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Emigration experiences of Andrzej Seweryn

My name is Andrzej Seweryn.

What is your profession?

I am an actor, director, counselor, and currently, the Managing Director of Teatr Polski im. Arnolda Szyfmana in Warsaw.

What is your present residence place?

I live in Warsaw.

Was your leasing from Poland an opportunity or a must?

An opportunity.

How did it happened that you got to France?

In 1980 Andrzej Wajda offered me to participate in the performance that was held in Paris, and that’s how my thirty years plus staying abroad started off. That was the visit, which totally changed my personal, professional, mental, health, intellectual and any life.

How did you communicate with the family, friends, who had stayed in Poland?

This is not true that once the martial law was announced, no one could have gotten out of the country. Of course, in the first months, it was difficult, and it wasn’t simple in general, yet I was receiving messages from my family, informing me on what was going on, almost all the time. I kept in touch with my daughter, mother, sister.

How do you remember the beginnings of your acclimatization in France? How did the local community accept you?

Well, those days it was trendy to be interested in Poland, it was trendy to be interested in Poland. Poland was considered a wonderful country, that resisted the totalitarian regime, some people called the communist system, some named it the Soviet empire, whilst others simply called it a pseudo-socialist system. It doesn’t matter. We all know what we are talking about. That’s why we, I say we, as Wojtek Pszoniak was tere, too, we were together, Andrzej Wajda, Krystyna Zachwatowicz, Daniel Olbrychski used to visit Paris very often over that period, too. We were accepted with some sort of warmth and not noly by the artistic community, but also by common people, you know. Later on, when the martial law was announced, it caused an immediate social action in France. There were various meetings, manifestations, parades, protests, fundraisers all around.

What made you decide to stay in France?

So, there are basically three reasons why I stayed in France. Firstly, because of announcement of the martial law in Poland, and I was performing here, I was doing my job in this place, and then, my return to the homeland was… it would immediately… well, it would end up with limitation of my freedom. Secondly, I set up a family and it was not the Polish family, from Warsaw, from Cracow, or from Lublin, but from Paris. And, thirdly, i have to admit that I realized that after those several months of my work in France, I had potential professional opportunities opening in front of me, and it didn’t only covered theater, not only such a theater, I had been working in, but in other theaters as well as in the movies. I didn’t recognize it as something wrong.

Were there any breakthroughs occurring in the emigration, thanks to which you reached so high and were greatly appreciated by the French theater critics?

Each job I did was an extremely important to me. Obviously, when I performed for the first time in French, not directed by Andrzej Wajda, it was an approval of certain abilities I had, you know, with no Polish burden any more, yet directly expressed by the fact that, I was directed by the Polish guy, you know. Later on, when I performed for the first time, I performed for the first time in Theatre de la Ville I could have improvised, as I had forgotten my lines and I was improvising something in French, I understood that this was something more interesting happening to my… to my French and my language skills. Afterwards, I started reading really fluently Racine, Molier, Marivaux, etc., so it created some new intellectual, emotional, mental areas to be explored, you know. Finally, I encountered Peter Brook, who taught me some different things, you know, I mean communicating with the whole world, with all the religions, all the races, you know. And eventually, Comedie Francaise, that took me under its protective wings. And, of course, the fact that critics considered me the best French actor in 1986, that certainly mattered when I take into account my commitment in Comedie Francaise. But, the previous director, Antoine Vitez, who headed Comedie Francaise before Jacques Lassale had wanted me there, yet I had been in the middle of shooting of “The French Revolution”, where I starred Robespierre and I could have gone there.

What would you say to young people, who think about leaving?

Go and do not forget about Poland.

What Polish tastes, smells did you?

I missed the snow.

Did you actor’s experience reached in the Warsaw National Academy of Dramatic Art (PWST) and over the course of your career in Poland help you in your work in French theaters?

For many years I was perceived basically as a representative of a certain actor’s school, theater’s academy, you know. I would call it a school of poetic realism, you know, I had been taught back in my homeland. I was trained by the greatest individuals, you know, and (my talent) could have been revealed owing to Andrzej Wajda. I was always recognized as someone, who held different expertise, no longer a young person, meaning with many years of professional experience. They entrusted me the upbringing of generations of French actors. For seven years I was a professor in the theater school and previously, for two years, I had been teaching in Lyon, so seven years was this Paris school. I took part in various internships, I ran different internships beforehand. So, they let me be responsible for quite an essential field of education addressed to artists of the French art.

How did your relationships with the Polish community on emigration look like?

Well, they were excellent. I remember my trips to the north, I remember my trips to the south. Even in Nice I met them, in Nice, in Monaco, I met Poles, in the north, in Nantes, Nancy, these cities, I have already mentioned, in Lille, or Liège. There were no problems at all, I don’t remember any conflicts. Well, of course, such people as me, I mean a bit better recognizes, a bit, you know, from the screen, as it is said, well, we are necessarily, at the very first moment, always rather accepted with a slightly positive feelings.

Why did you come back to Poland?

It seems to me that, basically, I reached the moment, when I had already been in Comedie Francaise for twenty years, you know. So, then I could have left, as earlier it had been impossible due to formal,
administrative reasons. I thought that this was the time for sharing my knowledge, expertise with young Polish actors, actresses, who wished it. I thought that, in general, I would be spending the end of my days in Poland, as I prefer so. I thought that I would like to return to the language in more intensive way as earlier, despite, still, I was speaking this language for the entire period of 33 years. I thought that since it was also related with the offer of becoming the head of Teatr Polski, that preceding proposals on managing the cultural institutions I had received were very serious ones, but they had been coming not in a right time. That one matched perfectly.

What did you miss in France?

I may say I missed such an everyday routing. Well, this difficult everyday routing, the real one, you know. Media, movie, phone calls, thing like this or that. A visit of a person from the homeland, this is only a part of it. You have to basically walk down the street, go to buy some bread, milk, in the morning, you know, buy some eggs. Listen to what people are saying, you know, take a glance at their clothes, their faces, to realize what country you live in. And this is only a partial knowledge. So, for sure, I missed it, this everyday look. I missed my family, I missed my mother, father, sister, my daughter Maria, I missed them so much.

What should people emigrating from the country remember about?

About the fact that emigration may not only be advantageous to them, but also about Poland.

Emigration experiences of Andrzej Seweryn
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Andrzej Seweryn, fot. Wojciech Olszanka/East News
Andrzej Seweryn, photography by Wojciech Olszanka/East News

Andrzej Seweryn was born on 25th April 1946 in Heilbronn, Germany. He graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Warsaw and later he started working at the academy as an academic teacher. He performed at the Ateneum Theatre and the TV Theatre, he also starred in films by Agnieszka Holland and Andrzej Wajda. In 1968, he was sentenced to prison for being an anti-communist activist.

In 1980, he left for France to take part in a play titled “Them” based on plays by Stefan I. Witkiewicz. Due to the introduction of the martial law in Poland Andrzej Seweryn could come back to Poland only at the beginning of the 1990s. In Paris he was a member of Comédie Française and taught acting.

He was decorated with the Commander’s Cross of Polonia Restituta and the French National Order of Merit.

Andrzej Seweryn came back to Poland in 2010. He is the director of the Polish Theatre in Warsaw.