2012-03-11
2014-06-04

Osterwa Juliusz

Juliusz Osterwa. Undated photo from the private archive of Maria Osterwa-Czekaj(1885–1947), real name Julian Andrzej Maluszek, outstanding actor and director, creator of Reduta, one of the most important figures in Polish twentieth-century dramatic arts. Osterwa was born on 23 June 1885 in Kraków in a house that no longer exists at 4 Rękawka Street. He remained under the particular influence of his beloved mother who died prematurely on 17 January 1901. His first experiences in the theatre came when he was a pupil at the St. Anne Gimnazjum, secondary school, where he was friends with Leon Schiller (they created home-made theatre together at the Schillers’ home). In 1903 he was an extra in the premiere performance of Stanisław Wyspiański’s Wyzwolenie (Liberation), something which also provided him with an opportunity to observe the author at work during rehearsals. He left school in 1904 without ever completing his final exams and decided to join the theatre, considering it the only way in which he could quickly make his mark. It was Schiller who conceived his pseudonym, Osterwa, which was taken from the name of a mountain in the Tatras. Having been rejected from Teatr Miejski (Municipal Theatre) in Lwów (Lviv) by its artistic director Tadeusz Pawlikowski, Osterwa joined Kraków’s Teatr Ludowy (People’s Theatre) where he encountered, among others, Stefan Jaracz, who would become an outstanding actor, collaborator and friend. Osterwa made his official stage debut on 1 October 1904 in the role of Jańcio in Gabriela Zapolska’s Jojne Firułkes, before playing Mazepa in Słowacki’s tragedy and the Groom in Wyspiański’s Wesele (The Wedding). In autumn 1905 he was taken on at Kraków’s Teatr Miejski by Ludwik Solski; there Osterwa appeared in minor roles while at the same time establishing contacts with the Kraków artistic milieu (among other achievements, he was one of the initiators of the legendary Zielony Balonik [Green Balloon] cabaret). During the 1906/1907 season, he worked at Poznań’s Teatr Polski where, thanks to contacts with the German theatre, he was able to further himself artistically. His development accelerated after he moved to a theatre in Wilno (Vilnius) in autumn 1907. Thanks to the friendship and sponsorship of the Aleksandrowicz brothers, Antoni and Stanisław, Osterwa was able to complete his education and also take valuable trips abroad (in 1907 and 1909). Within a relatively short time, Osterwa became one of the best-known figures of the Vilnius theatre scene, playing some of the grandest roles in the repertory (including Joas in the world premiere performance of Wyspiański’s Sędziowie [Judges], 24 December 1907). In 1910 he joined the farce company of Warszawskie Teatry Rządowe (Warsaw Governmental Theatres). He remained a member for two years and quickly became a favourite on the Warsaw stages known for being a charming lover in comedies. On 14 March 1912, he married the outstanding and beautiful actor, Wanda Malinowska (who died on 22 January 1929). In March 1912 he also moved to Teatr Rozmaitości (Variety Theatre) and became ever bolder in his choice of dramatic roles – garnering great recognition and popularity in playing the role of The Duke of Reichstadt in Eugene Rostand’s The Eaglet. During this period, Osterwa made his first attempts at directing and over time acquired significant recognition (Wyspiański’s Wesele, premiere 6 March 1915). Gradually he was able to exert influence on the Russian executive of the Warsaw Governmental Theatres and thus convinced them to undertake reforms which were, however, cut short by the events of the war. On 4 July 1915, as an Austrian subject, Osterwa, together with his wife and many other people was forced to leave for the depths of Russia. Initially he settled in Samara where, on Christmas Eve 1915, together with the stage designer Wincenty Drabik, he prepared a Nativity play. In March 1916, he moved to Moscow, where he joined the Polish Theatre that had been organised by Arnold Szyfman in the building of Alexander Tairov’s Studio Theatre. There Osterwa directed Wyspiański’s Wesele (8 March 1916) and Bolesław Śmiały (11 May 1916). It was also there that he was spotted by Konstantin Stanislavsky while playing the role of Father Peter in a scene from Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve), performed as part of an evening dedicated to Adam Mickiewicz. Following this, Stanislavsky invited Osterwa together with Mieczysław Limanowski to visit the home of the First Studio of the Moscow Art Theatre. In August 1916, Osterwa moved to Kyiv where he became artistic director of the city’s Polish Theatre, which was led by Franciszek Rychłowski. It was there that Osterwa was able for the first time to put into practice his theatrical plans by directing and acting in performances which would soon become his greatest achievements (including Franciszek Zabłocki’s Fircyk w zalotach [Dandy’s courtship], Stefan Żeromski’s Sułkowski, Calderon and Słowacki’s Constant Prince and Słowacki’s Kordian). Osterwa’s particular views and approach to theatre, shared by a group of supporters (who included Józef Poręba, Stefan Jaracz and Wincenty Drabik), ultimately caused a split in the company. In spring 1918, Osterwa’s group worked independently as an artistic cooperative which gave performances at the Ogniwo club. In August 1918, Osterwa returned to Warsaw and joined Teatr Polski (where his roles included the title character in The Constant Prince; he also directed Wyspiański’s Liberation, premiere 28 November 1918). Disappointed with both the level of the theatre and the evident lack of any radical changes, Osterwa decided in December 1918 to create a new theatre based on the studio model, which would work on developing the art of acting and in this way aim at creating an original, Polish form of theatrical arts that would put into practice the projects of the romantic poets and also Wyspiański. He invited Mieczysław Limanowski and a group of young actors working with him to collaborate on realising this objective, thus creating Reduta. Working alongside Limanowski as one of its two heads, as well as serving as its leading director and actor, Osterwa held great influence over both Reduta’s artistic programme, as well as the eventual form of the majority of its performances. He also dedicated a great deal of time and energy to its organisational and economic problems, which forced him at various times, including 1930–1932, to work intensively giving guest appearances and touring in order that he could pay off the company’s debts. At the same time as working in Reduta, he did not give up other tasks and functions. In 1923, he became artistic director of Teatr Rozmaitości, which in 1924 was renamed Teatr Narodowy (National Theatre; premieres there included Żeromski’s Uciekła mi przepióreczka [My little quail has flown], 27 February 1925). He eventually relinquished this role, however, discouraged by the lack of support from the authorities and also due to conflicts within the group. Between 1932 and 1935 he was artistic director of the Słowacki Theatre in Kraków, and during this period he was intensively active as both actor and director. In 1935 he dedicated himself fully to Reduta, where he initiated new forms of activities. He spent the years of the Second World War primarily in Kraków, cared for by his second wife Matyla Sapieha (they married on 30 June 1937) while working on projects for future theatrical activities and also creating his own reworkings of dramatic works (Antigone, Hamlet). The notes he made during this period (published in part many years after Osterwa’s death) contain some completely original and unprecedented theatrical-cultural projects, including a theatrical brotherhood named ‘Genezja’ (Genesis). After the end of the war, Osterwa returned to the Słowacki Theatre in Kraków, initially as an actor and director (Słowacki’s Fantazy, in which he also played the title role) then, from 1946, as the artistic director of the unified Kraków Theatres group of companies. Heavily ill with stomach cancer, he nevertheless carried on working. He made his final stage appearance on 25 November 1946 in the role of Fantazy. He died on 10 May 1947. His work, for many years underappreciated or even ignored, has been gradually rediscovered since the 1960s, with Jerzy Grotowski having a significant hand in this, given that he made direct references to the traditions of Reduta (including by adopting Reduta’s bight as the Laboratory Theatre’s symbol). Osterwa is currently considered one of the leading representatives and creators of twentieth-century Polish theatrical arts, while his legacy, particularly his notes, remains relatively unexplored, thus permitting many new discoveries to be made. Regardless of how we might judge his ideas (particularly his controversial views from the 1940s, which were influenced by conservative and nationalist thought), Osterwa is one of the most worthy embodiments of the ethics of the theatre, of faith in the theatre and of dedication to experiments carried out using the dramatic arts.

