After the first week of rehearsals - thoughts from actor Pearce Bunting
Throwing ourselves in, heaving our selves out, remembering
Just finished our 1st week of rehearsal. The space we rehearse in is an empty restaurant across the street from the theater. It’s got wooden floors and wooden booths and it feels strangely like a ship. Every day starts with a warm-up- stretching with staccato exhalations- fire breaths, every inch of our bodies from the head down or from the feet up- waking up the outside and the inside, making sound, sometimes into each other’s backs, chests, heads, and ears, the floor, the world, sound from breathing out, sound from breathing in, reaching for impossible things. Blanka is right in the middle of it with us, rolling around in the shit, getting messy, taking and being taken.
A little background- it’s been 17 years since Blanka and I worked on a play together- Quartet, by Heiner Muller- Merteuil and Valmont from Les Liaisons Dangereux (Janis Dardaris and I), fighting for power, playing nasty games in and around a big, deep bathtub. The Wilma was still on Sansom St. and I was a little too young to fully understand that part.
A year before, in 1995, we did Road, by Jim Cartwright. A play, set in Lancashire, England, in the remains of a decrepit, forgotten neighborhood, full of desperate, brutal, funny, completely human characters trying to hang on to their humanity. It was presented as a kind of circus and I played Scullery, the drunken, homeless, clown who was the ringmaster, your tour guide through the streets and lives littered with blood, piss, shit, and broken glass.
Blanka Zizka's Acceptance Speech for the Zelda Fichandler Award, Oct. 24, 2011
I’m extremely honored, thrilled and humbled to receive the Zelda Fichandler Award and to find myself in the company of these distinguished finalists: Richard Garner, producing artistic director and co-founder of Georgia Shakespeare in Atlanta; Joseph Haj, artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, NC; and D. Lynn Meyers, producing artistic director of Ensemble Theatre in Cincinnati, as well as my good friend Howard Shalwitz of Washington DC's Woolly Mammoth Theatre. I’m very grateful to be in their company.
In 1950, Zelda Fichandler left New York City for Washington, D.C, founded Arena Stage, and started the remarkable regional theatre movement that has grown into a myriad of voices, artistic missions and aesthetics that is exemplified in Philadelphia, the city where I have been working for over thirty years. Today, Philadelphia is experiencing an unprecedented birthing of small theaters. The artistic fermentation of new projects and the enterprising spirit of small companies – these are very exciting realities not only in Philadelphia, but across the United States. I’m curious to find out if these energies can be sustained and if there is enough support for growth, learning, and maturing, so that these companies can grow and become extraordinary at their craft and yet not lose their initial idealism, energy, originality, and need to share ideas through art.
Arriving in Warsaw - Part Two
Allen Kuharski, a scholar and translator of Polish theater at Swarthmore College, is at the performance. We have known each other for years from the Philadelphia theater scene. Allen likes the production a lot, and he’s visibly pleased to see that the play doesn’t have an ideological agenda to show the Poles as anti-Semites. He tells me that he was worried about producing the play in the States because he thought that without the knowledge of Polish history, US audiences wouldn’t understand the complexities of the play. However, the performance has persuaded him that the play’s moral concerns are universal. Allen remarks that this is the first time in the Polish theater that this subject – the relationship between Catholic and Jewish Poles – is not merely hinted at but is addressed explicitly and straight on, without the use of metaphor.
Arriving in Warsaw - Part One
Early morning – I’m leaving Prague for Warsaw by train. Tonight I’m seeing the Polish production of ‘Our Class’ and meeting Tadeusz Slobodzianek, the author of the play. Tadeusz’s assistant Kalina is waiting for me at the train station. She is waving at me as if I were an old friend. In order to recognize me among the rest of the passengers, she watched Wilma YouTube interviews. ‘I feel like I have known you for a long time,’ she laughs. I’m staying in an actor’s apartment at Teatr na Woli, in the former Jewish section of Warsaw. The city was largely destroyed by the Germans during World War II, after the Warsaw Uprising. In contrast to Prague, admired for its beautiful architecture dating all the way to the 11th century, it’s difficult to find any authentic buildings that pre-date World War II. Most of Warsaw had to be re-built after the war.