by Agata Drwiega
In Poland theatre for children is closely related to puppet theatre. There are 24 resident puppet theatres; each employing a fixed performing ensemble, puppet makers and technical and administrative stuff. The main goal of all these institutions is to produce shows for children. However almost all are performing for youths and adults as well. Yearly every theatre produces from two to seven new shows most of whom are based on contemporary Polish and foreign plays.
The growing popularity of new plays is an outcome of the Theatre Play Competition organized by the Children’s Art Centre in Poznan as well as the publication 'New Plays for Children and Young People' edited by Zbigniew Rudzinski which I mentioned in the note 'Around the Campfire'. The first competition was organized in 1986. Although there were plenty of theatres in Polish People’s Republic, the need of a fine repertory, available for the directors and managers was urgent. Today every puppet theatre in Poland has at least one contemporary play in the repertory. However in the majority of theatres they are equally (or even more) popular as fairytales adaptations. Authors whose plays were most often staged in the nineties and the beginning of 21st century were Andrzej Maleszka, Maciej Wojtyszko, Liliana Bardijewska, Krystyna Choloniewska, Izabela Degórska and Michal Walczak. Although at that time contemporary plays were not as attractive as they are now, the authors I mentioned somehow paved the way for today’s presence of new plays in Polish TYA.
In this and the next note I will shortly present three contemporary Polish playwrights whose works changed the repertories of puppet theatres in my country.
The multi-awarded Marta Gusniowska is the most favored one. Thirteen of her pieces have been published in 'New Plays…' since 2004 and most of them were staged at least once. Her first play entitled 'Fairytale of a Knight without a Horse' was produced in eight Polish professional puppet theatres and in three from abroad. She works in the Bialystok Puppet Theatre as full-time dramaturgist. She also writes original pieces as well as fairy tales’ adaptations on special request of theatres in the whole country. Influences specifically visible in her work are the puppet theatre world and fairy tales’ tradition. She deconstructs fairy tales’s schemes and characters; in her plays well-known characters of princesses, knights or wizards make unexpected decisions and have unpredictable adventures.
Many of her early pieces seem to be written for puppets – more is supposed to be shown on the stage than to be told, situations change fast and there are many scenes in which the puppeteer talk to his puppet. Marta’s plays are full of both linguistic humour and situational comedy what make them easy to read, watch and play and the spiritus movens of the plot often depends on language’s deconstruction. As the author’s first profession is philosophy, her plays are not only funny but also wise and sometimes dedicated to existential questions like finding meaning of life or harsh themes e.g. death, depression or otherness. Even in those plots, her dramas are full of brightness and easy to raise a laugh. One example is 'Snake…' (translated into English): The main character in this play is at the same time the protagonist in the Storyteller’s tale. Snake feels bad due to it’s lack of extremities, tries to gain them and inally understands that all is perfect as it is.
Another example is one of her latest pieces which was translated into German as 'Gans, du hast mein Herz gestohlen!'. The play was directed by the autoress herself in the Animacji Theatre in Poznan. When the main actress is unable to work, Marta manipulates the depressed Goose’s puppet by herself. She is really a multi-skilled artist!