- Eighteenth International Days of Youth Theatre Festival
Mostar is experiencing a problematic renaissance, led in many ways by its theatres. The Bosnian war fought first against hostile Bosnian Serbs and later between Bosnian Croats and Muslims within the city laid waste to physical structures, cultural life, and long-term friendships. Since the 1995 Dayton peace accords, both sides of the now divided city have been busy reconstructing municipal buildings, concert halls, and theatres, and regenerating artistic events—just as borders between the two sides solidify. This paradoxical state of affairs was rendered visible in the structure, semiotics, and content of the recently revived International Youth Theatre Festival, held exclusively on Mostar’s Muslim east side.
Last year the festival recommenced after a five-year break caused by the war. Begun in 1975 as a pan-Yugoslavian event, with participants from all over the formerly unified country, the festival grew to international status in the 1980s, just as Yugoslavia began to break apart. The 1996 festival included several companies from east Mostar, one group mixing participants from the east and west, and a few performances from outside of the city. This year’s expanded festival brought together amateur youth and young professional theatre companies from Italy, Switzerland, England, Croatia, the United States, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. While reaching out to mixed cities such as Sarajevo and the Croatian capital of Zagreb, festival organizers failed in their efforts to convince a group from the Serb Republic of Bosnia to attend, and did not invite any theatre groups from Mostar’s Croatian-dominated west side. The decision to hold all performances on the Muslim east side of the city also kept many potential west side audience members from attending. Publicity for the festival and individual performances remained rooted in the east. One Muslim participant living in west Mostar refused to hang posters in her own neighborhood, citing fears that no one there would venture across the Neretva river to view her performance.
Despite organizational decisions, and fears within the city that kept the festival mainly one-sided, productions emphasized collaboration and reconciliation, repeatedly invoking bridge-building as a festival theme. Mostar’s centuries-old Stari Most (Old Bridge) had been destroyed during the war between factions within the city. Productions presented by the Los Angeles group Shadow Klan and Mostar’s Crane Made Theatre both referenced this image and the possibility of its rebuilding. Other groups worked collaboratively across municipal and national borders to present premieres developed through workshops in Mostar. The festival winner, Usamljena Gomila (The Lonely Crowd) included youth participants from Sarajevo and Mostar working with artists from Poland, Croatia, Italy, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ne Ide Pa Ne Ide, an adaptation of Waiting for Godot, featured performers from two youth groups in Mostar working with Italian artists. Crane Made Theatre’s Letters or Where Does the Postman Go When All The Street Names Change? included participants from east and west Mostar. Shadow Klan collaborated with Crane Made’s violinist in their premiere of Nothing.
The Beckett adaptation Ne Ide Pa Ne Ide (I Can’t Go, I Won’t Go) proved the most ambitious and controversial project at the festival. Developed by Italian artist Stephano Gabrini over a period of several months, the title references both a quote from Beckett’s novel Unnamable and the final lines from Godot, evoking the intertexuality of Gabrini’s adaptation. Gabrini had initially referred to the piece as “Juggling Godot,” suggesting the project’s collage structure as well as cycles of gaming in Godot. However, the fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds involved in the project experienced difficulties learning the rudiments of juggling and its rhythms. The revised production, while visually and musically inventive, suffered from similar rhythmic problems.
In a roundtable discussion following the production, Gabrini explained that he had been exploring dimensions of space and time through a play “frozen in a long pause.” Gabrini created a medium he termed a “circus of imagination,” invoking the semantic root of the word (“circle”) and the idea of a collage of clowns and competing acts. His revisioning of...