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The 15th of December saw the official closing gala of this year’s fourth edition of the Divine Comedy Festival. During the eight days of the festival we went on a frenetic, exhilarating journey through all the circles of theatre art.

We set off on Thursday, the 8th of December. An exhausting race took us down into the Inferno of the Festival’s competition, where the best directors of the last season were put through the ordeal of evaluation. In Purgatory, we tore down Polish Monuments, admired special events and listened to thought-provoking conversations during the Dantesque Scenes series. The gates of Paradise were thrown wide open for us thanks to young directors and new performances. This year’s programme included twenty-two shows. Top ten representatives of the last theatre season took part in the competition, selected by eleven classifying critics. Due to recent changes in the Festival, there were five opening performances to watch this year. As part of the Divine Prefix, we saw a show by the German Theater Oberhausen.

However, we cannot forget that we already had a chance to see two other international presentations in the spring. In May, Krakow welcomed the Japanese performance group cheltfisch, and in June Krakow’s theatre scene went international thanks to Mapa Teatro from Colombia. What’s more, the Festival Centre, this year based at the Pałac pod Baranami, hosted nine meetings with the makers of competition shows. Another highlight was the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Road Show, a workshop which was meant to clarify the rules and principles governing that most prestigious Scottish theatre event.

The production of such a large event, held each year in several places across Krakow, is a substantial logistical challenge for the organisers. However, the experience gained during the previous editions makes the Divine Comedy run like clockwork. This year, audiences watched thirty shows in 14 different places. Several thousand spectators flocked to the theatres and crowds waiting to get inside, milling around the entrances, became a common sight. The appearance of the crowds was not in the least surprising – quite the opposite, it was very welcome. Tickets had been sold out long before the Festival started. However, the most perseverant fans did not give up and tried to get to see the shows buying standing places or hoping that somebody would return their tickets. This is probably why very often, the directors themselves tried to help all the people craving their theatre thrills to get inside. During the performances people had to sit on the stairs or on additional chairs; however, such inconveniences did not scare off those who would probably never go to see a show in Szczecin, Bydgoszcz or Wałbrzych.  
The anonymous theatre fans included more than one hundred foreigners – producers, coordinators and curators of theatre life. The visibility of Polish theatre on international stages will soon depend on them. However, we are convinced that the Divine Comedy goes a long way in presenting the Polish theatre stage, showcasing its theatrical gems. During this edition, we hosted almost fifty accredited correspondents, reviewers, critics, photojournalists and TV crews, so that we could be present in the press, TV and radio, as well as on the Internet.
The circles of hell were spinning at a dizzying pace. Days, hours and minutes rushed past so fast that only the title of the show in the programme told us what day of the week it was. The Divine Comedian statuettes were granted to winners in five categories, chosen from amongst ten shows. The advisory group which made the initial selection included Anna R. Burzyńska, Joanna Derkaczew, Aneta Kyzioł, Agnieszka Rataj, Jacek Cieślak, Łukasz Drewniak, Jacek Kopciński, Marcin Kościelniak, Wojciech Majcherek, Grzegorz Niziołek and Jacek Sieradzki. However, everybody was really waiting for the overall winner of the Festival – the best show of 2011. Polish productions were scrutinized by an international panel of judges. The confrontation of Polish artists with the judges, representing various continents, served to keep a heated, truly infernal atmosphere. This year’s jury consisted of Iphigenia Taxopoulou – artistic advisor of the Thessaloniki-based Dimitria Festival – who is quite familiar with the Divine Comedy, as she was a judge during its second edition in 2009; Seo Jaehyung – a South-Korean director; Peter Carp – director of the Oberhausen Theatre and Chiaki Soma – programme director of Festival/Tokyo.

They all faced no meagre task. What commonalities could you find between the revisionist Polish Club by Paweł Miśkiewicz, the dark Brothers Karamazov by Janusz Opryński, the musical Piece on Mother and Fatherland by Jan Klata, the polyphonic Babel 2 by Maja Kleczewska, the ironic Mickiewicz. Forefather’s Eve. Performance by Paweł Wodziński, the risqué Joanna the Mad; Queen by Wiktor Rubin, the vivid Father by Agata Duda-Gracz, the rough Judith by Klemm, the energetic Rainbow Stand 2012 or the epic Sexual Life of the Savages by Krzysztof Garbaczewski? The judge’s surprising decision showed that theatre can transgress all boundaries.

Let us also remind you that this edition of the Festival was won by the Demirski/Strzępka duo and their Rainbow Stand 2012, created at the Polski Theatre in Wrocław. Agnieszka Kwietniewska was awarded best actress for her leading role in Joanna the Mad; Queen, a show which was itself also distinguished by the jury. Łukasz Lewandowski triumphed as the best actor for his performance in The Brothers Karamazov. The Sexual Life of Savages was recognized in the combined category for the best space and music score. Jan Klata was the best director for the Piece on Mother and Fatherland. In general, the Polski Theatre in Wrocław was the great winner of this year’s Divine Comedy Festival, as it was hailed by the foreign judges as the best theatre ensemble, drawing on a tradition of Polish theatre based on teamwork. It even received a special prize from the jury.  

During the Divine Comedy Festival, audiences also took part in the widely popular Dantesque Scenes; interviews with the artists behind the hellish mess of the competition. This year, the following artists had some explaining to do at the Pałac pod Baranami during ten meetings: Bartosz Szydłowski, Mikołaj Grabowski, Małgorzata Głuchowska, Piotr Ratajczak, Monika Strzępka, Paweł Miśkiewicz, Jan Klata and Justyna Łagowska, Janusz Opryński, Paweł Wodziński, Klemm, Agata Duda-Gracz and the actors performing in The Father,  Krzysztof Garbaczewski, Ola Wasilkowska and Marcin Cecko, as well as Wiktor Rubin and Jolanta Janiczak. The inquisitive moderators included Łukasz Drewniak, Łukasz Maciejewski, Witold Mrozek, Jacek Cieślak and Joanna Derkaczew. Seated on stylish sofas at Pałac pod Baranami, the guests eagerly talked about the intricacies of their work, discussed its results – especially those the Krakow audiences could see for themselves – shared their inspirations, books they have read, films they have watched, music they listen to, or simply talked about their plans and future projects.  

The Festival’s accompanying events included the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Road Show Krakow, a working meeting with the organisers of Edinburgh Festival Fringe. They talked about ways to take part in their event and about how to stand out and survive until the end of the festival. Besides giving numerous practical pointers, the workshop also reflected on the authenticity of the presented shows. The speakers wrapped up the event saying that the things we want to present in Edinburgh should be art we ourselves appreciate and believe in. Artificial works, sensational tricks and throwing around names will not do there. What counts in Edinburgh is top quality.  

Like every year, the festival’s life thrived off-stage as well, propelling a theatrical exchange of ideas, thoughts and contacts. Inspired by overheard conversations held off the record, we can safely say the Divine Comedy Festival is working and developing thanks to exchange – it gives a lot, but also gets a lot in return. It gets a lot of positive energy and flavours to add colour to the last festival dish – a summary of the next edition!  

On the 15th of December 2011 we stepped into the Inferno for the last time. For the last time we knocked on heaven’s door. For the last time we were confined to Purgatory. For the last time we witnessed the Dantesque Scenes. All of these circles of theatre will remain closed to us for another year. That’s why we hope that you will be there with us next year, during the jubilee 5th edition of the Divine Comedy Festival. We also hope that you invite your friends and families to come with you on a week-long journey full of surprises, following in the footsteps of our divine guides.