Letters of company members referring mass-media news October 2020
The article in “Gazeta Wyborcza” is an attack on Włodzimierz Staniewski, the “Gardzienice” Theatre, and myself.
It seeks to devalue 40 years of our theatrical work in a sensationalist manner that is worthy of a cesspool only.
I am shocked.
That people are so eager and ready to scorn their Teachers and Masters. That they write articles, throw accusations, and wreak havoc on social media to expel the “evil” (misconstrued in my view), all in the name of new, pseudo-just, and blurry – though fashionable – “values”. That they cash in “likes” for it and consider it a success.
That the most celebrated actress of “Gardzienice, who was the face of the theatre for ten years, stirs up a scandal now that 20 years have passed.
That she publicly accuses the Theatre of a trauma that allegedly resulted from its internal relations, and the audience is enthusiastically cheering along.
That our stage partners and seeming friends, who used to share the stage with us, with whom we have blossomed together both in theatre and in private, who have found a home in Gardzienice, celebrated our shared successes, received awards, toured the world, performed at global festivals, who have appeared fulfilled and satisfied with their work – are now assuming the part of the Furies –“the hounds of revenge”. That they are now seeking to deprecate their own nest and choose musings about a “better world” and “stress-free theatre” over 40 years of daily, toilsome theatrical work.
Theatre is not an easy job, and Mariana – as it seemed – knew it well. She had already been an educated musician who graduated from a tough, “soviet” school.
Her music, singing, talent, hard work, and freshness immediately earned her a long-standing, distinguished position at “Gardzienice”.
She strove for more and aimed at becoming a dramatic actress: this was where even more hard work came in: work to divert from natural talents and break stereotypes, the need for new knowledge, failures, ups and downs. Sharpening knives. Heaven and hell. She, however, took up those challenges with full awareness.
She shone in “Metamorphoses”.
She left the Theatre – as many others did throughout those 40 years – together with her husband, whom she met at “Gardzienice”.
I believe the article in “Wyborcza” is a foul play and an attempt to discredit the Theatre. I firmly stand with Staniewski.
Actor of the “Gardzienice” Theatre since 1977,
Coordinator of the Academy for Theatre Practices since 1997.
The “Gardzienice” Theatre IS Staniewski.
There cannot be “Gardzienice” without Staniewski.
In my view, one of the tasks of the theatre crew is to create conditions in which the leader is able to lead the institutional, organisational, and artistic work to their best. Truly, I can see
nothing inappropriate in doing them an occasional shopping or bringing along a jar of soup.
I have willingly done these and other helpful things – and it would never occur to me to expect something, e.g. a special treatment during the rehearsals, in return. Neither would it
occur to me that I was “selling myself”. Moreover, this goes both ways. In various situations, sometimes difficult, sometimes exceptional (sickness, family issues, childbirth), I could
always count on Staniewski. He was, and continues to be, first to deliver real and effective help without ever expecting anything in return – or “selling” anything.
Never had I felt I was doing something inappropriate or something that crossed the boundaries of my comfort. I did whatever was in my power to support the person who for
over 40 years carried the responsibility for the institution he founded. This great responsibility also encompassed dozens of people who co-created the Theatre with him.
I've never perceived my contribution as “too costly” – as it allowed me to work a job that was my passion, fostered my personal development, gave me satisfaction; the fruits of
which I continue to see in the eyes of the audience after our performances and in the eagerness of youth participating in our didactic work.
My boundaries? They were never crossed. Why? Perhaps I was too ugly or not talented enough? Or perhaps I could define my boundaries without entering situations that bordered
Such collective, intensive work fosters human bonds over the years. It is not a mere professional relation. It's a friendship – a tough one occasionally – and this prompts people to
be mutually supportive of each other also in their private lives.
As far I my knowledge reaches, no one experienced a personal failure in “Gardzienice”.
People who left the Theatre, also in an atmosphere of conflict, grudge, and anger, sooner or later built upon it and began a new, powerful chapter in their lives.
In this place, which was created from scratch, from nothingness by Staniewski (always supported by a team of comrades), people formed professional and private bonds that
would last for years – perhaps for the rest of their lives. Here, a community was established – a network of people who mutually support one another, who can count on one other in
moments of crisis, who work together and share inspirations both at work and beyond it. I will refrain from listing examples, because the list of people who were part of our ensemble
and the Academy throughout my time here would be massive.
