My name is Michał Zadara.
What is your profession?
I am a theater director.
What is your current residence place?
I live in Warsaw, next to the Central Station.
Was your leaving from Poland an opportunity or a must?
I left Poland with my parents, when I was three and they didn’t ask me what my opinion was.
What were the reasons that your family emigrated from Poland?
My parents left Poland for economical reasons in 1978, or 1979, I don’t exactly remember.
How do you remember the time you were coming to Poland? What pictures do you keep in mind while thinking about those days?
Well, as I kid, I surely remember.. I mean, when it comes to visual things, I certainly remember that the color were basically not saturated, due to the fact that the chemical industry was not so advanced, so all the colors in Poland were not so saturated, everything was pastel, and that was such a huge difference, and the second thing, that could be essential was also the fact, that as a child I deeply felt the cynicism of my peers. Paving slabs were uneven, today, I am emotional about it, something so characteristic for Poland of that era was a blacktop poured around and such bubbles in this blacktop, that made some sort of volcanoes over the pouring process, and it can be seen in some residential areas, yet hardly eve. And sometimes, when you take a walk, simply you feel down in your feet, when crossing these bubbles, that they remind you of your childhood.
How did you relations with the family in Poland look like?
Actually, there were no… obstacles in relations, since phones worked very well at that time, you had to scream while talking on the phone, so I remember that my mum talked much louder, and she still does today, she speaks on her mobile very loudly to this day.
How did you relations with the Polish emigration community look like?
My parents had always a circle of friends, particularly in Vienna. These were Poles and they rather met with them and they also had Austrian friends, or people from other countries, but such close friends were however Polish emigrants in most cases and these were very close friends, I mean we spent weekends with them, too, going out to collect some mushrooms, or sailing out of the city, or something.
How did an acclimatization of your family on the emigration look like?
I remember I was mad, that in the kindergarten people spoke abnormally, I wanted to go to the kindergarten, where they speak normally, yet after a week it was no longer a problem to me, as I learned German after three weeks and I didn’t find it.. an issue. So, I think that the beginnings, I think that there are some sort of different experiences about this emigration. When you think about the emigration, so you think about the emigration of poor people and, of course, my parents were not rich, so it wasn’t such a cosmopolitan trip, yet it was somehow an experience of educated individuals, professionals, people, who went to work, to a particular work, who had salaries comparable to local middle class., who had work mates from all over the world, so it was not so ultimately critical, considering the fact that the relations with Poland had been still remained.
What were you dreaming of while coming back to Poland?
When returning to Poland, I dreamt about a bar and restaurant social life, to be able to sit long hours with my mates in the bars, smoke cigarettes, drink wine or beer, discuss a lot.
What Polish tastes, smells did you miss?
When I lived in Brooklyn, I was searching for cucumbers in brine, sauerkraut, in the Polish boroughs.
How did your comeback to Poland look like?
After so many years of travelling around, what mattered the most to me was not to move at all and for the first eight months I didn’t go out of the Warsaw center at all. Then I had a job in the district of Żoliborz and I found it problematic to take a tram to get to the spot two districts away, and there were mosquitoes there, so it was a huge problem to me. As in the center of Warsaw there are no mosquitoes, everything is so polluted that no insect lives there, it was excellent that I stayed all the time inside this city and downtown, so I became extremely nervous when I had to leave somewhere and… then I left for Cracow to study there, and I really disliked it and I always tried to return to Warsaw, thinking it was for me… it was ultimately important to be to be in the center and I slowly started to organize my life, so to work only here, downtown, and, what might be crucial to tell about, the fact, that I have been living two streets away from this museum, where we are having a conversation now, and I recently worked for the Jewish Theater, that is one street further, in the National Theater, that is three streets away, Studio Theater, that you can see from here, Drama Theater, that you can see from here. And now in this museum, as I have already told you and such… a local character of living is perhaps my response to the cosmopolitism of the previous life I was living.
What did you experience living abroad what you could not have experienced in Poland and opposite way?
