Tadeusz Kantor Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Tadeusz Kantor was born in 1915 in Wielopole, a small town in southern Poland. His father, a teacher, was killed in World War I, and therefore, Kantor grew up in the house of his great-uncle, a priest. He took an early interest in the theater but decided instead to become a painter, learning drawing and painting under the influence of the Polish Symbolists: Stanisaw Wyspiaski , Witold Wojtkiewicz, and Jacek Malczewski. From 1934 to 1939, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, where he studied scene design with Karol Frycz, who was himself a highly innovative stage designer as well as a painter, theatrical director, theater manager, and follower of the ideas of Gordon Craig and Wyspiaski. Frycz’s and Kantor’s careers are in keeping with the twentieth century traditions of Krakow, a Polish center for the avant-garde both in the visual arts and in stage design, where visual artists often became theater directors and managers.

In 1942, Kantor and a group of young painters formed the underground, experimental Independent Theatre during the German occupation. In 1946, Kantor began his career as a scene designer, creating sets and costumes for theaters throughout Poland until he went to study in France in 1947. He returned in 1948 to organize the first postwar exhibition of modern Polish art in Krakow and was appointed to the faculty of the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts.

Poland fell under the control of Joseph Stalin in 1949, and the authorities officially imposed Socialist Realism on the arts and artists. Kantor’s professorship was revoked, and he began to collaborate with Maria Jarema, a widely recognized painter and sculptor who had done scene design for Cricot 1 , an important Krakow avant-garde theater between the world wars. Kantor continued designing in this manner until the collapse of Stalinism under Nikita Khrushchev in 1956. With the increased independence of Poland,...

(The entire section is 779 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Tadeusz Kantor (KAHN-tohr) was one the most internationally famed experimental Polish playwrights. He was also a renowned graphic artist, dramatic theorist, and innovative producer of the plays of Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. He was born in 1915 in the small village of Wielopole, which lies in southern Poland, between the cities of Tarnów and Rzeszów. In early youth, Kantor was exposed to strong Christian and Hebrew elements in his family life, and the things seen and persons known in his childhood were to have a lasting effect on his drama.

He first showed talent as a painter and, like his master Witkiewicz before him, was accepted into the prestigious Akademia Sztuk Piknych (Academy of Fine Arts) in Cracow. There he received formal training as a painter and graduated in the fateful year of 1939. The subsequent Nazi occupation of Poland, which was to last until 1945, was an extremely trying period for the Polish nation. Bent on destroying Poland completely, the Nazis struck at the roots of Polish culture, closing theaters and universities and imprisoning those Poles who participated in clandestine education and artistic presentations. Kantor was one of the courageous people who kept Polish culture alive during this dangerous period. He organized the Teatr Niezaleẓny (independent theater), which produced experimental versions of Polish classic theater in private apartments for small audiences. One of the plays staged by Kantor at this time, Stanisaw Wyspiaski’s Powrót Odysa (pb. 1907; The Return of Odysseus, 1966), was to have a lasting effect on the playwright’s own creative processes. It was from this play that Kantor drew the cornerstone of his theatrical philosophy: There are two worlds present to the artist—the worlds of life and death. Life is the present time; death is memory. The dramatic process, like memory itself, is populated by wraiths who shuttle between the two worlds, and the dramatic experience, for Kantor, is above all a “séance.”

Following the war, Kantor became very active in the artistic scene in Cracow. He was co-organizer of the first postwar art exhibition in Poland, as well as the Grupa Krakowska (Cracow group) avant-garde circle. In 1955, Kantor founded the experimental Cricot 2 theater. Polish critic Artur Sandauer breaks Kantor’s theatrical development into two halves: the period of “destruction” and the period of “destruction affected.” In the first period, Kantor went about “destroying” traditional theater so that he could create his own “autotheater” from the rubble in the second. During the first phase of Kantor’s development he experimented primarily as scenographer and producer of Witkiewicz’s dramas. Most important in his destructive period were his stagings of Witkiewicz’s Wmaym dworku (1923; In a Small Manor House, 1961) in 1961, and in 1963, Wariat i zakonnica (1923; The Madman and the Nun, 1966). In this second...

(The entire section is 1213 words.)