But how did my Polish heritage intertwine with my efforts at GPS? Let me share some concrete examples:
Embracing tenacity and resilience: Growing up as the son of hardworking Polish immigrants, I inherited their determination and refusal to surrender in the face of adversity. This innate resilience propelled me through the challenges that dotted my tenure at GPS. From navigating budget constraints to facing unexpected production setbacks, and even some other more profoundly disappointing factors that would bring about the end of my time there, I drew strength from the spirit of my ancestors, determined to overcome any obstacle in my path.
Fostering a sense of community: Rooted in the values of my Polish upbringing, I sought to create a tight-knit community within the GPS theater program. Embracing the familial closeness that defines Polish culture, I fostered a supportive and inclusive environment where students and staff became like an extended family. From our lively classrooms to the rehearsal spaces and the two theatrical venues on the GPS campus, we built a vibrant community where everyone felt seen, heard, and valued—a community that mirrored the close ties I experienced within my own Polish-American family.
Nurturing artistic exploration: The artistic legacy of Poland inspired me to encourage students at GPS to embrace their creativity fully. Drawing from the rich tapestry of Polish arts, I invited students to push the boundaries of their artistic expression and explore the depths of their imagination. Together, we embarked on a quest for those transcendent moments on stage, where the audience's disbelief is suspended, and they become fully immersed in the world we create. I instilled in my students the belief that through honest artistic investigation and investment, they could achieve greatness, just as my parents did when they embarked on their own journey to the USA. Leaving one's homeland to create a new life is, after all, incredibly similar to the journey of stepping onto a stage and imagining a new world into being.
Celebrating diversity and inclusivity: Growing up as part of the first generation born in the USA in my Polish family, I learned the importance of celebrating diversity and fostering inclusivity. At GPS, I strived to reflect the richness of our community by actively seeking and welcoming students from all backgrounds. Through our productions, we delved into profound questions of life, addressing a wide range of topics that resonated with our audience.
We explored the complexities of love, relationships, and societal expectations, delving into issues of class, gender roles, and power dynamics in such productions as Much Ado About Nothing and Pride and Prejudice. These plays challenged us to examine these important topics.
The exploration of heritage, tradition, and the struggle to maintain cultural identity was at the heart of productions like Fiddler on The Roof. Through this musical, we explored the themes of family, faith, and the tensions between tradition and modernity.
We delved into the human capacity for forgiveness, justice, and moral dilemmas in Antigone. Works like this prompted discussions on the balance between individual conscience and the laws of the state.
The uplifting power of music, the resilience of the human spirit, and the importance of identity were explored in productions like The Sound of Music and Mamma Mia!. These musicals celebrated the joy of self-discovery, the bonds of family, and the pursuit of happiness.
In addition to the main productions, we celebrated the talent and creativity of our students through the annual Ten Minute Play festival—a joint endeavor between GPS and McCallie School. This festival provided a platform for student playwrights to explore profound questions of life, touching on topics such as abandonment, trauma, LGBTQ+ rights, acceptance, and tolerance. It showcased their talent and fostered understanding, empathy, and dialogue within our community.
By engaging with these diverse themes, we created an inclusive space for dialogue and reflection, encouraging our students and audience to develop empathy, challenge preconceptions, and embrace the richness of human experience.
As I reflect upon these past five years, I am humbled by the profound intersection of my Polish heritage and my work at GPS. The twists and turns, the challenges and triumphs, all shaped my journey and left an indelible mark on the theater program and the lives of the students I had the privilege to teach. My Polish roots, as the son of naturalized citizens and a member of the first generation born in the USA, provided me with a unique perspective and a deep appreciation for the transformative power of theater in building connections, fostering empathy, and inspiring personal growth.
So, my friends and fellow creatives, that's the story of how my Polish heritage played a part in my time at GPS. It's a tale of unexpected journeys and the resilience to forge ahead. But amidst the chaos, there was also beauty, community, and a celebration of diversity. I invite you to embrace your own cultural heritage and let it shape your creative endeavors. Together, let us continue to explore the boundless possibilities of theater and make a lasting impact on the world around us.
Dziękuję bardzo! (Thank you very much!)