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Why theatre for young audiences is one of Poland’s cultural and social treasures?

This may surprise many, but Polish theatre for young audiences is one of the richest and the best in Europe. This is not only about the quantity and diversity of the theatre-related events in Poland. It is also about leading playwrights writing for children, special programmes developing dramaturgy for young spectators, long traditions of youth theatre, theatre productions that are aesthetically and politically relevant, and festivals that celebrate children and their theatre. Above all, the quality of Polish theatre for young audiences is underpinned by its progressive engagement with young spectators as creative partners and socio-cultural-political agents.

Theatre for young audiences is a diverse field operating within broadly understood theatre and performance and engaging with spectators from birth to adulthood. It includes theatre productions made by adults or children with adults for young spectators, playwrighting, participatory and community projects, drama classes, youth theatre, and a rich recitation scene in Poland. The current article will focus on how theatre institutions in Poland engage with young people. Before however, it is essential to highlight a rich and unique tradition of performance and recitation groups usually affiliated with local cultural centres. The latter’s history stretches to the eighteenth century, and in today’s Poland many of these cultural centres run youth theatre groups. They meet at Polish-wide festivals such as All-Poland Youth Theatre Confrontations or All-Poland Recitation Contest. The latter runs from 1955 and brings together people from six years old to adulthood who recite various texts, sing poetry, devise short performances from literary texts, and create solo theatre pieces. Many of the participants become drama school students and theatre makers, and the contest is an example of building theatre culture with young people all over Poland. The contest is organized by the Theatre Culture Society, which has operated in Poland (under changing names) since 1907.



Theatre for young audiences in Poland is made by diverse institutions, ranging from public puppetry theatres such as the Białystok Puppetry Theatre – present in majority of big cities – for whom young people are often the main spectators, through dramatic theatres that make some work for school audiences (e.g. Współczesny Theatre in Szczecin ), to independent organizations often focused exclusively on young people. The example of the latter is the Teatr Małego Widza (Little Theatre Audience) created by Agnieszka Czekierda for children between the ages of one and six. The theatre performs in Warszawa, Wrocław, and Amsterdam (under the name Black Cat Theatre). They work with visual theatre and hold workshops that allow children to play with each show’s scenography and theme. In the workshops related to Cztery Pory Roku (Four Seasons), for example, children recreate elements of the stage design – such as a spider web that covers the entire stage – and dance in the “snow”. Another independent company is LALE.teatr, also working with the youngest spectators. Their Kręcipupa (Twisty-bottom) – coproduced with the Wrocław Puppetry Theatre – uses objects connected to the toilet (from toilet paper to actual toilets) to invite their spectators to see them in a new context underpinned by the need to move.

The efforts to develop contemporary playwriting for children show the appreciation of young people as spectators who require the highest quality work. For many years, the Children’s Arts Centre in Poznań has run the “Contemporary Dramaturgy for Children and Youth” project, which includes workshops for playwrights, rehearsed readings, a digital catalogue of stage works for children and young people, and the Young Audience Theatre Play Competition. The latter has run since 1986, preceding similar competitions for adult spectators. At the same time, theatres commission Poland’s top playwrights to write texts for young spectators. Julia Holewińska’s 2022 version of Red Riding Hood’s story is written in contemporary rhymed verse and underpinned by vegan feminism, which links themes of nature and women’s rights. Holewińska’s text, directed by Wojciech Faruga for the Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz, invites spectators to explore interactions between humans and nature, and performances of intergenerational womanhood.

Yemaya–Królowa Mórz (Yemaya–The Queen of Seas) at the Wrocław Puppetry Theatre, is written by Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk and directed by Martyna Majewska (2016) for spectators of the age of six and older. Through the play, Sikorska-Miszczuk responds to the death of Alan Kurdî, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015. The production about a refugee boy Omar and his father raises issues of Poland’s people’s response-ability for and to the so-called “refugee crisis,” the topic with which very few theatres in Poland dared to engage. With the lead performance by Agata Kucińska Kucińska’s described by a Polish critic Jacek Sieradzki as a “masterclass,” the production was also a finalist of the National Competition for the Production of Polish Contemporary Play.

A few years earlier, the Wrocław Puppetry Theatre won this prestigious competition with their 2014 SAM, czyli przygotowanie do życia w rodzinie (Sam, Or Preparation for Family Life), directed by Jakub Krofta and written by Maria Wojtyszko. Marketed for audiences aged thirteen and above, the production explores socio-politically divided Poland in relation to divorce, abortion, and in-vitro fertilization. Awarded at the National Competition for the Production of Polish Contemporary Play is also Rutka directed by Karolina Maciejaszek for the Puppetry Theatre Arlekin in Łódź. The show invited its spectators (+10) to explore history of the Łódź Ghetto from the perspectives of two young girls, one living in the “now” and the other one, Rutka, in the 1940s. These examples also show that while theatre works for children have long been seen as inferior art, they are starting to get recognition. This is also visible in multiple festivals that celebrate performances for young spectators.

photo:Paweł Bulejko


Poland has approximately 900 annual and biannual events celebrating broadly understood theatre and performance, including fringe, opera, and ballet. Many festivals focus specifically on young audiences, and some feature productions for different ages and adults within their programme. The examples of the latter include the Szczecin-based KONTRAPUNKT, which will run in April and May 2024 for the 57th time. Co-organized by the Współczesny Theatre in Szczecin and the Puppet Theatre Pleciuga, it features international and Polish interdisciplinary works, including puppetry, dramatic theatre, and performance art. In Bielsko Biała, the Banialuka theatre organizes the International Festival of Puppetry Art, which brings together puppetry theatres from different parts of the world every two years. Some perform for adults and some for children, and the festival awards Grand Prix for the best production for young audiences. The Kraków’s Boska Komedia/Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival, held at the end of each year, features important Polish productions. Its strand “Little Divine Comedy” focuses specifically on young audiences and is usually held in Autumn. Because KONTRAPUNKT and the International Festival of Puppetry Art are international festivals and the Divine Comedy aims to spotlight Polish theatre to international audiences, spectators without Polish language are accommodated through surtitles and productions that do not require a specific language to follow.

