In 2003 I worked closely with Tipperary Youth Theatre as a documentary photographer, travelling with the group to Poland and recording a shared experience of Irish and Polish young people explore emigration through drama. The image and text below were published as a photo essay in Contexts Magazine (Create).
In August 2003 I had the opportunity to journey to Poland and document, through photographs, a ten day theatre workshop with members of the Youth Theatre Tipperary (YTT) and members of the Polish youth theatres. The venture came about through the collaboration of YTT and a Polish organisation, The Association of Creative Initiatives (ACI). Leargas, who actively encourage cultural exchange, provided additional assistance. The theme of the workshop was Polish and Irish experiences of emigration. Workshop sessions included interviews with local villagers, discussions and rehearsals, culminating in the production of a play, Emigrants.
The Irish group consisted of nine members of YTT, and one from Chair Youth Theatre; two workshop directors, Pat Burke and Patricia McHale and one administrator. The Polish group comprised of ten youth selected from throughout Poland by ACI, one workshop director, Ida Bocian and two administrators from ACI, Marta Bialek and Piotr Stasik.
For the duration of the workshop we were based in the small rural village of Niedamirow, in South West Poland, close to the border of the Czech Republic. Our accommodation and workspace was the unique ‘House of Three Cultures’, owned and run by Polish artists, Beata Justa and her husband, Grzegorz Potoczak. Their extraordinary rambling house facilitates artists from around the world to host seminars, develop projects and exchange ideas.
The particular area of Poland that we were based in has had a long history of emigration and immigration. Before the Second World War the area was under German administration and was predominantly settled with Germans. After the War it came under Polish control. The German inhabitants were forced to leave and their houses and farms were resettled with Polish people. One of the first tasks for the workshop participants was to interview families and individuals in the village about their experiences of emigration and displacement. Drawing on their stories, the students constructed various scenes that were gradually refined into a performance piece. Due to the complexities of language it was decided that the emphasis would be placed on movement and mine, in addition to music and song, as the most effective means of communication. Scenes in the performance explored issues such as eviction, relocation, loss of identity, beaurocracy, racism, fear, reunion and hope.
The intensive workshop culminated in a fifty-minute public performance in the historic main square of Lusaka (pop. 20,000), the closest town to Niedamirow. It was performed at night in the open air, with only the existing street lights and two powerful flood lamps to the light the natural stage. Costumes were borrowed from a second-hand clothes shop in Lubawka. Over 600 people attended the performance.
The following is a small selection of black and white photographs taken over the course of the workshop. They include portraits of Polish and Irish theatre students, villagers and scenes from rehearsals of the performance. The prints formed part of an exhibition of 26 photographs that took place at The Excel Gallery, Tipperary Arts Centre in October 2003.