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Tadeusz Kantor (6 April 1915 8 December 1990) was a Polish painter, assemblage artist, set designer and theatre

e director. Born in Wielopole Skrzyskie, Galicia (then in Austria-Hungary), Kantor graduated from the Cracow Academy in 1939. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he founded the Independent Theatre, and served as a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakw as well as a director of experimental theatre in Krakw from 1942 to 1944. After the war, he became known for his avant-garde work in stage design including designs for Saint Joan (1956) and Measure for Measure (1956). Specific examples of such changes to standard theatre were stages that extended out into the audience, and the use of mannequins as real-life actors. Disenchanted with the growing institutionalization of avant-garde, in 1955 he with a group of visual artists formed a new theatre ensemble called Cricot 2. In the 1960s, Cricot 2 gave performances in many theatres in Poland and abroad, gaining recognition for their stage happenings. His interest was mainly with the absurdists and Polish writer and playwright Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (also known as "Witkacy"). Stage productions of Witkacy's plays The Cuttlefish (1956) and The Water Hen (1969) were regarded as his best achievements during this time. A 1972 performance of The Water Hen was described as "the least-publicised, most talked-about event at the Edinburgh festival" Dead Class (1975) was the most famous of his theatre pieces of the 1970s. In the play, Kantor himself played the role of a teacher who presided over a class of apparently dead characters who are confronted by mannequins which represented their younger selves. He had begun experimenting with the juxtaposition of mannequins and live actors in the 1950s. Throughout his life, Kantor had an interesting and unique relationship with Jewish culture, despite being a nominal Catholic and having a father with anti-Semitic tendencies, Kantor incorporated many elements of what was known as "Jewish theatre" into his works.

Kantor was inspired by Constructivism, Dada, Informel art and Surrealism. He was educated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Crakow and studied under Karol Frycz, an outstanding set designer of the interwar period. Kantor staged his first productions - Jean Cocteau's "Orpheus", Juliusz Sowacki's "Balladyna" and Stanisaw Wyspiaski's "Powrt Odysa / The Return of Odysseus" - with an underground theatre company that gave performances in private homes. But when Polish government authorities began to promote Socialist Realism as "official" art, Kantor disappeared from the art scene altogether. It wasn't until 1955 that he finally exhibited the paintings he had been creating since 1949. Pictorial inspiration in the theatrical works of Tadeusz Kantor is rich and diverse. Kantor's theatre is overwhelmingly, obsessively visual, and he himself is by training and profession a painter and graphic artist It is therefore hardly surprising that he can locate many antecedents and affinities from the fine arts for his stage creations. In fact, Kantorlucid analyst and brilliant theorist of his own workhas pointed out these sources himself. From whatever provenance, Kantor's "borrowings" are always transformed into something uniquely his own.
In Kantor's dark vision, repetition plays a decisive role. The vicious circle of repeated brutality and boredom cannot be broken; the same sequences of trite words and gestures come back again and again, and the whole "show" assumes the form of a round dance or circular procession.

Kantor's later disillusionment with happenings as a creative medium eventually led him back to the theatre. In 1972 he staged "Nadobnisie i koczkodany / Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes", based on a play by Witkiewicz, in which elements of a happening were absorbed into the theatrical structure. Three years later, in "Umara Klasa / The Dead Class", Kantor moved into yet another artistic phase with what he dubbed the "Theatre of Death". It is in this phase that Kantor created what are considered to be his most outstanding and best-known works. These include "Wielopole, Wielopole" (1980), "Niech sczezn artyci / Let the Artists Vanish" (1985) and "Nigdy ju tu nie powrc / I Shall Never Return Here" (1988), as well as the posthumouslyproduced "Dzi s moje urodziny / Today Is My Birthday" (1991) in which the primary motifs are death, transcendence, memory and the history inscribed in memory. The productions that made up the "Theatre

of Death" drew on a theme running throughout Kantor's entire oeuvre, namely, his fascination with what he called "Reality of a Lower Order", "which continuously demands that I examine and express issues through base materials, the basest possible, materials that are poor, deprived of dignity and prestige, defenceless and often downright contemptible" (Tadeusz Kantor, after: Jan Kossowicz, "Tadeusz Kantor").