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On 8 October 1905 in Cukiernia Lwowska Jana Michalika [a Lviv Confectionery run by Jan Michalik] the first performance of the Green Balloon cabaret was staged. The name of the cabaret arose by accident. After one of the meetings of ”the painter’s table”, where the idea of the cabaret originated, the artists saw a boy with a bunch of green balloons on Floriańska Street and then someone said:
“That is our name: «Green Balloon»!”.

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On 8 October 1905 in Cukiernia Lwowska Jana Michalika [a Lviv Confectionery run by Jan Michalik] the first performance of the Green Balloon cabaret was staged. The name of the cabaret arose by accident. After one of the meetings of ”the painter’s table”, where the idea of the cabaret originated, the artists saw a boy with a bunch of green balloons on Floriańska Street and then someone said:

“That is our name: «Green Balloon»!”.

The “Green Balloon” cabaret quickly became a Kraków favourite, and a kind of authority, especially on artistic issues while enthusiasts arrived from Lviv, Warsaw and Vienna to see the each premiere. The cabaret gathered painters, musicians, actors and writers to spend their time together. The most prominent among them were the following: Tadeusz Żuk-Skarszewski, Edward Leszczyński, Witold Noskowski, Teofil Trzciński, as well as Witold Wojtkiewicz, Karol Frycz, Kazimierz Sichulski, and above all, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, a chronicler of that time and the author of poems, stage songs and texts for the nativity play. The output of the “Green Balloon” included not only cabaret performances but it also constituted artistic works — a collection of exquisite invitations and programmes designed by, among others, Karol Frycz, Alfons Karpiński, Kazimierz Sichulski, Henryk Szczygliński and Witold Wojtkiewicz. Each of these creations is a work of art which is characterised by the use of wit, satire and the grotesque.
A large section of these memorabilia from that fleeting time, together with a collection of puppets from the nativity play, created by Jan Szczepkowski, one of the initiators of the cabaret, are in the possession of the National Museum in Kraków. They became part of the collection thanks to Feliks Jasieński who perceived them as works of art of the highest-quality. Caricature representations of the heads of the frequenters of performances by the “Green Balloon” resemble the climate of Kraków of the Young Poland period and the habits of artistic bohemians, the members of which gathered in Jan Michalik’s Confectionery, which sparkled with humour and sophisticated satirical songs.

Elaborated by Urszula Kozakowska-Zaucha (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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The legend of the “Green Balloon” cabaret

The originator of the idea of creating an artistic cabaret was Jan August Kisielewski, after his return from Paris. Cukiernia Lwowska [Lviv Confectionery], run by Jan Michalik, was a meeting place for the Kraków bohemians to which belonged students and graduates of the Academy...

