Filip Cembala: The Complete Actor

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I do not know anyone who could resist his charm. Filip Cembala. Unparalleled charisma, a rich personality, and versatile talent. An actor who can capture the audience in a minute. A man who wins people over with his deep sensitivity. His original hashtag #lowizm is a message for us all.

 

It is no coincidence that we are meeting in the Syrena Theatre, because this is your world now, isn’t it?

Yes, that’s my newest world. Since this spring, I’ve been living in Warsaw again and I’m really happy to be a part of this theatre world and family, which took me in like nobody else so far.

What are you doing here?

I’m playing one of the lead roles in the ‘Rock of Ages’. The musical has its premiere in mid-September, so we’re working hard on it, but it’s also great fun, because the cast is really awesome.

In comparison with the other theatres where you’ve worked – because you’ve played more than 30 lead roles – what do you love the most about this place?

This can’t be measured. It’s about the atmosphere of the place. As a saying goes, ‘the fish rots from the head down’, and here, the fish – or rather the siren – is special, because it has a beautiful, wise, and empathetic head of Jacek Mikołajczyk – the Director of the Syrena Theatre. Thus, the rest of the machine works great in terms of every aspect: both on the level of acting and production. It’s an exceptional place, which I respect very much as I know its tradition.

It’s a distinguished one! Bielicka, Kwiatkowska, Czerwińska, Łazuka, Dziewoński…

I know the stars and fantastic people who have performed on that stage. I’m very excited about it and I’m honoured to be a part of this history.

When I’m watching you on stage from the audience, I feel a rare sense of safety. It’s based on the confidence in your infallibility. It seems you feel really good on stage and you perfectly know why you’re on it.

Thank you very much for that compliment. It’s very important to me that the audience is sure that everything will be played, sung, and danced as it should.

Do you forget about real life when you go on stage?

Well, it depends what I leave behind, what has happened to me that day. If I feel beaten down by life, it even happens that I’m full of hatred and bitterness towards the profession. But I could count such situations on the fingers of one hand. However, when I feel low, I think, ‘How am I going to handle all of that?’, but I do it in the end although I still don’t know how. Recently, I’ve promised myself that I’d give 100% of me every day, and that’s the most honest thing I can do in this situation.

It should be noted that the profession of an actor isn’t only about going on stage and playing a role; you also need to capture the audience, make it feel some emotions. Speaking of ‘capturing’ the audience, I’d like to hit the high C – C for Cembala – and talk about your role in the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ in the Music Theatre in Gdynia. The performance had its premiere in Poland last season. You played the lead role there, which is a dream of many actors. You were brilliant! You did your best, capturing the hearts of 60 people on stage and 1100 people in the audience. Where you do find the strength to go out and fight for love and respect of those people with whom you work and for whom you play?

I don’t know… I guess it results from a number of factors. During the rehearsals for the ‘Night Fever’, I was very excited about playing it and, on the other hand, I felt a distinctive knot in my stomach that it’s really happening and it must be good!

Excitement and fear?

Proportionally, there was more excitement, because I was looking forward to that premiere. At the same time, I respected that stage very much. It’s the second largest theatre stage in Poland and the largest and oldest Polish music theatre where I come from. I returned there after 10 years to play such a big part. I don’t leave the stage for 3 hours. Still, satisfaction after the performance is incredible.

It’s a very difficult and demanding role: in terms of acting, singing, and dancing. Your creation of Tony is regarded by many critics as the best musical role of not only the last season but the decade. This role shows your remarkable technique, skill, and talent. You perfectly combine dancing, which you’ve been practising since your childhood, singing, and you’re a great singer, and dramatic effect thanks to the fact that you’ve been performing in almost all plays in the Polish Theatre in Szczecin for many seasons. Are you aware of how much you’ve learnt in Szczecin?

Yes! When I went to Szczecin to make a play there, I felt defeated after my first, not very successful stay in Warsaw, where I came right after my graduation from the school in Gdynia. But none of the cities where I’ve lived so far has greeted me more beautifully than Szczecin. For the first years of my work there, Adam Opatowicz, the director of the Polish Theatre, a wonderful man, believed in me more than I believed in myself.

And he was right, because you excel at drama. From the very beginning, you’ve been playing significant roles, including the lead ones, which are loved by the audience, and a lot of people go to the theatre just ‘to see Cembala’. You’ve come to a great theatre and a great crew.

The theatre is very open and broad in terms of repertoire, which allows me to explore myself as an actor in many fields. Working there has been a valuable experience, for which I’ll be grateful to the director and fellow actors and actresses forever.

You’ve already spent eight seasons and played several dozen roles in Szczecin. You wouldn’t have had a chance for such fast development in Warsaw.

I’m more than sure that then, at the beginning of my career, I wouldn’t have had such a chance in Warsaw.

You graduated from the famous ‘Baduszkowa’…

Yes. It’s a four-year vocal and acting college with 60 years of tradition, where I could combine all my passions. 

Let’s talk about ‘Baduszkowa’, that is Danuta Baduszkowa Vocal and Acting College, and break its spell a little. From where I stand, and I’m a theatre buff, ‘Baduszkowa’ is just one of acting schools. Its graduates are learned and versatile. On the other hand, some people patronise it. Why is that?

