Secret Theatre: Off-the-grid Performance Practices in Communist Poland and Czechoslovakia (1945 – 1989)

Olga Krasa-Ryabets | University of Amsterdam | Secret Theatre: Off-the-grid Performance Practices in Communist Poland and Czechoslovakia (1945 – 1989) | Supervisors: Ellen Rutten, Kati Röttger

This study examines the home as a site of dissent, subversion and social change by way of theatrical performance. It investigates understudied instances of theatre/performative activity produced within private residencies in Poland and former Czechoslovakia between 1945 – 1989. In doing so it seeks to expand the concept of ‘dissent’ and present it as not only direct oppositional engagement with a regime but a process of cognitive distancing. To achieve this fuller picture of alternative culture, the project draws on several analytical approaches to explain the nature of personal identity formation and delve into the complex relationship between the home and the theatre. The study focuses on four locations: Warsaw, Brno, Prague and Teplice. Some of the materials used are recently published, as is the case with Miron Bialoszewski’s secret diaries, although careful consideration is given to unpublished sources (interviews) and materials published privately (e.g. Brno’s self-published ‘samizdat’). The analysis of primary sources within the appropriate cultural context maps a multi-faceted underground reality – one that challenges schematic representations of binarily opposed state and dissident cultures.The project does not conform to the view that dissent is exclusively defined as a politically motivated organized movement. Rather, the research supports Jonathan Bolton’s view that dissent is “a set of cultural practices” and examines how, through self-mythology and cognitive distancing, these practices provide an identity to those practicing.