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The originator of the idea of creating an artistic cabaret was Jan August Kisielewski, after his return from Paris. Cukiernia Lwowska [Lviv Confectionery], run by Jan Michalik, was a meeting place for the Kraków bohemians to which belonged students and graduates of the Academy of Fine arts, who gathered at one of the tables.
The creation of the Zielony Balonik [Green Balloon] cabaret would not have been possible were it not for the favourable circumstances providing fertile ground for this initiative. One of the factors heralding the breath of fresh air was the transformation of the School of Fine Arts into the Academy of Fine Arts after the death of Jan Matejko, as well as the new cadre of professors, including Wyczółkowski, Axentowicz and Pankiewicz. Equally important for the Kraków bohemians was the previous emergence of Wyspiański and the activity of Przybyszewski. All these destroyed the image of a sleepy and venerable Kraków, seen through the conservatism represented by Stanisław Tarnowski, the then rector of the Jagiellonian University and president of the Polish Academy of Learning, who was frequently dubbed the pope of Kraków due to his conservative views.
The tradition of the Kraków nativity scenes, animated by bricklayers from Krowodrza who remained unemployed during the wintertime, inspired the Kraków bohemians, who saw in it the best inspiration for their cabaret. The building of the nativity scene, being a replica of the church in Modlnica, was made by young painters and artists: Kamocki, Frycz, Czajkowski brothers, Tadeusz Rychter, Szczygliński, Wojtkiewicz, Rzecki, Kuczborski.
The puppets were sculpted by Jan Szczepkowski together with the sculptor and ophthalmologist, Brudzewski, PhD. The costumes for the puppets were designed by their wives. The whole process of creation was supervised by the author of the texts – Witold Noskowski. When the work was finished, the artists brought the nativity scene to Michalik’s confectionery.
As Boy-Żeleński mentioned, The view of the construction, grand in size and of beauty far exceeding all the nativity scenes made by bricklayers, caused a stir among Kraków «andrusy» (pranksters). One could also hear murmurs of discontent because of this unexpected «competition»(Boy o Krakowie [Boy about Kraków], Kraków 1968, p. 485).
The subjects of the nativity scene were current affairs, widely discussed in the press: the need for revitalisation of the Wawel, conflicts between Manggha Jasieński and Wilhelm Feldman, the voices of Bujdowa. Leo, the then mayor of Kraków, was portrayed in the nativity scene as Herod.
The task of animating the puppets was taken on by Józef Czajkowski and Alfons Karpiński (later replaced by Puszet).
The first nativity play — staged in 1906 — was met with a euphoric reception. Sharp comments and witty ripostes were a novelty in the sleepy atmosphere of Kraków. Although the public was small (the room of the confectionery could hold no more than 100–120 people), initially the performance was not repeated. Only the last two nativity plays (the fourth and the fifth one) were staged several times and appeared also in print.
Boy-Żeleński joined the cabaret upon the realisation of the second nativity play (he began to write texts together with Noskowski).
The gallery of characters, apart from Leo, included also the puppet of Feliks Manggha Jasieński, Wilhelm Feldman, Bujwidowa, Stanisławski and Miciński.
The third nativity play was staged in the Hotel pod Różą[Under the Rose Hotel“]; this was due to a conflict which arouse between the artists and the owner of the confectionery. It was also necessary to create new puppets, and this task was conferred on Henryk Kunzek. Previously, only folk tunes were used; this time motifs derived from opera arias were also employed.
After the third nativity play there came a two-year break. The change was sparked by the proposal from the owner of Jama Michalika who enlarged his confectionery, hence the venue could hold more guests.
The fourth nativity play to be staged and simultaneously the first one to be sponsored by Michalik (all the previous performances were organised spontaneously thanks to the engagement of the artists) was furnished with new lights and several new puppets of Szczepkowski, Kunzek, Litwin and Herbaczewski.
Admission fees were introduced for the first time and the nativity play was staged 13 times! Teofil Trzciński protested against a higher number of performances, as each time for three hours he had to sing and animate the nativity scene characters — this time the play had 30 puppets (and each time Trzciński, with real virtuosity, imitated both the male as well as female voices).
The last nativity play to be staged in Jama Michalika was presented in 1912; the activities of the Kraków artists, however, inspired others — nativity plays began to appear in other cities.
As Boy-Żeleński put it: Zielony Balonik [the Green Balloon] cabaret was the first collective burst of laughter to be heard in Poland from time immemorial; it was then no surprise that the laughter turned out to be epidemic. The wave of imitation spread: in Warsaw «Momus», in Lviv various Wesołe Jamy [Jolly Dens], Ule [Beehives] etc. Different varieties of nativity plays were spreading: of a Poznań style, Tarnów style, Lviv style, Paris style, etc. There was virtually no town in Galicia in which a small group of young intelligentsia would not try to create their own «cabaret», which obviously usually led to conflicts, quarrels etc“. (p. 505).

Cabaret in Jasło
Is singing rhythmically today
That schnitzels at collectors
Are not fried in butter;
Cabaret in Sędziszów
Shall tell you from the stage
What Lady Counsellor
Does with a younger judge (…) – this is how we ridiculed this epidemic of cabarets in Zielony Balonik. (p. 506).

