The National Theater in Niš is organizing The 3rd Festival of Drama and Theater of the Balkan Cultural Space, called Theater at the Crossroads. The Festival is of competitive character, and takes place in Niš, September 5-12, 2022.
The official opening ceremony of the Festival is on September 5 with the performance of Dušan Jovanović’s play THE LIBERATION OF SKOPJE, directed by Gorčin Stojanović and a co-production of the National Theater in Niš and the National Theater in Leskovac.
The Festival selector, professor Vlatko Ilić, PhD has chosen six plays from Serbia and the surrounding coountries for the Festival main – competitive programme:
- CROATIAN ROAD TO HAPPINESS, authorial project directed by Bobo Jelčić, Kerempuh Satirical Theater Kerempuh, Zagreb, Croatia (to be performed on September 6);
- August Strindberg, MISS JULIE, directed by Haris Pašović, Madlenianum Opera and Theater, Belgrade, Serbia (to be performed on September 7);
- Elfriede Jelinek, RECHNITZ – ANGEL OF DEATH, directed by Sabin Mitreker, Sarajevo War Theater SARTR and Croatian National Theater in Mostar, Sarajevo, B&H (to be performed on 8 September);
- Johannes von Temple, PLOWMAN AND DEATH, directed by Silvio Purcareta, Iaşi National Theater, (Vasile Alecsandri National Theater in Iaşi), Iaşi, Romania (to be performed on September 9);
- MY NAME IS GORAN STEFANOVSKI, directed by Branislav Mićunović, NI Drama Theater in Skopje, Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia (to be performed on September 10);
- WANTON LADY’S KNIGHTS, autorial project by András Urbán, Kosztolányi Dezső Theater, Subotica, Serbia (to be performed on September 11).
On the Festival closing evening in honour of the award winners, the audience will have the opportunity to see a play by Maarten van Hinte THE QUEEN OF DISCO, directed by Marjorie Boston and Marteen van Hinte, produced by Rightaboutnow Inc. and Heartefact.
On the same occasion, an award giving ceremony takes place to honour The Best Show, Direction, four Actors, Costume Design and Set Design-/Scenography, An Original Stage Music, Stage Movement, as well as to present The Festival’s Special Award. In addition, The Critics Round Table Award and the Journalist Jury Award are also presented.
In addition to six competition performances and a performance in honour of the award winners, a lavish accompanying program is being organized, with a timely announcement thereof: conversations about performances, forums, book promotions, artist presentations, exhibitions, etc.
The Theater at the Crossroads Festival aims at promoting the similarities and differences of cultural identity of states and peoples sharing the same cultural space. The goal is also the affirmation of the state of Serbia and the city of Niš, being on the European and world routes crossroads thereof. Its purpose is to strengthen international cultural exchange and promote theatrical art of the Balkan cultural space, as well as the exchange of ideas and theater praxis.
At the gate of the East and the West, at the centuries-old crossroads, this year we are also welcoming theater artists.
In Niš, one of the oldest cities in the Balkans, peoples’ cultures have been meeting since ancient times. Each of them bequeathed material and immaterial goods to this space, which we faithfully preserve and present as evidence of centuries-long continuance. We strive as well to persevere in enriching the cultural and festival programs of the city, in order that Niš is recognized as a cultural center.
The Theater at the Crossroads Festival is indeed the meeting place of various theater forms, the presentation thereof enrich the cultural scene of the city of Niš and continue the tradition of improving and affirming the cultural space of the Balkan.
Our rich historical and cultural heritage testifies and indicates that different cultural forms and contents bring us together and unite us in their diversity. The respect for diversity and affirmation, exchange of ideas and creative cooperation are in truth already established postulates of the Theater at the Crossroads festival, proving them for the third time with its successful actualization.
Dragana Sotirovski, Mayor of the City of Niš
HERALDS OF THE NEW AGE
Festivals play a distinctive role in nourishing and developing the theatrical life of a country. They are an opportunity for theater lovers to attend performances they might, possibly, otherwise miss. When it comes to theatrical creators, they take particular pleasure in presenting their works to a new audience. It is a well-known fact that festivals are characterized by a distinctive atmosphere with theater performances often taking on a special quality on the occasion thereof.
