Polish puppet theatre founded in Bialystok (Białystok) in 1953 (under the name of Świerszcz Cricket until 1976) by a group of active amateurs since 1944, and nationalized in 1960. Its successive directors were: Piotr Sawicki (until 1960), Joanna Piekarska (1960-1969), Krzysztof Rau (1969-1989), Wojciech Kobrzyński (1990-2005, with Wojciech Szelachowski since 1994), Marek Waszkiel (2005-2012), Jacek Malinowski (since 2012). In 1979, the company moved to its new headquarters, the first building constructed in Poland as a puppet theatre. The puppet theatre of Bialystok is currently called BTL (for Białostocki Teatr Lalek).
The BTL’s reputation was firmly established by Krzysztof Rau, who recreated the formulae of Joanna Piekarska, that is, shows based on fairy tales that allowed for a great variety of staging techniques, including: Jak się bawić, to się bawić (If You Want to Play, Then Play, 1967) by Yuriy Elisseïev; Baśń o dwóch nieustraszonych rycerzach (The Tale of Two Dauntless Knights, 1969) by Jan Ośnica. Rau, however, gave greater importance to the role of the actors, as seen in Co za dzień (What a Day!, 1969) by Mikhail Azov and Vassily Tikhvinsky, and Szewczyk Dratewka (Mr Twine the Shoemaker, 1973) by Maria Kownacka. The BTL troupe of actors and puppeteers trained by Krzysztof Rau are still today among the most important in the country.
With the idea of running its own ensemble at BTL, the Scena dla Dorosłych (Stage for Adults) was set up in 1972 with such productions as: Kartoteka (Personal File, 1972) by Tadeusz Różewicz, with Rau as director, set design by Wiesław Jurkowski; Niech żyje Punch! (Long Live Punch!, 1973), directed by Włodzimierz Fełenczak, set design by Wiesław Jurkowski; Nim zapieje trzeci kur (Before the Cock Crows Thrice, 1983) by Vasily Shukshin, directed by Rau, set design by Jurkowski; Decameron 8,5 (1986), based on Boccaccio, directed by Jan Wilkowski, set design by Adam Kilian. Several productions were directed by one of Poland’s most acclaimed stage director of the younger generation, Piotr Tomaszuk, in particular: O medyku Feliksie (Felix the Medic, 1986); Turlajgroszek (Roll-a-Pea, 1987); Polowanie na lisa (The Fox Hunt, 1989) by Sławomir Mrożek.
In 1972, BTL organized the first Poland-wide competition of solo puppet performances, the Ogólnopolski Konkurs Solistów Teatru Lalek (All-Polish Competition of Puppet Theatre Soloists), which was again held in 1973 and 1975. In 1977 and 1980, it became the International Festival of Puppeteers, in which, among others, Albrecht Roser (Germany), Erick Bramall (Great Britain), Jean-Loup Temporal (France) participated. In 1975, the Studium Aktorskie Teatru Lalek (Actors’ Studio for the Puppet Theatre) created a year earlier (1974) within the BTL, became the Akademia Teatralna w Białymstoku (Theatre Academy of Białystok). Due to the dynamism of the theatre, the puppetry school, and the new festival (the All-Polish Puppet Theatre Meetings were organized in 1984, in 1987 and in 1989), Białystok has become the centre of Polish puppetry since the 1980s.
The BLT continued its creative output during the 1990s, as testified by productions such as: Król jeleń (The King Stag, 1993) by Carlo Gozzi, directed by Wojciech Kobrzyński; Parady (Parades, 1995) by Jan Potocki, directed by Wiesław Czołpiński; and Gulliver (1996), directed by Ondrej Spišák. New developments were also in progress, in particular by Wojciech Szelachowski, who has, as a playwright, attempted exciting “post modern” theatrical works that are attractive in the literary sense, centering mainly on the actor and theatre theatricality, not necessarily employing puppets: Kabaret Dada (Dada Cabaret, 1990); Żywa klasa (The Live Class, 1993); Krótki kurs piosenki aktorskiej (A Cram Course in Dramatic Singing, 1995); Krótki kurs wychowania seksualnego (A Cram Course in Sex Education, 1998); Krótki kurs poezji dziecięcej (A Cram Course in Poetry for Children, 2003).
Marek Waszkiel, on the other hand, opened up BTL to the achievements of the contemporary world of puppetry by inviting renowned puppetry artists (Duda Paiva, Charlot Lemoine, Frank Soehnle, Alain Lecucq, Christoph Bochdansky, Fabrizio Montecchi, Ruslan Kudashov, Eric Bass), as well as young creators.