And if what unites some people and motivates them to work creative is their shared opposition against Staniewski? Well... Whatever might be thought of that, I wholeheartedly
wish them all the best on their artistic paths.
Theatre work is founded on a certain agreement between the director and the actor. Actors contribute their artistic potential (one could endlessly deliberate what it consists of). The
director takes this potential as well as the text, music, visuals and concocts a potion, just as an alchemist, which – if all goes well – leaves the audience changed. I would not say the
director “uses actors' potential”, because it would imply exploitation. And in our work, there has been no place for exploitation.
Many people left our Theatre when they felt that the style of our work no longer served them, that the challenges were too great and demands too excessive. And the challenges
indeed have always been immense. Nearly too much. There has been no “sweet talk” at “Gardzienice”.
It is true that once a relation between Staniewski and an actor/actress ceased to be productive, he would create an atmosphere that would prompt the person to take the
decision to leave. As far as I know, no has ever been fired. Instead, Staniewski would send signals, oftentimes very clearly, that it was the time to change the direction. Sometimes, he
would attempt to discourage an ensemble member in order to test their commitment to reaching certain artistic or organisational effects. For me personally, these challenges have
been excruciating, but all in all they helped me establish my sense of self-worth, which is – as it has to be – independent from external opinions and always full of questions, doubts,
but at the same time – it is fully my own.
I'm no “supporter of violence”. I detest violence, I don't use violence. I firmly uphold that victims of violence ought to speak out and withdraw from situations which put his or her
sense of self-worth at risk. And the perpetrator of violence must be stopped.
I am not here to whitewash anything. No one is flawless. We all make mistakes while pursuing various goals. Staniewski's cause – his contribution for theatre and theatrical
education, his work and determination to create “Gardzienice” – is a Great Cause. It is a cause which opened numerous eyes to the areas of art and life they had not even dreamt
of; which prompted actors, musicians, cultural animators to discover and develop abilities and skills they had never suspected they could have.
I am one of those people – and I do not quire see myself as a victim.
Joanna Holcgreber – actress of the “Gardzienice” Theatre since 1995
The smear campaign against Włodzimierz Staniewski has assumed a grotesque, distorted,and dangerous shape. I am horrified that one article of dubious quality has the power to so
easily swing the popular opinion, and hardly anyone questions its contents. We are now witnessing an avalanche of increasingly indiscriminate headlines and comments cooking up
a new, media-inflated, self-fuelled “truth”. Statement are copy-pasted without reflection, as if it were Chinese whispers, by more and more people, each knowing less than another
about the issue, the accused, and the theatre.
“Violence as a method of work”?! “Actresses'; nightmare in a village in Eastern Poland”?!
It seems impossible to reasonably argue with such statements.
It is rather incomparable to other professions, but when it comes the work of an actor, the
main tool is the actor himself – his body his voice, but also his soul and mind. That is why
the director's job, which encompasses arranging, inspiring, composing, and judging actors'
performance (thus, in a way, the actors themselves), is so complicated and burdened with
heavy responsibility. Moreover, at “Gardzienice”, we continuously strive to transcend our
abilities and reach for the seemingly impossible. Therefore, it's easy to imagine that for
some people such pressure might be too high, the demands too exaggerated, the
judgement too harsh, and the boundaries too blurred.
There are naturally moments when the relation between the actor and the director is
painful and charged with misunderstanding. No one enjoys being judged. We are adults,
however, who work this job. We have not only our sensitivity, but also our own judgement
I do not intend to be Włodzimierz Staniewski's advocate. I am not personally acquainted
with the people who are publicly accusing him, not do I know the details of their
experience. What I want to state, however, is that I am not a victim at all.
I know Włodzimierz Staniewski as a brilliant artist and kind – though nervous – person. His
opus magnum does not only consist of the performances, institution, or buildings revived
from ruins, but, first and foremost, of the throngs of people who have been a part of this
place. Some of them left gently, others – after turbulent conflicts. Regardless, each one of
them is now a part of the lively cultural tissue in Poland and abroad.
I have been a part of “Gardzienice” for the last 10 years. My work here, although hard and
stressful, is an experience I am thankful for. I am grateful to Staniewski for the rare
opportunity to grow, to work with magnificent people and participate in our shared
creation, to get to know friendship, love, life; for the chance to gift the audiences and
students with the finest quality art.
