‘I heard you calling’

Perhaps the loneliness we feel on our own is not as painful as the loneliness we can feel with others sometimes – with a lover, friend, family, colleagues, in a crowd… Snow Q’s poet Maria Jastrzębska has always been interested in what gets in the way of people communicating.  Gerda and Kai, two of the characters in her reimagining of the Snow Queen story, are young people whose relationship has broken down. They identify as non-binary, refusing to be confined by traditional gender roles or social expectations. Both are bilingual, switching effortlessly between Polish and English. However Kai has lost all sense of connection, not only with the community they grew up in but with Gerda, their closest friend. Ice has entered Kai’s heart. Gerda tries to find them in a landscape that’s part contemporary, part fairy tale.

Rita & Maria with Mark
Rita & Maria Z rehearsing with performance director Mark C Hewitt

‘Even if you had the money to phone/knew which door to open/in these marble white corridors...Nie ma, nie ma nikogo...No one here, not now, not on the ice..’

‘I heard you calling/I heard your voice/though it was daleko./I knew that it was you..Even though snow was falling/had covered up your footprints/ although the wind was moaning/and wilki-wolves answered it,/stars had lód in their eyes/and I was weary…’

We are delighted to work with performer Rita Suszek again and welcome emerging actor Maria Ziółkowska who will join us in performing Maria Jastrzebska’s poems during our tour in February 2020. Below they talk about rehearsing for Snow Q the live literature production. For tickets click on: https://snowqproject.wordpress.com/snow-q-live-lit-event-2020-tickets/

Rita & Maria rehearse
Can Gerda and Kai reach one another?


This is my second time working on Snow Q and I couldn’t be more excited! This time we not only have more rehearsal time, but also I get to work with a fantastic co-actor. Maria Z is doing a great job as Gerda and it is thrilling to argue with another person as Kai. Somehow fighting with your own recorded voice, as I did in the previous incarnation of Snow Q, does not provide the same satisfaction… We are also adding more colour to the Crow character – dare I say, it shall ruffle some feathers in the best way possible. Overall, the work is going well and I can’t wait to perform in this unique show!

Maria Ziółkowska:

I cannot express the level of excitement I felt when I got invited to be a part of the Snow Q production! I feel so humbled and blessed and this excitement is only growing stronger as we progress with rehearsals. Being Gerda is a constant challenge, they bash into icy walls head on, full speed and each time bounce off with a new perspective, even the resulting frustration ultimately fuels their growth. To have the opportunity to step into such a complex character’s shoes is incredibly fun and rewarding. Having Rita as my co-actor is a treat and a great source of inspiration, she’s dynamite to work with and fearless in her commitment to the part. I simply cannot wait to share this beautiful and dynamic story with a broader audience. I feel like it’s going to resonate with a lot of hearts, as it sure melts mine.

SONY DSCFeatured image and headshot photo courtesy of Malcolm Glover.

“when artists go to work”

Toni Morrison famously reported a conversation with a fellow artist when she was feeling helpless and dejected about the U.S.A and he told her that this was precisely the time when artists go to work. ‘Not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!’ We are living in scary times when inequality, poverty, the abuse of power and with it the abuse of the planet seem to be growing, not diminishing. All the more reason to make art, to try to connect with each other.

Maria Jastrzębska’s Snow Q poems, originally inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story are about ‘ice in the heart’, disconnection between people, the loss of hope. There are three characters in the live literature performance which the Snow Q team are putting together ready for February 2020: Gerda and Kai, two young people, one of whom Kai goes missing, after disappearing from their home without a word to anyone and the Crow a chorus, story-teller, timeless trickster. More about Crow to follow in another post. Gerda and Kai both identify as non-binary. When asked about these two characters Maria said:

“What does society offer our young people? A world that is falling apart, unemployment and massive debts, a world that still peddles blue/camouflage for boys and pink/flowery for girls. My generation challenged those stereotypes and the next generation is doing it in their own way. I’ve see young people doing amazing things – look at Extinction Rebellion or the anti-fascist marches in Poland or Greece for instance. But struggle doesn’t always mean big public events. Sometimes it’s a struggle just to get through the day. Gerda sets out on her quest to find Kai. But Gerda and Kai are both lost in different ways, in a landscape that is part contemporary, part fairy tale. And these are poems – they are not a literal story. They will be interwoven with sound recordings, with Peter Copley’s incredible music and Wendy Pye’s awesome film work, using some of Dagmara Rudkin’s stunning, original art work. ”

Kai says:

“Snow makes everything quieter.

