THE 69TH STERIJINO POZORJE FESTIVAL 2024 (May 26th – June 3rd)

Selector’s Report
The (Post)apocalyptic Light of the Stage


In the process of selecting the plays for the 69th Sterijino Pozorje Festival, I have watched around seventy performances from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Hungary, and Serbia. With all these in mind, I reached a final selection of seven performances in the competition selection and three in the non-competitive international selection “The Circles.” The primary criterion in selecting the performances was their artistic quality, the value of the dramatic texts, direction, acting, music, stage design, and costumes, with everything else – the geographical origin of the works, general thematic determinants of the program, production conditions, etc. – subordinate to it.

This year’s competition selection is specific in that all three performances of contemporary original dramatic texts, written by Milan Ramšak Marković, Tanja Šljivar, and Vida Davidović, come from theaters outside of Serbia – from Kranj and Ptuj (A Rainy Day in Gurlich), Varaždin (Healing Regime), and Banja Luka (Little Wars and the Cabins in Zara). This is something that affirms Serbian drama and confirms the mission of the Sterijino Pozorje Festival to promote domestic dramaturgy beyond the borders of our country. The selection is always a reflection of the production; the festival’s program cannot exceed the qualitative possibilities of the theater repertoire, which this season in Serbia, between March 20th, 2023, and March 20th, 2024, has been very modest, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in terms of the artistic values of contemporary original domestic drama productions (we have seen about ten performances). Looking at the overall production of the domestic texts in Serbia, this season also continues the trend of dramatizations of novels and other literary works (about fifteen performances), as well as authorial projects, whose texts were created in workshops with actors, but also based on movie motifs, and of course, there were more or less contemporary interpretations of our dramatic heritage (about twenty performances).

In addition to the three mentioned performances of original contemporary dramatic texts, the competition program also includes Andraš Urban’s authorial project Once Upon a Time in Novi Sad, which examines the meaning and functions of the theater in contemporary society, in the context of the history of the Újvidéki Színház Theater. The selection will also feature an adaptation of the drama Mileva, an Orphan from Bosnia in Our Civilization in 1878 by Albina Podgradska, written in the second half of the 19th century, which was performed for the first time at the National Theater in Subotica and truly extraordinary directed by Anđelka Nikolić. Another play that is included is a new interpretation of the fairy-tale and archetypal drama A Boat for Dolls by Milena Marković, in an unusually aestheticized, poetic vision by Kokan Mladenović, staged in Bitola. And last, but certainly not least, the competition selection will feature a new dramatization of Slobodan Selenić’s novel Fathers and Forefathers by Kata Gyarmati (National Theater in Belgrade), in a similarly investigative, post-dramatic form by the director Veljko Mićunović, which seeks contemporary and timeless answers to questions about generational conflicts and the legacy of the (war) past.

I would also highlight the values of the performances Quiet, Quieter (Belgrade Drama Theater), What Will Happen to Us All (National Theater Toša Jovanović, Zrenjanin), and We Will Not Forget Anything (Theater Bora Stanković, Vranje), which almost made the selection as intriguing and engaged reflections of the contemporary man’s struggle in eradicating various forms of social and personal repression and inequality.

The international selection “The Circles” features three valuable performances from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina: My Sad Monsters (Gavella Drama Theatre, Zagreb), Red Water (Croatian National Theatre Split), and Violet (Chamber Theater 55, Sarajevo). Thematically, they are closely related in terms of dramatic, thriller, epic, and tragicomic reflections of personal and political discord in the contemporary history of the former Yugoslav region. My Sad Monsters is a play based on the newest text by one of the best contemporary playwrights in the region, Mate Matišić, Red Water is a dramatization of the outstanding novel by Jurica Pavičić, while Violet is an authorial project by Selma Spahić and a truly unique and significant play.

The slogan of the 69th Sterijino Pozorje Festival, “The (Post)apocalyptic Light of the Stage,” mostly refers to the performances that brought premieres of the contemporary drama, but this phrase is true for all productions, both in the competition and non-competition selection, communicate with this slogan to a greater or lesser extent. The slogan reflects the protagonists’ search for the fragments of fragmented identities in the (post)apocalyptic times, after the nightmares or in the middle of the nightmare we are still living in, both locally and globally, after recovering from the Yugoslav wars, transitions, pandemics. In other words, we have not yet emerged from the apocalyptic phase, we have not, metaphorically speaking, crossed to the other side of the river, and we have not reached the post-phase.

