In search of an injection against the powerless state of new drama

The artistic group Preglej, which has left Gledalisce Glej and found its autonomy in the framework of KD Integrali, is devoted to experimentation and trying out the new. After its initial energy ceased (its start goes back to 2006), Preglej is now trying out different formats of drama and of contemporary writing for theatre. This type of art is a vector outside the theatre mainstream – this point of departure is all the sharper in a time that establishes formations such as the Slovenian Book Agency. A consensual definition of culture is missing; it is about different systems of values and standards, which is why differences in the understanding and judging of culture are tied to the financial background and are hardly transitional. In spite of all the initiatives by Simona Semenic, dramaturge and twice laureate of the Grum prize, who with her collaborators propels the PreGlej laboratorium and the festival of drama writing Preglej na glas! (PreGlej out loud!), institutions keep classifying Preglej in the category of temporary amateur activities.

Time will tell whether Semenic’s original authorial energy has ceased as well. On the other hand, the influence of the Slovene Drama Week, which takes place in Kranj, seems weak and hardly sufficient for a continuous striving for shifts in the drama paradigm, due to its annual infrequency. The expert commission for selecting this year’s Grum laureate (it included the author of this reflection as well) chose its favorite from four nominated texts by three already well-known authors – while the other outstanding ones, including all from the circle of Preglej, were only mentioned in the final statistics. According to the younger authors who post on the site www.sigledal.org, this is supposed to be the crowning proof of the “non-contemporaneity” of the so-called expert criteria and of the incapability of recognizing new writers who work outside of conventions and limitations. The choice of nominees, “at least with regard to the nominations of previous years that included also more innovative drama forms” and younger authors, was taken as “rather traditional” or “more conservative”; in a few days, the same site already emphasized the “dysfunction of the Grum prize”. They missed the fact that the jury of members with different theatre proveniences, among them three experienced practitioners, was choosing among anonymous candidates (which is undoubtedly an advantage of this competition). Of course, all the e-taking record of the situation concerning the Slovene drama writing, which tries to produce impact with a simplified and rather overheated attitude, also speaks of a specific young state of the authors, who simply gave vent to their feelings.

How come all this pledging for “contemporaneity” includes no hint of self-critical doubt? Because of using the backing by Blaz Lukan, the theoretical godfather of this current, who developed a “handy” programme Manifest for new drama from what was initially supposed to be an accompanying text to the drama Ljubljana – Gospa Sveta by Peter Rezman, a freelancer in more than one sense. Rezman’s text around which most of the battle fires were lighted (its authentic setting is the circle around Preglej) does not deal with “message”, it does not adapt itself to the postulates of a “real drama” or the preconditions for its staging. In his text, Lukan anticipates how “contemporary staging practices” would deal with Rezman’s text. If we understood it in a correct way, the performance would shift from the dramatic to leaving a visual impression which offers itself as it is, without analytical glimpses somewhere “below”, into the presupposed essence. Perhaps the essence is fixed to the surface, a sort of a reference to the “joy of writing” of the sort out of which the text was produced. Or perhaps the essence does not exist at all, only the wish to let go of the stage as a training ground for liberation from telling stories. The so-called “new drama” is supposed to be defined by an even higher commitment to the ephemeral state of the moment. A director seems to be the only missing link.

The ad hoc creative philosophy that is being introduced by Preglej as one of the new formats gathers everybody who wishes to get involved in creating theatre or has perhaps even attained a diploma from an university institution but has realized that existence (in spite of the luxury of engaging oneself in something that you like) is far from simple. The social climate allows it, but it does not provide permanent employment. Thus, the ad hoc events are legitimate even though less interesting for a broader audience, usually producing sporadic bursts of laughter but not much more than this. This stage genre tests the possibility of direct social interventions on a minor scale (“to achieve a better world through art”), and its attitude is at times exclusive in an avant-garde way (whoever is not with us is against us). Moreover, robust knowledge about the past does not seem necessary inside its realms. This is confirmed by Bogdan Georgescu, the mentor of the ad hoc event on segregation with regard to sexual orientation. Judging individual “exclusive talents” is a thankless job, so let us avoid the question of what portion of an artistic endeavor is due to talent and what to effort and ambition. Also, the exclusion of creation in a broad sense is the thematic frame of the performance Mnogo nas je (There are many of us), directed by Dalija Acin and produced by Bitef Theatre Belgrade, which was presented in March at the festival Preglej na glas! However, this reflection on crises (of identity, purpose, collectivity, integrity of theatre) by the involved artists who are not particularly young anymore (a drama writer, an art activist, two theatre directors and a dramaturge play their own selves) is in no way aggressive in its denial, more filled with a specific melancholia.

Apart from the tactics of Preglej which also involve the innovation of form and even encourages it, there are other approaches as well: Drama Circle led by Boris A. Novak and Vinko Möderndorfer at the Faculty of Arts does not want to reject the possibilities of traditional drama structure and of traditional dramaturgy. Which way is then more suitable, should one nevertheless start at the beginning? (After all, it is not possible to pour anything into a leaking barrel.) The result is supposed to produce the impression that the author knows what theatre is and how it functions (studies at AGRFT ensure a certain advantage). The reason for a lessened optimism of Preglej at breaking into the open should, however, be sought in the nature of newly produced texts by Preglej, more than in identifying the unreasonable who does not understand contemporaneity. What are we in fact trying to say? That experimental production of new writing does not reach only the heights of quality that would a priori ensure them to be listed among candidates for congratulations.

The lessened devotion of theatres in nurturing Slovene drama writers was confirmed at the recent round table of ITI as part of Slovene Drama Week, which attempted to detect the attitude towards young drama in countries of ex-Yugoslavia – there, representatives of the Ljubljana theatres were missing. The dramaturgy department of the central Drama SNG is the least open for collaboration with young writers, allegedly due to the sustaining of high professional standards, elsewhere the repertoires are also willing to stage Slovenian texts when they can be taken as a cube of granite and when a product can be sculpted from them. Concern for cultivation of young drama writing and for its staging is no more explicit at the Ministry of Culture, where it is not stimulated with subventions, and not even among directors. What miraculous injection would solve the situation that has once been continuously released by the stimulators of original drama writing whose names are today superfluous since they are “safely” forgotten?

The e-opponents already mentioned would very likely rename the category of nominations for the Grum prize into a section for experiments that would need more development. The Grum prize as a seismograph of experimental searching? Or perhaps the field of original drama texts needs an alternative prize as well – this step is, however, not without traps because the inclination towards delegating prize wreaths evokes doubts: inflation of literary prizes can seem impressive as well but the effect of devalued prizes is questionable.

In a situation where, according to Semenic, “only rare individuals are willing to take over the responsibility for staging an unknown author or recognize quality in drama novelties”, it is almost certain that Preglej itself would most easily produce a practitioner who would be willing to confront a “manifestative example” of Ljubljana – Gospa Sveta. This is thus a direct possibility to verify the stage strength of the “new drama”, where production has the chance to confirm the assumptions of its own interpretation. From here on, we can go on.

Published 31 March 2011
Original in Slovenian
First published by Dialogi 1-2/2011

Contributed by Dialogi © Primoz Jesenko / Dialogi / Eurozine

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