The coronavirus pandemic acted in Poland like calling the bluff in poker, revealing the imperfections of the theatre system. Actors employed on a full-time basis by state theatres have very low ‘base’ salaries; they are paid for the performances in which they actually participate; freelancers get paid first after the premiere and most of them do not have any social and health insurance. In March 2020, many thousands of people lost most or all of their income and sense of security.
The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage proposed assistance grants for artists (one-off and ridiculously low: less than EUR 400). In order to receive the support, artists were obliged to present a plan of making their work available on the Internet. Regrettably, the programme involved awarding procedures, which meant competition with each other, constant race, and artistic overproduction of things that were not necessarily valuable but fit in with the conservative tastes of the Ministry.
Two most interesting projects I’m going to discuss managed to escape this urge to be overproductive and could be considered as rehearsals for post-capitalist theatre.
First one is “Quarantine Project” by the fringe group komuna//warszawa and Studio Theatre. For money comparable with the one-off ministerial aid, artists prepared (and streamed online) performances on any subject providing that they have respected a certain number of ‘epidemic restrictions’ (e.g. using only “pandemical” props like toilet paper and pockets of rice). Nowy Theatre also escaped the compulsion of overproduction offering instead a series of witty online workshops entitled “Do it yourself”. People working in theatre (not necessarily artists) shared their unique skills with virtual audience.