Dejan Cicmilović, drama champion, actor in theater, film, television and radio, who has a three-digit number of roles in his career so far, a director, a professor. He has directed over forty plays in amateur and professional theaters. He has been teaching stage speech and voice technique since 2005 as an assistant professor at the drama department at the Faculty of Arts in Nis, IUNP, and in 2009 he started teaching acting as an assistant professor at the Faculty of Arts in Kosovska Mitrovica. Since 2019, he has been a full professor at this faculty.
In the interview, he talks about various topics from acting and theater life, as well as about the upcoming premiere of the play “Divisions”.
After many years of experience on the boards that mean life, but also on television and film, what makes acting more than a profession to you – what makes it life and love?
I have been acting professionally for a very long time, since I was 15 years old when I enrolled in the acting school in Nis, then the academy, which means that I have been in this profession for more than 30 years. That kind of idealization of theater and acting in the sense of thinking that theater can change the world or make some big change is long gone. Theater can change an individual, that, I’m sure of. And the mission of the theater is to try to ask certain questions and offer certain answers with what we actors perform on stage; of course, to change as much as we can someone’s opinion in the hall, that is, of the audience watching us. That is the power we have. I still have the belief that the mission that theater actors should fulfill is to try to influence someone’s opinion in a positive way and to influence someone to think about their life and actions. It’s something that drives me to do this job.
And what do you choose, theater, film or TV series?
Unfortunately, due to some turbulence that is happening in the aesthetic sense, the theater has somehow challenged me less lately, to be honest. Some new trends in theater are not my cup of tea. Post-drama theater, although it is wrongly called post-drama, is a total theater, it is not something I am thrilled with. I have nothing against that type of theater, but so many meaningless and irrelevant topics were dealt with through that type of theater that it started not to interest me, which is what I feel sorry for. I am currently in the phase when I stay away from the theater and I will be staying away from it for a while, because I would not want to get sick of the theater, but rather have something beautiful remain in me, so the moment I am ready to re-enter some such engagements that are bigger, I’ll come back in that sense. Theater is my first love, it always remains inside me, and these other media are just a part of our job and I feel as good in them as in the theater.
You have been teaching for a very long time, and two years ago you became a full professor at the faculty. Do you find yourself more in the professorship or acting and why?
Professorship and pedagogical work were some consequence of my personal experience and the need to pass on to young people my experiences and knowledge that I gained in a huge number of performances that I did in my life. As far as I remember there were over 130 of them, which is a large number for an actor my age. I really enjoy pedagogical work and each of my students is really very dear to me as a colleague, because I try to act with most of them as much as I can and when I can. But it is a completely different story in relation to the theater itself, there is no similarity except that we are dealing with the same profession. Pedagogy and work in theater and other media are not the same. Pedagogy has its laws, its rules, theater is something else.
What is your observation about future generations of actors who are growing up?
When that fourth year comes, students always ask what we will do after college and I always feel very bad when it comes to that question, I just don’t have an answer. I say, if you look up to me, you will not go through your career the way you imagine. I am not a man who has ever been involved in politics, clans, connections, combinations, etc., but I have always relied on my talent and it pushed me and brought me to where I am now. Quality is something that should be recognized, and the time in which we live and life, society, environment absolutely denies me in that sense. But, it isn’t easy for them, that’s for sure. Our generation entered and passed through the theater differently. Of course there were certain rules. Firstly, there were far fewer actors, as well as academies, schools, and there was no such kind of hyper production of actors as is in the last ten years. Our generations went through one triage so that managers, directors, producers, film directors, colleagues, etc. came to all exams and graduations and in that way, so to put it, “bought” actors, they wanted to see perform in their ensembles. That’s how most people from my generation entered the theater. In addition, everyone who came to the theater had a probationary period that lasted 6 months or a year where the actor was given the opportunity to play certain roles, and then the artistic council finally assessed how valuable that actor was, without disputing his talent and school, but how good he is as a person and how well he fits into the ensemble which he should enter. So there was a very strict selection in that regard. In this sense, now, the hyper-production of actors does not lead to that, on the contrary, now, in my opinion, there is an anarchy and there is no such triage, but the theater is entered in various ways that are least artistic and do not relate to quality.
And what is the difference in the development of an actor today and at the time when you were a student?
At the time I got my first engagement in 1991 in the Theater “Joakim Vujić” in Kragujevac, the management of the theater and the artistic council took care of absolutely every actor, especially a young actor. They guided him through different roles and casts and in that way tried him in all genres. Thus, the actors formed and gained experience in various genres and went through a lot of literature, writers and everything that is needed for the actor to be maximally educated. What the actors of the current generations lack is exactly that – the general culture, which was supposed to be acquired in primary and secondary school, and which does not exist at all. There is a decline in quality, but not in terms of talent, but in terms of general education. Above all, the actor must be very educated, very well-read, very informed about everything and be constantly curious, not only in observing people and the environment, but also getting involved in some social circumstances, observing what is happening around him in a general sense.
