EFFE Laureate - Gdansk Shakespeare Festival

2 August, 2017

Location: Gdansk, Poland
Director: Jerzy Limon
Dates: 2017/07/28 – 2017/08/06
Art Disciplines: Theatre, Dance
Find out more about the festivals on their EFFE Profile and the Gdansk Shakespeare Festival website.

It will be a surprise to many that one of the world's most important festivals devoted to Shakespeare happens not in an English speaking centre but in Poland's northern industrial port, Gdansk. Yet the city has not only hosted the festival since Jerzy Limon founded it in 1997, there were London actors performing in its fencing school in Shakespeare's lifetime, providing the latest theatre from home to the thousand strong Anglophone community in this bastion of the Hanseatic League.

Now Gdansk has its own Shakespeare Theatre, built on the site of the original fencing school and incorporating the traditional Elizabethan galleries surrounding a thrust stage. Unlike the original, though, it also has the advantage of a retractable roof, allowing wet weather performances (or, more accurately, performances during which the actors and audience do not get wet).

Although the festival, like its theatre, is steeped in theatrical tradition and authentic practice, its real distinctiveness lies in the way it mixes scholarship with cutting-edge performance in many languages, showing the relevance of Shakespeare to all contemporary arts. As the festival organisers say, “today’s theatre speaks in a very difficult language. It has absorbed other artistic genres, such as video-art, body-art, installations, performance art, new media and the like becoming a true conglomerate of sundry aesthetics and mediums” - so alongside the plays there are workshops, concerts, discussion and an academic conference.

Joanna Sniezko, the Festival Co-ordinator, says, “Gdansk has a special place in the staging of Shakespeare in Europe. We try hard to connect with the local communities too. We have a kind of fringe, 'Shakespeareoff', in the streets and unusual venues and we have an all year programme of education, as well as a special volunteers programme providing participants with the opportunity to develop a professional career”.

Aside from the performances themselves, she sees the greatest achievement of the festival as the foundation of the European Shakespeare Festivals Network, a way of sharing and developing new ideas and productions. Being an EFFE Laureate, she feels, will help Gdansk and the network develop as well as being a useful tool for impressing the city authorities.

By Simon Mundy for EFA