The production is a co-production of the NKDT (National Kaunas Drama Theatre) and Utopia Theatre. The production is also realized together with the Polish Cultural Institute in Vilnius and the Adam Mickiewicz Foundation.
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, otherwise known as Witkacy, is one of the most colorful figures among the representatives of Polish culture: a philosopher, art theorist, writer, playwright, photographer, and painter. We can think of him as an epitome of the 20th-century artist: uncontrollable energy, a constantly collapsing life, encounters with death, loneliness, inexhaustible creative ambitions, insanity, depression, drugs, and a whole treasure trove of literary and fine art works. Witkacy’s fate, unfortunately, has ended tragically. In 1939, at the height of World War II, he voluntarily chose to take his own life and not wait for the future because he felt it could not be any better. The themes of the future, revolution, and despair resonate strongly in Witkacy’s creative legacy.
The Shoemakers, although left unfinished due to the author’s suicide, is considered the best Witkacy’s work for the theatre. The last decade of Witkacy’s life and work (1930–1939), coinciding with a difficult period for the whole of Europe as well, was full of pessimism and anxiety. The artist saw the waking demons of totalitarianism and feared for a bleak future – the play The Shoemakers perfectly discloses the atmosphere of that time.
Director Antanas Obcarskas says, “Witkacy tried in every way to avoid the traps of boredom and predictability and this is reflected in his plays.” The Shoemakers completely ignores the rules of dramaturgy and strives for new forms: the plot is intermittent, the development of the characters does not have a clear line, and the pace of the play either slows down or speeds up. Reading the play alone seems like a real challenge, as the reader often gets lost in the characters’ texts, where different ideologies, sexuality, passion, emotions, and actions are hidden under linguistic twists created simply with pleasure. The Shoemakers is a kind of play of visions, which draws predictions about the future of literature, art, politics, society, and the human condition. Paradoxically, Witkacy’s visions are surprisingly accurate in relation to today’s reality, testifying to the author’s astounding ability to diagnose very broadly the diseases of his time and the evils of the future. The play exhibits three social classes (bourgeois-capitalists, working-class, and aristocrats) and their flaws through the composition of three acts and the characters assigned to a particular class. Every act ends with a revolution that reverses the power relationship. The working class overthrows the capitalists, the workers are later enticed by the aristocrats, and a fascist revolution takes place. The central theme of the play’s plot is the changes in social situations, roles, and individual personal status before and after the revolutions. Will those who were oppressed and now in power change anything after the revolution? On the other hand, maybe they will also suffer from the moral sickness of their oppressors? Despite the revolutions, Witkacy diagnoses one constant of the human condition that is still present today: the present is an era in which incurable boredom, inevitable despair, and dissatisfaction with the current situation are the only unchanging elements in everyday life. In addition, existence itself is described in a particularly vivid way: “There is no such thing as humanity – there are only worms in the cheese, which is a heap of worms itself.” Helpless people in despair, never-ending conversations try to find answers to unanswered questions about human existence. The world of today is similar to the world of Witkacy’s The Shoemakers – everything – the boredom, revolutionary mood, dissatisfaction grows stronger and stronger. At the end of the third act, a technocratic revolution takes place in The Shoemakers where technologies take over. A closer look at Witkacy naturally raises a question: what kind of revolution awaits us?”
Online Opening – November 29, 2020
Photographer D. Matvejev
The creation of the performance is partially supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania and LTKT (the Culture Council).
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