Plastic, shattered bone – even

rubbish looks beautiful. A trial of prints,

maybe fox? People’s footsteps. Never wanted

to walk in anybody’s. You mustn’t go to sleep

in snow mustn’t lie down.  But it’s all

you want to do in snow…”

Here are performance director Mark Hewitt and Maria trying to figure it all out in one of their café haunts and here below is the composer Peter Copley presenting  Maria with a very ‘hi-tech’ suggestion for blending film and words. Where would we artists be without our scraps of paper?!


Hurray! We have good news!

It’s getting colder & darker here…but we have good news (& in these times we need all the good news we can get) …we’re delighted to announce Arts Council England have awarded our Snow Q project a grant to build on our work to date and create Snow Q as a live literature production which will tour early next year, February 2020 – see dates below. fullsizeoutput_2e5d

Thank you all for waiting so patiently to hear what we’re doing next. We haven’t been idle! We’ve been figuring out our next move and applying for funding. As Dagmara, fine artist of our initial project, put it: Snow Q is like a tree and many branches grow from it. This is the live literature branch. We hope more will bloom.

The production will showcase poems by Maria Jastrzębska which will be performed by 2 actors, (in English, Polish and Ponglish) and directed by Mark Hewitt. We will be incorporating strands of the original Snow Q music composed by Peter Copley and artwork by Dagmara Rudkin. We are thrilled to be working with film-maker Wendy Pye again and she will be creating 3 filmpoems using all these elements alongside of the production.

Watch this space for ticket details and snippets of the new form Snow Q is taking.  We hope you will keep following our blog and telling your friends about it.

Snow Q Live literature performances:

February 13th Tongues & Grooves, Portsmouth

February 18th Lewes Live Literature, Lewes

February 20th Centrala, Birmingham

February 21st Lambeth Libraries, London

February 22nd The Spire, Brighton

We are also immensely grateful to the following for their continued or for new support:

Lewes Live Literature for their financial assistance and to all our partners: Blueprint 22, Centrala (Birmingham), European Literature Network, Lambeth Libraries, Marlborough Theatre, New Music Brighton, New Writing South, Polish Cultural Institute, Spire Arts, Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, Tongues & Grooves.

Cover image by Wendy Pye.



Snow Q Crow Goes to Lewes Live Literature – Rita

Snow Q is continuing. Snow Q is branching out. Here is Snow Q’s actor Rita Suszek talking about her recent performance of Maria Jastrzębska’s Crow poems. These poems were written for our collaborative project and inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story in which the heroine Gerda meets a Crow on her quest.
On Thursday, 23rd of May I got to board the train from London to Eastbourne after work. I was excited – I was to bring Snow Q’s Crow poems to Lewes Live Literature! The event was part of their Outside Season and created in support of CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably. While suicide – its results, prevention and suffering – was the main theme of the evening, the guiding quote was the one by Munia Khan: “Nothing is unreal as long as you can imagine like a crow”.Untitled
Having arrived and conferred with Mark Hewitt, who had directed Snow Q last December and was one of the organisers, I spiked my hair and put some black lipstick on, the better to emulate the Crow. Crows are strange creatures – scavengers by nature, symbolically guarding the border between life and death, tellers of stories. In the case of Snow Q, the Crow is the one who has the answers, who has lived long enough to tell stories. The poems we chose to perform speak for themselves, evoking the cold snow communist Poland, the border between Polish and English language, the walls between families and their children. They speak of loneliness and connection both, and punctuate every poignant moment with indignant caw-ing, which I was more than happy to demonstrate.
I was honoured to recite alongside the wonderful pieces that were on that night. “This is always the result”, a live narrative over a film piece, written and performed by Gus Watcham, directed by Mark Hewitt with video sequence by Abigail Norris – the piece shows a suicide attempt and its impact on one family’s life in incredible detail, unrelenting, poetic and touching at the same time. There was also poetry performed by Imo Carr and Ellie Long, Arts Award students from Eastbourne College: the poems were diverse and thoughtful, delivered beautifully. Finally, we listened to a series of music tracks by an award-winning songwriter, Elsa Hewitt: they were hypnotic, conveying both a sense of quiet and a frisson of unrest, worry, questioning; some of the songs were also layered over a video, showcasing how mental health problems can creep on us all.
To learn more about the event, take a look at this link: http://www.leweslivelit.co.uk/?location_id=110