Apocalypticism is still a determinant of our world, deeply shaken by numerous war zones across the globe, which is inevitably reflected locally in the form of ongoing unrest caused by tragic news, new economic difficulties, the influx of migrants, but also the noticeable local eruption of violence as a reaction to omnipresent forms of punishment. The actions and lives of the characters in the performances we will see at this year’s Sterijino Pozorje Festival reflect such times, a dystopia even gloomier than Orwell’s visions, without giving up the search for lights in almost pitch darkness. And without light, there is no art, no theater that has always been born out of the need to find an indestructible core, one that shines at the end of darkness.




A Rainy Day in Gurlich, written by Milan Ramšak Marković, directed by Sebastian Horvat, Prešeren Theater Kranj and Ptuj City Theatre (Slovenia)

The play A Rainy Day in Gurlich, written by Milan Ramshak Markovic as a contemporary drama in a fragmentary form, takes place in Austria and is focused on exploring the identity crisis of the protagonist Peter, a journalist and engaged intellectual whose world gradually falls apart in fragments. The present intertwines with the past, with memories of his painful childhood. Traumas from his youth, hidden behind the facades of a perfectly decorated home, penetrate in the moments of increasing crisis, in his relationship with his wife Ingrid, building an expressionist structure of nightmares. Peter’s descent and his wandering in the labyrinths of the personal darkness are colored with discreet, incisive black humor. Guided by the precise direction of Sebastian Horvat, the actors consistently and excitingly build a palpable atmosphere of provincial despair, particularly expressive in the scenes set in the dirty, gloomy tavern. The play unfolds near the audience; sometimes the actors mingle with us, and the stage space is shaped unconventionally and intimately. The acting areas are scattered across multiple points, allowing for a striking, very cinematic change of scenes. The fragmented form of the performance reflects Peter’s confusion, a kind of modern breakdown, and due to the way this theme is scenically processed, and stylized as a nightmare, his breakdown becomes a metaphor for the collapse of the entire humanity. This breakdown subtly suggests that we should take a pause, stop living in the rush imposed by modern society, and take a moment to reflect and self-examine while we still have time – if we still have the time.

Little Wars and the Cabins in Zara, written by Vida Davidović, directed by Ivica Buljan, National Theater of the Republika Srpska Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina, The Republika Srpska) and the Sterijino Pozorje (Serbia)

A very important and stylistically unique drama by Vida Davidović uses a fragmentary form, intertwining temporal flows of the pre-war and post-war times, and a sharp, juicy, and poetically penetrating language to raise important themes of the (post)war traumas, coping with the loss of loved ones, generational conflicts, emigration, and loneliness, but also of the (mis)use of sexuality and corporeality. It significantly addresses the issue of anorexia as a projection of the desire to remain eternally young, to erase sexuality, or to live on the risky edge of life. The stylized action unfolds on a symbolically effective and intriguingly designed stage, defined by the recognizable Denić’s ironic style, (false) advertisements, and discreet video projections, with the straw on which characters ambiguously walk, lie down, give birth, and exist, both ascetically and resembling animals. Ana Savić Gecan’s costume designs also significantly enliven the visual aspect of the play, with very extensive, slightly kitschy solutions that ignite the magic of youthful enthusiasm. Director Buljan guides the action with his characteristic language of pronounced sensuality, boiling energy, and poetic stylization, which authentically embodies memories of traumas and simultaneous desires to live as if reality does not exist. Like in the song “Ćiribiribela” by Bijelo Dugme, whose lyrics become the rope of salvation for characters caught in the whirlpools of wars, and political and personal turmoil.

Healing Regime, written by Tanja Šljivar, directed by Bojan Đorđev, Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin (Croatia)

A new drama by Tanja Šljivar is stylistically and thematically grounded in her previous work, with an interest in exploring new, post-dramatic forms of expression, amidst the ruins of the traditional theater. On a thematic level, Healing Regime satirically deals with stereotypes regarding the health, spiritual, and physical condition of contemporary individuals seeking alternative ways of psychophysical balance. It is a specific continuation of the text Love Regime, also directed by Bojan Đorđev, which was successfully staged five years ago at Atelje 212. Performed on the chamber stage of the Croatian National Theater in Varaždin, the play is set in the center of a circular theater, thus creating a concrete and symbolic form of ritual healing attempts. The exceptionally expressive, subversively ironic performances of the actors present fragments of people, or shadows of people, in a (post)apocalyptic, post-pandemic time. Explicit in its verbal expression that reveals the faces and facets of our psychophysical existence, the performance also addresses a contemporary individual’s attempts to cope with the tragic superficiality and senselessness in public space. Fears of illness, loneliness, and the disappearance of human closeness in the circumstances of techno-capitalism are resolved using subtle comedy that becomes a delicate tool for battling private and public demons.

