Putujuće pozorište Šopalović

9/05 – 15:00
7, 8, 9/05 – 20:30
Serbian > NL / FR
2h 30min

In 1985 Yugoslavian poet and playwright Ljubomir Simović wrote Putujuće pozorište Šopalović ( The Travelling Troupe Šopalović ). The travelling theatre company arrives in the Serbian town of Užice where recently killed people are being exposed in the middle of the square where the company was supposed to perform. In 2007 Tomi Janežič decided to stage this play in Belgrade once again. With the Yugoslavian civil war fresh in his memory, he has no choice but to make it a piece about the role of theatre in wartime, about the relationship between theatre and real life. In Simović’s play, reality initially intervenes to such an extent as to shatter the theatrical illusion. But can art also transform reality? Tomi Janežič makes it a ‘drama essay’ about the nature of the theatre, where fiction and reality share the same body. The boundary between audience and stage is blurred in an amazing performance that constantly dismantles both the play and the theatre itself. Staggering!

Written by
Ljubomir Simović

Directed by
Tomi Janežič

Miroslav Žužić, Nenad Ćirić, Boris Isaković, Branislav Zeremski, Dara Džokić, Isidora Minić, Renata Ulmanski, Vlastimir-Đuza Stojiljković, Jasna Đuričić, Nada Šargin, Svetozar Cvetković

Space & light design
Tomi Janežič

Milan Mađarev

Deneš Debrei

Music & sound design
Tomaž Grom

Video design
Gregor Božič

Assistant director
Boris Liješević

Assistant to director
Špela Trošt

Assistant to set designer
Duško Ašković

Stage speech
Ljiljana Mrkić-Popović

In collaboration with
Snežana Marković and members of the choir AKUD Branko Krsmanović

Choir singers
Elien de Schryver, Aurélie Lierman, Maité Smeyers, Marie Leduc, Natalia Vanessa Hirtz, Lut Geeraert, Tinne Debosscher, Mathilde Clémot, Aude Ruyter, Clémence Huckel, Natalia Sardi, Astrid Annicaert, Zita Gerenday, Anne-Sophie Van Wesemael, Mathilde Mazabrard, Catherine Herman, Margot Van Scharen, Jelena Djucik, Natasha Mokrane, Frédérique Galliot, Sandy Napier, Silke Saerens, Valérie Mertens, Katrien Feyaerts, Flore De Baets, Amélie Dieudonné, Anouk Vandevoorde, Janne Steenbeke

Choir master
Peter Spaepen

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KVS

Atelje212 (Belgrade)

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Putujuće pozorište Šopalović

Dramaturge’s notes

As in all good plays, the beginning of Putujuće pozorište Šopalović (Travelling Troupe Šopalović) is more than simple. On a summer’s day, a theatre troupe arrives in the town of Užice in order to perform Shiller’s play The Robbers. In the midst of the Rakija market they perform one scene from the play in order to attract people’s interest for their show. Unfortunately, the moment they picked could not be worse: one of the first operations of the occupying forces is underway, hangings and shootings have begun, the town is full of refugees from Bosnia running away from the Ustashas, and the theatre and acting, in the minds of common citizens of the provincial town, are still a somewhat embarrassing activity even in times of peace, let alone during wartime. Under such circumstances, the melodramatic scene from The Robbers is sorely out of place, and the offended citizens hurl insults at the actors for daring to come to their town to perform their play, so inconsiderate and blind to their plight. (...)

Steadily and seamlessly, Putujuće pozorište Šopalovićmoves from abject realism to a poetic vision, and the moment where the playwright becomes a poet is almost imperceptible. With topographic precision found only in novels, the action of the play is restricted to the town of Užice, and those who know it can almost feel as if they are being taken for a walk around the town by the characters in the play.

We also encounter this journey from a realistic tangibility toward a poetic picture between the lines of Simović’s play. His earlier plays, Hasanaginica and The Shargan Miracle, were written in verse, but a verse that strongly resembles everyday speech. The verse is dry, almost bare of any poetic embellishments, where contemporary turns of phrase and language are often encountered. Only if we were to attempt to write the same text in prose, would we realise that this is, in fact, verse whose rhythm is quite different from that of prose. And even though Putujuće pozorište Šopalovićis written in prose, we cannot but sense, in its rhythm, the beat of a verse, and it is a kind of prose which quite naturally, in key moments, concentrates and thickens into verse. At times the verse is borrowed: in the play’s climax, Filip speaks the monologue of Orestes from Electra by Euripides. At other times, it is the human misery and despair which cannot but scream out in verse, as when Gina finds out that her son had been arrested, that he could at any moment fall into the hands of Drobac to be tortured, and says: “How can I say that I know him if I do not know his suffering?” – these verses are burnt into our memory alongside the famous verses spoken by the Girl of Kosovo. Sometimes it is Drobac, describing in verse all the details of his horrible art. Just as in drama, where life and art become one in their most extreme, so prose begins to flow into verse at these two farthest reaches of human experience: in the horrors of bottomless pits and at the highest of heights.