Cover image by Dagmara Rudkin

You can read Maria Jastrzębska’s The Subsongs of Crow poems in the current issue of Poetry Wales magazine. 

Adventures in language and identity – Rita

In our project to re-imagine the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen along contemporary themes we’ve been lucky in attracting some fantastic organisations as partners, but have also found amazing individuals to work with. We’re extremely excited to be working with actor Rita Suszek who will perform live as well as in recordings at our installation on Dec 21st.   Here she tells us a bit about herself and her approach to Snow Q:


When I first saw the casting call for Snow Q, I had to pinch myself, it was so perfect. It included words such as “non-binary”, “poetry”, “fluent in both Polish and English” – terms that describe me as a person, but also pertain to my artistic career. I have lived in the UK for over 6 years now, and have all but given up on being cast in projects as an actor, largely because I don’t present like people’s idea of a Polish girl (slim, short, blonde, long-haired); I have been writing and performing my own work for some time now. To find a casting like that was a miracle; to get the part was a gift.

I have been learning English steadily since age 10, with first exposure to it from about age 5; it is my second language, second home. When I moved to the UK in 2012 I already spoke it fairly fluently and was starting to write in it. Even though my actual degree is in Polish Literature, the everyday usage has taken its toll: when I converse with family, I’ll suddenly realise I translated idiomatic English phrases or the very sentence structure into Polish. The concept of Polglish (or Ponglish, as Maria calls it) is something of an inside joke for me and my loved ones.

In many ways, I feel both Polish and not-Polish at the same time: Polish because I am an immigrant and won’t be shamed for that, political rhetoric be damned; because languages and writing have always been my home; because as a Literature graduate I have roots in the writing of Mickiewicz, Świrszczyńska and many others – Polish poets, novelists and playwrights that shepherded me through my childhood and adolescence. But my not-Polishness – living somewhere else; finding home in another language that at times allows me more breathing room; disagreeing strongly with Poland’s dominant rhetoric, conservative mindset and ruling political paradigm – is equally important to me. Gender identity, something very poignant in Snow Q, is also a concept I have given a lot of thought over the years – partially because growing up in Poland, I have found no way to simply… be. If I was indeed a girl, I was a “girl interrupted”, mostly by ubiquitous misogyny: something that to this day I work through, both privately and through my art.

Given all that, I have been really enjoying the experimentation with phrasing and alliteration in both languages that is the text of Snow Q. It feels like a secret code, tailored to a few, partially accessible to many. Being an immigrant, you are often expected to do all the work necessary to understand and be understood: learn the words and phrases, look up the cultural references, catch up on the backstory. Against this backdrop, Snow Q gives me a feeling of relief. There is a playfulness to dropping Polish words here and there, disrupting the fluency of the experience for the English speakers. Not to mention it connects both halves of my brain, that often, when left undisturbed, thinks in both languages at the same time – a patchwork-y mass of meaning, mess of words.

There is some magic that I feel coursing through the project as a whole; an extraneous meaning that is born out of connecting different art forms and people. If nothing else, there is nuance. We are bringing things that are cast as opposites or binaries (Polish and English; genders; ice cold, loving warmth – isolation and friendship) and creating a living, breathing portrayal that is multifaceted and full of depth. Taking on a story that everyone knows sometimes makes you realise that we don’t know it all that well; the tale of Snow Queen becomes a vehicle through which we can find ourselves again. In our troubled yet beautiful and fractured times, connection is the answer – and art is one way to find it.




Photographs courtesy of Wendy Pye and Juwel Haque