I rozstawili namiot wśród nas

About the tents put in the centers of big cities
About an artist-revolutionary
About the untaken walk and the roads that we traveled
About the escapes from the worse world
About the everyday fears and the metaphysical dread
About ourselves...

The Premiere: 11 November 2015


The celebration of tents
Joanna Ostrowska

The Sukkah is one of the merriest Jewish holidays. It is to commemorate the times of escape from Egypt to the Promised Land when the Jews lived in huts. The judgment days were over, there came the time of thanksgiving and the joy of deliverance. The tents gave the chosen people temporary shelter, they were poor substitutes for home, which God in his clemency promised them in Kanaan, in the land of milk and honey. But nothing lasts forever.

Adam Borowski and Marcin Kęszycki dedicated their performance And They Put Their Tent Among Us to Judith Malina, a religious Jew, who passed away on April 10th this year. The Rabbi's daughter, theatrical and political revolutionary, the anarchist and a deeply religious person - the combination which seems to be purely exotic in Poland. After all, her parents came from Poland, from where they fled to Germany, and later to the States. In the performances that she directed, one could find many traces of Judaism. In one of the last scenes of the performance, Marcin Kęszycki speaks of her, quoting the guardian of Malina's last moments, that she was - petite and feeble - like a mast in a tent embracing throngs of people. At some point, I also found myself within the space of this "mast" and it was one of the most significant events in my life.

When we get into the theatre house, we are greeted by the image of a tent, which is crooked and badly put, with two men bustling around it, dressed in dark, polyamide sweatsuits.
They are building their homestead with cheap, shabby objects, they are settling in. My son whispered: "It looks just like the house of that lady who used to live near Pestka". Yes indeed. This is how we meet the second hero of the performance: Elżbieta Zielinska, who lived for a couple of years on the lawn between the route of the fast tram and the thoroughfare leading from the northern bedroom suburbs of Poznań into the city center. She used to live in no man's land (yes, I realize that this area must have its legal possessor), which she made her own by the fact that she was using it. She built her homestead from two tents and some equipment, which she had presumably found at the garbage: she had her fridge, a lounger, an umbrella. The borders of her stall were outlined by flowers: some of them planted, some others put in pots, and in large containers - all of this probably being the waste of lives of those who lead a "normal" life.
I drove past her homestead about two times a day. She became a sort of unusual neighbor to me, just as that homeless person living in one of the recesses of the University Place in New York, which we greeted with "hello" after a couple of weeks of walking from home to university. The woman from the Poznań's lawn did not put a tent-temporary shelter, but she built her own house on the municipal land, which she took care of in her own way.

When the men on stage finish building their shelter, they take a cheerful selfie. And later, in a humorous, pantomimic scene, they perform a traditional, theatrical announcement about turning off cell phones, not taking photos, and not recording everything that is happening on the stage. Because of their routine, impersonal movements, they remind us of flight attendants on planes, which brings on laughter. We are sitting comfortably on board, we are about to set out on a journey, just one little "moment for your commercial", as we can hear in the announcement played off the stage. We have an artistic journey ahead of us. Or maybe, we are just beginning our escape from the Egyptian land, from the land of captivity?

The "proper " performance begins with the demolition of what had been constructed before. It is a pacification, bringing back the order of things. The house disappears from the stage, just as the real one disappeared a year ago - its resident was transferred outside the city gates, into the nursing home in Gdańsk, which she left the next day and never came back. Things got cleaned up, the problem solved (or at least, it ceased to be our problem). Suitable services did their job, and the "polis" did its duty. Here, in theater, on an empty stage, there are only two chairs left, shabby, old - the early Gierek, on the face of it - and two actors with "longstanding seniority", as they call it, who are getting down to make a performance. They have a theme: a story of two women who never met, but still there is something that connects them. In this way, we are presented with other heroes of the performance: two actors - people who once again stand in front of the audience. They are working on a show. Because they have never done anything else in their life? This is why, we hear that it will be a story of old actors who keep forgetting their lines and get lost on the stage, and it is going to be fun. But I think this is not the real reason why they came up before us. Maybe, it is because they once again feel that they need to share something with others?

"I'm not going to play a woman!" - the character played by Kęszycki opposes. Borowski's character tries to talk him into it, preparing at the same time a draft of a situation on stage. The two men are sitting on chairs next to each other, turned back to the audience. Borowski presents a series o movements which could become a cabaret number: "Tempted by a mysterious woman". Leg bent to the side, meaningful arms' gesture, and finally casting a look straight into the face. Kęszycki is so happy that it came out so even as if they were brothers. "Rather colleagues from work" - he is corrected by Borowski. These three sets: the figure of Malina, the story of Zielińska and the approach of these two actors will be recurring themes of the performance.

