‘Theatre that gets in the way’

– these words, a quote from a text by Zygmunt Hübner, were adopted by Warsaw’s Teatr Powszechny as its motto. In the last four seasons we have created a space in the Warsaw district of Praga where we put on theatre, create a real space for public debate and help build a civil society based on democratic principles. First and foremost, we see the Teatr Powszechny as a public institution and we always ask ourselves and our audiences questions about its modern-day mission and duties towards the community.

The Programme
We do not see our programme of productions as a mere collection of titles, and our workplace as a production house for theatre directors. Instead, in all our artistic endeavours we address important, and sometimes uncomfortable, topics such as the refugee crisis, the recent resurgence of fascism, paedophilia in the Church, accountability for Poland’s political transformation, critique of capitalism, the condition of critical art, the changed attitudes and lifestyles of the middle class, environmental concerns and feminism. We have taken on these issues in all our productions and we plan to further investigate them in the future.

The Institution
We see theatre us a space where hidden social conflicts can become visible, tackled head-on and resolved; a place where conflicting attitudes and views can be creatively debated, revealing the actual state of our society. Ultimately, theatre is a space where a community is created ‒ not an imaginary, homogeneous and unanimous one, but one that brings together independent and creative individuals, developed through involvement, tolerance and empathy. Also, we are building a community within our organization by moving away from rigid, hierarchical structures towards democratising labour relations and subjectifying our employees.

Stepping Outside the Black Box
A modern institution cannot operate in isolation from its environment. Today, urban spaces are often subjected to the logic of capitalism geared towards exploitation. To counter this, we want to seek new ways of thinking about urban spaces, based on responsibility and innovation. We hold regular events and engage in ongoing projects such as the Forum for the Future of Culture, the Happy City Art and Community Festival, Universal Garden, a Praga revitalisation programme and our ongoing collaboration with Strefa WolnoSłowa, aiming to build long-term relations with the local community, urban activists and NGOs.

When nationalism, chauvinism and populism are on the rise in public life, an arts institution is duty-bound to propose an alternative way forward. That is why we focus on international partnerships (such as the international project Atlas of Transitions: New geographies for a cross-cultural Europe) and build broad social coalitions. We have partnerships with both international organizations and local activist groups. We also consider it our duty to support civic protest movements and people working to promote democracy.

In the coming years we will continue to constructively ‘get in the way’, opening our venue to important civic initiatives, acting locally and internationally, supporting democratic movements and intercultural dialogue, as well as opposing xenophobia and building a cultural opposition to the fascisation of public life and neoliberal thinking about art. We will also continue to create a modern, democratic arts institution, subjectifying and empowering its employees and audiences and forming coalitions with social movements; a place where visions of the future are forged.

The team of the Powszechny Theatre