You recently had the premiere of “Divisions” at the Serbian National Theater, and on April 9 the show will premiere in Nis. What can you tell us about the play, and what about the character of Kosta Cvetić whom you interpret?
“Divisions” were created by the dramatization of Spasoje Ž. Milovanović, general manager of the Niš Theater and by playwright of the Serbian National Theater, based on the novel by Dobrica Ćosić, one of the greatest and most capital works of Serbian literature. That dramatization, in my opinion, was made quite complex, but in working with the director a lot of things became clear and we came to a play that follows a story, a story about a family, what is the essence of our society and our life, and how can divisions, which are both ideological and political (covering the period of the beginning of the Second World War) influence the family and how ideology and politics can lead to the tragic disintegration of one family. That is the theme of this play of ours. The novel “Divisions” deals with many other topics, but divisions themselves have unfortunately become a feature of our mentality in our society and our history. We can’t help but divide, and then it’s someone else’s fault that what is happening is happening. If we go back in history, we were divided from Obrenović, Karađorđević, Tito, partisans and Chetniks to Milošević, Đinđić, Vučić, Đilas and what do I know… So, we never managed to consolidate as a society and to align somewhere in something. Those divisions cost us our lives and that is what Ćosić actually talks about in the novel. Of course, we do not have that kind of political connotation in our play at all, nor do we deal with it; we return to the essence of society, how much this division can affect the family and how it can end tragically.
Kosta Cvetić is a major of the king’s army, an educated officer, a professional, a man who is in the service of the state, or according to him in the service of the king because his supreme commander is the king, regardless of the fact that at that time the king fled to England and some other Party and other people are coming. He doesn’t manage well in all that turmoil, he doesn’t know which way to go in those divisions. Whether to join the Cetniks, the Partisans, to remain the king’s soldier… He is aware that the country was occupied by the Germans at that time, and because of patriotism and love for his own homeland it is normal to get a military urge to defend it, but he does not know with whom to defend it, which wing to join. That is his division. He even sacrifices his family for it. Before the ultimatum given to him to surrender or his family will suffer, he decides not to surrender. Because he is ideologically completely on the side of his country, he is a patriot, he is a professional, he is a soldier and he neither intends, nor wants, nor knows how to think differently.
How did you prepare for this role and to what extent was it challenging for you?
It wasn’t difficult, considering that most of the roles in our play are more of a typical character and they follow one layer. They do not have some kind of great development or transformation because the whole play is based on one kind of fragmented dramaturgy. The scenes are fast and the pictures come one after the other, we follow all that throughout the play, but apart from the main character who has some drama of his own that he carries from beginning to end, the characters show more the concept and theme of the play than their development.
Your colleague from the ensemble Miloš Cvetković also plays in the show. What is the relationship of your characters?
Milos plays the son of the main character and that is one theme, one line of action, and the rest of us who are, to say the product of that time, draw a different line of action. The stories are parallel. The two of us specifically do not have common scenes, therefore we cannot even have a certain relationship on the stage.
And what do you think privately about your younger colleague?
I think all the best, of course. I am only sorry that such an excellent, great, splendid actor and a man and one theater devotee had to wait 10 years to obtain permanent employment to the National Theater in Nis. Milos Cvetkovic is considered one of the 10 best actors of his generation. Thank God, it so happened that he became a permanent member of the theater ensemble, as I guess he well deserved it after I don’t know how many main roles, premieres and awards in his career.
What are the similarities and differences between the SNT and the National Theater Nis ˗ from production process to the architecture of the theater building?
The SNT is a huge building that has three or four stages. The main stage of the SNT is about the size of a football field. The small stage is 4 times bigger than the stage of the Nis Theater. 1200 people can sit in the auditorium of the Main stage, and a little over 500 on Small stages’ auditorium. Secondly, the SNT has 3 ensembles in its organization and concept. Drama, which has the fewest members, counts somewhere around 40 employees. Then there are Ballet and Opera. When we say opera, we count here the choir, orchestra, etc. So, the SNT is one huge machinery and one big company, a production factory of art programs that counts about 600 people, so in that sense it is incomparable with the Nis Theater. On the other hand, the misfortunes of the Nis Theater are mainly based on the fact that the theatrical holy trinity – the ensemble, the management and the City – never merge and start thinking alike. It rarely happens, and when it happens occasionally, then some performances happen. But the Nis Theater has its qualities, of course. Above all, I think that there are still a certain number of high quality actors, at their prime, in the National Theater in Nis, and can make something good out of that theater and put out good and quality plays. On the other hand, the Nis Theater also has a very good building, functional because the building was made specifically to be a theater. What the Nis Theater lacks in relation to the SNT is simply impossible to do. In terms of production, it is normal that the SNT, considering that it is financed by the Republic and the Province and the City, can afford such types of programs as opera, ballet and drama. The more money there is, the production is of course better and bigger and stronger. What the National Theater Nis lacks is money.