AN ORDINARY LIFE OF DANUTA MICHAŁOWSKA
An excellent actress, film director, a lecturer for many years and also a rector of the National University of Theatre in Cracow – Danuta Michałowska died on 11 January 2015 in Cracow, a few days after her 92nd birthday. She was rewarded with the Gold Medal for the Meritorious in Gloria Artis Culture and received the title of the Honoured Citizen of Cracow. But the most important honorable mention which her life gave to her, was her friendship with the greatest Pole for over 60 years – St. John Paul II.
She met Karol Wojtyła during the war occupation when in Cracow a conspirational theatrical group was established, which was later changed into a Rhapsodic Theatre. They both performed in a premiere of ‘King-Ghost’ by Juliusz Słowacki, which inaugurated the activity of the theatre on 1 November 1941. But the student of the junior high school, Danuta Michałowska, admired Karol Wojtyła much earlier – as a student of Polish philology at the Jagellonian University, during an evening of young poets entitled: ‘A poplar bridge alongside a road’, when he read his poems and the spectacle ‘Moon bachelor’, performed in summer in Cracow 1939.
Danuta Michałowska and Karol Wojtyła performer in all conspirational premieres of the Rhapsodic Theatre, among the others in the play ‘Beniowski’, ‘Hymns’ by Kasprowicz, ‘Pan Tadeusz’, ‘Samuel Zborowski’. Despite the occupation conditions, work was intensive: ‘Theatre required full availability: rehearsals or performances every day, rewriting scenarios; I was engaged in secretary and providing equipment, I was looking for materials for costumes, I participated in long discussions on formulating detailed rules of functioning, ethics and esthetics of the Rhapsody Theatre’ – it was how Danuta Michałowska said about the first phase of the tumultuous history of the theatre, with which she was related for many years and which had an important impact on her artistic image.
Tumultuous history of ‘Rhapsody theatre troupe’
After the war she still acted in the ‘Rhapsody’ troupe, who started acting officially under the supervision of MIeczysław Kotlarczyk. With him she also participated in a quiet first Holy Mass which was celebrated by the newly ordained Fr. Wojtyła on 4 November 1946 at the altar at the coffin of St. Stanisław. Till the year 11953 Michałowska worked in a group which was more and more criticized for ‘spiritual Messiah’ s character, the character of the time of Young Poland, Byron’s atmosphere’ within the strengthening political trend. With the liquidation of the theatre she received a ‘wolfish ticket’ which meant the lack of possibility to work on the stage.
An art historian and actor Zbigniew Gorzowski wrote about her in his memories of those times: ‘It was the first time then when I had seen this actress, famous already in the times of the junior high school! In ‘Pan Tadeusz’ – in the role of Zosia! I will never forget when she ‘was feeding’ hens and saw a Count (Mieczysław Voit) and ran away! Later Tatiana in ‘Eugeniusz Oniegin’! I went to see the performance many times. In order to listen! But first of all, in order to look!’.
After a ‘thaw’ and political changes, the Rhapsodic Theatre gets revived in April 1957, and Danuta Michałowska returns to the troupe as a deputy of an artistic manager and an actress. She acts in ‘Don Juan’, Odyssey’ ‘Eugeniusz Oniegin’, and she also debuts in ‘The story of Tristan and Izolda’, which have enthusiastic reviews. There are friendly contacts of the troupe with bishop Karol Wojtyła, who writes a drama at that time entitled ‘Outside a jeweler’s shop’ and invites artists for ‘sharing the Christmas wafer’. But – as Danuta Michałowska mentioned in an interview with ‘Niedziela’ in 2007: ‘For some time there was a conflict between me and the director Kotlarczyk. There were a few reasons, which I will not mention’.
One’s own road
Leaving the troupe must have been painful – as Zbigniew Gorzowski wrote: ‘Danuta Michałowska had acted in the theatre since it was founded, experiencing all phases of its development. She was the only person who shared the fate of the Director dismissed after its first liquidation. She co-created the theatre after its restitution. She became the best partner of the Director, feeling the rhapsodic spirit and style the best.
Having parted with the ‘Rhapsodic troupe’ Danuta Michałowska has an idea about her own road – Theatre of One Actor. The first performance ‘Gates of paradise’ by Andrzejewski, played in Piwnica pod Baranami, turned out to be successful which she had not expected. After years she said: ‘I was working on the ‘Gates of paradise’, not expecting the success at all, I simply had to do something’. The audience, certainly, did not have any idea that the actress invented a stage costume, and sewed it herself, because as she said, ‘at the time of imposed unemployment I did a tailor’s course and later I sewed costumes by myself’. She also prepares adaptations of other monodramas which she performs in Poland and abroad.
At the same time Danuta Michałowska becomes a lecturer of the subject: stage expressiveness in the National High Theatrical School in Cracow; she will devote over 40 years to the didactic work. Among her students there are, among the others: Olgierd Łukaszewicz, Wojciech Pszoniak, Jan Frycz, Krzysztof Globisz, who, after years, reciting a fragment of ‘Beniowski’ during a ceremony dedicated to Danuta Michałowska, said: - It has been an honour to speak to Mrs. Professor till now, as well as it is fear.
An hour of a word
The day of 16 October 1978 means another turning point in the artistic work of Danuta Michałowska. ‘A Pole became pope, and I, was a person knowing him for a long time. This thought made me decide that I should join the evangelical work, too – she says in an interview with ‘Niedziela’. She creates the Theatre of an Hour of a Word in order to implement texts on the stage, dedicated to spiritual life. The first performance is ‘Meditations on poetry of Andrzej Jawień’, on order to present the audience poems of Fr. Wojtyła. Later she brings texts of the Holy Scripture onto the stage, and ‘A Saint woman’ turns out to be a great success – according to letters of St. Theresa from Avila – presented in churches and catechetical rooms in whole Poland. She is surprised to find out that the ‘Issue about the freedom of speech’ – a program about Norwid was chosen by the Holy Father as a topic of his retreats. A monodrama ‘Me without a name’ according to ‘Confessions’ of St. Augustine was performed for the first time in Vatican. In 1986 she travels with Marek Skwarnicki to Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, to present a program to the Polish Diaspora ‘A story about Karol Wojtyła’. Danuta Michałowska was also the first actress in the ‘Roman Triptych’, and she left her interpretation on a CD.
Definitions about Danuta Michałowska, quoted in the beginning, are not a journalistic exaggeration. She was a great dame, a talented woman and a legend. She was also an extremely modest and friendly woman. She had friendship with many prominent people – first of all, St. John Paul II. But in her memories there were also: Wiesława Szymborska – her schoolmate, Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, who participated in her first performances of the conspirational theatre, Krzysztof Penderecki, who gave his music to the monodrama ‘Gates of paradise’ and many other people.
What Danuta Michałowska appreciated the most was independence and went her own way, although her life was full of painful experiences or difficult decisions. Whereas, during ceremonies of granting the title of an Honoured Citizen of Cracow, she said: ‘My life was ordinary. I did everything what was necessary and possible, because not always did I do what I wanted. And these 85 years passed in this way. And what can I boast about?
Her friends, students and lovers of her talent, said farewell to Danuta Michałowska on 16 January 2015 in the church of St. John the Baptist and St. Augustine on Salvador. The funeral ceremony was presided over by cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the metropolitan of Cracow.