Festivals, in addition, contribute to the development of the geographical locality where they take place. Cities claim place on the cultural map of a region, while the influx of visitors has a favorable effect on their economy. Ultimately, festivals will provide the opportunity for the professional public and spectators, as long as they carefully consider the program, to gain different insights regarding the characteristics of theater art today, as well as of its development perspectives. In this sense, one should look back to the period behind us, during which the theater plays in the selection of this year’s Theater at the Crossroads got created.
The states of emergency that constrained social life being introduced during several periods in keeping with the dynamics of the development of the global pandemic affected us in the way that we eagerly look forward to the theater to be created in the time of the so-called new normal. As it seems to me, this kind of anticipation was in line with the hope that the theater would have the strength not only to recover, but also to transform itself in a way that would once again place it at the center of the community life – be it local communities or the modern, globalized world. Today, when the new crises disturb the world with increasingly serious ecological threats, two dominant development tendencies of theater art are notable. On the one hand, the increasing commercialization of theater is apparent and reflected in the creation of plays expected to be successful with the audience, first of all, and in the theater world as well. In a different manner, though not necessarily opposed to the afore mentioned production principles, are performances that stand out as artistically valuable. They are, almost as a rule, characterized by a strong authorial seal when it comes to all professions responsible for the realization of a theatrical work.
The main program performance selection of the third consecutive Festival of the Balkan Cultural Space, Theater at the Crossroads, comprises indeed the aesthetically valuable authorial plays from the neighboring countries and Serbia.
The two among them are – let us employ an already established phrase in our professional public sphere – authorial projects. Wanton Lady’s Knights, directed by András Urbán and performed by Kosztolányi Dezső Theater in Subotica, presents a self-ironic review of the current theater world, dismantling with utmost success the project of civil (autonomous) art and showing by means of stage resources how the desire for a specific theater is inextricably linked with the vision of asociety as a whole, in other words – with its corresponding ideological and political landscape. In the authorial project of director Boba Jelčić, Croatian Way to Happiness, performed by the Satirical Theater Kerempuh in Zagreb, the motive of the search for happiness is contemplated in relation to the changes that affected social life during the most of Croatian history. The particular dynamic between what we consider the sphere of intimacy, on the one hand, and major historical events, on the other, is materialized through the entire repertoire of stage expression – gestures, bodies and scenes, with very little text, in a humorous and touching way.
Among the performances that the audience in Niš will have the opportunity to attend are two stagings of major dramatic works. The staging of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, directed by Haris Pašović and performed by the Madlenianum Theater in Belgrade, places in a contemporary context the questioning of power relations inherent in social norms and thus in theater conventions, rendering visible in a different way gender and class relations in our region societies thereof. The questions of notable importance for the Balkan cultural space are also brought into question by the play Rechnitz – Angel of Destruction, directed by Sabine Mitterecker and based on the text by Elfriede Jelinek, co-produced by the Sarajevo War Theater SARTR and the Croatian National Theater in Mostar. This theatrical work is an excellent example of contemporary theater that practically examines the possibilities and scope of its own medium, tackling in this way both formally and content-wise the legacy of post-war societies, and the challenges of remembering and talking about crimes, the victims and perpetrators thereof.
Two more performances marked by exceptional authorial poetics were included in the selection of this year’s Festival main program. The play by the Skopje Drama Theater, My Name is Goran Stefanovski, with the author’s adaptation of the text signed by Branislava Ilić and directed by Branislav Mićunović, is a tribute of a kind to the work of Goran Stefanovski. In addition, this theater piece created carefully and with exceptional skill explores one of our time and region crucial themes – it is a tale about the departure and the return, about abandoned and redefined homeland. Death and the Plowman is staged in Vasile Alecsandri National Theater in Iaşi by one of the most prominent theater figures in Romania, director Silviu Purcărete. The exceptional quality of this play, created according to the humanist poem by Johannes von Temple, written in the late Middle Ages and in the time of an anti-humanist atmosphere, is its unique language that successfully combines new technological possibilities and traditional theatrical means of expression.
