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Thinking Through Tragedy and Comedy A Symposium on Performance Philosophy and the Future of Genre

Daniel Watt


Cricot2 theatre, made famous by the work of Tadeusz Kantor, worked on the margins of the autobiographical for many years, seeming to represent Kantor’s history through a sepia tinged world of detritus and insanity. Superficially the sad performers of ‘The Dead Class’ and ‘Wielopole, Wielopole’ seem far from funny, condemned, as they appear to be, to an almost ghostly repetition of their childhood existences and memories, in a tragic, eternal purgatory. But, there is much comedy to be found in Kantor’s work, and that of Cricot2 after his death, whether that be in the strange hybrid object/character creations that emerge, or the happenings and performances based on Witkiewicz’s plays. Indeed watch any of the films of Kantor at work and there is much laughter, both from him but also his actors.

This paper discusses the comedy at the heart of a company such as Cricot2, which had become a group of friends, as much as a group of performers. Given Kantor’s reputation as a hard director, and the theatre work notorious for a certain mournful quality, how can the comic be such a powerful force in work such as this? In a recent interview Roman Siwulak stated that, ‘He tried to find for actors, the same level, the same condition of acting, like the plank!’ So, how funny is it being, and watching, a plank?

Dr Daniel Watt is a Senior Lecturer in English and Drama at Loughborough University. His research interests include philosophical and literary influences on theatre and performance in the Twentieth century, particularly the work of Tadeusz Kantor. His other research work is focused on the literary/theatrical fantastic, literary/performance ethics, fragmentary writing, death in performance and culture, and the nature of the puppet, or abject object, in performance.