Jovan Hristić


Why did you decide to stage this play by Ljubomir Simović, Putujuće pozorište Šopalović?

Well, I worked on this performance almost three years ago. At that time I was – among other things – very interested in deconstructing theatre in a certain sense. I was interested in questioning theatre in itself, its borders and the borders of acting. I wondered, tried to understand, what a theatre performance is at all. I asked myself – and asked the actors to ask themselves – some basic questions about our profession, which are some of the main questions of the play: Why do we do theatre? Why am I on stage on this very moment? What is theatre, what is acting, what are the borders of theatre and acting, if there are any? What’s going on in the communication between us and the audience right here and now? What am I doing theatre for? In this play you have a mixture of reality and illusion, of theatre and everyday life, and the borders between them are questionable. I was interested in the reality of imagination. The play is questioning the materialistic view of the world. On another level I was also interested in questions concerning war. How could such a war happen in ex-Yugoslavia? Where are the roots of such violence, how is the evil born?

I chose the play because I was impressed by Ljubomir Simović's opus. He is an artist of international stature and I wanted to direct one of his works. His play seemed to be perfect for what I was interested in. And it was a classic in itself. Through it I could also explore the relations of (classical) play / (contemporary) performance or actual performance / famous performance(s) of the past (which is/are still in the audience’s memory) etc. In a specific way, the performance also has to do with postmodern theatre of the 80s, when the play was written, in relation to the play itself (which doesn’t have any postmodern elements). I would say I was interested in many relations and tried to find creative ways to explore them while working on this performance.

Is the play popular only with a theatre-audience? Or is it common knowledge in general?

It seems that everyone knows it in Serbia. I couldn’t believe it when I heard the number of performances in all the villages and cities, in amateur and professional theatres. Actually, I wasn’t aware of the importance of the play in Serbia when I chose to stage it. It really holds a special place in people’s consciousness. We have a girl in our performance who once played Sofia in an amateur performance and who knows the whole play by heart. The fact of the play’s importance was crucial for our performance. The performance is such because the people know the play and because of their expectations. If I would be doing a first staging of this play, I would do an absolutely different performance. And this fact is true also in relation to other circumstances. I used to say that I don’t carry a performance in my bag; I create it – with all its meanings for me – in the middle of the circumstances I’m put in.

The play was written in 1985, when former Yugoslavia did still exist. When you staged it again in 2007, the country as such didn’t exist anymore. Civil wars had reshaped the map of the region completely.

I knew that I didn’t want just another performance of Šopalović. I didn’t choose this play just to tell a story which happened during the Second World War. It was clear that the play sounds differently than it did 25 years ago. And if Simović would write it 10 years later – during wartime, it would (probably) be another play. When you say Second World War it seems as something very far, as something which has become a myth. When I was making this performance it was enough to say “war” and our associations and feelings were very clear. It wasn’t the Second World War.

In an interview a journalist asked me if it was possible to split the country peacefully or was the violence inevitable. I answered that of course when you watch the whole planet and the human race it is very difficult not to see the inevitable. People literally slaughter each other everywhere around the world. And obviously it seems to be part of the living on this planet. But this doesn’t mean that it’s easy for me to accept this fact. Concerning what happened in the region of ex-Yugoslavia, I definitely believe that it wasn’t necessary or inevitable. No one won or gained anything in this war. Everyone lost. Only the wounds stayed.

The performance is making references in different ways to the war (and its different parts) in ex-Yugoslavia and to the Second World War in this region, it also creates references to the Kosovo conflict (the International is sang in Albanian) which was very current when the performance had its opening in 2007. The reaction of part of the Serbian audience, which is in its political or nationalistic or artistic views single-minded, was very radical. The political and artistic statements of the performance raised polemics in theatre circles. Simović’s play seemed to be untouchable. And the use of recordings of Karadžić[1]’s or Mladić[2]’s speeches or of one of the Bosnian women from Srebrenica who lost her husband, or the use of the sound of the “gusle” (Serbian national instrument) seemed to be unacceptable for some people. But the performance in itself is not at all about sides or individuals in the war. It tries to mirror and to uncover dark sides of the evil and ignorance of all wars. It makes reference both to Jasenovac, the horrible Croatian concentration camp during WW II, where Serbian people were intentionally killed along with Jews, Gypsies and others, and to Srebrenica, where Serbian soldiers led by general Mladić killed Bosnian men. The performance is about art and theatre which finds itself in the midst of these facts. What should we do (as humans and theatre artists)? Do we have anything to do with that? Can we ignore it? Should we do theatre in order for people to forget? Should we speak about it as loudly as possible? Should we throw unbearable facts in our own faces and faces of the audience? It doesn’t seem that there’s an answer. The performance is about these questions and the lack of answers.

