Last week, the MFA Year 1 students at the Drama Studio London took part in its European residency in Poland. Their host was the National Theatre of Poland in Krakow. The arrival coincided with the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine.
The theatre work based on the Polish School of training, including the practice of Jerzy Grotowski, was intense, demanding and ultimately very rewarding.
Alongside the work was the very real crisis unfolding in the city as the theatre community joined the Ukrainian Refugee Relief Effort.
With only a week in the country, and attending workshops all day and theatre at night, we still managed to rise to the call. Krakow is a university town and the city offered beds for the refugees at the Ukrainian border. The theatre community has been turning out to help distribute supplies, pick up and deliver things or do whatever is needed and we were invited to help. We were also invited to join in the peaceful demonstrations at the Russian Embassy.
As the week passed, the influx of refugees became more and more visible. Our hotel became a refugee base for the first families out of the western Ukraine border. We talked to the newcomers and engaged with their harrowing stories.
I decided to ask again what more we could do. We were told that the large charities were planning on moving into Poland and Ukraine, but that there is often a supply delay of up to 90 days before supplies arrive. Purchasing supplies locally and taking them to the Refugee Supplies collection centre at the stadium would be the best way to help. Wanting to make a good contribution, I went on social media to see if any friends wanted to contribute to our grass roots effort to get relief to these people in the very first days of this conflict.
I was hoping to gather up a few hundred pounds to buy supplies and nappies. This call out went viral and in 24 hours we had £16,000 in the cash pot and one day to spend it!
The theatre company and drama school were able to suggest a few charities that could use the cash. Our donors wanted to see them or at least proof of their existence before releasing funds so Saturday was spent visiting charities.
Our day started out with a visit to the Laboratory for Peace pop up Ukrainian Refugee Relief Centre. It has taken over the Theatre costume museum offering one night emergency lodging, food, child-care, housing assistance, legal assistance, and general emergency support for all the other little things that go wrong when you have to flee your home and country.
They were not ready to take our money on the spot, but after seeing the operation I was able to approve them for our donors to contribute to in the future.
On Saturday afternoon we had the pleasure of dropping in on the Rodzinne Centrum Położnicze KOALA to visit their special service for pregnant Ukrainian Refugee women. These people supply those new arrivals with boxes of clothes, toys, food & nappies. They are taken care of until they are registered and receiving services from the national health care service. With the kindness and generosity of friends, we were able to bring the Koala crowdfunding amount again, should they run short sooner than expected.
We visited the centre about 10 minutes after our donation hit their crowd funding account and received a massive spontaneous hug when these women realised that we had made the anonymous donation. The operation is so good. They hope to now take care of 100 more refugee women.
Then we rounded off the day joining a small group of Belarusians and Russians to protest Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
This was a week in which we felt we were part of something far greater as an ensemble than as individuals. An important lesson for theatre and for life.
By Brian Voaks, MFA in Professional Acting with Indpendent Production