The fact that the archbishop of Lviv in his Great Lent sermon preached against the cabaretisation in which he saw the source of moral corruption of citizens shows how strong this cabaret epidemic was.
The youth even collected signatures under the open letter entitled Down with Cabaret, which, among others, included the following appeal: Let us defend our hearts before the desecration, let us defend peace and honour of individuals, whipped to the wild delight of unruly crowds (p. 506).
In Kraków there were also numerous critical voices. Distinguished and devout matrons spread gossip about orgies and naked dances, indecent behaviours and situations with the participation of guests to the cabaret evenings.
Despite those unfavourable opinions circulating in the city, for many people the cabaret was a valve, creating a counter-balance for the stifling atmosphere of Kraków.

What did the cabaret evenings look like?

The meetings were usually held after the theatrical premieres, for the preparation of which there were only several weeks. The evening began at midnight and often lasted until three o’clock. The end of the artistic part, however, did not mean the end of the meeting. Initially the evenings of the Zielony Balonik cabaret were largely improvised: everybody could stand up and sing his or her favourite song or improvise a speech. The group of spectators was elitist, as only those who received invitations could attend the meetings. If someone showed dissatisfaction, he or she was not invited any more.

Elaborated by the Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See the puppets from the Zielony Balonik [Green Balloon] nativity play:
Puppets from the Zielony Balonik [Green Balloon] nativity play — Juliusz Leo
Puppets from the Zielony Balonik [Green Balloon] nativity play — Jacek Malczewski, by Jan Szczepkowski
Puppets from the Zielony Balonik [Green Balloon] nativity play — Jacek Malczewski, by Juliusz Puget

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Nativity scene – satirical scene

The Nativity scene, which, over time, started to adopt the form of a theatrical show, was accompanied by dialogues and singing. It was expanded by proscenium. People hidden under its floor animated the dolls, which bowed their heads to the Infant Jesus. The use of this quasi-theatrical formula during the holiday celebration was supposed to enrich the message, which, from the form of simply reading the text of the Holy Bible — most often during the liturgy — was transformed into presenting the events from the life of Christ before the audience of his followers. However, the Christmas pageant gradually started to laicize: there were more people taking part in the drama, and many scenes of secular nature were introduced. On the basis of the religious content, entertaining episodes (comedy).

