POLISH QUEENS AND QUEERNESS WOMEN’S WRITING, WOMEN’S THEATRICAL PRACTICES
Stunned by a serious underrepresentation of women in the history of Polish drama, and equally inspired by the work of “HyPaTia. The History of Polish Theatre. A Feminist Research Project”, we decided to establish “Polish Queens and Queerness”, a research and educational project centered on uncovering Polish female playwrights of the 19th and 20th centuries. We held regular meetings to explore the extensive output of completely obscure female playwrights of those times. We read some 100 plays together, and we would face the same recurring questions throughout the process:
Why were these plays excluded from the collective memory and artistic canon? Have the plays we read retained their power and do they still belong onstage? Can these female playwrights reclaim their voice?
“Polish Queens and Queerness” is a multifaceted attempt at answering these questions. “Polish Queens and Queerness” is first and foremost an online platform popularising women’s dramatic output, listing information on over a hundred plays and their authors. “Polish Queens and Queerness” also includes reading sessions of selected plays, alongside discussion panels and reading marathons for children.
Like all representatives of theatre circles in Poland, we sought to commemorate 250 years of Polish public theatre. But how could we mark this jubilee if half of the theatre family is missing, namely our female ancestors. Hence we decided to bring to the table our gift to mark a new milestone on the theatre’s onward path - “Polish Queens and Queerness”:
100 dramatic pieces of 33 female playwrights to honour the 250th anniversary of public theatre in Poland.
TERAZ POLIŻ group members: Marta Jalowska Dorota Glac Ula Kijak Adrianna Kornecka Emanuela Osowska Kamila Worobiej
The project was co-funded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
It never ceases to amaze us how it is that all these women who wrote plays a century ago were all forgotten?
Most of their names don’t ring any bells, but that doesn’t mean that they were all unsung in their day. While their gender is their sole common denominator, the diversity of voices is the group’s strongest forte. They differed in their views and reasons for writing, age, financial standing in society, and finally, in popularity. Few people know that Maria Morozowicz-Szczepkowska’s 1932 play titled “Sprawa Moniki” [“Monika’s Case”], was a runaway success in its day and proved Poland’s export hit - the drama was the very first Polish play adapted for the silver screen overseas, under the title “Dr. Monica”. Time, or perhaps its more vicious sister, historical narrative, blurred the existing differences between these authors, and wiped out the memory of Poland’s female playwrights for decades. It’s beyond belief that there’s such a massive blind spot in the history of Polish theatre. A digest of selected plays is available in Polish at www.terazpoliz.com.pl/dziwypolskie
Researchers from the HyPaTia group have told us that while conducting their research, time and again they come across released plays where they have to rip untrimmed pages open as the publications hadn’t even been leafed through before. Many of the texts found here have never been staged, some were thrown into obscurity after the 1950s due to political or other reasons.
The listed titles are largely unknown to most people, but is there anything more exciting than exploring uncharted worlds and discovering completely new perspectives? We believe that the dramas we present are well worth looking into due to the content they present on issues such as war, world affairs, culture, feminism and daily routine. Everyday conversations are intermingled with political and social commentaries. With their wide scope of works - ranging from dramas challenging the status quo through non-fiction drama to socially committed plays - the female playwrights from the bygone era allow us to gain greater insight into the past and present.
And so we have decided to post online notes we penned while reading these texts. The notes document our first inklings, reflections and discussions. Our research was not at all aimed at aligning the plays with theoretical underpinnings, which is why we have dispensed with academic discourse in favour of a real-life language that is often colloquial and chaotic. Our written records of these conversations are an attempt to open ourselves up to these texts and also unlocking them with the help of our own associations.
Each of the dramas has been read out and discussed by a task force comprising three members from within our theatre group, which has resulted in a multitude of individualistic voices showing through the descriptions of the plays. The dramas were then allocated an “index card” edited by one person from the three-strong team. However, in order to stress the idiosyncratic perspective on the plays, we have decided to mark each note with the editor’s initials:
D. G. - Dorota Glac M. J. - Marta Jalowska U. K. - Ula Kijak A. K. - Adrianna Kornecka E. O. - Emanuela Osowska K. W. - Kamila Worobiej
Keywords, catch-alls, connotations, buzzwords, hashtag words. Non-academic, non-prescriptive, not always logical, and often unpredictable.
We hope that our platform will help Internet users navigate their way around the realm of these rediscovered dramas and serve as an inspiration in their own explorations.
We have come to the conclusion that posting keywords on the website of the “Polish Queens and Queerness” project will allow us to showcase the broad spectrum of interests of the female playwrights and the diverse contexts the plays depict, ranging from pregnancy to war, from racism to mixed marriage, from cuisine to migration. We would like the connotations we present to help understand the plays better, but not to determine their interpretation.
Choosing five plays from among a hundred texts to read out to the audience was no small feat. As we sought to bring together as many different reading experiences as possible, we fitted seven texts into five reading sessions.
The plays, which we presented in three theatres, are representative of our artistic interests. Some have surprised us with their form, others with the problems they tackle. It was important that these plays best captured the zeitgeist of their times, or which have proved timeless and still relevant to our reality a century after they were written. They remain entertaining, ironic and hard-hitting pieces.
The performative readings were not only an opportunity for audiences to become familiar with the texts but also an invitation to take a closer look at dramas women of those times had to face. Our presentations were combined with lectures by experts in the field of theatre and drama, who drew references to the introduced texts. Also, discussion panels were held, offering the opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions on the presented plays as well as the entire “Polish Queens and Queerness” project.