Once Upon a Time in Novi Sad, written and directed by Andraš Urban, Újvidéki Színház Theater (Serbia)

Once Upon a Time in Novi Sad is a music drama created for the celebration of the fiftieth birthday of the Újvidéki Színház Theater, and it is a spectacular homage to this theatre written and directed by Andraš Urban, in his recognizable, self-ironic style that persistently questions the meaning, significance, and conventions of the performing arts. Following in the footsteps of Urban’s dazzling, seductive, and uproariously comedic play Wanton Lady’s Knights, the plot is once again set as a play within a play, during the birthday celebration, featuring a suitable show program. This is the starting point for a profound examination of the relationship between the theatre and its audience, the relationship between the engaged and entertaining theatre, as well as the positions of actors and directors (and their mutual animosities), and the relations towards politics and power structures. Broader societal issues also emerge, such as the status of the Hungarian minority in Novi Sad, as well as the emerging Russian minority, and the increasing threat to humanity due to the deepening social influence of artificial intelligence. The attractive, energetically explosive music drama is never unambiguous; it always carries a critical undertone, a dark shadow that gives the essential meaning to the ironic glitter. Thus, this theatre becomes a reflection or metaphor of life (which theatre almost always is), a quest for light that likely would not make sense without the winding wandering in darkness.

Mileva, an Orphan from Bosnia in Our Civilization in 1878, written by Albina Podgradska, directed by Anđelka Nikolić, National Theater in Subotica, Youth Theatre in Subotica and Rural Cultural Center Markovac (Serbia)

Based on a never-performed dramatic text by Albina Podgradska, often cited as the first play in our theater history written by a woman, the director Anđelka Nikolić has created a truly extraordinary production, very complex and specific in its genre. It is a hybrid form that blends the play of amateur and professional actors, creating an unusual work that has the elements of the dramatic theater, set in the Brechtian manner of alienation, intertwined with the elements of the community theater and the forum theater, where the boundaries between performers and audience are specifically and symbolically blurred. The performance involves around forty performers, bringing forth a strong energy of collective presence, reflecting the vibrant power of a multi-ethnic community, accentuated by the choice of using different languages – Hungarian, Slovak, Romani, and Serbian. The plot unfolds in fragments, in an open form that significantly relies on the participation of the audience who vote and comment on the events and follows the story of Mileva’s forced displacement with her mother from Bosnia. Fleeing from the war and painful memories of the loss of her father and sister who were murdered by the Turks, they arrive in Serbia where they desperately struggle to survive in new tragic, (post)apocalyptic circumstances. The multifaceted plot raises questions about the consequences of trampling on dignity in wartime and the class differences that affect changes in interpersonal relationships, delicately criticizing the arrogance of the economic elite, as well as the devastating social rule of money. However, even in this darkness of torn humanity, the signs of hope emerge through solidarity, and the need to help those who have (temporarily) fallen to the bottom, in the mire of existence.

A Boat for Dolls, written by Milena Marković, directed by Kokan Mladenović, National Theatre in Bitola (North Macedonia)

A Boat for Dolls, perhaps the best dramatic text by Milena Marković, already performed at the Sterijino Pozorje in two scenically different interpretations, directed by Ana Tomović (Serbian National Theatre) and Aleksandar Popovski (Slovenian National Theatre in Ljubljana), is now presented in a different, entirely fresh interpretation by Kokan Mladenović. His direction is noticeably gentler and subtler when compared to the more direct and aggressive style of his other performances. This interpretation is visually delicate, and thoughtfully ambiguous, with imaginative scenography that astonishingly follows the changes in characters and actions, incorporating symbolically effective elements of the shadow theater and dreamlike choreography, which appropriately represent the fairy-tale essence of the drama. The ensemble of the Bitola theater confidently carries the stylized action, both in dramatic and musical parts, in captivating songs, collectively shaping the tragic position of women in an apocalyptic patriarchy in an aesthetically rounded manner. Skillfully using the legacy of fairy tales, including Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel, the authors of the play challenge and demythologize them, subtly exposing the false cheerfulness of illusions and the misery of petit bourgeois violence.

