This post was originally published on the blog of Dobra Szkoła Nowy Jork (Good School New York). Thank you to Danusia Świątek, editor in chief of the portal, for the inspiration and questions.
March 9, 2021
The Polish Theater Institute in New York has launched a series of theater workshops for children entitled “Introduction to Puppet Theater,” which is run online by Jacek Zuzański—actor, puppeteer, director, screenwriter, set designer, and teacher of theater and acting.
Jacek Zuzański talks about the workshops.
What are the workshops like?
The workshops and their content are developed as we go. We have several assumptions that guide us. I will introduce children to several types of puppets and ways of acting with them. I am going to show some puppets from my performances and previous workshops, and the children will build their own very simple puppets. We will try different ways of developing stage characters and making theater. At the first meeting we started with puppets of a paper toy theater and improvisations based on the legend of the Prince Popiel. This part of the workshop draws on the methods of the Academy of Imagination Theater from Wrocław, which I used when I co-led the Workshop of the Paper Toy Theater of Legends of the Kłodzko Land in six towns of the Kłodzko District in 2017. https://dreamtalepuppets.org/workshops-in-paper-toy-theaters-of-legends-of-the-land-of-kłodzko/.
Children meet with me, but they are also ready to prepare for classes and continue creative play on their own after each meeting. We do not have a vision of achieving any specific goal. The purpose is experience and the joy of creating. Each participant works with their own talents and inspirations. I will propose games and tasks and will introduce methods and principles, and the children will respond with their actions, improvisations, and works. It can be said that the workshops are also a test of how live classes can find themselves online and how the online format can inspire new ways of working.
How can a child develop thanks to your workshops?
My role is closer to a trainer or director than a teacher. The participants are my partners in this project. I show the methods and propose tasks, the children respond, and I lead the way, also responding to the participants’ proposals. Theater classes are also classes on co-creation. Participants develop their individual skills and creative talents but also learn cooperation and communication. Since this happens in response to specific tasks that resemble play rather than school activities, this development happens at the level of expanding knowledge as much as at the level of developing imagination and corporal experience, a learning that involves the whole body and develops manual and motor skills as well as motor-sensory coordination.
Where did the idea come from?
This question can be answered both generally and in detail. In general, the workshops are part of what I do, part of the theater program that I run, and even more generally, part of the theater practice and culture.
In Poland, there are theater classes in schools and many different types of extracurricular theater programs. In the United States, I see a lot of theater in schools. In Massachusetts, where I live, school theater productions are the norm. For as long as I can remember, my own theater experiences were related to workshops and theater education. During high school, I studied pantomime at an after-school program; then, I was an intern at the Wrocław Pantomime Theater, where training was a daily practice of many hours. Nobody called these classes workshops, but it was a training of the basic skills of the actor—mime.
The term “workshops” began to gain meaning for me when participating in theater festivals, where participating artists often offered short training sessions. The meaning of the term and the value of the practices it contained deepened for me during workshops offered by theaters (mainly Grotowski’s Laboratory and Odin Teatret) that, like Tomaszewski’s Pantomime Theater, developed their own ways of working, training techniques, methods of building a show, and styles of acting expression. These theaters, unlike classical repertory theaters, did not “stage” plays; they did not rely on dramatic literature. The performances were developed in a creative process in which the actors created a work together with the director, scene after scene, using methods they developed themselves: improvising in various ways, drawing inspiration from texts and other materials, and relying on mastered, but also characteristic for these ensembles, acting techniques.
In my career, I have directed performances based on dramatic texts, often my own adaptations of fiction, as well as created performances together with actors, where the performance was the culmination of a creative experience based on various materials, inspiration, and acting techniques. The latter method of work was and still is especially useful for me when working with young people and children, where experience and the creative process are more important than showing a previously written text. Even when I work with children on the basis of a dramatic text, it is usually written, adapted, or co-written by me and often changed during rehearsals. The workshops that I run can be productions, but they can also be training sessions or classes devoted to certain topics, issues, and skills of an actor, puppeteer, or theater creator.
In Dream Tale Puppets, the theater I run, each new production is also a special experience, exploring or involving selected ways of working, types of puppets or other performing objects, and space arrangement. The ensemble develops a method of work specific to this experience and creates expressive language specific to the production and the style of the performance. It is similar with workshops. These projects are also often tailored to my interest at the time and the interests of the hosts, presenters, and participants.
When answering the question of where the idea for this particular workshop came from, which Iza Laskowska from the Polish Theater Institute invited me to conduct, I must extend my thanks to her, because it was she, the head of the institute, who proposed to organize the workshops online. I am very happy. For the last year, I haven’t done any workshops for the obvious reason. My ensemble doesn’t meet with the audience. We moved our rehearsals to the internet. The opportunity of meeting and working online with children interested in the theatrical experience is wonderful.