The need to emphasize authorship in today’s theater world and, by analogy, in line with the concept of auteur cinematography created in the middle of the last century, undoubtedly arises from the circumstances in which theater is formed, perceived and evaluated. In cinematography, it was a way to establish the difference between film as an artistic expression and commercial cinematography, serial entertainment films or those with advertising purpose, pornographic or propaganda films, etc. This effort, inextricably linked to the major film festivals, succeeded in establishing a separate area of production, distribution and presentation of cinematographic works, partially independent of the film industry that assumed primacy. Theater festivals and the increasing number thereof must take on a similar task – a network of festivals that in every aspect becomes equal with a network of theater institutions that more or less successfully cope with the challenges of the transformations they are going through. A network of festivals must nurture, shall we call it – autheur theater – in line with the principles of aesthetic value, since otherwise we completely surrender to the market laws recognizing art only if it takes on the characteristics of commodities.
Vlatko ILIC, selector of the festival
Is theater at a crossroads today?
We have two answers: today’s theater has anchored “At the Crossroads” at the festival in Niš, and in its two-millennium duration, the theater only has been enriching itself only at crossroads, sought new forms and contents in agreement with the times and the needs of its followers, yet giving in to no one, but surviving and constantly pointing out the shortcomings of the times we live in.
The theater of today, despite all the pressures, new challenges, media, technical aids and denials – survives. The had underwent great challenges, such as the mass printing of books, the appearance of film, radio, television and now new media, and it has overcome them all, not turning them into competitors, yet an associate and and partner in joint business – to bring the theatrical expression closer to its spectator and lead him to merge with the “life-giving stage boards.” This ability to stay, to last, to defy, to survive even in bad times, has revitalized the theater to such an extent that every new the challenge only encourages the creation of new cultural and culturological values and the struggle for a better tomorrow. The basic reality, the constant, has been preserved: there had to be some kind of text writer – an actor on stage with all the accompanying content and – I as a spectator, a lover of theatrical magic. A living man, a creative person. It has been so since the first theatrical performance until today. Everything in between is transmission, a matter of technique and what the current trend offers or demands. And we have to respect this fact, those artists, mostly enthusiasts as they are at present, who recognize the time and the moment, the need and the desire of their followers, without stooping to the level of low passions and flattering anyone, least of all the audience.
Today, the theater struggles with a status that is not at the level it ought be in our small societies, languages and countries, most often in transition, which in our case has lasted for decades and will continue without a clear better status-solution for theater people and greater respect for the work invested in this job. And let me not forget: the biggest threat to the theater now is – theater itself. People in it and around it. Large buildings, institutions and systems can most often and only collapse from the inside, and much more difficult from the outside. Lamenting the fate of culture in general thereby, and thus also mentioning the theater, nothing is solved. Personnel, professional, status, and only then the material situation are the prerequisites that must be fulfilled in order for the theater to thrive. The first two statements are on people from the guild to deal with, and the other two are on societies, in cooperation with professionals and creative people from the theater.
An example is this “At the Crossroads”. It was created as a project of enthusiasts who had energy, an idea, like-minded people and friends, and here is a great cultural, regional theater festival. This festival is already an event one hardly awaits, theaters in the regian are preparing for it, they are anxious about who the selector will invite, how they will present themselves at this festival and whic play therewith. And there was nothing of the afore mentioned until some years ago. It would not have happened even now unless there were the understanding and well-thought-out idea and conception of the people from the National Theater in Niš. Now let us imagine that this festival does not exist, how big a gap would be in the calendar of cultural events in the region? It might not even affect the uninterested ones, yet we know that individuals and creative people, initiators and good organizers are the drivers of society and community. This is not only a cultural and theatrical event for Niš and Serbia, it stands for the entire region alike. And a serious one at that. How much more visible the city of Niš is on the map of events, not only cultural ones thereby. Serious science deals with the issue of creating an event while in the theater in Niš, the event branches out, anchores the root and with its flower attracts performers, audiences, writers, critics, and journalists. People who respect the theater. According to the results so far the merrits are well earned, and we support it, respect, love and wish a long life.
