Melpomene from small flat

I will try to bring the atmosphere of home theatre to the Kamienica Theatre. I will treat each spectator individually, as if they were my personal guest," declared Emilian Kaminski, an outstanding actor and director. He died on 26 December at the age of 70.

And indeed, it was not uncommon for him to personally welcome visitors to performances staged within the centuries-old walls of a building with a dark past (during World War II, it housed the Office for Combating Usury and Speculation in the Jewish Quarter, commonly known as the "Thirteen" - from the then address of 13 Leszno Street). Certainly, however, most of the regulars at the Kamienica Theatre, which during its 13 years of activity gained a reputation as an important place on the theatrical map of Poland, did not know the conspiratorial past of its originator and director.

Contestant of the communist regime

Kamiński gained experience as an actor at the Theatre in Wola under Tadeusz Łomnicki, then at the National Theatre under Adam Hanuszkiewicz, and the Ateneum under Janusz Warmiński. Who knows, however, whether his relationship with Melpomene was not determined precisely by the Home Theatre, which continued the tradition of meetings with the muse of tragedy and singing in flats.

It was inaugurated in 1955 by the experimental and avant-garde Theatre on Tarczynska Street, an initiative of the poetic trio: Miron Białoszewski, Bogusław Choiński and Lech Emfase Stefański - the owner of premises in a building at 11 Tarczynska Street. Three years later, Białoszewski, in his flat located in a block of flats on Dąbrowskiego Square, founded the Teatr Osobny, run jointly with the poet Ludwik Hering and the visual artist Ludmila Murawska. Both establishments avoided politics, which did not prevent them from being infiltrated by the Security Service, especially its collaborators.

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Since 1976, the address Puławska 10th/35 became the centre of rebellious Warsaw. In the recent past, it belonged to Melchior Wańkowicz. After the writer's death, his granddaughter Anna (de domo Erdman, daughter of Jan, a respected inter-war sports journalist and émigré publicist) moved in with her husband Tadeusz Walendowski. Poems were recited there by: Stanisław Barańczak, Ryszard Krynicki, Jacek Bierezin. Prose was read by: Stefan Kisielewski, Marian Brandys, Tadeusz Konwicki, Jan Józef Szczepański, Andrzej Kijowski, Kazimierz Orłoś, Marek Nowakowski, Tomasz Burek, Piotr Wierzbicki. Opposition bards performed: Jan Krzysztof Kelus, Jacek Kaczmarski, Janusz Szpotański. Texts of emigrant authors banned by the communist censorship were recalled by actors: Halina Mikołajska, Andrzej Seweryn and Maciej Rayzacher. The owner of the flat was protected by a US passport, so the Secret Service did not enter, only checking the persons entering the flat on the staircase.

One such evening was attended by the protagonist of this text, a recent graduate of the acting department of the State Higher School of Theatre in Warsaw. He was introduced by Piotr Zaborowski, a colleague from that academy, a collaborator of the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR), who died in circumstances that remain unexplained to this day 44 years ago. Did the memory of this independent intellectual salon inspire Ewa Dałkowska, Andrzej Piszczatowski, Maciej Szary and Emilian Kamiński, the founders of the Home Theatre? Established in protest against the imposition of martial law and the banning of Solidarity.

Earlier - on 24 December 1981. - a 'wartime shepherdess' took place at St Anne's Church in Warsaw, attended by Andrzej Szczepkowski, president of the just-suspended Union of Polish Stage Artists. He showed the milieu the attitude in force at that gloomy time. And so the boycott of the 'militarised' Polish Television (TVP) began.

Kaminski joined with conviction, for he had been contesting the People's Republic of Poland as a teenager. As a high-school student he watched March 1968; two years later he learned about the massacre on the Coast by listening to the Polish section of Radio Free Europe.

What happened after December 1981, he later recalled: "I was proud of the fact that there were so many brave people in Poland, manifesting their dislike of the regime. This appealed to me very much, which is why I signed up to it. During the first months of martial law, I supported myself by working for an illegal construction company I had set up. I renovated flats, did bricklaying, carpentry and plumbing. Many of my colleagues who took part in the boycott managed in a similar way. Of course, there were detentions, interrogations and harassment. I had an unpleasant incident that took a bit of a toll on my health, but I don't think it needs mentioning. I was once asked by a journalist: what did you feel when you suffered for millions? I replied that millions had suffered more than me. I didn't do anything of the sort, I behaved then as I had done all my life, there's really nothing great about it. All the more so because during martial law there were people who really sacrificed themselves - gave their health, their lives. Compared to them, I don't feel like anyone important."
Emilian Kamiński in 2005 in the series "Tak it was supposed to be" - (dir. Agnieszka Trzos, artistic supervision - Maciej Wojtyszko) Photo. K. Kowalska TVP
He considered the Home Theatre to be a unique phenomenon. As well as acting in it, he was also responsible for transport and security. He made sure that the actors were not recorded or photographed. Father Jerzy Popiełuszko became the institution's informal chaplain. He would come to rehearsals and lend his parsonage for the performance.

