Although Polish theatre has a long literary tradition, contemporary artists, groups and directors have embraced a more expressive, avant-garde style. Using elements of puppetry and visual arts, boundaries are blurred by creators who view sound, sets and visual direction as being equally as important as script, character and live performance.
With a history of oppression and struggle, theatre has also been used as a form of protest as much as one of artistic expression. Flourishing in the underground, and forced to use symbolism and metaphor to make statements which might otherwise have been dangerous, this form of theatre continued beneath the mainstream until the fall of communism allowed more freedom of expression.
Pawel Passini – Theatre 2.0?
netTheatre director Pawel Passini takes this heritage: then adds his own singular vision and advances of technology to the equation, creating something startling and new.
A graduate from the Theatre Academy of Warsaw, Passini established netTheatre as a means to explore new ways of theatrical expression: to harness the power of the internet and improvisational skills of both actors and audience in an attempt create something groundbreaking and unique.
“I like to think of it as using new tools,” he says, relaxing over coffee in the Polish university town of Lublin the morning after his first English-language production of Turandot. “I use technology to create a new tool for theatre; to use it as an artistic reflection of how we use it in everyday life.”
“Technology today is our tragedy,” he continues, “but what I do is simple; anyone could do it.”
Anyone with the vision and drive to create what has been described as the world’s first internet theatre, perhaps.
In 2007, Passini staged Requiem – not only in an derelict church in a Polish village – but also on the internet. Via message boards, live streaming and video projection, he created an interactive, improvised performance which could not have existed without the 16,000 people online who took part.
“It was amazing,” he says. “We had massive servers in the steeple, making sure the performance could cope with the online demand. During the performance, the participants started to join in; they even banned spammers who appeared – like telling noisy members of the audience to be quiet.”
“It is like a private dialogue shared by thousands of people. It is accessible; closer to the audience; intimate – like reading a book full of notes that’s been left behind by someone in the park.”
The dreams of a dying artist – TurandotPassini is bringing his striking and innovative production Turandot to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year: a surreal and dreamlike multimedia piece which focuses on the last days of the composer’s life.
“I have always been fascinated the character of the dying artist,” says Passini. “My production is my attempt to feel how it could be to be in Puccini’s position; the first globally recognised artist, dying of throat cancer yet amazingly still using his opera to try and solve his life’s biggest problems.”
“I myself was in the opera in Warsaw when I was eight,” he continues. “Opera, it’s ugly from close up. Yet still with the power to make people cry – it works like an impulse straight to the emotional part of our brain, like a drug.”
“As a child in the choir, I could see that – so Turandot is presented from the position of a strange creature, observing the opera; also like one of Puccini’s nightmares – David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch was an inspiration.”
The director also uses his pieces to make political and social commentary. Turandot uses the original opera’s plot and fact it was once staged in Beijing’s Forbidden City to make some personal points about the superpower itself.
“I’m fascinated by China,” he says. “By how its culture answers ours here in the west; how it displaces and is at the same time displaced. It can seem like a country without heart.”
Passini is no stranger to controversy and challenging productions.
“One of my previous shows was described as ‘two hours of torture’ by a critic,” he says, smiling. “And another was censored, and ended up being cancelled. I see this as success.”
“I like my audiences to ask questions about my productions,” says Passini. “If they do, then I know I have succeeded in what I want to achieve.”
Turandot by netTheatre runs at Universal Arts’ New Town Theatre from 4-27 Aug (not 17) at 15:00. More details are on the Universal Arts website.
Look out for our preview of Turandot on Monday; together with an exclusive offer of 5 pairs of free tickets to its preview performances.