What emerges from études and fragments of apparently unrelated stories is a surprisingly coherent narration. It is a story of two actors, who have always practiced theater which is engaged and engaging, political in a noble sense of this word (as it can also have such meaning, which has been perhaps forgotten). By using their art, they have joined in the transformation of the reality. They also look back at their lives through the prism of two events: the death of Malina, which was a symbolic closure of a certain epoch, and the deportation of the woman out of the city she had tried to live in, in her own way. Kęszycki recalls the events of his youth - "the boys in denim jackets and girls in rugged sweaters", who wanted to change Poland, which they actually accomplished, in a sense. But then appears the question: what went wrong in this revolution? Why doesn't Poland after so many years from the "transformation" look any better? Still, there are disgusting things going on, and the fellow countrymen disclosed their rather nasty face full of hatred and jaundice. Moreover, they seem to be irredeemable, as they are "at home", and they dump their waste in their own forest. Still, what is their strongest trait are the Polish beasts from an older performance by Ósemki - "in one moment giving the freedom from sight, touch, hearing, from the air (...), from fires of the universe". These Polish beasts reveal themselves most prominently in two different moments of the show. Both tell a story of how people reacted to Zielińska's "dwelling". The first moment is when the actors make comments, presumably taken from internet forums, while sitting face to face and soaking their feet in basins. Verbal blows are accompanied by a very sophisticated splashing the partner with the foot. The dissonance, which is brought by clashing the image of sudden and painful reaction to a couple of water drops with the spoken words of hatred, which are actually washed over them, not leaving any trace, like the water over a duck in a Polish proverb, which actually says a lot about the nature of hatred. We are miffed and insulted even by a slight drop, verbal stones which we throw are just fine. The second situation, closer to the end of the performance, is a beautiful "balcony" scene, where two "neat and decent" townswomen are leaning out of short, grey, sliding doors, which make up the main and multifunctional element of scenography, and which are decorated with flowers in crates. From these balconies, they make an attempt to reconstruct the fate of Zielińska.

When Kęszycki reveals his past, Borowski responds with a monologue concentrated on the present - the text about the fear
that in a moment some kind of "garden gnomes" will forbid him to kiss on the street or eat a ham sandwich. This articulated fear is evenly distributed among numerous events happening not only in Poland but also around the world.

And They Put Their Tent Among Us makes an impression of some kind of verifying continuation of another performance of Teatr Ósmego Dnia from 30 years ago - Wormwood, but referring not only to "the land crisscrossed by the net of poisoned rivers, shrouded by a pall of factory smoke, pierced with nails of concrete cubes", and also to those denied "fires of the universe", which are now crying for our attention so suddenly that we can no longer fail to notice. This is why from the context of Poznań, we are transferred to Kobane, we are listening to a story of a small boy about an "excursion" that his parents took him on. Starting on the first bus, then another one, but this time in an overhead storage cabinet, so that the soldiers wouldn't hear him, and then the sea and boats. Dad won't fit into the boat, but the boy still hopes to find them.

Later, in the same two chairs, on which they were acting out the temptation, but this time facing the audience, the actors repeat several times, in a synchronized way the same pattern of gestures and body positions, which bring to mind some kind of a long and exhausting journey - by car? by bus? And in the end, as if in slow motion, we are watching a catastrophe, which can be read from the transforming expressions of their faces. The darkness.

The crucial part of creating the meaning of each scene, its tensions, and rhythms is played by music, which is performed live on the percussion and the guitar. It specifically "says" something in all of these moments where words seem to be too poor, because they are unambiguous, as they bring the unspecified to the ordinary. A similar part is taken by small physical scenes, the choreography presented repeatedly during the performance. The first time it appears at the end of the Kęszycki's protest scene - "I will not play a woman". Both of the actors put on semi-wedding, semi-ball dresses, which cannot fit their masculine bodies. In this way, they symbolically "put on" themselves - the actors - the costume of a woman, but not in order to tell a story of a woman, as it happens in Japanese theatre. They are both beautiful in this scene, with the charm effused by the old masters of butō. Their feminity is not a caricature of the drag queen sort. With the untied, unfitting dresses exposing their masculine bodies, they are still men telling a story of women through themselves. When they later perform the same choreography dressed in sweatsuits, it gains a completely different meaning. Even though the movements are the same, this time it is the transformation into "a masculine man". This is why a moment later, there appears an essential prop - a machine gun. And then, its natural consequence - a uniform and a helmet.

Each and every scene of this performance is very meaningful and even though the connection between them is not obvious at first, still each of them opens a load of contexts, which all connect in the under the skin current. The editing of meanings of this performance is not done on the stage, but - as Grotowski called it - in the head of the viewer. This is why they are inside of me, I cannot stop thinking about this performance, it still brings to me more and more new associations. It is the best performance, which has lately been produced by the artists of Teatr Ósmego Dnia (and I don't mean the sole projects here). I have not seen the performance of Ewa Wójciak, and when it comes to the monodrama of Janiszewski - it gave me a lot of satisfaction, though naturally (and Janiszewski talked about it himself) I lacked what is the effect of the relation to a partner - another person. There is the strength in And They Put Their Tent Among Us which could be found in the oldest performances of Ósmego Dnia. I am very happy about it for I hope that it will be possible to harness this power into a new show, which would involve the whole theatre troupe.

One can live anywhere, but since we don't have more than one life, why not try and live this one we have in a place which makes it the easiest? What could possibly hold back the people from leaving the land of Egypt and heading for Kanaan, since they knew that the people of Kanaan would not welcome newcomers? In the last scene of the performance, both actors put little tents in different shapes. Each of them is lit from inside. They take all the space on the stage. There are so, so many of them. We are left alone with this image. Now each one of us may decide what we can do about them.

The celebration of tents continues, but there is no chance for it to be joyfully remembered. It will not end after seven days with the pleasure of communing with the holy book of the Jews, of the Catholics, or the Muslims. It rather seems that the calendar will reverse from Sukkah and it will go back to the long Jom Kippur. And if we are to retreat even further, maybe it would be a good idea to take care of some arc. And to be safe, better take a tent with us.


27 November 2015
Portal teatralny.pl

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