While most groups on campus prepare to bask in the romantic spirit of Valentine’s Day, enthusiasts of 20th-century European theater are celebrating the Theatre of Death.
From Feb. 6 to Feb. 13, several of Yale’s institutions are coming together to honor the life and work of Tadeusz Kantor, a Polish theater director. For the centennial of Kantor’s birth in 1915, the Yale Theater Studies Program and the Yale School of Drama have partnered with the European Studies Council at Yale to present a series of events that explore Kantor’s legacy. As part of the celebration, the Theater Studies program is offering a production seminar this semester titled “Objects in Performance.” The centennial’s featured events include several screenings of Kantor’s plays, which are accompanied by discussions with artists who collaborated with Kantor.
“The centennial of Tadeusz Kantor’s birth is both an auspicious moment and impetus to revisit and deepen our knowledge the artist’s work,” said Dominika Laster, who co-teaches the course. “We hope that The Kantor Centennial at Yale will bring new audiences to this work, which remains as fresh and urgent as ever.”
The seminar, also taught by Nathan Roberts, focuses on Kantor’s work within the broader histories and theories of performing objects. Laster added that she thinks the centennial will offer a unique opportunity for participants to engage in Kantor’s art by directly working alongside experts of his plays.
Kantor rose to prominence during the Nazi occupation of Poland. While he is best known for his concept of the “Theatre of Death,” Kantor is also famous for his synthesis of various media, having worked in set design, painting, directing, manifestos and assemblages. Tom Sellar, a professor of dramaturgy and dramatic criticism at the Yale School of Drama, described Kantor’s art as a combination of “time and memory, history, life and death in overlapping circles.”
The centennial celebration formally began last Friday with a screening of a Kantor play titled “Wielopole, Wielopole,” which draws its name from his hometown. The screening was followed by a conversation with one of Kantor’s closest collaborators, Andrzej Wełminski, an artist of the Cricot 2 Theatre, which Kantor established. The events will continue this Friday with the screening of Kantor’s final production, titled “Today’s My Birthday.”
Sellar said he thinks that the discussions with experts on Kantor’s plays would allow attendees to understand the artist’s work in a fresh and unique way.
“This is an amazing opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the work of a genius,” he said. “It is also a chance to encounter his work not just by watching the video, but by talking to actors who were involved in the original plays and scholars who are able to explain the historical fabric and context of his plays.”
Laster highlighted the influence that the featured events will have on students in her seminar. The students are investigating Kantor’s work and using it as inspiration for the work they will create throughout the class, which will be performed at the end of the semester, she explained. The piece that the students devise, which opens at the Whitney Theater in April, will also be staged in New York City and in Kraków in May.
Laster added that students have also held practical workshops on their work with Wełminski and Bogdan Renczyski. The interactions with the actors gave insight into Cricot 2 Theatre’s creative process and Kantor’s methodology, she noted.
The Cricot 2 Theatre was established in 1955.