Mapping the Plays of S. Zahajkiewicz, Chicago Polish Playwright

Proposed by Megan Geigner, Northwestern University
Collaborator(s): Kinga Kosmala, University of Chicago

In my research for my dissertation, titled Staging Chicago's Immigrants: Immigrant Discourse, Hyphenated Identity, and Civic Performance, I have discovered prolific Chicago playwright Szczesney Zahajkiewicz (1861-1917). Zahajkiewicz immigrated to Chicago from Poland in 1889 and began the St. Stanislaus Kostka Dramatic Circle, one of the first actor training programs in Chicago. Polish language newspapers from the turn-of-the-century show that in addition to directing and coaching actors at St. Stanislaus, Zahajkiewicz wrote some fifty to sixty original plays and musicals. Sadly, only five play scripts and nine musical scores remain (according to World Cat), most in the National Library of Poland, although they were published at a small Polish bookshop and press in Chicago.

In addition to producing plays at St. Stanislaus, Zahajkiewicz helped organize the first large demonstration for Polish Constitution Day in Chicago in 1891 and Polish Day at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Despite the size of Zahajkiewicz's catalog and his influence in the Polish community in Chicago, what little scholarship exists about him focuses exclusively on his literature and criticism prior to his immigration to the United States. The only mention of his plays is in the Polish newspapers from the period.

For this project I hope to (1)locate and collect more of Zahajkiewicz's scripts and scores, (2) create an anthology of his work in both Polish and English with interdisciplinary introductory essays, and (3) stage a bi-lingual concert version of one of his works.

To begin the project, I am hoping to hose a day-long meeting in Chicago to discuss the plays and scores, and make a plan of action with collaborators.