It has been three and a half months since we last met and spent time together. It is hard to sum up the feelings and simply say: it was awful. That would not be entirely true. Many things were instructively positive. Time stopped for a moment, the Earth got its breath back, people stayed at home, reading, listening to music, possibly we were more genuinely with each other than before. I do know though that on 1 June, when we were reunited in the Drama at the first post-corona rehearsal, we looked at each other with tears in our eyes realizing how much we had missed each other. The yearning for socializing is a nice feeling.
We were right in the middle of a successful season when the lockdown was imposed, and everything came to a halt. Rehearsals for two productions (Scorched by Mouawad and A New Race by Zupančič) had to be curtailed and their opening nights rescheduled for the upcoming season. Furthermore, we had to cancel the 7th Drama Festival. The programme included, among other terrific productions, Neverland, staged by one of the leading European theatres, Thalia Theater from Hamburg, starring also a member of our resident ensemble, Marko Mandić. One of the festival highlights would have been the presentation of the Šugman Award for the best production by popular vote of the 2019 festival edition, namely The Power of Darkness, produced by the National Theatre in Belgrade. It was directed by Igor Vuk Torbica, who is sadly no longer with us. His untimely death is a tragedy for contemporary theatre and all its friends. Our tours at international festivals in Kielce and Torun, Poland, Rijeka in Croatia, and the Mittelfest in Cividale, Italy have been cancelled. The saddest though was to see our empty venues. No longer welcoming people to meet, they echoed hollowly in dimmed lights.
3. What were we doing?
Like everyone else during the lockdown, we anxiously followed the events, new laws, rules and regulations, guidelines, bans, recommendations. We wore face masks, disinfected diligently, and made plans for the future. At first, it was relatively inspiring to see the squared faces of co-workers on a computer screen, but soon the novelty wore off and became tedious. We were making changes of our programme, in line with the current news, on a daily basis. It is hardly an exaggeration to say we made dozens of changes. As soon as the restrictions were slightly eased, allowing us to open the staff door, we whitewashed the corridors, cleaned and disinfected the premises. Eventually, the rehearsals for the upcoming season were allowed to resume. During the summer, we will continue our efforts, so the Drama will welcome its first visitors in September thoroughly clean, well-aired and disinfected.
Most importantly, we kept in touch with you by free online streaming of many events on our website. Every week we added two previously recorded premieres of our recent productions to our YouTube channel. The actors made selfies reciting their favourite poems and posted them on Facebook. A fine library of sound clips was made and posted online for vulnerable groups and the elderly. It was very rewarding to see many clicks for our small online artworks. It reassured us in our efforts to stay in touch and made us aware that you missed us as much as we missed you, and that our longing to meet and reopen our premises is mutual. Daily counting of clicks and reading your letters strengthened our belief that the theatre cannot possibly be turned off overnight and that intense get-togethers will recommence soon.
4. How to carry on?
Every crisis is a challenge, so they say. (Admittedly, it is a terribly clichéd phrase since crises of any description have become a new reality of our day and age.)
Our first consideration is of technical nature. The coronavirus brought along many restrictions. It is hard to predict what will happen in the autumn and what awaits us in the upcoming season. Naturally, we have put together safety protocols and changed our seating arrangements, we will disinfect and air the premises. Be as it may, I believe we have a lot to say to each other and experience together.
The second consideration deals with contents. As we discussed a year ago what would be our focus for the upcoming season and the focal point of our enquiries, I noted as follows: »Rampant global neoliberalism is causing inequality on an unprecedented scale, massive migrations of war and economic refugees, closing of national borders by walls and razor wires, as well as the mobilization of self-proclaimed guardians of ‘homesteads’, intolerance, racism, prejudice, unemployment… In all fairness, however, this is also a time of scientific progress, advancement of medicine and biotechnical sciences, cutting edge technologies, artificial intelligence, new space programmes … As a matter of fact, living conditions for everyone could be better than ever. So, where did it all go wrong? … Alongside these wonderful new things, there is also robotics on the rise, which will make many people redundant and unneeded; new computer algorithms are created to categorize us according to our internet clicks; brutal and ruthless territorial battles for natural resources are increasingly being fought. In many parts of the world, the average lifespan has increased due to medical advances, while elsewhere it is low as medical care is not available to all; in many parts of the world the birth rate is high, and very low elsewhere; here, food surpluses make us throw away food, while there is severe and constant famine elsewhere; fresh water resources are available in many places, while there are severe shortages elsewhere, and the same goes for oil … The time is out of joint, as Hamlet put it. Who is to set it right?«
When corona virus hit us, the logical question was whether any of these considerations would be revoked. Unfortunately, it was a rhetorical question, as we know now that this will not happen. A crisis will arise again, we hear it every day. Even more people will be made unemployed, the gap between the tiny percentage of owners of all wealth and the multitude of those who can barely make ends meet will get even wider. The virus has closed many national borders. Clandestinely, as a side effect of »security« measures, the world order is being changed globally, while the capital is persistently trying to shake off its heavy load burden left over from the previous crisis… We are translators of the present moment into stage images, and the current world is unfortunately our only translation material and will, whether one likes it or not, become the backdrop and the main theme of our stage painting.
Empathy. According to a dictionary, empathy is »the ability to understand and share the feelings of another«. This is probably one of the most important human abilities that will be urgently needed in the post-corona period, one of the qualities that is chronically lacking in this savage millennium and will need to be dug up from shared memory. Do we still know the word at all? What about solidarity? What about compassion?
One of the first productions of the upcoming season will be Duncan Macmillan’s monodrama Every Brilliant Thing. The protagonist compiles a list of small things that make life worth living. He reaches the number one million, so the writing itself was worth his while. We, too, want to look at the world from the point of view of a half-full glass, to seek what is precious in small things and events, making us eager to see the next, perhaps even better things.
The plays, carefully selected for the upcoming season, explore the individual in a time of uncertainty, a time of change and expectations, floating in the weightlessness of the unknown.
Perhaps »floatation« is the key term of the season.
Missing you very much,