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Contemporary for 65 Years
June 3, 2014   
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The Współczesny Theater, located in the heart of Warsaw, is this year celebrating its 65th anniversary of entertaining audiences in the capital. The Współczesny, which means “contemporary” in Polish, focuses on the great classics and the best contemporary social drama and farce. The theater’s repertoire includes works by playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett and August Strindberg, and Polish playwrights including Sławomir Mrożek, Władysław Terlecki and Stanisław Wyspiański.

The theater’s director is Maciej Englert, one of only two people to have held the position since the Współczesny Theater moved to Warsaw in 1949. Englert is an actor and one of the country’s leading stage directors. Under him, the Współczesny has remained faithful to its original objectives, much as it did under his predecessor Erwin Axer, a prominent figure in postwar theater in Poland. In picking the Współczesny’s repertoire, both men maintained intellectual ties with the West during the communist era in Poland. That meant an emphasis on European literature and culture, contemporary whenever possible. Although the Współczesny never aspired to be the political conscience of the nation, it has been successful in providing commentary on contemporary tensions, conflicts and social issues.

The Współczesny has over the decades maintained a consistent style and a consistently high artistic level of performance. The theater has attracted some of the best actors in Poland. Its hallmark is its focus on the contemporary, along with a respect for literary texts and precision in acting. The theater has a loyal, somewhat elite audience. Some 50,000 people come to watch plays at the Współczesny every year.

The theater has recently staged Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with the leading role played by Borys Szyc, who has received glowing reviews. Englert, who directed the piece based on a 19th-century translation by Józef Paszkowski, used the full text of the play—an unusual move. Englert’s version shows that Shakespeare is as current today as he was in his day. Szyc played Hamlet without unnecessary pathos, showing all the frailties of today’s 30-year-olds hiding under their cynical and rebellious masks.

The theater was established under the name Teatr Kameralny in ŁódĽ in 1945. It changed its name to the Współczesny when, in 1949, it moved to 13 Mokotowska Street in Warsaw, where it has been based ever since.

In 1997, an additional, smaller stage, called the Stage in the Barracks, was created in the barracks that were set up to house building laborers during the construction of nearby buildings in the early 1950s. The barracks are next to the main theater and also house stage props and costumes.

Englert says that plans to develop the property on which the barracks are located have been on the cards for the last 20 years. This is a complicated project as many legal and planning issues had to be cleared with City Hall prior to looking for a developer who would invest in the public-private project. This summer the Współczesny plans to announce a tender to chose an investor.

Jolanta Wolska
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