In the summer of 2010, Tomasz Janiewicz, creator and initiator of the Jesiotr theater improvisation group, rented a hall in Wrocław on 14a Otwarta Street and this is how it all began…
The idea of a group formation and running a workshop was created in Canada, where Tomasz grew up following immigration from Poland with his family in 1987. Life in a foreign country turned out to be full of challenges, however Tomasz did not give up. He took advantage of what Canada had to offer: hiking in the mountains, snowboarding, playing volleyball. However, none of these activities could be called a passion. In 2003, he came across improvisational theater classes. Already after the first class he experienced a complete change of perspective on the world. Returning from the class, he told himself: „This is so incredibly difficult and fascinating that I have to master it”. Having been on the path of self-development for several years, he saw how improvisation exposes his inner blocks to personal success. He also saw how to effectively remove these blocks and improve them in a safe space. That’s how his adventure with impro began.
Over the following years, Tomasz went to all the improvisation workshops that were available in Vancouver, where he lived. Starting with evening workshops for beginners in schools after classes and ending with professional courses from world-class impro schools. He attended courses organized by Vancouver Theater Sports where world famous improvisers such as Colin Mochrie and Ryan Styles from „Who’s Line is it Anyway?” played. At the Vancouver Theater Sports, he learned the short form improvisation based on the London school of Keith Johnstone. He learned long form improvisation at the Instant Theater courses where he gained the knowledge of Viola Spolin’s Chicago’s impro school.
After a few years, he started his own classes in Vancouver. Despite the popularity of the classes, Tomasz decided to go on a trip around Asia. During the trip he taught improvisation in India and Thailand. After returning from the trip, he decided that he would not return to Canada, but to Poland. In Poland, he began to give improvisation workshops first in the Gajówka ecovillage, then in Jelenia Góra, and finally he rented the room at Otwarta Street in Wrocław.
In 2010 improvisation in Poland were practically unknown. Lack of awareness of what is improvisation is meant that Tomasz initially had a problem with creating a group with which he could share his knowledge. After many attempts of all kinds of promotions, the situation changed thanks to the announcement about the workshops on a website called AkcjaSpontan.pl. Suddenly, the workshops began to attract more and more interested people. In total, around 100 people came through, from which a relatively stable group formed. Karol Sadza, Ewa Zembrzuska, Robert Gawlinski, Andrzej Kmiecik, Sylwia Grabiec, Ewa Knichnicka, Marta Zabawa and Sławosz Wamberski were the first line up of the group. The founder Tomasz Janiewicz remembers these days „I laughed at the workshops so hard that I was getting cough attacks from laughter”. We learned and played for ourselves these days. Another important moment was when Łukasz Pławiak and Magdalena Ruta joined the group. The workshop was officially closed to outsiders and a group was formed. The name „Jesiotr” (Polish: Sturgeon) was taken from the scene in which Marta Zabawa was to perform „The Mating Dance of the Sturgeon”. The scene was so funny that the group chose the name „Jesiotr.” Shortly thereafter, the band’s first performance in „Nadodrze Days” took place, and soon after that, the performances at the Cultural Reanimation Center (CRK) in Nadodrze began.
Jesiotr began its stage career. Since then, the workshops have gained a new meaning – where apart from pracitising the principles of improvisation, the importance of developing the skill of stage presence also began to gain significance. The line up of the group began to change, Sylwia Grabiec, Sławosz Wamberski, Marta Zabawa and initiator of the undertaking, Tomasz Janiewicz, left for Great Britain. Łukasz Pławiak, who continues the tradition from beyond the ocean, continues to promote the group and look after it.
Jesiotr on stage
The year 2012 is the year in which Jesiotr began regular performances on stage. Initially, the problem was finding a suitable place for performances because improvisational comedy was still little known in Wroclaw. After several performances at the Cultural Reanimation Center, we started cooperation with the now non-existent Strefa Zero pub (Ruska St.). It was a perfect place for us as for that early stage of our development. A few performances that we played there helped us acquire the first serious stage experience. We particularly liked stylized performances.