This is a very import ant question in the Polish culture, since a large part of the Polish literature deals with the issue whether Poland is saint or is not saint. Poland is unique somehow, or is just exactly the same as any other place. So in a way, this response eis clear that, of course, it is the same as any other place, that saying that a country is exceptional is always some sort of xenophobic and nationalistic.
Do you often refer to Polish texts in your work. Why?
When I discovered the richness of the Polish classical literature, i.e. mostly the romantic one, yet not only, I mean these Renaissance texts are also incredibly interesting, I recognized that this has been deeply neglected in the theater, I meant that the generation of directors, that was before me did…and maybe educators, teachers, that… yet, all in all this culture of the 1980ies and 1990ies simply extremely pauperized the Polish culture, since it wasn’t capable of, or didn’t’ want to find an exciting model of relations with the Polish classical literature. Let’s name it this way. I mean, none of my peers can imagine that, as I said “The Envoys” (by Jan Kochanowski) could be exciting, or that Mikołaj Rej is a funny writer, meaning that it might be interesting or exciting, or dangerous, some sort of taboo… as I noticed that it has been strongly neglected and I basically started to work with it and as I became quite successful on the stage and the audience gave me a very good feedback and said “this is incredible, I didn’t realize these plays are so fine, I have always thought that Polish plays are worse than German or English ones.” And so I became successful in this areas and it seems to me that I can feel it properly. I don’t know how it happened that me, the person, who was raised out of Poland, feel it properly and people get it together. I don’t know if it’s correct that they get it together. For sure, no one has ever… discouraged me to explore this Polish classical culture and this is important, I guess. As I think that… in general no one has ever discouraged me from the culture. As I think that what is characteristic to the Polish education system is the fact that young people are discouraged from the culture. It means that this is some sort of a duty, a sad duty. It becomes a sad duty and not the area, where… you can learn some interesting things about yourself. As, to be true, this is the culture. This is the area, where wise men thought extensively about the human’s identity and from this culture you can earn something interesting about yourself. According to me, somehow my own experience proves that in the Polish school does not treat the culture this way, but this is some sort of a sad duty towards our fathers. And, this is obviously fatal and horrible and maybe because I don’t hold such a burden, I am able to find some sort of a fresh approach to these masterpieces. Perhaps, also because it seems to me a bit exotic? I mean, for sure, „Dziady” (by Adam Mickiewicz) is the more exotic drama than those of Shakespeare. However, on the other hand I think that for each Pole, this is more exotic than Shakespeare, and this is nothing special.
What Polish traits are considered helpful and what unhelpful in terms of emigration?
I don’t know, I would never talk about the traits of Poles. Poles, as I mentioned, generally I tried to extend this term in this interview, I tried to extend the term. “Pole”… “Poles”…I don’t know, I have never seen any traits of Poles there. It would mean that I had them, too. I don’t know. Certainly, people who drink a lot are less likely to do something creative in their lives, so it would be advisable to drink less. But, in other countries they abuse alcohol, so this is not a typical Polish feature, just the one characteristic to all human beings, that alcohol, in general, distracts the creativity.
What should the people emigrating from the country remember about?
The people emigrating from the country should remember to call their mums when they reach their destination and to put on warm clothes.
Michał Zadara was born on 19th October 1976 in Warsaw. At the age of three he left Poland together with his parents and went to Australia.
He studied Political Sciences and Theatre Studies at Swarthmore College in Philadelphia. In 2001, he came back to Poland and began studying at the Academy for the Dramatic Arts in Cracow, the Faculty of Drama Directing. He has been working at the National Theatre in Warsaw, the Wybrzeże Theatre in Gdańsk and the Old Theatre in Cracow.
His output includes reinterpretation of classical works by Wyspiański, Kochanowski and Rej. He shows how the content and the message of those texts can still resonate with the experiences of a modern Pole.
Michał Zadara is the laurate of Paszport Polityki 2007 (Polityka’s Passport Plebiscite).