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Communism with a Theatrical Face: STS and the Polish October of 1956

  • Kathleen Cioffi

Communism was not always hated and feared by everyone in Eastern Europe. At a certain moment in recent post-war history, a group of influential intellectuals in Poland—now a place where even ex-communist politicians are careful to swear their allegiance to free markets—wanted to reform but still keep a Communist system. That moment was the Polish October, named for the month in 1956 when Wladyslaw Gomulka, a man who believed in a “Polish road to socialism,” took power as First Secretary of the Communist Party. Just as the Czechs in 1968 believed in “socialism with a human face,” the Poles in 1956 believed that Communism could be, in the jargon of their day, “revised” to better fit people's needs. The Polish October was the result of a complex network of events beginning with Stalin's death in 1953, coming to a climax with workers' strikes in June, 1956 in Poznan, and ending in Khrushchev's acquiescence to Gomulka's election in October, 1956. During this period, one of the important contributors to the intellectual ferment that led to the October, the theatre group Studencki Theatr Satyryków or STS, established a cultural niche for alternative theatre that mocked the Communist system and led to one of the most political, vital alternative theatre movements in the world.

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1 Ascherson, Neal, The Struggles of Poland (New York: Random House, 1987), 166.

2 Hotchkiss, Christine, Home to Poland (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1958), 151.

3 Sliwinska, Zofia, “Teatry studenckie w Lodzi 1946–1970,” Pamientnik Teatralny 21 (1972): 214.

4 Ibid., 215.

5 Drawicz, Andrzej, “STS i inne teatrzyki warszawskie,” Teatry studenckie w Polsce, ed. Koenig, Jerzy (Warsaw: Wydawnictw Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1968), 6566. All quotations from articles with Polish titles are my own translations.

6 Ibid., 66.

7 Drawicz, 66.

8 Sieradzki, Jacek, “Gorycz rozczarowanych Zetempowców,” Dialog 25.12 (1980): 108.

10 Skrzydlo, Leszek, “‘Pstrag’ i ‘Cytryna,’” Teatry studenckie w Polsce, ed. Koenig, Jerzy (Warsaw: Wydawnictw Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1968), 104.

11 Koenig, Jerzy, “Teatry studenckie A.D. 1961,” Dialog 6.6 (1961): 139.

12 Abramow, Jaroslaw, “Thinking Has a Great Future,” Le theatre en Pologne/The Theatre in Poland 3.8 (1961): 7.

13 For a more detailed discussion of Terevsat see Curtis, J.A.E., “Down with the Foxtrot! Concepts of Satire in the Soviet Theatre of the 1920s,” Russian Theatre in the Age of Modernism, ed. Russell, Robert and Barratt, Andrew (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), 219235. For details on the Blue Blouse groups see Deák, Frantisek, “Blue Blouse (1923–1928),” The Drama Review 17.1 (1973): 3546.

14 Sieradzki, 107–8.

15 Ibid., 108.

16 Quoted in Drawicz, 67–8.

17 Quoted in Drawicz, 67.

18 Drawicz, 67.

19 Jarecki, Andrzej, “Warszawski STS,” Pamietnik Teatralny 11 (1962): 422.

20 Ibid., 427.

21 Quoted in Sieradzki, 109.

22 Jarecki, 428–9.

23 Abramow, 7.

24 Szydlowski, Roman, The Theatre in Poland, trans. Cenkalska, Christina (Warsaw: Interpress, 1972), 139.

25 Sieradzki, 110.

26 Koenig, Jerzy, “Od Arystofanesa do STSu,” Dialog 8.5 (1963): 99.

27 Jarecki, 430.

28 Drawicz, 76–7.

29 Sieradzki, 109.

30 Drawicz, 77–8.

31 Abramow, 7.

32 Drawicz, 78.

33 Szydlowski, 139.

34 Jarecki, 422.

35 Raina, Peter, Political Opposition in Poland 1954–1977 (London: Poets and Painters, 1978), 2632.

36 Ibid., 35.

37 Ascherson, 157.

38 Hotchkiss, 162–3.

39 Jarecki, 432.

40 Koenig, “1961,” 141.

* Kathleen Cioffi is an adjunct faculty member in the Communication Department at Central Washington University. She recently earned a Ph.D. in Theatre History at New York University.

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Theatre Survey
  • ISSN: 0040-5574
  • EISSN: 1475-4533
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