Jerzy Grzegorzewski (1939-2005)

Fot. Krzysztof Gierałtowski


Grzegorzewski’s theatre was for me a period of great lesson on how to behave on stage on terms I was not familiar with. It was an encounter with a man of great culture and sense of humor. I remember morning coffees in a canteen where we surrounded the Director and Stanislaw Radwan, and they talked and talked and joked. Hours would pass. And that was beautiful… I miss this theatre and I search for people like that.


I took a job at the National Theater with a bit of anxiety. Educated with literature of Axer and Dejmek’s consistent logic I could not catch up with Grzegorzewski’s theatre imagination.

After two months of waiting for first show of “November night” [“Noc Listopadowa”], a week before premiere, Anna Chodakowska and I started preparing for Chlopicki-Nike scene. “Maybe you would sit down?” – Grzegorzewski suggested. “We can’t sit down” I said, “Why?”, “Because the first line is Let’s sit down”, “And you cannot say that while seated?” – Grzegorzewski was surprised. And we played that scene “seated”. This anecdote is a naïve attempt to synthetize Jurek’s theatre. It didn’t take me much time to realize that I was given a unique opportunity to grow my theatre imagination, find my own language of expression, look for unexpected solutions.

Meeting Grzegorzewski after dozens of years in theatre gave me back my primary school enthusiasm, which I benefit from till today.


I think this will not be an overstatement, if I say that meeting Jerzy Grzegorzewski has had a tremendous impact on my acting and somehow changed my thinking about theatre. I am not forgetting my work with other great directors: Krystian Lupa, Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Jarocki, but maybe since I worked with Jerzy Grzegorzewski for a longest period and most often, I dare to say that I feel I am his actress. Actress of his theatre. And not only because of sense of belonging to shows, but mostly because I feel I belong to a certain way of thinking and (Jerzy, sir, please forgive me my buoyancy) feeling. I never had any doubt that I am working with a great artist and a great man.

During rehearsals, he would always surprise us with his vivid imagination. He was unpredictable. And that was the best. Theater was created, not repeated, with already comprehended, often decent, yet refreshed skills and models. Actor was a co-creator not a puppet in director’s hands.

No matter how you put it, Jerzy Grzegorzewski loved his actors. And he had great respect for them. That is why, it is so hard to work with Directors, who as acclaimed, have no imagination, knowledge or heart of Grzegorzewski.

Let’s not fear great words. Heart! There would be nothing without it. And for that I thank Jerzy Grzegorzewski from the bottom of my heart. Just like that. This was your favorite phrase: “just like that”.


When you meet someone like that, your life changes. I am certain, I would never experience such an intense exchange of inner worlds as with Jerzy Grzegorzewski.


When Grzegorzewski came to Paris for the first time, he quickly decided that attending theater there was a waste of time, as it was a sort of a “fossil”, which had little to do with his imagination. Hence, he immersed in what he loved most – antique shops, second-hand book sellers, tailors, as per education he was a… tailor (let’s just say so) and he found this utmost beautiful coat there, which he purchased, though he claimed he bargained it – but nobody believed it…. So, he bought this coat and he said: “I knew that nobody else would wear it when I wear it in Warsaw. People will not be able to take their eyes off me! I get off the train in Warsaw and I put on my coat for the first time, as it was very hot in Paris, and there it goes! Everybody is turning their heads! I got what I craved for! But, some guy approaches me, and he says – excuse me, sir, you’re dragging your lining from under your coat…. And that’s how the glory on this earth fades away…”

One more, wonderful story is when he came to canteen one day all upset. You could clearly see something really moved him. So, I ask – Jurek, what happened? “Can you imagine?! I got on a tram and I noticed a very pretty girl, so I stared at her, and she got up and offered me her seat. So, I asked her – how dare you?!”. Age did not exist for him…