All the more so that all of us respecting ourselves respect “Theater at the Crossroads,” support this great project and event and grow together, with the desire that each subsequent one stands on the shoulders of the previous one, to the pride of the organizers and Niš as a serious cultural center, becoming more significant and substantial with this Festival.
THE CHALLENGE OF MUTUAL ATTRACTION
“In precisely same way, one and the same thing can be preserved and lost,” wrote Milorad Pavić, one of the most translated and read Serbian writers, unfortunately little performed in our theater, in an attempt to suggest how necessary it is in any valid business to spend/sacrifice expertise, experience, time, ideas in order to find “the singing ring,” and from my point of view it symbolizes unity – as it accurately combines the different voices of birds and tree species. This symbolic observation, I am convinced, is a good example of the definition of the task that the founders of the “Theater at the Crossroads,” in belief and regardless of the historical or current disunity of the Balkan polis, in the permanent challenge of mutual attraction.
The Balkan has always been considered a crossroads from which roads lead to different parts of the world, but also of life. The border between the worlds, say Western writers, is right there, at the border drawn by the rivers Sava and Danube. In support of this viewpoint, one can find a series of explanations and quotes, reasonable attitudes and incomprehensible prejudices, written by the hand of exceptional travel writers and literary authors. The Balkan is the meeting place of East and West, North and South – of Europe. Ignoring or not accepting the European orientation of the Balkan world it is the biggest mistake of former fiction and journalism, and today, obviously under their strong influence, of politics as well. And hardly anything can be changed in that context – at once yet observing the unacceptable devastation of the European continent, pushed into war, internal intolerance and brutality, sanctions, penury, loss of jobs, fear of the future, it seems necessary to bring the Balkan back into play, precisely as a place of meeting, a place of noticeable differences yet also of continuous cooperation. At the time of socialism, there was a term: the unity of opposites, thus attempting to level and harmonize different views on the world by individuals, groups, national communities in a certain environment. This is exactly the kind of determination that a failing Europe needs, and the best example of the unity of opposites, regardless of the already mentioned frequent frictions and disputes, is in the Balkan.
We cannot make a different contribution to this complex topic than as artists, and for this reason the “Theater at the Crossroads” festival today bears significance:
artistic, social, and even political. After all, every festival in its essence has cascades of events and levels of importance, and so does the manifestation in Niš – a city that is, in a specific sense, the center of the Balkan. Every festival is a meeting place for artistic/theatrical poetics, creative people and audience/curious people who would rather not remain on the sidelines. This task “Theater at the Crossroads” performs despite the difficulties of a global nature. Yet, to be ahead, to be a leader, to carry the light illuminating the untrodden path is a great obligation, though also a pledge for the future. This, I am convinced, is the great importance of the Festival, but also its high-level demand for more frequent, modeled, diverse practical/theoretical reflections on the possibility of co-operation between people from the field of art who create in the Balkans, and also in Southeast Europe.
“Theater at the Crossroads” festival is a model how to preserve the value of the apparently indivisible matters, as there must be room for everything in the house – even if some slept in a bed with a canopy, and others in old hoosier drawers. No one will get wet.
I dreamt that my thoughts and words were taken away from me. That they got stolen, banned, deleted forever. Some foreign forces, unknown, probably from out of this world.
As, what normal person wishes to censor thoughts and words, not just mine, for all of us alike. To erase poetry, books, plays, screenplays, history and the future. To turn us into expressionless beings who cannot speak, cannot write, and do not even have thoughts of our own. They have no right to expression, any expression, an expression that characterizes us as living beings.
Imagine a theater without words, without thoughts, without emotion. A book without letters, sentences, blank pages only. Music without notes. Movies with music alike and actors who do not exist. Imagine. Trapped in their own bodies, uttering complete silence. The inability to think, to imagine, to say or sing, to share feelings with someone. No, there is nothing. Everything is empty. It is not the picture I wish to see. That is sad. Not mine. Not ours.