However, most festivals featuring children and young audience performance focuses on these spectators. The events are diverse in form, approach, and scope, ranging from local to international. Some focus on local spectators, such as the Children Theatre Festival organized by the Cultural Centre in Nowa Huta, Kraków easternmost district. Every second summer, the Children’s Art Biennale in Poznań celebrates, through an interdisciplinary perspective, art for children. It is organized by the Children’s Arts Centre in Poznań. This is one of the most important Poland’s children-focused organizations for the last 30 years uses arts as a platform for dialogue with children about things that matter to them. The (also) biannual Review of New Theatre for Children – organized in June since 2013 by the Wrocław Puppetry Theatre – presents contemporary dramaturgy and innovative theatre forms for young audiences. Some editions focus on Poland’s productions, while others feature works from Czechia, Slovakia, and other neighbouring countries. Apart from the theatre productions, audiences of different ages are invited to participate in workshops as part of the festivals. Wrocław is also the place of the International Festival of Children’s Theatre “Dziecinada,” which invites theatre works from various parts of Europe and happens in September and October.

At a similar time, in late October, the Festival of Theatre for Children and Young People KORCZAK TODAY takes place in Warszawa. The festival is named after Janusz Korczak, the iconic Polish-Jewish pedagogue, paediatrician and children’s rights advocate whose Declaration of Children’s Rights influenced the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The KORCZAK TODAY festival features theatre productions, stand up performances, workshops, discussions, and other activities blending education and culture. At the heart is the KORCZAK LABORATORIUM, which brings together young spectators and professional artists to create collaboratively. In 2024, the festival will focus on childhood and how the concept shifts across times and cultures.

The idea to nourish the participation of the youngest people in the arts underpins also smaller festivals such as the Kraków’s „Podskoki i wykręty” (Jumps and Twists) organized by the Figurki Theatre and, focused on spectators between 1 and 8 year old. Again, the theatre productions are accompanied by workshops, meetings with artists, and opportunities to co-create performances. Children’s agency as participants and co-creators is inherently tied with human rights: the right to performance and children’s rights to be involved in cultural activities and to have a voice in making decisions about them. And as such, searching for ways to adhere to these rights has been a significant trend in Polish theatre.

photo:Natalia Kabanow


The importance of the young audience’s agency in participating in theatre events and a theatre event as an opportunity for young people to participate actively in public life is increasingly visible in Polish theatre. Many stages in Poland run regular drama sessions for young people. Moreover, theatre pedagogues facilitate workshops with children, their guardians, and/or schools in connection to or independently from theatre shows. For example, the Wrocław Puppetry Theatre has its department of theatre pedagogy led by Dr Katarzyna Krajewska. Other theatres hire pedagogues to prepare workshops and even to consult theatre productions. For example, theatre pedagogue Justyna Czarnota collaborated with the “Kubuś” Theatre in Kielce, Honorata Mierzejewska- Mikosza, and Anna Andraka on an adaptation of The 5 Misfits by Beatrice Alemagna (2019). The process involved children from local kindergartens participating in workshops and helping to make creative choices.

Children’s participation and co-creation is also increasingly visible. Anna Wańtuch and Performujące Rodziny (Families that Perform) bring together children and their adults in collaborative acts of creating and performing underpinned by Contakids and somatic methods. Their Rośnie i rośnie i, (It’s growing and growing and,) – commissioned by the Children’s Art Biennale – imagines possible futures of childhood. The topic of future and figuring out new ways of living together in a rapidly changing world – what political scientists would describe as political imagination – is the focus of Kosmiczny Pokój (Cosmic Room/Peace) (+5) that premiered in December 2023 at the Guliwer Theatre in Warszawa. The production, directed by Ukrainian Kateryna Lukianenko, grew out of 6-months workshops with Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Polish children living in Warsaw: Katia, Emma, Makary, Tetiana, Oleh, Nikita, Vika, Lilit, Tosia, Kamilek, Benio, Rita, Tymek, Hania, Zachary, Leo, and Basia. The workshop focused on what it means to want peace in the world. They are listed as co-creators of the production, and at the opening performance, they spoke about their process. Kosmiczny Pokój plays on a double meaning of Polish “pokój”, which denotes both a room and a peace. It tells a story of Emma trying to find peace inside her and find herself in her new room after moving to Warszawa. Theatre educator Anna Kierkosz, who initiated the project, says that it is underpinned by the radical “belief that by creating a tolerant, multicultural society that respects its differences, we can achieve more. Perhaps someday we will fulfil that impossible dream of humanity: world peace…” (Guliwer Theatre, my translation).

An eminent theatre scholar, Helen Nicholson, once said that theatre is a place where the imaginations of artists and spectators intertwine to bridge the gap between reality and fiction. In turn, it allows spectators “to imagine that which was previously unimagined or unimaginable”, presenting futures and worlds “which, once seen, cannot be unseen” (Nicholson 47-51). If young people are involved as both creators and spectators, they rehearse their participation in public life, their innovation, imagination, and problem-solving skills. They also dream up futures that will become their present. Take a child in your life to (Polish) theatre.

Works Cited

Nicholson, Helen. Theatre & Education. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Guliwer Theatre, “Kosmiczny pokój – pokazy premierowe!”, 24 Nov. 2023,