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A Lexicon of the Central-Eastern European Interwar Theatre Avant-garde

A Lexicon of the Central-Eastern European Interwar Theatre Avant-garde presents different aspects of the theatre avant-garde programmes, projects and achievements that took place between the two World Wars in a region of Europe that, squeezed between the two mighty powers of Germany and Russia, experienced similar historical dangers of marginalization and (in many cases literal) colonization and conquest.

The book uses the idea of a lexicon in an unexpected way: Instead of a dictionary of terms, phenomena, names, events, works, etc., creating a historical entity introduced by a title and organized in alphabetical order, the international team of researchers and editors have used the idea of lexicon as a tool to establish something that has not previously been clearly recognized as being separate, specific or autonomous, to constitute a specific historical phenomenon. Thus our lexicon is not a dictionary – it is a performance. By writing and publishing the book we aim to present and establish the phenomenon of the Central-Eastern European interwar theatre avant-garde. This does not mean we are creating something that did not previously exist. Rather we are (re-) establishing a certain set of elements in such a way that they emerge from an array of different, multi-layered and complicated webs of relations, events, works, projects and circumstances. But they are emerging not as one unit, a single phenomenon, but as a multiplicity invited to act, to perform on the stage that we have designed for them. And this is something quite different from the traditional academic definition, in which one seeks borders and criteria of differentiation and division. In contrast, while performing a phenomenon we are inviting different elements to appear on a stage and play with each other as actors to create a series of changing relations.

Being a performance on performance art, the Lexicon follows a special dramaturgical composition created intentionally to play with drama and theatre conventions. The main body of the book consists of three sections (or acts — if you will). The first presents the stages of the Central-Eastern European interwar theatre avant-garde, i.e. the historical and cultural conditions that created an environment in which the avant-garde theatre of the region was developed. Here one can also find short presentations of the main characters — the national theatre avant-gardes that we invited to perform the phenomenon of the Central-Eastern European interwar theatre avant-garde.

The second section of the Lexicon may be seen as an antithesis of the first. What is described in it are not the separate national stages created by specific political and historical conditions, but modern networks of communication working across political borders and cultural differences: magazines, exhibitions, the international working-class movement and Jewish theatre as a special transnational phenomenon.

The third section proposes a synthesis of the whole performance of the Lexicon. It is here that the Central-Eastern European interwar theatre avant-garde appears and acts as an entity enlivened by common aesthetics, values, ideas, modes of work, passions and goals. This part is organized around four general terms: form, drama, dance and event, which hopefully allow description of the specific aspects of the Central-Eastern European interwar theatre avant-garde seen as an autonomous subject with its own agency.

The book is composed of texts written by different authors from different cultures and styles of writing. Its editors tried not to hide this multiplicity by forcing an ‘objective’ unification – quite the opposite. To help the reader to navigate between these different voices and perspectives the editors decided to create a special Index, enlisting the main figures, events, performances and ideas of the Central-Eastern European interwar theatre avant-garde.

A Lexicon of the Central-Eastern European Interwar Theatre Avant-garde is the result of long-term project realized from 2014 under the auspices of the Raszewski Theatre Institute and, in its final phase (2018–24), financed by thePolish Minister of Education and Science in the frame of Narodowy Program Rozwoju Humanistyki (National Programme for the Development of Humanities), project no.: 11H 17 0144 85.

Publishers: Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego, Performance Research Books

This lexicon does very welcome and much needed work filling gaps for English-speaking readers by building a complex picture of previously invisible activities: charting avant-garde theatre practices between the wars across Central-Eastern Europe. Beautifully illustrated and comprehensive, it depicts a wealth of activities, helping us understand later experimentation by revealing its foundations. It also presents an extraordinary network and flow of influences and practices as people and ideas circulated across the breadth of Europe. With the current political shifts and resurgence of nationalism across the region (in addition to the war in Ukraine), this book is important for reminding us of shared values and interests and common artistic legacies. The multiple authors and the editor are to be congratulated for their hard work and many insights. The Lexicon is indispensable reading to fully understand the development of theatre throughout Europe.

Paul Allain

Professor of Theatre and Performance,

University of Kent, Canterbury, UK

A Lexicon of the Central-Eastern European Interwar Theatre Avant-garde, edited by Dariusz Kosiński, is the result of a long-term collaboration between theatre and performing arts scholars from a number of Central and Eastern European countries, the outcome of meetings and discussions undertaken on various occasions since 2012. In the introduction, the editors propose that this work is not a typical lexicon but rather a performance. In doing so, they emphasize, among other things, their deep conviction that the avant-garde was performative in nature. Hence it is difficult to capture its specificity other than through performative acts of establishing network connections between artistic phenomena and the people who created them, and the places that these people transformed with their actions. The declaration that the Lexicon is meant to be a performance also conveys the task set by the authors of the texts. This allows the artists and their practices recalled in the Lexicon to enter into new and unexpected relationships; and the task they set for the readers is to find their own place and their own perspective on the simultaneous scene of Central-Eastern European theatre avant-gardes. All this is done while taking care not to get too accustomed to this perspective, but to change it in order to see the dynamic performance from multiple positions.

Ewa Partyga

Associate Professor in the Theatre History and Theory Department,

Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences