Piotr Wawer jr
TR Online: March 21, 2021
TR Warszawa/Marszałkowska 8: June 19, 2021
70 PLN – regular
40 PLN – concessionary
One man. One woman. ONCO.
One man. Sebastian Pawlak, an actor. He studies the reality, body, social relations and language from the perspective of a person who heard that he is the worst artist in the world and who has experienced an invasive direction.
One woman. Weronika Szczawińska, a director. She studies the reality, body, social relations and language from the perspective of a person who heard the “breast cancer” diagnosis and who has experienced an invasive treatment.
ONCO. A performance set in the personal experiences of the director – Weronika Szczawińska and the actor – Sebastian Pawlak, who share the belief that even the most difficult scenario written by life can be changed and a new role can be played in it. Or not.
Project developed as a part of a Sopot Non Fiction 2020 artistic residence program.
Weronika Szczawińska (b. 1981) – director, dramaturge, culture theorist and performer. Graduate of the College of Inter-Area Individual Studies In the Humanities and Social Sciences (MISH) at Warsaw University, PhD from the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN). Studied directing at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw. Has worked with a number of important theatres around Poland (including Narodowy Stary Teatr in Cracow, Teatr Powszechny in Warsaw, Komuna Warszawa, Wrocławski Teatr Współczesny) and Slovensko mladinsko gledališče in Ljubljana. Assistant professor at the Theatre Studies Department of the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw. Laureate of the prestigious Passport of the “Polityka” magazine award 2019, for „the intimate and tender performances that combine the private themes with important social issues. For the commitment, transgressing one’s own career path”. Her latest works include: Klub (The Club, Akademia Teatralna and TR Warszawa 2021), Onko (TR Warszawa 2021), Miejski Ptasiarz (The Urban Birder, Wrocławski Teatr Współczesny 2020), Po prostu(Simply Said, Performing Arts Institute 2019), Rozmowa o drzewach (A Talk about Trees, Komuna Warszawa 2019), Nigdy więcej wojny (No More War, Komuna Warszawa 2018), Genialna przyjaciółka based on Elena Ferrante (My Brilliant Friend,Wrocławski Teatr Współczesny 2018), Lawrence z Arabii (Lawrence of Arabia, Teatr Powszechny in Warsaw 2018). Member of the Performing Arts Institute (InSzPer) collective.
Piotr Wawer, jr (b. 1983) is an actor and dramaturge, creator of independent art projects. He is a regular collaborator of Weronika Szczawińska. He graduated from Acting Studio at Stefan Jaracz’s Theatre in Olsztyn. He was working in Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych, Studio Theatre in Warsaw, Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw National Stary Theatre in Krakow, Slovensko Mladinsko Gledališče in Ljubljana, TR Warszawa, Komuna//Warszawa and other theaters and art institutions in Poland. He was a member of an artistic ansamble of Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz from January 2015 to August 2017. He is a member of Performing Arts Institute (InSzPer) collective. He used to be a competitive sailor and freediver, at present mainly an amateur hiker.
From the director
“I am very interested in the reality altered by cancer but I am not looking for a confessional, therapeutic or pedagogical project. I am wondering how one may make use of an oncological disease. Instead of creating a performance about cancer, I want to investigate what we can learn about the modern world thanks to cancer. What does a person with breast cancer learn about our and society? What can the audience find out?”
direction, text: Weronika Szczawińska
dramaturgy, text, musical arrangement: Piotr Wawer jr
text: Sebastian Pawlak
set and costume design: Karol Radziszewski
choreography, conceptual cooperation: Agata Maszkiewicz
piano: Aleksandra Gryka
In the performance fragments (translated by Weronika Szczawińska) of the following books are used:
Jenny Diski, In Gratitude, Bloomsbury Publishing 2016
Anne Boyer, The undying: a meditation on modern illness, Allen Lane 2019
director’s assistant: Malwina Szumacher (till Decemeber 31st, 2020), Katarzyna Gawryś-Rodriguez (from January 1st, 2021)
production manager: Karolina Pająk-Sieczkowska
photos by Monika Stolarska
(…) Weronika Szczawińska: (…) It’s about recognizing the areas, spheres where we, as people, enter into a social performance that humiliates us on an institutional basis. For me, it was important to find a way to accept that I was a patient, without feeling this degradation. And it’s not only the healthcare system that creates the problem – I have mostly very positive experiences with it – it’s the cancer clichés that we have in our heads, that are the worst. Sebastian translated them into art and his extensive experience. And so, we have our double moment of brazen independence in this performance.
Weronika Szczawińska: (…) There’s a lot of talk about everything being boxed by identity politics and that everyone will forever sit in theirs: feminists in feminism, non-heteronormative persons, ethnic groups, and so on.
