Like a diary from a journey across a country plunging into the night, or a letter written by shipwrecked people who entrust it to the sea, Wormwood blurs the line between fantasy and reality in its portrayal of life in Poland under martial law. At once heartbreaking, humorous, and brutally physical, Wormwood—performed by the original Polish cast—is a rare remounting of the landmark 1985 production that prompted Theatre of the Eighth Day’s exile from Poland.
Performed in Polish with English supertitles. Wormwood has a running time of approximately 60 minutes, and each performance is followed by a talk back with the artists.
Presented in association with the Polish Cultural Institute in New York and the European Studies Council, with a Title VI National Resource Center grant from the US Department of Education.
Founded in 1964, Theatre of the Eighth Day quickly became the most famous and internationally recognized Polish underground theatre. Inspired and influenced by the work of revolutionary theater artist Jerzy Grotowski, the company developed its own acting method, creating performances through improvisation. For the first twenty-five years of its existence, and despite constant police surveillance and government censorship, Theatre of the Eighth Day managed to create some of the most important works for the Polish stage: In One Breath (1971); Discounts for All (1977); Oh, How Nobly We Lived (1979); and Auto Da Fe (1985). Since the collapse of the Communist regime in Poland, the company, currently based in Poznań, continues to be recognized as a leader among Polish alternative theatres.
Taking its name from a line by Polish poet Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński, “On the seventh day, the Lord God rested, and on the eighth, He created theatre,” the Theatre of the Eighth Day was originally founded as a student group that performed poetry and drama. After studying Grotowski’s techniques and witnessing the civil unrest and student protests of 1968, their performance style became more physical and less verbal, and the company resolved to remain in dialogue with both the artistic and political movements in society. However, they always rejected the label “political theater.” Former artistic director Lech Raczak said, “In a monopolized system such as Poland everything becomes political. If you make any gesture different from what the authorities want, that gesture immediately carries political weight. So the term 'political' results from the distortion and unnaturalness of social life here.”
Theatre of the Eighth Day was subjected to years of censorship and government oppression as it continued to produce theatre behind the Iron Curtain. The Polish government eventually withdrew all subsidies and issued an official announcement that the group had disbanded. However, Theatre of the Eighth Day continued to produce work underground and was invited to the Edinburgh Festival to perform their piece Wormwood in 1985. Only half of the company was granted visas by Polish authorities, and a new piece, Auto Da Fe, was devised and performed in its place. Auto Da Fe won the “Fringe First” prize, an achievement denounced by the Polish government because, according to them, the group “did not exist.”
Free and open to the public
Lecture by Kathleen Cioffi, Princeton University Press
Response by Krystyna Illakowicz, Senior Lector, Slavic Languages and Literatures, Yale University
Monday, November 2, 5:30–7PM
Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall Street, Room 208
The lecture will trace the history of Theatre of the Eighth Day from its origins in the student theatre movement through the days when it became legendary as a “dissident theatre” and the productions that critically examine the world that we all live in today.
Co-sponsored by Yale Theater Studies Program and the
Whitney Humanities Center.
Tuesday, November 3, 6–8PM
Theater Studies Ballroom, 220 York Street, Room 101
Theatre of the Eighth Day company members discuss their history and development process and present performance footage from their repertoire. Capacity is limited.
Co-sponsored by Yale Theater Studies Program.
Q&A sessions with the artists will be held immediately following all performances.