Category: interview

Anna Bikont, Journalist – Part Two

Posted September 1, 2011 - 4:17pm

When the Russian army arrived in January, 1945, the survivors were finally able to leave their hiding places and all but Szmul left for Lomza. One night they heard that the Partisans were planning to come harm the Jews. The men in the house left and hid, leaving Ms. Antosa alone because they believed that these men would do nothing to a Christian woman. The men who arrived supposedly had taken part in the Jedwabne pogrom in 1941. When they couldn’t find any Jews, and she wouldn’t tell them anything, they beat up Ms. Antosa until she was black and blue all over. She was so terrified that she would get killed that she decided to leave for Austria with Szmul and some of the other Jewish survivors. They had to stay in a displaced people camp in Linz. Ms. Antosa got very homesick and wanted to return back to Poland. Szmul accompanied her back to make sure she was safe.

Ms. Antosa’s brother, who lived in Cuba, sent him money and Szmul helped the family buy a house in Bielsko, a village not too far from Jedwabne. Once, at the market, Ms. Antosa ran into the men who beat her up; she felt threatened, and the family moved again to a small town close to Warsaw.

In the nineties she was invited by her Jewish friends to the States. Szmul saw her again for the first time in thirty years. He started to invite her every year to Costa Rica. When he was dying in 2000, he asked for Ms. Antosa to stay with him. She came, stayed by his bedside and held his hand as he died.

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Anna Bikont - Journalist

Posted August 24, 2011 - 12:22pm

Anna Bikont is a journalist who writes for Gazeta Wyborzcza, Poland’s second largest newspaper. It was founded in 1989 by a group of journalists and activists from the underground democratic opposition press as the platform for the first democratic parliamentary elections. Adam Michnik - an intellectual and close friend of former Czech President Vaclav Havel from the time when they both were leading dissidents in communist Poland and Czechoslovaki - has been Editor-in-Chief from the beginning. Michnik was a prominent member of the democratic opposition in the '60s to '80s.

After Jan Gross’s book Neighbors was published in Poland in 2000, Anna Bikont started interviewing witnesses of the Jedwabne massacre for the Gazeta Wyborzcza. She became so passionate about her investigation into Jedwabne’s troubled past that she ended up spending four years of her life interviewing: the few survivors and their relatives, now living in the United States, Israel, Costa Rica, and Argentina; the people who risked their lives to hide and save them; and the perpetrators of the violence. She also closely researched old newspapers, letters, trial documents - many facts that often seemed completely contradictory. Her work resulted in the book We in Jedwabne, which is being translated into English and will be published next year by Yale Press.

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Agnieszka Arnold, Documentary Filmmaker - Part Two

Posted August 18, 2011 - 10:26am

I ask her what she thought about the relationship between the Jews and Poles in Jedwabne before the war. Agnieszka considers it a big problem that in Jedwabne Poles and Jews lived next to each other without too much contact. ‘The first question I always ask in my interviews is if they had ever visited the house of a Jew. The answer is always the same: no, never. And when you don’t know your neighbor,’ Agnieszka continues, ‘when they are only the Other, a small gossip can grow into something horrendously huge because people don’t know the reality of their neighbors' lives.’

But Agnieszka admits that the reasons for the lack of relationships between Poles and Jews are complicated. She suggests that eating food together is a basic socializing act. ‘Just imagine:  a Jewish girl is visiting the house of her Polish classmate. She is offered a cup of tea, but she can’t have it because it’s not kosher. Can she have a cookie? No, she can’t. She can’t eat anything at her classmate’s house. The next time she is not offered anything and perhaps later she may not be even invited to visit.’ Agnieszka tells me that two years ago her best friend converted to Orthodox Judaism.  She is supposedly very dear and close to Agnieszka. But now they can’t have a meal together because her friend can eat only kosher food. They still love each other very much but they don’t see each other as often as they used to in the past.

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Agnieszka Arnold, documentary filmmaker – Part One

Posted August 11, 2011 - 3:42pm

Kasia Kubin, a young woman who had grown up in the Philadelphia suburbs, and I are meeting the documentary filmmaker Agnieszka Arnold. Kasia’s English is perfect and she translates flawlessly.

Agnieszka Arnold was the first artist to touch on the subject of Jedwabne Jews.  In her documentary Neighbors, Agnieszka interviews witnesses, participants and survivors of the massacres of an estimated 1,600 Jews in Jedwabne and 800 in Radzilow and other nearby villages. She finished the film in 1997 with no hope that the documentary would ever be broadcast. She started to show the film to her friends, and to whoever wanted to watch. This is what inspired Jan Gross, who saw the film, to do his research and write the book Neighbors, using the same title with Agnieszka's permission. After Jan Gross’s book was published in 2000, Agnieszka’s documentary was shown on Polish National Television in 2001 and viewed by two million people.

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An interview with director Richard Hamburger

Posted May 9, 2011 - 1:52pm

Interview by David Gardner

“You’re looking for an interesting story, depth of character, accuracy of observation, humor, and some insight into the world we live in.”

David Gardner: When you read through a script for a play you might direct, what goes through your head?

