Acting Out: Qui pro Quo in the Context of Interwar Warsaw

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In the turbulent context of interwar Polish politics, a period bookended by the right-wing nationalists' repression of an ethnically heterogeneous state, several popular high-quality cabarets persisted in Warsaw even as they provoked and defied the nationalists' harsh criticism. In their best, most influential incarnation, Qui pro Quo (1919-1932) and its successors, these literary cabarets violated the right's value system through their shows' insistent metropolitan focus, their stars' role-modeling of immoral behavior and parodic impersonation, and their companies' explicitly Jewish-Gentile collaboration. In the community of the cabaret, which was even more bohemian and déclassé than that of the legitimate theater, the social and ethnic antagonisms of everyday Warsaw society mattered relatively little. Writers and players bonded with each other, above all, in furious pursuit of fun, fortune, celebrity, artistic kudos, and putting on a hit show. This analysis details how the contents and stars of Qui pro Quo challenged right-wing values. Its shows advertised the capital as a sumptuous metropolis as well as a home to an eccentric array of plebeian and underworld types, including variations on the cwaniak warszawski enacted by comedian Adolf Dymsza. Its chief female stars-Zula Pogorzelska, Mira Zimińska, and Hanna Ordonówna-incarnated big-city glamour and sexual emancipation. Its recurring Jewish characters-Józef Urstein's Pikuś and Kazimierz Krukowski's Lopek-functioned as modern-day Warsaw's everymen, beleaguered and bedazzled as they assimilated to city life. Qui pro Quo's popular defense against an exclusionary nationalism showcased collaborative artistry and diverse, charismatic stars. © 2012 Sage Publications.





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Holmgren, B (2013). Acting Out: Qui pro Quo in the Context of Interwar Warsaw. East European Politics and Societies, 27(2). pp. 205–223. 10.1177/0888325412467053 Retrieved from

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Beth Holmgren

Professor Emerita of Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Beth Holmgren, Professor Emerita of Slavic and Eurasian Studies, has published widely on Polish literature, theater, popular culture, and film; Russian literature, film, and women's studies; and Russian and Polish artists and performers in the North American diaspora. Over the last decade, she has produced a series of articles exploring the Polish Jewish foundations of popular culture in the interwar period and the wartime and postwar diaspora. Holmgren's scholarship and labors in the field of Slavic and East European Studies have won multiple national awards from ACLS, AATSEEL, ASEEES, ASTR, and other organizations.

In addition to her work on editorial boards, fellowship committees, and external reviews, Holmgren served as President of the Association of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 2008 (the largest organization in the Slavic field outside the region itself), during which period she helped oversee the Association's move to a new, financially less exorbitant location and the hiring of several new staff members. Holmgren served as President of the Association for Women in Slavic Studies for the 2003-2005 term. AWSS remains a major resource for female scholar/teachers, providing information about career development, grants, and jobs.  Holmgren also chaired her departments at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke for almost half of her 36 years in the field.

From 2020 through post-retirement in June 2023, Holmgren's research has concentrated on Polish film from the 1930s to the present day. Her most recent book, co-authored with Professor Helena Goscilo (The Ohio State University), is Polish Cinema Today: A Bold New Era in Film (August 2021), which explores the reflorescence and great thematic diversification of Polish film in this century. Contextualizing and analyzing scores of Polish films on themes ranging from representations of the Catholic Church's influence and prewar/wartime/postwar Jewish-gentile relations to the experience of migrant Poles and portraits of queer identity, Polish Cinema Today provides a smart introduction to general film scholars and students as well as cinephiles. In 2022, Choice Reviews named it an Outstanding Academic Title. Subsequent articles recently published or in production focus on Polish-language film musicals from the 1930s and the extraordinary celebrity and career of Eugeniusz Bodo, a major cabaret/revue performer, heartthrob, movie star, and ambitious film producer whose life was cut short in the Soviet gulag during World War II. New projects include analyses of award-winning contemporary Polish documentaries by female directors and their crews. 

I will try to update my cv on on a regular basis, and I will use this profile as well to keep in touch with scholars@everywhere!

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