Unusual times need unusual solutions. We certainly live in times that are challenging, but they also provide an opportunity to do things differently. The Between-Pomiędzy Festival of Literature and Theatre will take place online this year. The international and interdisciplinary festival is organized by the Between-Pomiędzy Foundation and the University of Gdańsk, and the current 11th festival is organized by Tomasz Wiśniewski, Katarzyna Kręglewska, David Malcolm, Robson Corrêa de Camargo, Ewelina Stefańska, and Małgorzata Woźniak. The festival provides a space, a platform for creative expression in the form of theatre, film, photography, literature, discussion, and all this happens alongside a conference. The Between-Pomiędzy festival has always taken place in the third week of May in Sopot, Gdańsk, and Gdynia (the Tricity area) in Poland—a specific location and time that has hitherto coordinated the movement of the audience and performers. The festival has become a permanent feature in the local cultural calendar and is an important event that resonates in the memory of the people involved. This year there is from 11 to 17 May, and a physical festival and conferences are scheduled for 19 to 25 October 2020. The theme for the current Between-Pomiędzy festival is a word that embodies diversity—Kosmopolis.
This year is unusual. In a world where we remain separate, locked away in our homes, waiting for the storm to pass, we look through the windows of our computers to find life. Through those mechanical objects, we would like to find a sense of unity and hope. This is the environment for the Between-Pomiędzy festival 2020. This year there are two parts. The first part is an online festival, which strengthens our sense of unity as we support each other in the pursuit of theatre, art, and literature. A second part, which reflects a hope for the future, will take place in Sopot, Gdańsk, and Gdynia in October 2020.
The online festival in May offers many exciting events that are divided into 3 panels, Between-Research, Work-In-Progress, and Kosmopolis: Theatre. Those panels will present something new every day, over the 7 days of the festival. Hence, the audience has a wide range of events to choose from. Between-Research is a panel conducted by the Beckett Research Group in Gdańsk that merges literature, film, seminars, and art with the work of Samuel Beckett. It is also a place for new books and publishers. Another panel is Work-In-Progress, a space for writers and poets, such as Mimi Khalvati, David Constantine, Tatenda Matsvai, Antoni Libera, Piotr Mitzner, Olga Kubińska, and David Malcolm, as well as for music presented by Lee Ranaldo, Sutari, Maciej & Mateusz Rychły, and Brygada Kryzys. The third panel is Kosmopolis: Theatre, dedicated to theatre and performing arts, where we will see performances of theatre companies such as Song of the Goat Theatre, CTP Gardzienice, Wierszalin Theatre, Barakah Theatre, The Grotowski Institute, BOTO Theatre, Wybrzeże Theatre, Sopot Dance Theatre, DzikiStyl Company, and Miniatura Theatre. Every year, at the festival there were new performances and events, and the theatres and seminars were places of lively experience.
Currently, the emptiness of theatre buildings allows us to notice what is important. We need this sense of absence to realize what we have been taking for granted. For example, the physical act of gathering, which is an important aspect of theatre. The unique atmosphere of a festival is something we can feel and experience. How can we feel the atmosphere of a festival when we sit in front of our computers? Perhaps it is not possible, but we should try. On social media, the organizers have asked everyone to share something that reminds them of the atmosphere of an event from the past, such as photographs, text, anecdotes, etc. Perhaps we can reignite memory, represent the feeling in order to make it accessible and closer to the audience. At the same time, we can see that theatre and literature have much in common. They both can be read by a remote audience. In a world where the performances happen online, in a space codified with digits, they come to us through a language of representation via videos and websites. Without the need to rely on one physical location and precise time, we open the experience to others who do not share our time zone or location. Every change can be an opportunity. This is a chance to be more diverse, which brings us to the name: Kosmopolis.
The theme Kosmopolis places the word in between languages, with letters that sound familiar but look foreign, and, furthermore, we celebrate the plurality of languages as the festival announcement has been translated into many languages. Kosmopolis is a combination of cosmos and polis. Technology and nature, and in our specific situation this year, a combination of an online festival in May and a physical gathering in October. Both environments, the physical space, and the internet can be spaces for creativity. The internet has grown to be part of our lives over a couple of decades, and in times of crisis, in this isolation, where we cannot move or do not have space to move, it has become our safe space. A space to be constantly rediscovered. We are still learning how to use the language of the internet to represent who we are as human bodies, how to engage our societies, and our senses through the use of invisible waves that connect us. We can be successful—after all, sound and light are also invisible waves that we use to make theatre.