Richard Hamburger: You’re looking for the human possibilities to reveal unpredictable areas. You’re looking to see if it’s accurate to the way people actually are, rather than an idealization of how they should be. You’re looking to see whether it’s an original voice, rather than an imitation of someone else, or unduly influenced by a presently-fashionable author. You’re looking for an interesting story, depth of character, accuracy of observation, humor, and some insight into the world we live in.

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An Interview with Sarah Ruhl

Posted January 20, 2011 - 2:14pm

Dramaturg Walter Bilderback discusses In the Next Room, or the vibrator play with playwright Sarah Ruhl.

Walter Bilderback: The first time we spoke, when the Wilma produced The Clean House, you mentioned you were working on “a play about the history of the vibrator.” Here it is now: In the Next Room; or, The Vibrator Play. 

Let’s start with the obvious question: how did you decide to write a play about the history of the vibrator?

Sarah Ruhl: I was given a book by a friend called The Technology of Orgasm and was fascinated to learn that doctors used to treat hysterical women with vibrators, and before the invention, manually. I thought there might be a play in it.

WB: When did you decide to set the play in a single room? And why in “a prosperous spa town outside of New York City, perhaps Saratoga Springs”?

SR: I like to set myself formal challenges when I’m writing and wanted to write this particular one with the challenge of having simultaneous and continuous action in two rooms. Saratoga Springs—I learned that vibrators were part of the healing treatment there, particularly hydraulic vibrators—the salubrious effects of “the waters” sometimes meant vibrators. I also learned that it had a thriving African American community after the war. I was teaching for the SITI company up in Saratoga and loved the history of the place.

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"...life is actually a bit like Kafka would have us believe it is."

Posted December 23, 2010 - 11:24am

David Kennedy is the director of the Wilma’s upcoming production of The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck. This interview was conducted by Richard Kotulski, the Wilma’s Literary Programming Assistant and Casting Director.

RK: What draws you to The Understudy?

DK: I identify with the underlying anxiety that fuels the characters, and I enjoy the way it’s expressed in this very smart and funny writing. What’s great about The Understudy is that Theresa employs the imaginative universe of Franz Kafka as shorthand for all the ways in which we’re frustrated in the attainment of our desires by impersonal forces that, nevertheless, have a very personal effect on us. Kafka’s novels and short stories are actually comedies of a sort, but comedy infused with dread, a kind of tragic farce, as is The Understudy. To my mind that’s the best kind of comedy.

In the play we have three people, all of whom could be said

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Interview with Playwright Theresa Rebeck

Posted December 16, 2010 - 4:10pm

David Gardner: How did The Understudy come about?

Theresa Rebeck: I had been asked to write a monologue or a short one-act for a fundraiser at Playwright’s Horizons, and I wrote this monologue that was pretty crazy — it went a lot of different places. But there was something about it that I liked: you didn’t know who this person was, you didn’t really know what was going on, and that became the seed of the opening monologue for The Understudy. And the confusion, the sort of mystery around it — are people there, or are they not there in the house — was built into that moment. And when I decided that it was an understudy rehearsal and that he would be the understudy, I then had to come up with what’s the play. And I’ve also had a life-long fascination for Kafka: I love his work, and I felt like the kind of mysterious, you know, surreal tragedy of his work could echo in a comedic way. That’s what I was interested in — could the things that were at stake tragically in the play being rehearsed be turned upside down and remain the same existential issues, only presented in a comedic way in the play that held the other play. Who is running the show here, and what does it mean to be human, and why are we so out of control of our lives? 

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An Interview with LEAVING Set Designer Klara Zieglerova

Posted May 20, 2010 - 12:42pm

Richard W. Kotulski, Wilma Literary Programming Assistant and Casting Director: The set for Leaving is quite non-realistic: a vast array of doors everywhere the eye looks. Yet I understand that each door was meticulously researched. Could you tell us a little bit about how you and Jiri Zizka arrived at this design?

Klara Zieglevora, Set Designer: Jiri and I started our meetings in Prague this past December. We were talking about the metaphysical nature of the play and drew a number of different sketches and ideas on the proverbial napkin. Somehow the idea of multiple doors of various sizes and characters was present in most of these sketches. It just felt right.

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Interview with Translator Paul Wilson

Posted April 22, 2010 - 11:24am

You’ve been translating Vaclav Havel’s writing for a quarter century now. What events led to you translating his works originally?
That happened gradually, more by accident than by design. I had already translated two major novels by the Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, and was then offered the chance to translate Havel’s influential 1977 essay, “The Power of the Powerless.” It’s a brilliant descriptive analysis of how the system, which Havel called “post-totalitarianism,” actually worked. It argued that the Soviet system could be resisted and ultimately overcome by non-violent means: by “living in truth.”

Then, when Havel’s letters from prison were published in samizdat [literature or other media clandestinely distributed in Soviet-bloc countries] his American agent turned to me for a translation. Letters to Olga turned out to be a classic – some critics think it’s his best book – and it probably established me as Havel’s unofficial translator. I went on to translate his first autobiographical book, Disturbing the Peace, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution in 1989. I edited Open Letters, a collection of Havel’s essays, and when he became president, Havel turned to me to translate his major speeches, speeches that he delivered in English around the world, including one he gave in Philadelphia in 1994. Finally, I translated his presidential memoir, To the Castle and Back, in 2006.

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