It seemed interesting to me – let’s talk about a female experience, a “gendered” disease by inviting men to this discussion. Sebastian Pawlak is an actor who utilizes very modern acting skills – both theatrical and performative, heavily set in the body. Only later an idea was born, that I might also be present on stage – it was a result of my discussions with TR Warszawa. During my illness I was the person who was taken care of, now I’m taking care of someone who’s on stage.”
Mike Urbaniak: How can an oncological disease be useful?
Weronika Szczawińska: It can help a person reevaluate certain things, look at them from a new perspective. I realize that it sounds trite, that the same can be said about any experience but in this case I really see this as a serious identity issue, which has to be faced head-on because one way or another you’re neck-deep in it. I used my oncological disease to reflect on such fundamental issues as illness and health. Earlier I thought that they are very clearly demarcated. Today, I know that’s not true. As a matter of fact, most of us are not entirely healthy, health is rather our fantasy about being healthy.
Jacek Wakar, Nowy TYgodnik Kulturalny, Podcast #07
“(…) Weronika Szczawińska tells her story: about cancer, about the trauma of diagnosis, about coping with what fate had in store for her – living with and overcoming it, about the fact that there are no right answers or ready solutions. You just have to face it. (…) The director wanted to narrate this unbearable pain and fear without any pump or pathos. (…) I really appreciate a very fine (…) performance by Sebastian Pawlak, this sort of “camp” acting, turning what is difficult into laughter. The show is particularly moving when it drifts away from the laughter and turns into an account of a disease, of a fight with a system, that at the same time accompanies the disease. (…) For everyone who wants to face all of this and deal with it differently – through laughter, through poking at the problem from various sides by a recoveree, “ONCO” is a must-see and may change their perspective.”
Magda Sendecka, Nowy TYgodnik Kulturalny, Podcast #07
“(…) This is a performance, that on the one hand opens up a discussion on a very important topic, (…) and on the other hand – plays with the form and is a kind of a treat.”
Adam Suprynowicz, Nowy TYgodnik Kulturalny, Podcast #07
“I wanted to stay in that world a little longer.”
This performance is a manifestation of a love for life and for being face to face, in
contact with a real, live audience sitting in front of the actors. That’s quite a daunting
task. In his stand-up routine Sebastian Pawlak recounts the story of Weronika
Szczawińska’s struggle with an oncological disease (she’s sitting next to him and joins
the action from time to time) which he interrupts every few moments to discuss his own
difficult experiences with theatre. Both parts (dramaturgy by Piotr Wawer jr) are linked
by the issue of objectification – both the patient and the actor are feeling deprived of
having power over their bodies – and the place: TR Warszawa, where they’ve managed
to end up in – “crawl into” after a long journey. In both cases the circumstances are
quite ambivalent: for Szczwińska – a breast cancer, in remission; for Pawlak – a
cancelled premiere of “Hamlet” and the fight (so far successful) for a spot in the theatre’s
ensamble. One could also add here the repeatedly rescheduled (due to pandemic
restrictions) premiere of “Onco”, finally produced online, in a way by two directors – the
streaming was orchestrated by Jagoda Szelc.
She – a young woman, director, hears the diagnosis: breast cancer. And she has to deal
not only with the disease but also with the cultural conventions and stereotypes. He – an
actor from a small town, whose path to a Warsaw theatre was not an easy one, attempts
to avoid being pigeonholed – a disastrous fate for an actor. In fact, both of these
characters are portrayed by Sebastian Pawlak. Szczawińska accompanies him on stage,
from time to time she comments on the action, in short – she plays the director. From
this subversive correspondence between the state of a patient and the state of an actor
comes an unobvious strength. The modest, unpretentious performance about a disease
and art morphs into a story about an attempt to save one’s subjectivity.
(…) “Onco” is not a sad, maudlin or solemn story about a disease. The play is neither a
confession nor a therapy session on a stage. The suffering depicted in the performance
does not have an ennobling quality and the pain is not a mean to sainthood. “Onco” is a
black comedy with cancer and theatre as a backdrop.
(…) The comedic aspect of “Onco” is not about backslapping and repeating over and
over again that we are all only humans after all, so we can laugh, relax and go on. It’s a
physical, corporeal experience, almost meaty and sometimes disturbing.
“(…) ONCO may be interpreted as a soft – since it does not employ radical forms of expression but rather is based on perspective and humor – manifest against two dichotomies with a very solid presence both in cultural imagining and language: against the dichotomy of (i) success and failure and (ii) good health and sickness.”
“(…) This minimalistic, wonderfully politically incorrect, funny, martyrdom-free performance is also a sharp comment on the theatre world, which delights in metaphysics. (…) Szczawińska and Pawlak – who acts phenomenally but, when necessary, appropriately downplays his talent – can both make fun of themselves, of their ambitions. Their jokes – sometimes morbid, sometimes intentionally primitive, makes one take a closer look at cancer and try to answer an unpopular question: how an illness can actually be useful?
