The Rhapsodic Theatre began its activities in Poland in 1941. It was suppressed by the authorities in 1953, yet reopened in 1956. It eventually closed for good in 1967.
Begun as a clandestine company, with performances taking place in private apartments, this form of theatre embraced a sparse aesthetic out of necessity, since stage sets and costumes were prohibited by the Nazi occupation. More creatively, the plays also avoid elaborate plot devices or detailed character development. Instead, they focus on the interplay of personal relationships through the power of the human word:
- ... the fundamental element of dramatic art is the living human word. It is also the nucleus of drama, a leaven through which human deeds pass, and from which they derive their proper dynamics.
Crystallizing the connection between thought and action, the Rhapsodic Theater provided for a cultural catharsis that people naturally long for:
- Within this concept [of catharsis] drama fulfills its social function not so much by demonstrating action as by demonstrating it slowed down, by demonstrating the paths on which it matures in human thought and down which it departs from that thought to express itself externally.
Thus, the Rhapsodic Theatre offers a new, almost ritualized, experience of the drama that is our human existence.
Karol Wojtyla / John Paul II
Having performed in numerous productions, Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) also authored several theatrical works. Describing the distinctiveness of these plays, he wrote:
Because the word, first and foremost, proclaims certain truths ideas, and structures rather than accompanying the action, rhapsodic performances have an ideological rather than a narrative character. We do not find in them the usual dramatic plot, comic or tragic situations, complications, solutions -- everything that combines to form the ordinary stage narrative. In rhapsodic performances, however, we always find a problem. That problem "acts"; it is posed directly and bluntly. ...
The impact of the performance is caused not by events, transferred in a literary manner from life to the stage, but by the problem itself .... The problem itself acts, rouses interest, disturbs, evokes the audience's participation, demands understanding and a solution.
Seeking to dramatize abstract ideas and communicate the intellect of faith, his unique plays speak to essential human and social ideas that at once come to life in the “action” of one’s soul and also affect the whole of contemporary culture.
Quotations are from The Collected Plays and Writings on Theater by Karol Wojtyla
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