This season marks the 10th anniversary of “Fools Mass,” and the 10th anniversary of the death of Jerzy Grotowski, the father of Dzieci’s theatrical lineage. (“Dzieci” is the Polish word for “children.”) It is no accident that the mythic priest of this seminal work is named Father Jerzy. The piece is both a tribute to Grotowski, a mentor for company and director Matt Mitler, and a memorial. Of the work, nytheatre.com wrote: "The lovely singing voices help give a quality of holiness that lets this performance really ring of simple souls reaching for the divine. Those with open minds and a spiritual bent will find a great deal of beauty.”
"Fools Mass" is set during the Plague of the 16th century. A group of village idiots are forced to enact their own Mass due to the sudden death of their beloved pastor, an extraordinary man who had given them shelter and trained them to sing. Despite this solemn premise, the piece is full of buffoonery and comic audience participation, along with choral singing of sacred hymns and chants from the 8th through the 17th centuries. “The performers wear the vestments, not of priests but of medieval bedlam idiots who are called upon by circumstance to celebrate a Mass even though they do not know how. Moving easily between the sublime and the ridiculous, drawing its audience through laughter toward participation and contemplation, the work resists being categorized as either theater or religion, becoming both at once in an event experienced by many as transformative.” The Encyclopedia of Religion 2005
"Fools Mass" was first performed at Grace Church in 1998, and subsequently in venues ranging from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, where they were the only theatre group invited as presenters. Founded by Matt Mitler in 1997, Dzieci uses techniques garnered from Mr. Grotowski and the Polish Theatre Laboratory; Peter Brook; and ritual forms derived from Native American and Eastern spiritual disciplines in its search for the "sacred" through the medium of theatre. They are the New Brunswick Theological Seminary 2008-2009 Helen Studdiford Kleis Visiting Artist, and was Artist-in-Residence at St. John the Divine in 2003.
Matt Mitler, featured in the anthology, Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors by Retta Blaney, has designed and directed more than 70 theatrical productions, among them: his own adaptation of Nathaniel West's Miss Lonely Hearts for the 29th Street Repertory Theatre; the critically acclaimed musical “Sofrito,” featuring The Latin Legends All Stars, for The New Victory Theater; the apocalyptic epic “Dirty Money” (also co-author) for Teatr Am Turm in Frankfurt, Germany; and with Dzieci, an original adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun at La MaMa ETC.