And on a more serious note… It was such a luxury to be the one who wrote music to his shows, actors know it very well. From day one. His preparations were a sort of a draft, they were not concrete. They were outstanding graphics, let’s say architect’s sketches of a space for a given text. This was an extra-ordinary phenomenon, as some objects would appear in several of his shows, but their space and functionality were always different. This also reminds me of an anecdote… During vacation, he bought a washing machine in an antique shop, which was left somewhere in the warehouse. During one of the rehearsals with actors, he asked one of the stage engineers to bring it over. After some time, he came back and said there was no washing machine to be found. He went there with them and straight away he pointed at a beautiful object. It was a washing machine from early 1900s that looked like a globe. It was a big round tumbler… And they went looking for a washing machine. On the stage, it could be used as both: a washing machine and a globe. The function of one thing was never same… In Judges, just to give you an example, you can see grand kettles (which he also found in an antique store) where two important scenes took place. Natan tuned the kettles during a monologue, which gave a unique result. And at some stage, the father – Mateusz Benoit, took the lid off and it turned out that there was water inside and he would put his head inside for refreshment and would jump out with wet hair… Those were the functionalities… And now, I would like to come back to what I said about space. You could not pass by it indifferently – by this space, by the details that shaped it. It was impossible as they were so distinct. Actors also had to consider that when they thought of their roles. In one of the interviews Grzegorzewski said, with an abstract highest-rank self-mockery “I don’t know if I brought anything new to theater, but I definitely brought one thing and I am proud of it. I introduced pantograph to theater.”

I, on the other hand, would enter this space, and we would usually discuss about certain position for hours, and possibilities of what we expected from one another. This was also a question of cast. Yet, when I came and saw the space for the first time, I knew as much as what not to write. He would impose the style of the sound with this space. This sort of inspiration was by no means limiting. Not what I had to, but I knew what I could not. Music had to harmonize with this space. Grzegorzewski expected music to be on the level where actor’s gesture and words would finish, same theme just different dimension. That is why we would sometimes put musicians on far ends, like in Wroclaw, where he directed “Death in old decorations” [“Śmierć w starych dekoracjach”] and everything happened on the third balcony – audience, actors, everything. Only a string quartet was placed on first balcony and in such arrangement: first violin on one side, second on the other side, viola on one side and cello on the other.

I don’t need to tell you how much of a challenge it was for musicians. Surely, they played. Just like they should. But, how it came to that. Because the distance between third balcony and horizon was 92 meters and the audience could see the open space of empty seats and grand scene with a metal double bass shaped construction with four strings, massive lines, which reached as high as the third balcony. When I saw it, I knew exactly that it had to sound like that, that it could be nothing else but human voice and string instruments, the simplest ones, the most classic group – classic string quartet. And that was the only time I heard a compliment from him “Really, these were just those strings playing? On top?”


Among all directors, which I had an opportunity to meat, Grzego, because this is how we have called him, was a completely different story. Whenever I talk about him, I think of an artist mostly, the word “director” is just a definition of an area where he exercised art. When working with him, I never knew what final shape the show would take, but I always felt I was a part of constructing a fascinating, addicting world; somebody else’s world which at times became also mine; a wise world, often painful, but also full of humor and irony, because this reference to reality and oneself was inseparable with Grzego; and a world which most of all was beautiful.


We worked in France together once and Grzego, after every part of the show he consider well done, would say his usual “Pieknie!” [Beautiful!]; French colleagues started calling him Mr. Pink as this is how they heard this word. Grzego or Mr. Pink – same thing.


Jerzy Grzegorzewski had an incredible, not to say crucial impact on my professional, artistic and personal development. His strength, expressiveness, encountered a breeding ground in me, to be a tool in His theater. I learned from Grzegorzewski, and what set me for life, was a certain taste. I would never end up doing something in theater which would be outside this “code”, which he inculcated in me. Some choices, decisions, which I make today – not only in theater – are stigmatized by meeting this subtle, delicate, wise man, and being lucky enough to have worked with him. He never hurt anybody with his theater and he never climbed up on somebody else’s shoulders. He respected a human being in an actor – which is very rare now.


My theatre adventure with Grzegorzewski lasted 16 years. And as Grotowski’s actors would always be Grotowski’s actors, Szajna’s would be Szajna’s actors, actors who played for Swinarski, Jarocki, Lupa, would be their actors, me… I am Grzegorzewski’s.




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