Chicken coop and quarry

The Home Theatre gave its premiere performance on 1 November 1982 in Dałkowska's Ursynów flat. "Restoring Order" discounted the work of Barańczak, Kelus, Anna Kamieńska, Jacek Kaczmarski and Ernest Bryll. The first version of the show was previously performed at the Teatr Powszechny. It fell off the bill after 13 December 1981.

During the second premiere - 'Cabaret' - Kaminski presented 'Blitz on Jaruzelski'. The audience literally reeled with laughter. Every year on 13 December, the recording of this lampoon has thousands of views. To this day, there are disputes about the authorship of the text. Kaczmarski, or perhaps Maciej Zembaty?

Zbigniew Raszewski watched 'Our God's Brother', by Karol Wojtyla, at the Home Theatre. Afterwards, he noted:

"Several dozen people sat in a semi-circle in a large room. The youngest sat on the floor. The 'Theater Diary' delegation was given very good seats, on a table against the wall. In the first part of the performance, the three actors played a great montage of poems and songs. The story of the abduction from home, the transport, the Christmas Eve in the camp, was unflinchingly brought out. Black bread was broken [...]. It became incredibly solemn. Then there was a break. The theatre had to be aired, so we went into the other room. Only then was the fee thrown into a hat. There was a buffet."

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Sometimes they performed in churches, catechetical halls and sometimes even outdoors. The first performance outside of Warsaw took place in the village of Żółwin, on the premises of... poultry sheds belonging to Karolina Przybylska, a local activist in the Solidarity Trade Union of Individual Farmers. At other times, performances were held in a quarry near Kazimierz Dolny. But it was mainly the flats that served as the stage, which in a way referred to the tradition of patriotic meetings organised there during the years of the German occupation.

Händel, Janosik, Vertinsky…

It is impossible to count all the people who have passed through the Home Theatre, still waiting for its chronicler: Jerzy Zelnik, Zygmunt Sierakowski, Włodzimierz Nahorny, Kazimierz Wysota, Joanna Ładyńska, Magdalena Kuta, Daria Trafankowska. Maria Dłużewska, Marek Frąckowiak, Jerzy Gudejko, Piotr Machalica, Maria Robaszkiewicz, Bogdan Szczesiak, Jan Pietrzak, Jan Tadeusz Stanisławski, Tadeusz Szyma... Between 1982 and 1987, the theatre produced seven plays, staged at least four hundred times in the presence of around 32,000 spectators! Considering the circumstances, a truly impressive result.
Emilian Kamiński announces the premiere of Proposal, realized as part of the project "Integration for Self-Reliance" and establishing the first in Poland Professional Theater of the Disabled at the Kamienica Theatre, November 4, 2011. Fot. PAP/Radek Pietruszka
It ceased its activities after the political breakthrough in the country. In November 1989, one-act plays by recent Czech dissidents were presented on the stage of the Teatr Powszechny: "The Downfall" by Pavel Kohout and "Largo desolato" by Václav Havel. The premiere of the former took place six years earlier in Wrocław. The performance was interrupted by a raid by the secret police. The artists, the audience (127 people!) and the owner of the venue were taken into custody. They regained their freedom the following day, following the intervention of the charismatic director of the capital's Teatr Powszechny, Zygmunt Hübner.

Six years ago, the Kamienica Theatre prepared a paradocumentary show entitled "Home Theatre". Its director, Emilian Kamiński, played the role of a participant and witness to the events of three decades ago. He created one of the three theatrical creations that particularly stuck in my memory. The second is George Frederick Händel in Paul Barz's 'Dinner for Four Hands', where he fought a masterful acting duel with Olaf Lubaszenko, playing Johann Sebastian Bach. The third - Janosik - comes from Ernest Bryll's song-play "On painted glass". But I also remember Kamiński singing - in two voices, with his wife, the actress Justyna Sieńczyłło - romances by Aleksander Vertinsky in a congenial translation by Jonasz Kofta. One of them - "There was a ball" - was crowned with this stanza:

Let us drink to love, love to the end.
What will be, what was is not important.
Doom creeps in, casts its shadow.
I will never meet you again.

– Tomasz Zbigniew Zapert
-Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Thank you for your help in preparing this text: Anna Chodakowska, Maria Dluzewska, Irena Karel and Maciej Rayzacher.

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