TR Warszawa, a leader in high-quality online theatre streaming (this transmission produced by Jagoda Szelc), decided not to wait for a premiere in regular theatre and organized an online preview of the play in March. Maria Maj, who lost her daughter to cancer, rightly pointed out during an intro to the performance that Onco is a story perfectly tailored to the present time. When sadness and suffering take up residence in our lives, it’s good to bear in mind, that everyone has a limited time left.”
„Onco directed by Weronika Szczawińska is not intended to be a therapeutic performance about cancer, although the director and, at the same time, the protagonist of the play survived an oncological disease. Indeed, in the latest premiere produced by TR Warszawa it’s not the disease that plays the main role. (…) She – a young woman, a director, hears the following diagnosis: breast cancer. And so, she has to deal not only with the health issues but also with cultural conventions and stereotypes. He – an actor from a small town, whose path to a top Warsaw theatre was not an easy one, attempts to avoid being pigeonholed – a disastrous fate for an actor. Both of these characters are portrayed by Sebastian Pawlak.
Szczawińska accompanies him on stage, from time to time she comments on the action, in short – she plays the director. From this subversive correspondence between the state of a patient and the state of an actor comes an unobvious strength. This modest, unpretentious performance about disease and art morphs into a story about an attempt to save one’s subjectivity.”
“(…) Szczawińska and the dramatist – Piotr Wawer jr., chose stand-up form for this performance, but they’ve deconstructed it. That’s actually very typical for their theatre – in their productions, they utilize various forms and conventions, that always end up dissected. Conventions are used for efficient storytelling, so efficient that one may lose oneself in these stories. That’s not what Szczawińska and Wawer want. Critical reflection is more important than simple identifications and stories.”
“(…) Brilliant, funny, energetic, intelligent, sensitive, brave, critical, insightful. It’s hard to write something about this performance that would not slide into a cliché review, but well… that’s all true and accurately characterizes Onco. Finally, I’ll only add that – as Pawlak revealed in the post-show talk – the atmosphere at rehearsals for this performance was full of mutual respect, support, and care. They also ended at reasonable hours and stage transgression was achieved without any violence or manipulation from the director’s side. Is that possible? Yes, indeed.”
„A little old lady goes to the doctor…” is the opening of stories told by Weronika Szczawińska about her breast cancer in Onco produced by TR Warszawa. The play deals with many topics, including the Polish healthcare system and how it treats women. „What do you mean «she doesn’t plan to have children»? She also didn’t plan cancer” – hears Szczawińska as a patient. Fear of death – since you can google everything, you’ll also find a survival time calculator. And it turns out, that you really can find such a calculator online. Finally – about fear and perspective of other people – people who do not understand whether Szczawińska is cured or not, healthy or ill, she has undergone a successful treatment but she still is a “cancer patient.”
“(…) Szczawińska, a creator connected with the post-dramatic theatre, focuses on an autobiographical narration set in a minimalistic space, permitting a very close contact between the audience and the artists. The director, who was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, employs and somewhat deconstructs the stand-up formula. She employs – because we hear the director’s (who is actually present in the stage area and from time to time talks with the performer) words from the mouth of Sebastian Pawlak, who performs a provocative shtick about a post-diagnosis life. She deconstructs – because Pawlak’s protagonist from time to time hijacks the narration and spins his own, seemingly separate but in fact very complementary, tale about his path to achieving success as an actor. In a minimalistic space, that draws on the heritage of Polish avant-garde, in costumes that allude to Maria Jarema’s designs (set design and costumes – Karol Radziszewski), the creators defuse a convention that already in its essence relies on self-deprecating jests.”
“(…) Strangely enough, this is not a therapeutic play, though one may look at it from that perspective too. It’s not about cancer or violence within theatre (the authors, probably unintentionally, “timed” their voice in this discussion perfectly) but rather – in my opinion – that having cancer or being a victim of violence may be something good, however that sounds – it may give you a new perspective, a new life.”
„(…) Onco is an exceptionally important and tender performance. In a world stricken with the pandemic, it’s all hands on deck for combating the coronavirus and oncological patients do not get enough help. I have painfully experienced this when one of my close ones fell ill. That’s why I have even more appreciation for this performance. Emboldened by the director’s words I would like to shout out: “Hi, my name is Paweł and I suffer because a person I care about has cancer!”, but I simply lack the energy. I would like to thank everyone who is responsible for the production of this premiere – at least for a moment I felt a little lighter.”
In partnership with Alivia Oncology Foundation.
Support from the COVID-19 Counteract Fund.