Fathers and Forefathers, based on the novel by Slobodan Selenić, dramatized by Kata Gyarmati, directed by Veljko Mićunović, National Theater in Belgrade (Serbia)

A new stage interpretation of Selenić’s layered, epic-historical, psychological, and familial novel Fathers and Forefathers is an unconventional, exploratory, stylistically, and formally provocative and contemporary work. Departing from the virtuosic portrayal of fierce generational conflicts within the bourgeois Medaković family in the first half of the twentieth century, from the perspective of Stevan Medaković, interweaving his memories and reflections, the authors construct a representation of a post-dramatic structure, blending narrative and dramatic elements, mutually colliding and intersecting, as on a battlefield. Narrators perform individually and collectively, while individual voices are selectively extracted from the specific chorus only to merge back into the collective. Thus, an enchanting score is composed, scenically powerful, as if it were an expressionist drama or an opera in which voices represent the pre- and post-war environment, in conflict with the rebellious individual. Individual characters delicately emerge from this subtly crafted, multi-layered stage construction that reveals the fractures of the protagonists, disgusted by the negative social selection, ubiquitous chaos, and nepotism, as well as the inevitable confrontation with the differing opinions of loved ones, and subsequently with their tragic fate in war.


(personal and political disagreements)


My Sad Monsters, written by Mate Matišić, directed by Vito Taufer, Gavella Drama Theatre, Zagreb (Croatia)

The latest piece by Mate Matišić, My Sad Monsters, thematically and stylistically builds upon his earlier work piece Men of Wax in terms of ironic play with autobiographical elements, in a Pirandello-esque intertwining of reality and fiction. This shaky, elusive ground of reflecting reality, often riotously comedic, ruthlessly shatters stereotypes and prejudices, both personal and socio-political. With sharper or gentler dark humor tones, depending on the nature of the issues being examined, the author opens up topics of the relationship between the theater and society, normality and madness, the meaning and consequences of popularity, as well as buried war traumas and crimes. Like Men of Wax, both the text and the play directed by Vito Taufer are genre-diverse, with fragmentary structures. The action takes place in different locations, from Zagreb and Dalmatia to Belgrade, and features the elements of satire and black comedy, tense thriller, but also the tragedy of ancient proportions. Exceptionally skilled actors play multiple roles, oscillating between stylization and tangible, touching psychological truth, constructing a scenically challenging and worthy reflection of our world and its blurred boundaries between madness and normality, good and evil, comedy and tragedy.

Red Water, based on the novel by Jurica Pavičić, dramatized by Ivor Martinić, directed by Ivica Buljan, Croatian National Theatre in Split (Croatia)

Based on the award-winning novel by Jurica Pavičić, in the precise dramatization by Ivor Martinić, the play Red Water also takes on an exciting thriller form, unfolding the story of the disappearance of a seventeen-year-old girl in a small Dalmatian town at the end of the 1980s. The search for her spans twenty-seven years that pass through turbulent political and social upheavals and changes that will sideline police pressures to uncover the mystery. The thrilling resolution of the case follows a skillfully crafted, psychologically truthful family drama, delicately revealing changes in everyone’s relationships and the consequences of external and internal conflicts. Personal upheavals are interwoven with socio-political insights and sobering thoughts about the misconceptions of transition. The director Ivica Buljan sets this multifaceted dramatic material on an exceptionally functional rotating stage, anchored by the recognizable set design by Aleksandar Denić, which effectively signifies the hopeless passage of time. The collapses of personal and political illusions, the unveiling of truths behind the masks that conceal jealousy, vanity, pettiness, and corruption, unfold in a symbolic, hypnotic circle that subtly draws the viewer into the whirlpools of repeating histories.

Violet, authorial project by Selma Spahić, Chamber Theater 55, Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

At the center of attention of this valuable, genre-layered, tragicomic performance is a family gathering for the birthday of the elderly Mother. The first part is set in a naturalistic style, with three children accompanied by the fiancé of one pregnant daughter, arriving with gifts, talking about preparing food simmering on the stove, and spreading the aroma of roux. Psychologically expressive actors delicately construct authentic, vivid characters and a recognizable everyday life of a Balkan family, marked by dizzying shifts between intense, argumentative debates and comic relief. Gradually, the excessively protective attitude of the children towards their mother is revealed, bordering on tyranny. At the end of the first part of the performance, they temporarily depart, taking naturalism off the stage, and yielding space to a phantasmagorical, expressionistic play, fertile ground for symbolic interpretation. The character of the Mother represents the typical victim, a Balkan mother who loses her personal life and identity due to patriarchal customs. These customs open up an endless inner void, stripping the woman of her individualism and leaving her with merits that are neither appreciated nor acknowledged. This painful depiction of the loss of freedom, within the fundamental cell of the society – the family – discreetly hints at the roots of social repression, and fascism on a macro scale, which (always) originates from the field of personal traumas.

Ana Tasić, PhD
Theatre critic and researcher