UPDATE: Polish Government Responds to Claims It Canceled the New York Run of The Trial
For this week's Story of the Week, I reported on the unfortunate cancellation of Krystian Lupa's stage adaptation of The Trial at NYU Skirball. The Washington Square-based theater blamed Poland's Adam Mickiewicz Institute (AMI), a division of Poland's cultural ministry responsible for promoting culture abroad, for withdrawing funds from the project. Below is the response of AMI's acting director, Barbara Schabowska, with point-by-point responses from NYU Skirball director Jay Wegman.
Barbara Schabowska: With regard to the statement made by the Skirball Theatre in New York, I would like to inform that the claim contained therein, stating that the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (AMI) withdrew the financing the American performance of Kafka's The Trial directed by Krystian Lupa, is untrue. The AMI was not part of the talks between the event organizers, i.e., the NYU Skirball and Teatr Nowy, which took place without the Institute's Involvement.
Jay Wegman: That is a huge untruth. We've been talking to AMI about bringing The Trial to New York since December 2018.
Barbara Schabowska: It is also incorrect that anyone from the NYU Skirball officially requested financial support from the AMI.
Jay Wegman: The person I worked with at AMI to secure all this is not being allowed to speak for the Institute. I cannot tell you her name, because I don't want to throw that person under the bus — but it's an open secret in Poland.
Barbara Schabowska: Similarly, such arrangements were not made in Kraków during the Divine Comedy Festival in December. The NYU Skirball director Jay Wegman was invited to the festival by the Institute, which sponsored his visit.
Jay Wegman: That is true! I started talking to the AMI during the 2018 festival. Part of the point of my trip in 2019 was to sit down with Barbara and hammer out the final details. But Barbara didn't even come to the festival, and that's how I knew something was wrong. This is the most important theater festival in Poland. We were set to meet, and she didn't even show up. It's a little weird.
Barbara Schabowska: The AMI learned about the planned performance in the US from Teatr Nowy in November 2019, long after finalizing its own budget plans for 2020. No proposals to share financing of the performance were made at that time. The AMI was merely informed about the search for financing. At no point in time, however, had director Jay Wegman officially requested support from the AMI.
Jay Wegman: I recently read an interview with Paweł Potoroczyn, who ran AMI for eight years. He didn't think this was censorship. He thought it was sloppiness and chaos on the part of the new management. Most of these discussions are verbal and via email. I have plenty of emails from my contact at AMI showing that we had been in discussion about this money. This person has since quit her job at the Institute.
Barbara Schabowska: The Divine Comedy Festival was attended by the current AMI deputy director in charge of theater promotion, whom Jay Wegman met in person and whom he had personally showed around the New York-based theatre a month before. Back then, he did not mention Lupa's case either, which proves that the Institute was never asked to participate in the organization or financing of this project in the first place.
Jay Wegman: This is where I start laughing, because it's so absurd. Of course we discussed The Trial. That was the only reason for them to come here, or for me to meet with them.
Barbara Schabowska: The untrue statement from the theatre was preceded by what the representatives of the Institute regarded as a blackmail attempt: director Jay Wegman reportedly told the guests of the Divine Comedy Festival that he would notify a major American daily about the case and talk about censorship in Poland if AMI refused to finance Lupa's The Trial.
Jay Wegman: I wish I had enough power to get a major daily to cover this story! She probably saw our press release and took that as the claim of blackmail — but it was just a press release. We issued it because people had bought tickets and we had to start refunding them. We had to let them know that we were still bringing Lupa, and turning the event into something else.
Barbara Schabowska: However, the fact is that, contrary to Wegman's statement, the AMI did not withdraw the grant for Lupa as it had never been given in the first place. According to our sources, the current situation results from the American sponsor's withdrawal, which took place after the ticket sale was launched.
Jay Wegman: That is also untrue. What she's referring to is one of the grants we applied for, which we just didn't get. That happens all the time, and that grant wasn't going to make or break this production. The withdrawal of AMI funds did break the production, because we were talking around $50,000. This other grant was much smaller than that. We learned in November we weren't getting that, and we were still moving forward with the production.
Barbara Schabowska: The AMI has been promoting Krystian Lupa's theatre for years. Lupa was an honorary guest at a panel co-organized by the Institute during the Divine Comedy Festival in Kraków. Since 2016, the Institute has spent over PLN 1.4m [$366,338] to support his theatre abroad.
Jay Wegman: The good news is we are going to bring a Lupa production anyway, but from Lithuania, in our 2021 season. So they're not going to win.