"Celebrating multiculturalism with affectionate curiosity, The Sejny Chronicles is a delightful and persuasive piece of theatre."
- Ron Cohen, Backstage
"The hourlong show is a modest, gentle expression of cross-cultural appreciation, conveyed by a cast impossible to resist."
- Andy Webster, New York Times
La MaMa E.T.C., in the association with the Polish Cultural Institute, presents:
The American Premiere of THE SEJNY CHRONICLES – a performance by Sejny Theater
The Sejny Chronicles, a story of the multicultural town of Sejny, is a stunning montage of oral histories and legends that are spoken, sung and danced around a baked clay model of the town.
Actors approach the town, listen to the houses, and hear a Jewish prayer from one, the Lord’s Prayer in Polish from another, and then in Lithuanian, and Russian… then lullabies in the many languages spoken along the shifting borders of Eastern Europe. The play is unusual because the actors – teen-age children of Poles, Lithuanians, and Russian Old-believers living until today in Sejny – tell the real stories and legends handed down by their own grandparents and great-grandparents. The performers represent the third “generation” of the youth to pursue this re-discovery of their roots. Uncovering these stories in the houses, one by one, in the dreamlike atmosphere of a scene by Chagall, they all become their own forefathers, voicing their memories of Roma caravans, Slavic solstice customs, and pagan legends, or in magically fluid transitions become the guests at a Lithuanian wedding or beggars gathering before the church. Then again they remember the tailor’s daughter Rachel, or the Jewish child rescued from imminent death. It is the richness of a multicultural past re-discovered and brought to life by its youngest heirs. It speaks with disarming power to any of us who may feel we have lost our roots.
Collaboration: Malgorzata Sporek-Czyzewska, Urszula Wasilewska, Jerzy Czyzynski, and Wieslaw Szuminski
The actors: Aleksandra Tomal, Edyta Rogucka, Dominika Turowicz, Aleksandra Kotarska, Katarzyna Ostrowska, Dagmara Nieszczerzewska, Ula Kapp, Aleksandra Szruba, Jakub Ostrowski, Artur Mazewski, Robert Ogurkis, Patryk Zubowicz, Piotr Szroeder, and Michal Pawlowski
THE MAKING OF A PLAY
In this stunning theater piece, directed by Bozena Szroeder, the performance techniques of Polish experimental theater are merged with the Borderland Foundation's dedication to building bridges across ethnic, religious, and national borders, and between older generations and the new.
The Sejny Chronicles had its premiere in 1999, and was performed throughout Poland, including the Malta International Theatre Festival in Poznan in 2002, as well as in Bosnia, Lithuania, Germany and Denmark.
- The performance evolved from a 1998 exhibition, Our Good Old Sejny – postcards and photographs from the years 1910-60 from the Borderland Center collection, augmented by snapshots brought by the townspeople’s children. This prompted a competition on Sejny’s history which yielded 100 art and literary works by children, of whom some were selected to continue what became an ever-evolving project over the years.
With guidance from Ms. Szroeder the children gathered oral stories from their parents and grandparents, compiled them in their own individual mini-chronicles, drew family trees, and together drew a half-true, half-mythical plan of the town, matching the stories and legends they had heard to specific sites. Meanwhile they learned each other’s songs – Lithuanian wedding songs, Old Slavonic chants, Polish folk songs – as well as Jewish nigunim and Roma songs. A new stage in the project was to re-create in baked clay the pre-war multi-cultural Sejny, with town hall, synagogue, and Catholic and Evangelical churches – an ideal “set” for a theatrical performance.
As a further step in this on-going educational project, the production has been documented by the children in their book Sejny Chronicles, edited by Bozena Szroeder.
The performance will be introduced in La MaMa’s lobby by a photo exhibit prepared by Bozena Schroeder and photographer Stanislaw Woś (lecturer at the Warsaw School of Photography), juxtaposing old and new photographs of Sejny.
Bozena Szroeder, following pedagogical studies, has collaborated on cultural projects with Krzysztof and Malgorzata Czyzewski since 1987. With them, she co-founded the Borderland Foundation in Sejny in 1990, where she runs the Documentation Center of Borderland Cultures and is director of the children’s theater studio. She created an innovative program of intercultural education in the Borderland Center, now a model introduced in many schools in Poland. She is also co-author of a program on memory and local identity for youth – The Glass Bead Game – being realized with many centers in Poland and Europe. Bozena Szroeder is a specialist in the history and culture of the Roma.