Kosmopolis, as a theme, responds to the current times as an invitation to experience theatre and literature despite barriers we continuously face, such as language, physical locations, time, and the political barriers that rise as many borders are closed. Through digital space and in a physical world, we invite foreignness and a variety of perspectives on the world. The current festival is supported by universities across the globe, such as Goiás State University in Brazil, the George Enescu National University of Arts in Iaşi in Romania, Florida State University in the USA, and a research institution—the Beckett Research Group in Gdańsk. The festival is under the honorary patronage of the International Theatre Institute, The Rector of the University of Gdańsk, The Mayor of Sopot, and the Embassy of Ireland in Poland, and the main media support is provided by The Theatre Times, as well as Tekstualia, Konteksty, and Topos. The event is a part of celebrations connected with the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the University of Gdańsk, an institution that gathers together the majority of the academics and students who have worked to make this festival happen, especially students and graduates from Theatre Management and Theatre Studies. This year the Between-Pomiędzy festival has become global and local simultaneously. The internet opens the gates to the global world, and we also have a chance to support local culture through the campaign #SupportLocalCulture.
The second part of the Between-Pomiędzy festival will happen in October in Sopot, Gdańsk, and Gdynia, where we will meet for conferences, lively discussions, theatre and art events. There are 4 conferences planned: Kosmopolis 2020, which will try to unravel the meanings of Kosmopolis and identity in theatre and literature; Kosmopolis and Japan that will offer a non-European perspective; The Holocaust: local memory, global memory; and Wyspa.Młodość 2020 (Island.Youth), an annual conference where students share research and give presentations. The call for papers for all the conferences is ongoing.
In the past, the Between-Pomiędzy festival always happened in May across Tricity. It is usually the time of the first warm days in this historic seaside area, where the sea breeze and whispering waves merge with old buildings and modern city. The previous editions welcomed guests from around the globe. The festival initially was a conference that focused on the work of Samuel Beckett, but later with growing interest, it became a festival that represented Beckett’s complex plays and other artistic interpretations of the contemporary times. That mainly happened through assigning a theme to the festival and inviting poets, writers, philosophers, and theatre-makers to respond. The festival was a place where many theatres presented their performances, but also the key component of every festival were academic conferences.
The first conference in the series took place in Olsztyn at the University of Warmia and Mazury and was organized by the founder of the festival and the Between-Pomiędzy Foundation—professor Tomasz Wiśniewski. Later he began working at the University of Gdańsk, hence the next festival and conference took place in the nearby town, Sopot. The festival Back to the Beckett text / Beckett na plaży happened in 2010, where the world-class researchers presented. One of the guests was professor Stanley E. Gontarski from Florida State University, who became an honored member and guest speaker of the festival ever since. Every year the conference and festival were growing stronger. The conference welcomed distinguished scholars, such as professor Derek Attridge from the University of York, who often visited the festival, as well as poets, writers, and artists, such as David Constantine, Helen Constantine, Michael Edwards, Jacek Gutorow, Jerzy Jarniewicz, Antoni Libera, Dorothy McMillan, Jakobe Mansztajn, Stanisław Modrzewski, Michael Parker and Piotr Sommer. The 2012 conference was about the British theatre company Complicité, during which the keynote speakers were, Marcello Magni who is one of the founding members of Complicité, and Douglas Rintoul, as well as professor Paul Allain from the University of Kent and Professor Dan Rebellato from the Royal Holloway, University of London. The following conference was about the work of John Maxwell Coetzee, Graham Swift, and John Berger. The speakers invited to this conference were John Bowen and David Kennedy. In 2014, the conference was mainly about Scotland and literature, where guest speakers were Christoph Heyl, Helen Lynch, Alan Spence, Elisabeth Burns, Alan Riach, Neal Ascherson. The following years welcomed such speakers as David Gothard who was a director of Traverse Theatre and Riverside Studios, poets such as Olga Kubińska and Jacek Gutorow, among many other participants throughout the years. With time the festival and conference expanded further and brought together artists, scholars, and theatre-makers. Alongside the discussion about the work of Samuel Beckett, each year the festival has a different theme. The most recent themes included Reading Maps in Literature and Theatre in 2018 and Islands and Laboratories in 2019.
Every year the list of supporting organizations is getting longer as multiple theatre companies and art institutions notice the potential of this event. The festival that happened only in Sopot in 2010, grew further to Gdańsk and Gdynia, to currently become a global event, so far with the use of the internet. Currently, the festival is financially supported by Sopot City Authorities, The Marshall’s Office of the Pomeranian Voivodeship, and Kąpielisko Morskie Sopot.
The Between-Pomiędzy festival reflects on and adapts to the contemporary times. The festival finds flexibility of representation a strength of theatre, literature, and art. We can always find an opportunity for creativity in response to any crisis. This year, the atmosphere of the festival is a performative aspect that belongs to every member of the audience, wherever your festival will physically take place—in your room, garden, balcony—you are welcome to take part in the festival and frame your experience. With the message of diversity, support, and collaboration the festival invites the audience from around the world to enjoy the local and global events, despite the time zone or physical location. From 11 to 17 May, while being at home you can still enjoy the inspiration provided by theatre, literature, art, and poetry—
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.