Bibliography: 

Jerzy Grotowski: Osterwa po ćwierćwieczu, wypowiedź podczas wieczoru poświęconego Juliuszowi Osterwie w dwudziestą piątą rocznicę jego śmierci, zorganizowanego przez Instytut Sztuki PAN w Warszawie 10 maja 1972 roku, „Dialog” 1972 nr 9, s. 115–117.

Ireneusz Guszpit: Przez teatr – poza teatr (szkice o Juliuszu Osterwie), Wrocław 1989.

Mieczysław Limanowski, Juliusz Osterwa: Listy, opracował i wstępem opatrzył Zbigniew Osiński, Warszawa 1987.

Zbigniew Osiński: Pamięć Reduty. Osterwa, Limanowski, Grotowski, Gdańsk 2003.

Juliusz Osterwa: Antygona, Hamlet, Tobiasz dla Teatru Społecznego, wybór i opracowanie Ireneusz Guszpit i Dariusz Kosiński, Wrocław 2007.

O zespole Reduty 1919–1939. Wspomnienia, Warszawa 1970.

Juliusz Osterwa: Listy Juliusza Osterwy, pod redakcją Edwarda Krasińskiego, Warszawa 1968.

Juliusz Osterwa: Przez teatr – poza teatr, wybór i opracowanie Ireneusz Guszpit i Dariusz Kosiński, wstęp Ireneusz Guszpit, Towarzystwo Naukowe Societas Vistulana, Kraków 2004

Juliusz Osterwa: Raptularz kijowski, opracowanie Ireneusz Guszpit, Wrocław 2010.

Juliusz Osterwa: Reduta i teatr. Artykuły, wywiady, wspomnienia, 1914-1947, teksty zebrali Zbigniew Osiński i Teresa Grażyna Zabłocka, opracował i przygotował do druku Zbigniew Osiński, Wydawnictwo „Wiedza o Kulturze”, Wrocław 1991.

Juliusz Osterwa: Z zapisków, wybór i opracowanie Ireneusz Guszpit, Wrocław 1992.

Józef Szczublewski: Pierwsza Reduta Osterwy, Warszawa 1965.

Józef Szczublewski: Żywot Osterwy, Warszawa 1973.

Wanda Świątkowska: Książę. Hamlet Juliusza Osterwy, Kraków 2009.