This is a part of BORDERLANDERS: FINDING THEIR VOICE festival, presented by the Polish Cultural Institute in New York in association with La MaMa E.T.C., Bowery Poetry Club, Millenium Film Workshop, Inc., and the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, New School for Social Research. All performance events are presented in the Lower East Side as a tribute to the multicultural heritage of a district that was home to many Eastern European immigrants in the early 20th century.
SEJNY CHRONICLES –
a theater performance
La MaMa E.T.C.
CAFÉ EUROPA –
an Evening of Arts and Letters on the Theme of “Borderlanders”
Bowery Poetry Club
FILMS ABOUT THE BORDERLANDS
Millenium Film Workshop
BETWEEN THE PAST AND THE FUTURE:
MEMORY WORK IN THE BORDERLANDS –
a Conversation with Krzysztof Czyżewski,
president of the Borderland Foundation
New School for Social Research
by Ron Cohen
Read it online
Celebrating multiculturalism with affectionate curiosity, The Sejny Chronicles is a delightful and persuasive piece of theatre.
Sejny is a border town in northeast Poland inhabited through the years by Lithuanians, Poles, Russian Old Believers, Belarusians, and Jews, the Jews being deported during World War II. The play is a development of an ongoing community program there with the town's young people, under the guidance of the Borderland Foundation, an organization committed to using culture as a countermeasure to ethnic conflict. The young people have culled stories about their town's multicultural past from their parents, grandparents, and family archives, and the remembrances are melded into a lively montage of storytelling. The current company of 14 performers, teenage and younger (the youngest is 11), represents the third generation to work on the chronicles.
The fulcrum of the piece is a miniature model of the town made up of baked clay buildings, with an impressive church at one end and the former synagogue building at the other. As the play begins, the children gather around, gently picking up one building after another and describing the sounds that might be heard. There's the Lord's Prayer in Lithuanian and Polish, a Russian folk song, a Chassidic song. The singing throughout is marked by rich harmonies.
Various incidents are described or enacted, such as a Lithuanian wedding, the exciting arrival of gypsies, and trips across the border to buy geese, which could be sold at a profit in town. In one moving sequence, we're told how a Polish family briefly sheltered a Jewish infant from the Nazis. English translations are projected on the back of the set.
Script and direction are by Bozena Szroeder; she has guided her young performers into an appealing and responsive ensemble. The show runs just short of an hour, but it signals an enduring sense of hope for a world in which ethnic strife often seems endemic.
Yes, Borders Everywhere, but nary a barrier in sight
By Andy Webster
New York Times
The Polish town of Sejny, at the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Belarus, has always had a rich mix of cultures. Predominantly Jewish before World War II, Sejny (pronounced SAY-nee) embraces Polish, Lithuanian, Belarusian and Romany influences. Today the town’s diversity continues to flourish; its example as a model of coexistence is illustrated in “The Sejny Chronicles,” now at La MaMa as part of the Borderlanders: Finding Their Voice festival in the East Village, a series of events celebrating the region.
The festival is the result of efforts from the Borderland Foundation, a group in Poland founded by the poet, essayist and social activist Krzystof Czyzewski (pronounced KSHISH-tawf Chi-ZHEF-skee). Mr. Czyzewski, mobilized by the bitter lessons of the ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, has sought to encourage tolerance with art initiatives he has brought to countries like Bosnia, Armenia and Indonesia.
“The Sejny Chronicles,” written and directed by Bozena Szroeder, is based on oral histories handed down by Sejny residents before World War II. It is performed by a cast of largely teenage actors speaking and singing in Polish, Lithuanian, Yiddish and Russian. (Subtitles appear on a screen behind the players.) The cast members — all residents of Sejny — surround a small clay model of the town, and one by one step forward to tell a legend, or re-enact an anecdote from village life, or deliver a folk song. The audience sees a Lithuanian wedding; hears the story of a Jewish girl, Rachel, and her fiancé; is soothed by a Polish lullaby.
The evocation of the Eastern European milieu is vivid, and the fresh-faced performers are almost entirely assured and endearing, never more so than when, toward the end, they disperse amid the audience and each speaks directly to spectators in English. The hourlong show is a modest, gentle expression of cross-cultural appreciation, conveyed by a cast impossible to resist. It’s a humble triumph, but its cause is always well worth fighting for.