Last year, I spent a few days in July at the Ulica festival in Krakow. Ulica means ‘street’ in Polish and the festival is dedicated to theatre and performance in the street.
Krakow is a beautiful city with a medieval, and still vibrant, old town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with historic cathedrals and churches, towers and cobbled pathways dating back to the 13th century. It offers a picturesque, and very special, backdrop for outdoor performances.
Rynek Glowny – or the Grand Square – is huge, maybe 40 times the size of Bell Square, and is split across its centre with an indoor market building and cloisters. Rynek Glowny was the largest plaza of medieval Europe, one of the greatest trading hubs and now, it is the central focus of the festival, attracting thousands of people to see the many performances.
The nearby Maly Rynek – or small market square - served the crucial function of a meat market for centuries. It is one of the city’s most scenic places, with its large stone cobbles, old town houses and church buildings, and it still happily frames contemporary Krakow life. It was in this picturesque square that I first saw the collection of street games which we will welcome to Bell Square this weekend.
The games are all lovingly hand-made by Teatr Wagabunda with wood, iron and natural materials – rope, canvas, sacking and willow. They are inspired by the household games and utensils that would have been used by previous generations. There are rocking horses, flying animals whose wings flap when they are pushed around the square, a see-saw – and there is everything needed to play boules or hoops or have a pillow fight. All the games are quite beautiful and special, and have the nostalgic appeal of a lost era.
Many of the games require great skill – in balance or throwing, for example, and are actually very difficult, even for adults. But Teatr Wagabunda also bring a playful engagement to the experience – mischievous and clown-like at times, slightly wicked at others! People join in and do the weekly washing with an old wringer, so there is plenty of water around – what could possibly go wrong?
When I saw these games in Krakow, they were a magnet for everyone who passed by. Children, of course. Families, yes. But adults, too, were drawn in to play – with friends, and with others who happened to be there at the same moment. It is so easy to just start playing these games with people you don’t know. They are so much larger than the games you probably have at home, so they contain an implicit invitation to play with them as a community.
Even though I can speak no more than a few words of Polish, I had such fun playing these games with people in the Square in Krakow. It is lovely for anyone, and perhaps especially an adult, to stop and play in the street with other people. I saw two people, strangers a few minutes earlier, having a pillow fight, laughing together and loving every minute of it. These were strangers made friendly by the invitation to play.
These games bring people together – to be friendly, engaged, and together in public space.
I can’t wait to play the games again on Saturday with you all at Bell Square!
If you speak Polish, you can follow the company on Facebook @teatrwagabunda and their website is http://www.teatrwagabunda.pl/
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