Interview: Polish Playwright Monika Milewska

Similar to many of our playwrights, Monika Milewska has many aspects to her work.  In addition to wriing plays, she is also a poet, essayist, translator, anthropologist, and university professor.  We are grateful she was able to find some time for a few questions about her plays.

WLPG:  Was there something in particular that motivated you to start writing for young audiences?

Monika: It’s a funny story. My first play for children was written for . . .  adults. When I was twenty I fell in love with the Witkacy Theatre, a legendary company in the Polish mountain town of Zakopane.  I wrote, for them, a play entitled: “My Fairytale”, about a prince who wanted to become a king, but the crown was too large for his head. I handed the text to the Theater’s director and received no answer. Very disappointed. I sent the play to a young playwrights competition “Looking for a Polish Shakespeare” which I won and then to the Poland’s most influential drama review, “Dialog”. They answered me that the play is very good, but they don’t publish plays for. . . children. “Play for children?” – I wondered. – I wrote it for the adult audience”. At that time I got to know about the most important Polish drama contest organized by the Children’s Art Centre in Poznan. “My play is not for children, but anyway, I may try.” - thought I. I sent it and . . .I won!  This is how my career started. Many years afterwards I found on the Internet photos from a spectacle based on “My Fairytale”. It was acted by pupils of a theatrical class… on the stage of Witkacy Theatre – for whom I originally wrote it - and it was its world premiere!

WLPG:  What is your typical writing process?

Monika:  Each of my plays has a different story, different source of inspiration. For example I met once a nice squirrel in the park. She stared at me as if she wanted something: not a nut but a story about her. I was sure about it at that moment. I gave her a play with plenty of nuts at its end. The origins of another play “Adventures of the Famous Rodrig” were more sophisticated. During my doctoral studies I read articles of the famous American historian Hayden White. He wrote on medieval annalists who left gaps in their annals – there were years in which nothing interesting happened. It inspired me to invent a hero, a young knight, who wants to put down his name in such an empty year. His desire of fame brings him to a tragic end. The story of the play was much better. In October prof. Hayden White became doctor honoris causa of the University of Gdansk, where I work, and I had the opportunity to give him the English translation of my play which was very successfl in Poland.

WLPG: Is there any real difference between writing for young audiences and writing for adult audiences?

Monika: I think that there is not any real, fundamental difference between my plays destined for the children and adult audiences. What I am looking for in the theatre (and what is unfortunately more and more rare in it) is magic and metaphysics. And I try to write dramas which are like that: metaphysical and magical, regardless of the projected age of the spectator. Sometimes it is not even easy to determinate my audience. I think that the majority of my “children’s” plays – which are very philosophical – could be interesting for adults and – on the other hand – the best stage for many of my “adult” plays would be a puppet theatre.      

WLPG: is there a question you would like to ask your fellow playwrights?

Monika:  I would like to ask if the old folk and fairy tales can be still a good source of inspiration for contemporary playwrights.

WLPG: We welcome your responses.  Please click on 'Post a comment' below.

Click to read Monika's biography.