Polish theatre company. The puppet and actor theatre group, Towarzystwo Wierszalin Teatr (Wierszalin Society Theatre), was founded in Bialystok (Białystok) in 1991 by Piotr Tomaszuk, stage director trained at the Akademia Teatralna w Białymstoku (Theatre Academy of Bialystok), and Tadeusz Słobodzianek, dramatist and playwright. Based in Supraśl, a small town near Bialystok, in the 1990s Wierszalin was one of the youngest, yet the most influential, independent puppet theatre companies in Poland.
It was Piotr Tomaszuk’s Turlajgroszek (Roll-a-Pea, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991), tested in several earlier versions of the production and overcoming adult audience’s initial prejudices against such an ambitious puppet theatre project, that brought Wierszalin its phenomenal success and established the company’s high artistic position. Tomaszuk had developed an original style that combines an intense, highly expressive style of acting with precision in the handling of the puppets, designed and built by the painter Mikołaj Malesza, collaborator on all Wierszalin productions in the 1990s.
The company is primarily interested in the issues and controversial aspects of the marginalized “fringe” culture and religion of the Polish-Belarusian borderland. The protagonists of Wierszalin’s plays bear specific distinguishing characteristics; the company’s productions evoke religious, national and moral debate. Wierszalin uses and transforms myths, legends, and apocryphal works to examine the roots of European culture. The group’s approach takes on an eerie, powerful directness that transcends cultural, linguistic and artistic barriers. Their performances are a complex, intriguing interaction between puppets and actors, in which people act as both the manipulators and the manipulated.
As experimental theatre, Wierszalin was awarded three times (1993, 1994, 1997) at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland for Turlajgroszek (1990), Merlin – inna historia (Merlin, Another Story, 1993) and Medyk Felix (Felix the Medic, 1996). Tomaszuk also staged Ofiara Wilgefortis (Wilgefortis’ Sacrifice, 2000).
Since 2000, Wierszalin has continued to create powerful productions of a high artistic level in collaboration with Slovakian scenographers, Eva Farkašová and Ján Zavarsky: Cyrk Dekameron (Decameron Circus, 2002), Święty Edyp (Saint Oedipus, 2004), and Bóg Niżyński (Nizhinsky the God, 2006). Productions with scenographers, Ewelina Pietrowiak and Julia Skuratova include: Wierszalin. Reportaż o końcu świata (Wierszalin. An Account of the End of the World, 2007) and Traktat o manekinach (Treatise on the Mannequins, 2011).
However, the company’s relationship with puppetry arts has recently become more symbolic. Since 2006, Wierszalin has acquired the status of a cultural institution and is financed by local and governmental authorities.
- Baltyn, Hanna. “Mikołaj Malesza, czyli Pamięć źródeł”/”Mikołaj Malesza or a Memory of the Sources”. Teatr Lalek. Nos. 1-2. Łódź: POLUNIMA, 1995. (In Polish and English)
- Pawluczuk, Włodzimierz. Wierszalin. Reportaż o końcu świata [Wierszalin. An Account of the End of the World]. Supraśl: Teatr Wierszalin, 2008.[S]
- Waszkiel, Marek. Dzieje teatru lalek w Polsce, 1944-2000 [History of Puppet Theatre in Poland, 1944-2000]. Warszawa: Akademia Teatralna im. Aleksandra Zelwerowicza, 2012.[S]