5 QUESTIONS WITH KAROLA GAJDA (2006)
She lives in London, is from South Yorkshire and of Polish origin. Confused? “Terri’s West End Blog” has been given this exclusive interview with the brain and talent behind the current production at the Arts Theatre in London; “My Polish Roots (And Other Vegetables)”. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Karola Gajda.
1) What inspired your latest production, “Polish Roots (And Other Vegetables)”?
Originally I wanted to do a piece about class and identity, which I have a bit of a fixation with. But the more I wrote and collaborated with my director Peta Lily, the more stuff came out about my (Polish) background, which consequently has given me a certain perception about how class and identity are forged.
I wrote huge amounts about my Polish parents and my upbringing in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. It just all came out – stuff about how my parents being immigrants in England change their identity, aspirations and lives really – and how that has rubbed off on me. Hence the obsession with class I think and my interesting the whole notion of ‘getting on in life’, whatever that awful phrase means.
I also realized I had to find out more about my parents’ lives – they are my Polish roots really – just find more out – not so much in a family tree kind of way, but I just had to try and delve into some of the huge areas of experience my parents went through but talked very little about. I really wanted to tell their stories – to work something out, what that is I’m not quite sure…
2) Can you tell me a little *about* your Polish roots?
Well, as said both my parents are Polish – and I’m from Doncaster, South Yorkshire. That’s where my parents settled and met after the war – a lot of Poles went there because of mining jobs and so that’s where I was born and brought up.
My mother was raised in eastern Poland – now probably Belarus – when I google her village ‘Ginowicze’ it doesn’t even exist! She was deported to Siberia during the war by Stalin – because of where she lived they were one of the first places to be invaded.
My dad’s from a small town south west of Warsaw called Piotrkow Trybunalski – he was in Germany during the war and worked on a farm there. Beyond them I have family in Poland that I’m close too – cousins and aunts and uncles, but I feel quite ambivalent about my sense of being Polish, as English is now my dominant language and I’m so much more English than Polish – I think.
3) This productions involves both live performance as well as animation – how did the desire to combine the two come about?
I think I just have an inbuilt desire to do both. Animation is so labour intensive you’d think that would be enough. But no – let’s embed it within a play and create even more work! Maybe that’s the worker ethic in me. But I do love both though. I love performing and writing and I love making things, drawing and filming. So it kind of all appears together.
4) What has been the working process from idea to finished piece, and who have you worked with?
It’s been a process of writing directly from life and then reviewing the material; collating it to make it coherent, clear, dramatic, real, entertaining and interesting. Not easy! Often I have been too close to something to see what it means and how it fits into the bigger picture. That’s why it has been great to work with my director Peta, who has a great understanding of autobiographical theatre and journeying a story through. She would help me shape my writing and asked me key questions along the way.
I also filmed things – mainly my family. I did a video diary while in Poland too, took photos and drew – all just to generate heaps of content. It’s like you make a big mess, then sift through and shape it – just like a sculpture.
I had a sound designer called Tim Brown too, who just keyed into the different moods that needed to be created for scenes – from funny to sad to tragic. Very little of that had to be tweaked as he’d just get it first time. And now, although there are so many elements, as the show comprises of just me, I can add to it here and there, refine this, swap that – add this line, take that one out.
I have a stand-up comedy background so I love to be real and connecting with the audience is totally key.
5) Why should the audience come see the show?
Do you like listening to real life human stories? Do you like to laugh – but be moved too? Are you Polish or do you have Polish roots (then you really have to come!) Are you interested in history and culture and how it shapes identity? Do you ever wonder what posh is? Do you like learning new things? Do you like beetroot soup (I cook it on stage and serve it up at the end). Do you like hand-crafted 2D and 3D animation? Do you like seeing art forms being integrated?
What audience members have said to me the most is that it’s a funny but also a profoundly moving piece, that they’ve had a lovely evening and learned new things. That makes me feel great.