Once-censored Polish theatrical group to perform ‘The Files’

The Polish theater company Theatre of the Eighth Day returns to campus in February with “The Files,” a docudrama created from actual surveillance records the secret police kept on the group between 1975 and 1983.

Through these files, a human drama unfolds — not just of life under a communist regime but of the courageous artistry that thrived in spite of that oppression.

Theatre of the Eighth Day previously performed “Wormwood” at Yale in 2009.

There will be three performances only of “The Files,” Feb. 20-22 at 8 p.m. each night in the Iseman Theater, 1156 Chapel St. Question-and-answer sessions with the artists will be held immediately following all performances, which are in English.

Tickets are $30; $25 for Yale faculty and staff; and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased online, or by calling 203-432-1234.

The production is part of “No Boundaries: A Series of Global Performances,” presented by the Yale Repertory Theatre to celebrate the diversity of voices and experiences in today’s world.

Founded in 1964, Theatre of the Eighth Day quickly became the most famous and internationally recognized Polish underground theatre. Inspired and influenced by the work of revolutionary theatre artist Jerzy Grotowski, the company developed its own acting method, creating performances through improvisation. For the first 25 years of its existence, and despite constant police surveillance and government censorship, Theatre of the Eighth Day managed to create some of the most important works for the Polish stage, including “In One Breath” (1971); “Discounts for All”(1977); “Oh, How Nobly We Lived” (1979); and “Auto Da Fe” (1985). Since the collapse of the Communist regime in Poland, the company, currently based in Poznan, continues to be recognized as a leader among Polish alternative theatres.

The theatrical group takes its name from a line by Polish poet Konstanty Ildefons Galczynski: “On the seventh day, the Lord God rested, and on the eighth, He created theatre.” Theatre of the Eighth Day was originally founded as a student group that performed poetry and drama. After studying Grotowski’s techniques and witnessing the civil unrest and student protests of 1968, its performance style became more physical and less verbal, and the company resolved to remain in dialogue with both the artistic and political movements in society. However, it always rejected the label “political theatre.” Former artistic director Lech Raczak said, “In a monopolized system such as Poland everything becomes political. If you make any gesture different from what the authorities want, that gesture immediately carries political weight. So the term ‘political’ results from the distortion and unnaturalness of social life here.”

Theatre of the Eighth Day was subjected to years of censorship and government oppression as it continued to produce theatre behind the Iron Curtain. The Polish government eventually withdrew all subsidies and issued an official announcement that the group had disbanded. However, Theatre of the Eighth Day continued to produce work underground and was invited to the Edinburgh Festival to perform its piece “Wormwood”in 1985. Only half of the company was granted visas by Polish authorities, and a new piece, “Auto Da Fe,” was devised and performed in its place. “Auto Da Fe” won the “Fringe First” prize, an achievement denounced by the Polish government because, according to officials, the group “did not exist.”