On the evening of April 9th, the Polish theater director, actor, and “practitioner of ideas,” Krzysztof Czyzewski, had a public conversation with Elzbieta Matynia and Jeffrey Goldfarb at the New School for Social Research. Czyzewski discussed his life course from actor in the avant-garde theater Gardzienice to a resident and activist in a remote northeastern corner of Poland, where Poland, Lithuania and Belarus meet, with Russia and Ukraine just down the road. He delves deeply in this “borderland” through living among and working with the people in the city of Sejny and the surrounding area.
In Gardzienice, Czyzewski and his colleagues talked with people of the localities, asking them to share their memories, stories, and traditions, using the encounters to create their world acclaimed art. But since the theater did not return to those communities, Czyzewski concluded that this schema planted a hope that was not actualized. Seeking a deeper, potluck-style exchange of ideas and culture, Czyzewski changed the format of his theater. In 1990, starting from Poznan with one horse-drawn wagon and one jeep, his group made the journey across Poland taking many months. Once living in Sejny, they began what came to be The Borderland Archipelago, including a foundation, a library, and a cultural center with a broad range of activities, among them the publishing house that published Jan Gross’s Neighbors in Polish.
Czyzewski, Matynia and Goldfarb discussed the physical, emotional and cultural broken bridges of the post-genocide, post-Soviet-occupied, very tense borderland. As Czyzewski stated, “When you try to build a bridge, you have to go to the ground — to the source of the memory — you can’t ignore it.” Below is an edited video of the conversation among three old friends and colleagues, Elzbieta, Jeff and “Kris,” exploring the work of artists and their neighbors in community — marked with memories of broken ties and betrayal — rebuilding broken bridges through theater, art, music and storytelling. Also below is the video of the audience’s response. -Ariel Merkel