Complexity of “East-side Story” emphasis on Eastern European theatre, 2004.

On the fifteenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and of everything it symbolised, we have decided to dedicate the whole International Small Scene Theatre Festival to Eastern European theatre. We have placed emphasis on the shows of directors belonging to the younger and middle-aged generation of people who have built their original and influent theatre poetics precisely during this period of transition. Thus, among them are the “poet of Bulgarian spirit”, Bojko Bogdanov, the new star of Hungarian theatre – Bela Pinter, two renowned Slovenian directors – Samo M. Strelec and Tomi Janežič, and one who is “just making it” – Rene Maurin, as well as the Croatian directors Rene Medvešek and Saša Anočić – both of them actors by vocation yet whose plays rate as inspiring “products” of Croatian theatre at the turn of the century. The distinguished Serbian director Dejan Mijač arrives with a new play by Biljana Srbljanović, the most celebrated Eastern European playwright in the West, and, as some kind of by-pass between epochs, the Festival will honour the presence of one of the greatest living world directors, Jurij Ljubimov. All the shows these people have directed emerge from a variety of textual references, starting from the drama classics of the twentieth century (Wilder’s “Our Town”, Weiss’s “Marat-Sade”, Sartre’s “No Exit”), through recently written plays (“America” by Biljana Srbljanović, “The Baltimore Waltz” by Paula Vogel, and Silver’s “Fat Men in Skirts”) to “factures” partially or completely composed during rehearsals (“Only God Knows”, “Gledaloto”, “The Bakony Hospital”), in the process of which the actors, together with the directors, have become the “co-authors” of the script. Most of those shows, however, deal with similar problems: with various types of aggression and manipulation, questionable interpersonal relationships within closed and isolated micro-worlds, with conflicts between two individuals and/or between the individual and historic and social processes that slowly yet relentlessly destroy one’s identity. It is obvious, thus, that these shows deal with some of the key problems of new East European reality, even in cases when geography – ranging from the Americas of Srbljanović and Wilder to Sartre’s “nowhere land” – seemingly makes such a possibility inconceivable. In spite of the fact that we are no longer dealing with the old East European idea of “meaning transfer” from the times when actualities could be handled solely by use of coded scenic language and global metaphors, it is evident that almost all the shows of this year’s Festival retreat from a strictly defined framework of reality; they equilibrate between the real and the irreal, between the tragic and the comic, the realistic and the grotesque by suffusing genres and styles, by imposing effective theatricalizations which, in some cases demand a music “score” as the carrier of the dramaturgical framework of the performance. Theatre thus becomes an authentic place of query – on the one hand it questions itself, its mechanisms, its conventions and its means of stylistic and communicative expression, and on the other – the reality and uncertainty that surround it. The actor, not merely by carrying the load of his interpretative capacity, but also by employing the personal and theatre experience and insight that his role as well as the performance rely upon, is, naturally, in the very midst of such a centrifugal process. In fact, this year’s festival in Rijeka proves that a strong director’s concept and a so-called actor’s theatre are not mutually exclusive, which could also be viewed as a transposed message such a theatre sends to the society it lives in. Such an idea only tackles the complexity of our “East-side Story”; a story which, in spite of the objective impossibilities of inviting a larger number of “interlocutors”, seems sufficiently provocative, and, last but not least, attractive for an audience that shall witness its disclosure.

Hrvoje Ivanković