In your performance you never allow people to forget that they are in the theatre. You constantly cross the border between theatrical illusion and the reality of being in the theatre. Why did you decide to do that?

A teenage girl watched the opening of the performance. After the performance she said to her father: “You know, I really saw the river and the grass and everything during the Sofia and Drobac scene, it seemed like I was there even though there was artificial light in the theatre and the actress held pencils in her hand instead of grass and flowers.” It seemed to me that she described in a very simple way the complexity of one (for me very important) aspect of this performance. It is as some critics wrote: a drama of the performance itself.

I’ll paraphrase a theatrologist – while mentioning something very similar to what you say in your question – who wrote that the performance is sucking (or I would say, at least trying to lead) the spectator into a new reality, a reality of an authentic theatre act, in which different levels of factography are intersected (connected to the play and facts about the play, to the actual performance and past performances of the play, to the facts of the last and past wars, to the lives of the actors performing and to the theatre in which the performance is staged, to the time of the play and time in which the play was written, to the moment of the opening of this very performance and to the actual moment and place, the here and now in which the performance is being born) into a new life and illusion. The new illusion is not limited anymore to the play. And the establishing of it (and a thoughtful enlargement of meanings) in the performance comes – without prediction – step by step.

Putujuće pozorište Šopalovićwas for me an attempt to try to explore what’s going on during a performance. How to predict subtle changes in awareness of the spectator and his or her associations, how to creatively manipulate his attention and with all the layers which intersect during a performance, how to establish the awareness of what has been established in the spectator and how to change the perspective or context of it. How to use the very obvious and simple tools of theatre and theatre directing in a more or less unconventional way to establish meanings and paradoxes. The performance is (also) about the performance itself. But I didn’t want this to be in a banal or obvious way or sense, but on the contrary, without mentioning it. The very fact that the performance in one of its aspects follows the thought of Vasilij (the actor from the play) that all you need for theatre is just “a stool” could go unnoticed. At the same time, the performance uses other principles which make references to (and establish) other contexts and meanings. Of course, if someone is willing to read them.

What the meaning of theatre can be in times of war seems to be one of the main questions of this performance. It seems like the answer which is suggested is that theatre should not make people forget about real life?

Well, I’m not here to give answers and I wouldn’t say that the performance tries to do that. A piece of art is a symbol in its deepest sense. A symbol speaks in its own language and is paradoxical.

But in a certain respect you’re right: I questioned my own responsibility in doing theatre during the work on Šopalović and I expected the actors to do the same. I would say that I expect the audience to do something similar: to question their responsibility in coming to a theatre and watching a performance. If an actor should ask himself what it is to be on stage or to act (and themes he speaks about as an actor) in relation to his life, than the spectator should be expected to do the same. He/she should ask himself/herself: what does this have to do with my life and my position in the world and society?

Interview by Karlien Vanhoonacker
April 2010

[1] Radovan Karadžić was the Bosnian Serb leader of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war in Bosnia (1992-1995). He is indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since 2008, for genocide and crimes against humanity. He is also accused of the killings of more than seven thousand Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. His trial restarted again on 13 April 2010.

[2] Ratko Mladić was in charge of the Bosnian Serb troops throughout the 1992-1995 war. Along with Radovan Karadžić, he was responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Croats and Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995, which was a UN-protected enclave. He is one of the most wanted suspects from the Bosnia conflict. He is accused of genocide and war crimes committed during the conflict.

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Tomi Janežič (°1972) is a Slovenian theatre director and assistant-professor at the Ljubljana Theatre, Radio, Film and Television Academy – at which he graduated himself. Janežič lectured at the Belgrade and Osijek universities and at the academy of Novi Sad. He is currently preparing his PhD at the Belgrade Arts university. As a theatre director Janežič made independent productions in various parts of former Yugoslavia. Several of these productions were made in collaboration with Atelje212, a theatre in Belgrade that was established in 1956. Atelje212 is well-known for its avant-garde repertoire and for presenting work by Serbian as well as international writers. In October 2007, Janežič directed the theatre piece Putujuće pozorište Šopalović, in collaboration with Atelje212.

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