I don’t know. In the world – in the West End or Broadway – an actor who can sing, dance, and play is at a premium. Here, it’s quite the opposite. The dramatic actor is the only right and respected profession, while the musical actor… is somewhere in the background. The thing to remember is that there can be a very easy musical and a wonderful, difficult, and absorbing drama; but it can also be the other way round. It has often happened to me that dramatic actors were like, ‘Oh, please, a musical!’ Then, when they had to sing even the simplest song or, God forbid, move a little, they were in big trouble. Thus, I have a need to break the spell of the ‘Baduszkowa’ myth, because I know plenty of excellent dramatic actors who have graduated from it. Not to mention the fact they can sing and dance. 

What’s interesting, you’ve been dreaming about ‘Baduszkowa’ since high school, and it was the only college you’d considered, wasn’t it?

Yes, absolutely.

You didn’t think about acting schools in Łódź or Warsaw?

No, because I’d always wanted to play and sing. Traditional acting schools wouldn’t have given me such a range of opportunities. I would have had to choose between my passions, and I didn’t want that. So I found a school on the other side of Poland, which allowed me to develop myself in a variety of fields. I was over the moon when I got in!

And I’ve heard you were on the top of the list! I think a great advantage of ‘Baduszkowa’ is the fact that its students perform on stage regularly from the second year.

It’s a great lesson in humility. In the first year, we have to watch performances staged in the Music Theatre. It’s easy to criticise fellow actors performing on stage from the audience. But when such a critic, as a second or third-year student, goes on that stage as some tree walking in the background, in the last row of the dance routine, and sees that audience for a thousand seats and the entire theatre machine, he or she thinks,‘Dear God! I’m sorry for all the nit-picking comments I’ve made.’From the very beginning, the school teaches you respect for everyone, including the technical staff and dressers.

Let’s try and break the spell of one more thing you’ve mentioned: a musical actor. From where I stand, an actor who can play, sing, and dance – like you – is a complete actor. A perfect actor!

I believe that we, the people of the theatre, shouldn’t judge or deprecate dramatic or musical actors. Every attempt to judge fellow actors or actresses says a lot about you, about your pettiness and sense of inferiority, which make us judge the others.

There will always be someone better or worse.

This profession can’t be measured. When you were watching the ‘Fever’ in Gdynia, a person sitting next to you could be looking at you and your amazement, thinking, ‘Are we watching the same thing? That guy is terrible.’

Everyone was delighted with your performance!

But I can accept the fact that someone might not like the tone of my voice, my acting or dancing. And that’s fine.

I think it’s impossible in your case, because when you go on stage, you have that… light within you. And even when you’re not in the spotlight, everyone looks at you. The audience loves you. The more I appreciate your realistic attitude to the profession. You once said a beautiful sentence, ‘I control the profession, not the other way round.’

To me, it’s a synonym of freedom. But I’m also aware that I can allow that freedom from time to time. I don’t need to accept every role. I try to find my place in the profession, make changes, meet new people. The Syrena Theatre and the ‘Rock of Ages’ were a real godsend, because I felt a need to refresh my professional life, and that place and material are a great chance to do it. It’s a total pastiche, antics, with very difficult, high-pitched singing, hits of the 80s. I love kitsch, I love old Eurovision contests, a lot, high, and wide – this musical opens such opportunities. What’s more, it has a great choreography by a remarkable duo of Jarek Stańko and Kasia Zielonka and was directed by brilliant Jacek Mikołajczyk. It hasn’t happened to me for a long time that I would get up and go to rehearsals so happy and excited.

You’re among great people there.

That’s true, I’ve known most of the cast for many years.

Speaking of important people. At your Instagram @itsmefilipce, which is great by the way, where you share your wild imagination in instastories and coin new hashtags, such as the famous #lowizm, you often use a phrase #bogatyludźmi [rich with people]. What does it mean to you?

I coined that hashtag when I was living in Warsaw and studying in the Faculty of Jazz and Entertainment Music in Katowice. I didn’t have money or a job. I remember how once, I was walking down the street pretty broken up and talking with God or to myself, ‘I may be poor, but if someone were to judge me on the basis of people I surround myself with, I’m on the top of Forbes’ list. 

Lucky you!

In every place I’ve lived so far, I met fantastic and fine people, who are my treasure, my capital, my wealth. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible but for all the love and acceptance I got at my family home, where I learned that people and relationships are all that matters.

At the end, I’d like to ask you about your singing. You have an amazing voice. When you sing, you touch people’s soul and deepest feelings. What are you going to do about it?

I’m planning to record an album. This is my last unfulfilled dream. I hope I’ll do it this year. With my songs, I’d like to tell a few stories, more personal ones, without hiding behind theatre roles.

Should I wish you recording an album?

Yes. That would be great.

Anything else?

I’d like the premiere in the Syrena Theatre to be a success and the musical to be on for a long time. So that it brings people as much joy as we have while working on it. 

And what should I wish you as a person?

So that things stay the same. Because it’s really beautiful. I haven’t felt such harmony in every aspect of life for a long time.

And that is what I wish you. Keep on thriving. If I can make a hashtag about you, let it be #3most: the most clever, the most talented, and the most beautiful.

My God! 

What more can you want?

Nothing. I want only that hashtag! Thank you very much.

 

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