European Theatre Arts students training in Poland with ground-breaking theatre company Gardzienice

This semester sees 11 second year students from Rose Bruford College’s unique BA (Hons) European Theatre Arts (ETA) programme travel deep into the Polish countryside to live and train with the world-renowned Gardzienice. From February to April the 11 students are working as a fully integrated part of the company’s daily life in the specially built Centre for Theatre Practices in the village of Gardzienice. There they will gain a deep experience of the company’s training methods and performance practice, furthering the professional training that they have already received on the ETA course so far.

Working on a daily basis students are submerged in the rigorous and vigorous physical and musical training of Gardzience, focusing in particular on the company’s acting techniques: mutuality exercises, cheironomia (the ancient technique of combining gestures and words), and the exploration of songs from a variety of traditions (including ancient Greece). By applying these techniques to scenes from Stanislaw Wyspianski’s The Wedding the students will enhance their ability as technical and ensemble performers.

ETA Acting Programme Director Thomas Wilson, notes that

“This is a unique experience for British undergraduate students. To be absorbed within the work of a company for such an extended period of time is a rare opportunity, one that allows performers-in-training to engage with and understand the nature of the company’s methods and techniques. We are honoured to have established this residence with Gardzienice and look forward to an ongoing relationship.”

The training at Gardzienice happens not just indoors, but also in the forests and fields that surround the Centre for Theatre Practices. Here students and company members are able to explore training methods that draw on the natural world, including the company’s ‘night running’ – running as a group at night in the pitch dark. A singular experience that heightens the performer’s senses and their connection to the group.

Student, Holly Taylor says,

“Working so closely with the company has been an invaluable experience so far. Their devotion to the work is inspiring. Living, working, eating and playing in one group builds mutuality and a sense of ensemble. The isolation allows for focus on the craft, but it is also a warm, beating heart that we can call home.”

Founded in 1977 by W┼éodzimierz Staniewski, who is also a Rose Bruford College Visiting Professor, Gardzienice has been at the forefront of Polish and European theatre for over 40 years. Of particular importance was Staniewski’s call to go out on expeditions in order to ‘fraternise with the people’, drawing on an immersion in a cultural world unfamiliar to the performers. This is one of the central values that make Gardzience the perfect partner to the training on ETA, as the students confront what it is to be immersed in an unfamiliar world.

This cultural dimension to the students’ experience also includes weekend excursions to explore the cultural and theatrical life of some of Poland’s cities, including trips to Warsaw, Gdansk, Krakow, Lodz, and Lublin.

Based 20 miles from the Polish city of Lublin, the village of Gardzienice sits deep in the countryside of Eastern Poland. Renovated in 2013, The Centre for Theatre Practice has its own complex of buildings within the village, and allows for a concentrated and immersive working environment unlike anything in the UK.

Reflecting on this, student Tiffer Hutchings observes that,

"Using the two key principles of musicality and mutuality as a foundation for each lesson and rehearsal makes for actors who are deeply sensitive to both their fellow performers and environment as partners. As the line between life and work begins to blur the training teaches the need to support one another, to persevere, to find joy in the work, to be angry sometimes, but to use all of these things in a positive way and as fuel for performing."

This unique experience is part of a wider programme of European training partnerships, funded by the EU organisation Erasmus, that allows every ETA student to train in another European country during the second year of their studies. Other partners include the institutions of DAMU (Prague), Eolia (Barcelona), ESAD (Murcia), EMTA Lavakunstikool  (Tallinn), ESTC (Lisbon) JAMU (Brno), PWST (Wroclaw), and RESAD (Madrid). This placement is intrinsic to the nature of the programme and ensures that students gain a wider perspective on the nature of theatre, training, and performance.

European Theatre Arts is a three-year, vocational BA Honours degree. This unique course seeks to train performers and theatre artists to work professionally across Europe, in their own and other countries, in a variety of contexts, particularly in performance that crosses boundaries of practice and culture. Notable graduates include Dr. Jorge Lopes Ramos (founder ZU-UK), Duncan Jamieson (Grotowski Institute, Poland), and companies Sleepwalk Collective (Spain) and Filskit (UK) amongst many others.

Useful links:
BA (Hons) European Theatre Arts
Gardzienice