Emil Varda


W.I. Productions is now presenting The Sickness, a new play written and directed by Emil Varda at Access Theater at 380 Broadway at White Street, NYC.

Theater Pizzazz’s Marcina Zaccaria recently had the opportunity to ask some questions of Mr.Varda about this play that follows two artists lost in the mad hell of heroin addiction, with a cast featuring Mia Vallet, Ryan Cupello, Mark Lobene.


Mia Vallet,  Mark Cupello  (Photo: Ewa Kowalska)


  1. Tell us about your background in Poland in the 1970s.  What inspired you most about the work with Grotowski?

I grew up in an anti-communist family and ready to rebel, so joining the dissident movement was organic, and it happened early in my life. After the 1976 Radom factory worker uprising, which was brutally put down by the communist police and many were arrested, I didn’t have any choice but to sign a petition with other intellectuals, for the communist government to release the workers and give them their jobs back. I was harassed and threatened to be relegated from the university until the “Solidarity Festival”, in which I participated on many levels of the student movement, mainly writing and publishing. Dictators are most afraid of free, uncensored words, especially printed, they feel most threatened by it.During marshal law I spent 8 months in jail, after that, forced to emigrate. I became a refugee in the Reagan USA.

Grotowski was earlier, I joined his workshop movement 1973/74 after he already declared the “end of theater” as we know. He searched for sacredness and archetype, focusing on ritualistic human condition. I transferred my interest to the “student theater”, the Polish equivalent of what is known in the West as Open Theater, theater relevant to people living here and now, which engages with everyday problems and the simple facts of political and social reality. When Grotowski was looking for opportunity to “grab God by the feet” we were defending liberty, humanity, and decency.

  1. What made you choose to write and direct The Sickness?  How is the process of writing different than the process of directing?

Glenn O’Brien is my main inspiration, as it is stated on the program. He saw one of my shows in the mid-80’s and cast me in his play some time after. For a long time, I did not participate in theater and Glenn was always trying to convince me to return to my calling. He wanted me to do again All Roads Lead to the Kurski Station, he would write an article about it, with his wife doing the PR, and we will achieve great success on the off-Broadway stages, and after we were supposed to produce his play Drugs, which was written in the early ‘80’s and published in London recently. Unfortunately he was unable to do it… I finish it without his help. I wrote The Sickness as an homage to him and many of my friends who ended up tragically dying or struggling for many years in the hell of addiction.

Directing is very challenging. I never tried heroin, so I introduced myself to the culture of heroin addiction: mostly literature and scholarly books, then clinic visits and rehab centers,interviews and conversations. In addition, my actors Mia and Ryan, helped tremendously with their exhausting field trips.

  1. How did you find the physical vocabulary of your new play?  Did you rely heavily on gesture?

I believe that theater is the most complex art form. It takes a little from other forms, but it develops its own lexicon, its own way of communicating. The actor is a priest/shaman, who delivers sacred offering to the audience

I don’t know about the gesture?… but definitely my actors, with my directions, created that ethereal connection which guides the audience through that sacrificial offering.

  1. How do you ask the audience to follow the journey of the individual and the journey of the ensemble?

We, like Odysseus, invite our audience as the crew on our voyage…well, they don’t know this is the “Ship of Fools,” mostly they like it, nobody has jumped overboard yet.

  1. If you lived in a perfect world, where you could create many spaces within one topographical landscape, what would make you leave the theater and walk toward someplace like the Waverly Inn?

The Waverly is one of the most important “stages” in my life. We produce 363 shows a year (we are closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) for the last 15 years and our fabulous audience still loves it, they are still willing to wait a few minutes for the seat and pay real money for it.

I am blessed for being the main conductor of the Grandest Opera (that is our dining rooms)…and because it is mainly improvisation, it is even more difficult, every night a different show, every night new situations with new and different actors and audience. The daily struggle and participation in it makes me a better director.


The Sickness continues thru February 29