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The Christmas pageant was a dramatized form of the Nativity scene, which was staged during the celebration as a liturgical drama. The Christmas pageant stemmed from the stable with the Holy Family, which was an occasional decoration of the Church. The Nativity scene, which, over time, started to adopt the form of a theatrical show, was accompanied by dialogues and singing. It was expanded by proscenium. People hidden under its floor animated the dolls, which bowed their heads to the Infant Jesus. The use of this quasi-theatrical formula during the holiday celebration was supposed to enrich the message, which, from the form of simply reading the text of the Holy Bible — most often during the liturgy — was transformed into presenting the events from the life of Christ before the audience of his followers. However, the Christmas pageant gradually started to laicize: there were more people taking part in the drama, and many scenes of secular nature were introduced. On the basis of the religious content, entertaining episodes (comedy) began to appear, and even, what might today be defined as “ gags” (read: Where did the tradition of Nativity scenes come from?).
This change in the form of conveying the message, assuming a far more entertaining character, contributed to moving nativity scenes outside church walls in the 18th century, following a bishop’s decree. Henceforth, the plays — performed in towns and villages — took the form of occasional, portable theatres, and some kind of folk spectacle of a profit-making nature. Plays were performed by those in the service of the Church, teachers, students, and townsmen. The folk and entertainment conventions (simplicity of message, crude humour) increased the tendency to supplement the script of the drama with the current affairs (characters, events), including satirical elements (comments about a given social situation). Nativity scenes became the main attraction and the resulted in a loss of religious content. They locally differed in their specificity and in the favourite characters of the audience.
Nativity scenes developed extensively in Warsaw, while, in the Kraków tradition, it took root in its local variety. The works of the 19th century Kraków sculptor, Michał Ezenekier, established the conventional form of the nativity scene. He introduced the commonly known repertoire of the characters, as well as the scenery inspired by the architecture of St. Mary’s church and Wawel castle. The scripts of Ezenekier’s Christmas pageants strongly emphasized political news of a patriotic character, as well as clear parodies of contemporary literature.
The nativity scene established a certain standard, through the use of which multiple types of content could be included. The flexibility of the plot and characters left room for many possibilities of interpretation.
Therefore, it is not surprising that, in the middle of the 19th century, individual literary and journalistic works — created using the convention of the nativity scene — began to appear. These texts were based on the plot of a dramatized folk scene, using its fixed elements (scenes, people), which served the purposes of critique or commentary inside a community. They were presented in the form of satire, often targeting a particular person (characters in the play represented certain people). In 1849, the famous Szopka by Teofil Lenartowicz (Wrocław, 1849) and Rok 1849 w jasełkach, by Leszek Dunin-Borkowski, (Tygodnik Lwowski, 1849) were published; in 1880, the texts: Szopka dla dorosłych dzieci and Szopka warszawska, by Wiktor Gomulicki, came outd.
In Kraków, the so-called Jewish nativity play, initiated by Józef Szujski, appeared: (Jasełka galicyjskie, 1875), Stanisław Tarnowski (Wędrówki po Galilei, 1873), and Lucjan Rydel in his famous drama Betlejem polskie (theatrical premiere: 1904, publication: 1906). The still vivid and popular spectacle in the form of a folk nativity scene and the phenomenon of the chłopomania (fashion for anything connected with peasants) at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, became the foundation for the local avant garde to restore this tradition in theatrical and literary form, albeit in a satirical way. In 1906, in Jama Michalika, the first Szopka krakowska, by the cabaret “Zielony Balonik” [the Green Baloon] was performed. This became a phenomenal success and was the best parody of the folk scene so far. Artists and writers, using the formal scheme of the Christmas pageant in a derisive and irreverent convention, presented the current news from the Kraków’s scene of artistic and social life, without sparing comments and jokes. Szopka, by the Green Balloon cabaret, was performed occasionally. Its themes, despite revolving around Christmas, changed the repertoire of scenes and characters of the drama every time, representing various members of the community (dolls with portrait features). The literary variety of the nativity scene was continued in the interwar period by the Skamandrites; it was performed by the cabaret “Pod Pikadorem” in the same satirical vein, and its texts were published in “Cyrulik Warszawski”.
The sum of all these phenomena, which is the evolution of the nativity scene (from decoration, through liturgical drama, to folk theatre and literary form, culminating in the cabaret), allows us to understand the potential hidden in its plot convention. The nativity scene extended — according to the local specificity—to the genre scenes, identified with local issues, through which it created a permanent background and a topological repertoire of characters (as in commedia dell'arte). It provided the opportunity to update, that is, explore and comment on current events, taking almost the character of a “universal evergreen joke”, additionally presented in a form of spectacular, playful performance, enhancing its attractiveness.
The impact of the tradition of a typical Polish satirical nativity scene can be noticed in modern language, which results in a new, colloquial understanding of the word “szopka (nativity scene)” as: “situation, behaviour etc. calculated for a performance, considered as anything but serious”.

See also:
Nativity scenes by Maciej Moszew, Roman Sochacki, Marian Dłużniewski, nativity scene from Wieliczka, z nativity Scene by Franciszek Zięba;
Puppets from the “Zielony Balonik” (“Green Balloon”) nativity play — Jacek Malczewski and Juliusz Leo.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Bibliography:
Słownik języka polskiego PWN [access: 06.2015];
Grzegorz Sinko, "Betlejem polskie" po czterdziestu latach access: 06.2015];
Tomasz Weiss, Legenda i prawda Zielonego Balonika, Kraków 1976;
Ryszard Wierzbowski, O szopce: studia i szkice, Łódź 1990.

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Puppets from the “Zielony Balonik” (“Green Balloon”) nativity play — Jacek Malczewski

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Audio

Lalka z szopki kabaretu „Zielony Balonik” przedstawiająca Jacka Malczewskiego, autorstwa Juliusza Pugeta [audiodeskrypcja] Tells: Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Audiodeskrypcji KATARYNKA
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Lalka z szopki kabaretu „Zielony Balonik” przedstawiająca Jacka Malczewskiego, autorstwa Juliusza Pugeta Tells: Piotr Krasny
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