The first very important performance at that time was the Jesiotr Crime Story in March 2013 in the Kalambur Theatre at the invitation of the Wrocław Center for Children Creativity. It was the first performance for a 100-person audience, where among others we played the first half-length form (writer) to the suggestion ‚green elephant’. The image from the elephant’s reanimation went down in the history of our group.
In the middle of 2013, Jesiotr became involved with the Bakara Cultural Centre, which allowed us to run our first series of improvisation workshops. The leaders were Łukasz Pławiak and Karol Sadza. Through these workshops we were able to train and introduce many improvisers to the world of stage improvisation. At the end of 2013 we were joined by the first new and trained members: Dominik Piasecki, Grzegorz Ruszała and Tomasz Warren Przybylski.
Jesiotr in Poland
The year 2014 was the time when Jesiotr had the pleasure to play at many nationwide festivals. The first major festival was Impro Liga, which is the nationwide League of Improvisation Theater Groups. The formula of the festival was impro duels between groups, where the audience and the jury chose the winner. Jesiotr advanced to the semi-finals of this competition (and lost only by one vote for the fight for the final!). It was a great success considering the fact that 16 teams took part. Notable successes of Jesiotr were: one of the major festivals of the Improvised Comedy Festival Podaj Wiosło (April 2014), Improdrom (August 2014) and two for the 3-2-1 Impro (August 2013, August 2014).
In September 2014, Jesiotr together with the Lower Silesian Culture and Art Center organized our own festival – FLOW (Lower Silesian Festival of Improvisation Workshops). It was a very unique event because the whole formula was based on improvisation workshops. Tomasz Janiewicz came from the UK to lead one of the training groups. The whole festival was crowned by a performance where the best participants and the best training group were selected. With this festival Jesiotr marked its presence in Polish improvisation stage.
A noteworthy event was the two-time participation in the Festival of Alternative Culture Slot Art Festival, where as a performing theater group we debuted in 2015 with the first own form entitled Wielorybek (Whale). In the following two years, Jesiotr participated as a workshop leader, finishing with a joint performance with the workshop participants.
Changes, changes, changes
After numerous performances in the Czarny Kot pub and the ToTu theater among others in 2016, the group experienced another breakthrough. Many original members left the group for various reasons, and many others suspended their adventure with improvisation. The time has come for big changes. The decisive moment was the autumn of 2016, when Jesiotr first played in Wędrówki Pub, followed by Karol Sadza’s departure. At that time, the group consisted of only three people (Łukasz Pławiak, Dominik Piasceki and Ewa Knichnicka) and had to open up to new people.
Łukasz Pławiak, the current leader of the group, has opened new series of workshops and created a series of Impro Duels (ie competition of young improvisers for comedy scenes). This allowed, in a short time to find three extremely talented actors: Krzysztof Skwarczyński, Tomasz Ludward and Ania Bystrowa. In 2017, Jesiotr totally changed its face and adopted the line up and style known to this day.
Between 2017 and 2019, thanks to cooperation with the Wędrówki Pub, Jesiotr played over 70 performances enjoyed by over 4 thousand people. The group created a lot of their own, often very innovative formats: Treasure Chest, Fish Academy of Adapted Films, On the Wave, Fish for Coupons, Fish on the Web, Hurdles, PANGA, River, Horsie and Fish FM. They played a lot of experimental performances and forms: Boorishness and Poetry, Dj Eel, Duet: the Fat and the Bald, solo (!) Impro by Łukasz Pławiak, Mixed and Confused trio and many more.
In January 2019, Jesiotr celebrated their seventh birthday and is still developing and realizing new ideas. Our ambition is to constantly have a new, fresh look at improvisation, invent something new and surprise the viewer, and at the same time provide guaranteed entertainment. Because improvisation must be and is … with spunk!