Once upon a time, in the fall of 2019, in a world without a coronavirus, I wanted to make a performance about hope. At that time, it seemed that this idea was necessary, of course, because the world is not good, but not burdened with any dramatically current context.
Of course, back then, political and economic balance was also a luxury of a few places in the world. Junk contracts already existed and have not lost popularity. As a confirmed fact, the climate crisis had already penetrated into the collective consciousness (although more than half of those informed did not believe it). At that time, ideological conflict seemed to be a notorious condition for the Polish public sphere.
And yet, back then, in the fall of 2019, we were living in relative stability.
Even if it was a crisis one, it was relatively knowledgeable.
A show about hope - what a great idea! After all, we need it at every moment of our life, at every stage of it. I liked the lightness and specific naivety of this concept. I had an inner conviction that the time for social art to bring positive perspectives was coming. That it is worth creating positive possibilities by creating experiences (yes, experiences, not just things to watch and intellectual perception) that will give an energy boost. Towards change, towards light, even to start believing in some better versions of the world.
The idea came up at the invitation of the New Epiphanies Festival, which chose the apocalypse as the theme of 2021. It was in the context of apocalypse that hope was formed as a necessary topic, the necessary quality to survive, to go on. At that time, we did not know yet that the apocalypse would come closer, update and gain new names before the performance.
2020 needs no introduction, nor is it worth creating apocalyptic rankings.
And so it is known who, or actually what, will take first place.
In addition to the coronavirus epidemic, however, there are also other obstinate competitors in this race.
Local and global crises, conflicts, splits.
The economic crisis and deepening inequalities.
Political polarization. The return of tough tools of governance. Cities torn by screams of protests that seem to change nothing when it comes to the ruthless mode of limiting rights, e.g. reproductive rights. The crisis of school and public education, the helplessness of many sectors of the economy faced with the sanitary regime. Isolation and loneliness. Healthcare failure.
My hand trembles as I type letters on the keyboard that form this dark procession of phenomena that want to devour us or at least throw us into the depths of depression.
Anyway, depression was harvesting a ghastly heavy harvest without a pandemic.
Is it really necessary to write about it?
Do we have to repeat the infinite mantra of sorrow and demons of the present day?
Why dive into the dark?
Rebecca Solnit in her inspirational essay - which for hope-seekers is, if not a Bible, at least a handbook - argues that there is no hope without confronting hopelessness. Darkness is the state of the world. We are immersed in it, or at least we take regular baths in it. To each and every one of us, every community, every generation.
Denial, the seductive charm of positive thinking, or even the most effective mindfulness does not change that. Acceptance, or rather awareness, is important. Admit it is so. Naming the abutments of darkness. Or accepting that we can't even name them.
Only then can you start looking for light. Where?
Solnit suggests at least a careful look back. Fishing from the dark family, local, global, political and social history stories of people and groups who managed to introduce change, create an alternative, new qualities.
Never without cost, never as a whole, but often in a way that previously seemed impossible.
"You will never walk alone" - this slogan in the context of Solnit's essay acquires a new dimension - intergenerational, historical sisterhood and brotherhood. In the fight for more equal, full of justice and friendly places in this world, none of us is and will not be a lonely island or a pioneer. Of course, none of us was, is and will not be the messiah.
There is no salvation in this world and even the sometimes enthusiastic narrative of Solnit does not try to convince us to do so. But more than once there have been sparks, flashes and fires, where we could warm ourselves.
And if it was so, it can also be today.
Darkness is also the periphery. Areas and initiatives devoid of public interest, not covered by the attention of the masses. Small, side activities, backstage of the public sphere.
Often change begins on the fringes of large institutions, mainstream debates and global politics, and hope is born.
If it is able to penetrate the center, find a tributary to the mainstream, and change the course of a river - then a revolution takes place.
It's good to read Rebecca Solnit, but that doesn't make the darkness of a low-rise January afternoon disappear.
Well, we are animals and also, unfortunately, capable of analysis.
Batteries run out easily.
Unsatisfied needs overwhelm us and deprive us of our strength.
No touch, limited contacts.
For some of us, there is no job.
The unbearably protracted Blue Monday.
Personal, social and political hope seems to be rapidly getting the fuck out on this January evening, although it was not them that we shouted to in October, November and December in front of the parliament, the senate, and the bishop's curia.
Is it really worth making a performance about hope?
Additionally, along with all the changes taking place in the course of 2020, the possibilities of theater have changed as well.
Some of them just disappeared or shrunk dramatically.
Looking at the shells of old theatrical practices, our team found that it is not worth trying to revive what is faint.
You have to look for new forms. Ask about the possibility of a performative experience through technology. Don't be offended by the internet, don't whimper about the lack of live energy. Not to deny what is, what happens, but also not to pretend that loss doesn't hurt.
We started experimenting with zoom and multi-channel transmission.
Check what will happen if we create specific scenes, situations, performative actions in terms of frames, video. What if we start mixing and editing them live, at the same time formulating instructions for viewers, playing with their perception, taking into account their context - the fact that they are at home in their residential scenography. Among dogs, children, bookshelves, unwashed dishes and favorite pictures on the walls.
Finally, we decided not to pretend we knew what hope was.
Do not give monologues about it.
Do not write poetic texts and brilliant dialogues between characters.
Not to create beautiful images that emanate hope.
We decided to draw the consequences of the intuitively planned title in 2019: LABORATORY OF THE SOURCES OF HOPE.
If it is to be a laboratory, let the search process begin - also for us, the creators.
With uncertainty, question marks and need of answers or at least searching effort.
I invited 30 people to work. Artists, activists, educators, dancers, poets, masseuses, but also theater and artistic amateurs. We opened our laboratory following a sincere and desperate need - to find hope for ourselves. To live, to act, to get up from bed. In our everyday lives, in our duties, in our job losses, worries with children, falling in love and partings, credit loans and the impossibility of receiving them, in political lack of hope, pissed off with power, fear for the country. In what happens.
So we have been looking since December.
Without pretending to already know something.
We look where we are initially able to find any spark, anything with a luminous quality.
In the body, in conversations, in dance, in activist and political tools (oh yes, we know that without them there will be no change). We search in motion, in nature, in childhood memories, in food, smells, in contact with animals, in observing children.
We cherish every flare that appears, every stream of light.
We know that we need it very much.
We are not afraid to admit that we are in the dark.
The great and small apocalypses are real.
But the joint search, the very act of establishing a laboratory,
discovering the sources already gives hope.
We will share it.
March 20 and 21.
The spring solstice is a fact.
These are the days when light is always finally getting more.


Dorota Ogrodzka - from the Stowarzyszenie Pedagogów Teatru