Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Maska Dramatic Circle by Phyllis Zych Budka Documents Polonian Culture

Moonrise Press announces a new publication in the series dedicated to Polish and Polish American culture: 
The Maska Dramatic Circle: Polish American Theater in Schenectady, New York (1933-1943) by Phyllis Zych Budka appeared in May 2016 in a large format (8 1/2 by 11 in), to accommodate its many facsimile of hitherto unknown historical documents. Instead of a E-Pub format, the e-book is issued as a PDF, due to the large number of scans and examples. 

Designed initially as a family history and based on documents found in an attic, the book was inspired by the involvement of the author's parents Stanley Zych and Sophie Korycinski Zych in the Maska Dramatic Circle in the 1930s and 1940s. While researching this project, Ms. Budka realized that:

 "no one has told the story of the Maska Dramatic Circle, this unique group of young people, mostly first generation Polish Americans, who contributed so much to the cultural life of their community in Schenectady, New York, between 1933 and 1942.  The Maska members were multitalented, hardworking and full of fun.  Their world was completely bilingual, with plays in Polish, a newsletter in both English and Polish, and newspaper articles in both the local English newspapers as well as the Polish ones."  

 In nine years they staged at least 51 plays, complete with costumes, stage settings, music and dancing. The book documents these performances on the basis of a scrapbook of photos, Maska Buletyns and press clippings and thus fills in an enormous gap in the history of  one of the Polish immigrant communities in America.

Ms. Budka explains further: "While I’ve approached the Maska book as a family memoir and a local history, I am coming to realize that it is very relevant to current concerns in the wider community about the disappearance of the Polish American immigrant experience.  I am also very proud of the writing and pictures in our “Project To Discover Schenectady County’s Eastern European Roots” newsletter.  Pascucci’s PhD thesis on the Italian and Polish immigrants in Schenectady in 1880 – 1920 (1989), is the only project that comes close to an in-depth analysis of the local population, filled with statistical data, but lacking the personal touch". 


If we are to have a more complete and nuanced history of Polonia we need more local based sources like the one published by Phyllis Zych Budka. Her focus is the Polish American community in Schenectady, N.Y., a midsized industrial city where she grew up and which does not receive much attention from Polonian historians.  Based primarily on her parents’ scrap book and Polish and English newspapers, it records the amazing theatrical and cultural achievements of the “Maska Dramatic Club of Schenectady,” which from 1933 to 1942 produced more than 50 plays in Polish and, in the process, enriched the lives of Polish immigrants and their children.

~ Dr. Thaddeus V. Gromada, Professor Emeritus of East European History and Past President of PIASA and Polish American Historical Association (PAHA)


Phyllis Zych Budka has provided an account of the young, third-generation Polish-Americans of Schenectady, N.Y. who organized a drama group (Maska) that offered both Polish and Polish-American themed plays in the Polish language. Maska began offering plays to the community in the early 1930s and had a successful run for a decade. At a time when they were fast assimilating into the larger American society, these young people sought to preserve Polish culture and to demonstrate its relevance to the contemporary lives of both the immigrant generation and to their children.

~ Robert R. Pascucci, Ph.D., author of Electric City Immigrants: Italians and Poles of Schenectady, N.Y., 1880-1930


I will be forever grateful to Phyllis for telling the story of my dad's life before I was born. As a kid, I knew my dad was well-read with a great vocabulary. He read books to me, stepping into character roles, inflecting his voice or changing his accent to portray Tom Sawyer, Ivanhoe, or other characters in the stories. I never knew how he learned these skills, he was just my dad. I also remember him telling about hard times during the Great Depression riding the rails in search of work. I wondered about the story behind the photographs of actors on stage of which he was a part. Now, thanks to Phyllis, I know more about his quote about "the happy days" of his participation in the troupe, the fun he had and the awards he won.

~ Joseph Drapala


Phyllis Rita Zych Budka was born in Schenectady, New York, and lives in nearby Niskayuna. All her grandparents came to Schenectady in the early 20th century.  She attended St. Adalbert’s Parochial School, McKinley Junior High and Mont Pleasant High School.  After graduating from the University of Rochester with a Bachelor of Arts in Russian Language, she married Alfred J. Budka.  They are the parents of Kenneth, Thomas and Christine and grandparents of seven.  With Al’s encouragement, Phyllis returned to school and received a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Union College.  During her years at Union, she developed an interest in nickel iron and stony iron meteorites, and has published many articles on the results of her research.

Phyllis worked as a metallurgical engineer, retiring in 2007.  As retirement neared, her interest in genealogy and local family history grew.  Many trips to Poland and Lithuania have helped to discover ancestral history and build connections and friendships with living cousins, which continue with the help of the internet.