. The Germans seized the theater in 1940 and operated it as the Theater der Stadt Warschau (Theater of the City of Warsaw) until 1944. Most of the theater’s archival scripts, costumes and stage sets were lost when the Germans again destroyed the building during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. After the theater was rebuilt after the war, plays by the likes of Moliere, Stanisław Wyspiański, Bolesław Prus, Aleksander Fredro, Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov and Goethe were added to its repertoire.

In 2009, a new building with a separate entrance was constructed at the back of the Polski Theater’s main building. It is home to the Kameralna Stage and areas for rehearsals, stage-set and costume storage, theater archives and a workshop.

Today, in addition to staging plays, the Polski Theater regularly hosts debates on the theory and history of performing arts. The debates have been organized together with Teatr magazine since 2000. Poetry sessions, meetings for children and theater festivals are also held at the theater on a regular basis. Over the last several years, the Polski has paid special attention to contacts and work with artists from beyond Poland’s eastern border.

Over its 100 years, the Polski Theater has staged an impressive 975 premieres. As part of its anniversary commemorations, the theater was officially named after Arnold Szyfman earlier this year.

Jolanta Wolska
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