Performance, poetry, lectures, schools, universities – without thoughts and without words… research, thinking, communication – without thoughts and without words… courtship, love, joint life – without thoughts and without words… Each new day without words. A whole life without thoughts. Stones, rocks, sand scattered around the world, that would be us…
And for this reason every exchange we have now is important. Every play, every written thought, every spoken message. Do not be angry, do not be offended, do not hold grudges against each other, there is no perfection, it does not exist there is no “this is the most important“…everything is important while it exists, everything bears significance; the good one – we shall award it, the bad one – we shall improve. We are here to help each other together, to guide, to meet at the crossroads. Look after your thoughts, words, theater and yourself. Guard against those who wish it gone.
I dreamed that my thoughts and words were taken away from me. That they stole them, banned them, deleted them forever. Some foreign forces, unknown, probably not from this world. I hope it was just a bad dream after all…
3rd THEATER AT THE CROSSROADS
At the very beginning, one should pose several questions: what does any theater festival stand for, in this case Theater at the Crossroads, what is the way it gets organized, what is its purpose, what hopes and fears arise from it?
In the simplest terms, we still organize theater festivals according to the ancient model. It is an extensive theatrical and social celebration. I am not familiar with any other way of organizing festivals, apart from the originally established one in the ancient times.
Needless to say, as the definitions of the first theatrical prophets had been partially or completely lost, in times that followed everyone interpreted and supplemented them from their own context and their own narrative.
One may consider each theater festival from any context, any narrative. It can be viewed exclusively from the context of theater aesthetics; it can be viewed from the perspective of economy – how much gain can a particular festival bring, without my getting into the political, sociological, anthropological context. Regardless of the perspective, only by uniting all of these narratives can we reach a standpoint about the uniqueness of something called a theater festival and a public event. The co-texts are different, though, to avail myself of Umberto Eco’s definition. The co-text in which the theater emerges today is again full of blood, suffering and fear of what tomorrow brings.
The festival is an attempt to make a cross-section of where the theater is at the present moment and to predict how theater art will look like the following year, at the next festival and those that follow.
What the theater act itself will look like in the society it addresses. What will that society look like? It depends, of course, on the aesthetics of the selectors and of the festival council, it depends on the organization, it depends on various predicted and unforeseen circumstances… in this respect, some performances are more exciting while some are less, some are of extraordinary quality, some make us wander why they appear not only at the festival but even on Earth. Why they have not vanished before they even appeared.
The matter of constant interest for me at every festival, including this one, is how any theater and theater art will position itself in a society. In what way will the theater become an organized force to oppose some other organized forces aspiring to social reality? Theater has always implied a critical position about the time and the society it addresses, no matter how in existential sense it depends on that same society.
No one else is to blame but the theater itself, in fact those who create the theater here and now, if they merge with daily political manipulations and lose that sense of belonging to the historical memory of the existence of man in this world and of wondering about the meaning of such existence. The theater has survived for seven thousand years, it will survive even today without any doubt, however, what is the point of that survival – that is the question. It seems that the time of survival awaits for us again.
What the Theater at the Crossroads festival insists on is the meeting of differences, the meeting of particularities, mutual respect and the possibility of cooperation of those othernesses. However, all those differences, particularities and othernesses in this case have one tiniest common content, and that is theater art. A magical encounter between the audience and the artists on stage and those around them. The festival gives the opportunity to express all aesthetic, cultural and any other similarities and differences in their full capacity and without any restrictions.
I am deeply convinced that our differences are our greatest blessing.
And to quote the founding act of the Festival:
“Theater at the Crossroads” aims to promote the Balkan cultural space, the state of Serbia and the city of Nis as a crossroads of European and world roads and strengthen international cultural exchange, promote theater art and creators, exchange of ideas, theater practices and is dedicated to the challenges and perspectives of contemporary theater.
Spasoje Ž. Milovanović,
General Manager of the National Theater in Niš and the Festival Director