I am also grateful for all difficult moments, as they helped me develop true strength of
Jan Żórawski, actor in the company since 2010
The media hype around the “Gardzienice” Theatre has made people forget that categorical condemnation and complete exoneration are two extremes often stemming from nothing more than poor judgement or desire to catch one's 5 minutes of fame on someone else's cost.
I came to Gardzienice from Kyiv, Ukraine. I began with the Academy and then joined the ensemble. From the first moments I was informed about the characteristic work dynamics; I could also see for myself that the atmosphere here had nothing to do with indulgence. To secure soft comfort for everyone at all costs and to sweet talk each other – these are not what we aim for.
It's harsh, intense, occasionally cruel... as theatre is in general. There are certain areas of human activity in which one cannot expect to get constant pats on the back. These areas are for example arts and sport. Both artists and sportsmen work till their last breath. They grow and evolve intensely, and this necessarily results in weariness and exhaustion. And once you're exhausted, it is not as easy to control your emotions anymore. The aspects of your personality of which you were not too proud come to the surface. Then add your own ambitions to it. As a result – although the ultimate goal is to work with others and reach effects together – sometimes, common courtesy, subordination, and generally accepted manners are unintentionally overlooked along the way.
Moreover, when it comes to the “Gardzienice” theatre, it is plain that contrary to any big theatre we do not have a large team to take care of all technical tasks. Most technical tasks required to prepare a performance (costumes, set design, arranging the space for the audience and ourselves) as well as other tasks of more organisational and administrative nature are ours only. It is nothing unusual that once in a while we're short on time – that's when we help one another. We do shopping, we cook, we bring meals for our colleagues, we give one another lifts in our private cars, we iron clothes, give massages, and exercise together. Should we exclude the director from this natural dynamics just because he's higher in the organisational hierarchy – even though he is more burdened with duties than anyone else, and our hardships are his hardships?
The amount of time we've spent together and the numerous adversities we've overcome have naturally transmuted the official and professional relations into deep human bonds. We've got to know one another well and in various situations. That is why understand that occasional tactless behaviour is not a strategy to humiliate us, but a mere side effect of a situation where sensitivity meets productivity, exhaustion, time pressure – in other words, the inherent side effect of theatre work.
Whether it is upsetting for some or not, theatre is not a place for the weak. Any theatre will trample over a fragile personality. When you work in theatre, you need to learn how to approach each of your colleagues and directors. You need to learn to tell the difference between the work sphere from the personal sphere. You need to establish your individual boundaries, make an agreement with others about their sacredness, and strongly adhere to your standards. You need to learn to guide your reactions so that they are not as harmful for others. You need to find your own ways to emotionally regenerate.
I realise it's easy for me to say. After all, I arrived at “Gardzienice” as an adult who had already worked in other theatres and graduated from a drama school. Since I was 16, my teachers would warn me that acting is a “path of cruelty and broken life”. Here, at “Gardzienice”, I got to understand the purpose of their warnings. Yes, there has been mayhem and yelling... which led to increased awareness of what I had yet to improve. Why take the bitter words uttered in the moment of highest emotional intensity personally?
As recently as yesterday, I cried: “It's impossible to do!”, but eventually everything proved possible. All it took was some reflection, intuition, and willpower. Here, at “Gardzienice”, I have learnt to transcend my perception of my own capacities.
I will not claim that Włodzimierz Staniewski has an easy character. He has his vices – as every human does. Because, however, he's a leader, all his flaws are scrutinised like no one else's; and under the magnifying glass of the public eye, they start looking monstrous. What about the fact that he's the first to reach out after an argument? That he sends a written apology via text or e-mail and arranges a meeting to discuss the issue calmly the next day? That he's uneasy when he's overreacted, that he gently asks: “What else did I yell at you yesterday? Oh God!”. During my time in “Gardzienice”, I witnessed it multiple times.
Speaking more frankly – these are adults who work here. We are responsible for ourselves. We are not children who cannot differentiate violence and abuse from normal human dynamics and, thus, are easily manipulated. Never was anyone deprived of choice at “Gardzienice”. If you don't feel like working towards changing the situation or building more resilience, or if you simply view theatre differently – it is alright to leave. The act of leaving also requires responsibility, strength, and decisiveness.
It is worth adding that creative conflict is a magnificent training for handling difficult situations and learn from others' mistakes. It is also o priceless skill in one's private life – as it is way harder to fix or leave a personal relationship than a professional one.
Tetiana Oreshko-Muca, actress of the “Gardzienice” Theatre since 2013.