[Festivals Stories] Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival

28 Oct 2021

Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival
December 2021
Krakow, Poland


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In the first months of pandemic, the festival lost most of its funding. In October, we learnt about the looming lockdown and the online version of the event. No one knew whether the whole idea to reformat the festival made sense at all. People were tired. There were few who believed that this could succeed. However, whenever you do something, it means have to do it at 1000% blast.

I felt we were in for one of the most important editions: if it succeeded, it would defend what festival makers find most important. All the powers of positive thinking were activated. Never give up, because the audiences are waiting for the theatre - which in Poland is more than just a space of entertainment. It is a crucial place for building identity and community discussion.

It was a bit like the step taken by the orchestra that played on the Titanic to the very end. The difference was that, unlike the Titanic, last year's Divine Comedy, crashing against that iceberg, shattered it into smithereens and sailed on.

In the pandemic, Polish politicians organised hell for our society. I do not mean helplessness in the face of the circumstances, as that was in a sense justified and was experienced by all states. The politicians intensified propaganda, went into fighting mode, forced the elections with an abominably dirty campaign based on libel and hate mongering. At a time when we should have been together, we were irrevocably divided. The pandemic only substantiated that corruption of power, especially of the right-wing variety. We were upset by the deaths of near and dear, and thehelplessness of the healthcare service.

That depressing landscape provided a backdrop for our festival. And for that reason it had to turn into the opposite of that landscape and radiate with the power of faith in the values that politicians denied. An institution of culture should always emphasise the great potential of the human in overcoming all adversity.

We set off on an exploration of our imaginations, we spun idealistic tales that raise emotions in people and that bring them together in the symbolic dimension of the community. We have provided a powerful support, and we have brandished the banner of victory, even if only for a moment.

The first decision, following moving the presentations to the virtual, was to re-channel the remaining funds for productions, support young directors and employ actors. The result are four productions, and one of them, Return to Reims directed by Katarzyna Kalwat, soon ranked among the best plays of the season. We also create new safe space for discussion - Divine Comedy TV. I was myself stunned looking at the thousands of viewers (the attendance caught us unawares: 40,000 people), the surging online wave, and the enthusiastic support of the media. It was the feedback that was the most important. I can feel this work makes sense, and that feeling is what you need most to survive.

More information: https://en.boskakomedia.pl/zal...

(Author: Bartosz Szydlowski - Artistic Director)
(General Editor: Simon Mundy)