Theatre: The Joy of Play and the Defiance of Creation

Selection Explanation of the Artistic Director

As the Artistic Director of Vojdan Chernodrinski MTF in Prilep, I watched all the Macedonian institutional and non-institutional theater production performances from my election on September 22, 2022, until May 10, 2023. There are 52 shows produced throughout the country. I titled the main platform of the Festival Homecoming and conceptualized the festival presentation in four different programs: Official Selection, OFF-Activa, Independent Production Starring Macedonian Playwrights, and Video Program.

The overall image of the Macedonian theater institutions showed several crucial elements the theater faces in our country today. The image is not unified, nor does it show that there is a serious strategy that should be today’s theatrical identity. What is most devastating is that there is no interest in staging domestic plays. The challenge of selecting the program for this year’s edition of the Festival was enormous, because, in my opinion, the oldest and most significant Macedonian theater festival should mirror our current theater practice through a well-thought concept that will show us our standpoint and how much we have progressed, and that would give us food for thought and would seriously impose the need for us to create a better theater practice.

After watching all the theater performances, the concept that emerged as dominant can be titled THEATRE: THE JOY OF PLAY OR THE DEFIANCE OF CREATION. Each of the selected performances shows one of the many sides of the theater, or rather, the different ways of creating theater. What dominates my choice is the creativity of the acting, the authentic directorial aesthetics, and the interest in the dramatic production (and other productions) of the famous authors, the so-called classics. The good news is that some of those classics have been updated and contextualized, which I believe is necessary to demonstrate.

Acting is the essential basis of theatrical work. Due to this reason, I considered that, as the Artistic Director, it is most relevant to select the plays that will demonstrate the acting game in its elementary and contemporary expression. In today’s theater, which corresponds to all the possibilities of technique and technology, it seems we have forgotten that the actor on stage and the spectator in the audience are the crucial creators of the theatrical work of art. However, this selection does not highlight the actor, to the detriment of other artists and creators of the theater act. On the contrary, this selection depicts the image of the modern Macedonian theater, its advantages, as well as how the creative potential of all theater masters should be encouraged, and what should be done to be contemporary and attractive for watching, and, at the same time, it comments on the context the modern Macedonian theater is created in. The global image of today’s theater practice shows no clear repertoire policy or concept the theater institution develops. I believe that the core creators of the Macedonian theater practice should focus more on the domestic plays, on the current theater aesthetics, and, above all, that every director and theater manager should consider the troupe they create the theater piece with. The selected plays make it evident that there is a lack of staged plays based on plays written by a Macedonian playwright. Unfortunately, the current production offered few staged performances based on Macedonian dramas, but that is why, as the Artistic Director, I initiated the commission of plays by Macedonian playwrights, as well as the call for plays of independent productions starring
Macedonian authors.

Out of the 52 theater performances watched in the theaters in the Republic of Macedonia, the following are in the official selection:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stephens; directed by Zoja Buzalkovska; produced by Skopje Drama Theater; premiered on December 29, 2021

In 2003, Simon Stephens made a dramatization of the novel with the same title by Mark Haddon and, since then, the play has become a hit on theater stages across the UK and beyond. Although it is a play based on a franchise, the director Zoja Buzalkovska, along with the Drama Theater Skopje ensemble, creates a play that in many ways differs from the theater’s current repertoire. The defiance of creation in the play stems from the way both the director and the actors deal with the imposed rules while simultaneously opening up space for free creation. The actors play very inventively and, at the same time, show their enjoyment of the game. Their outlook on the stage is active and directly involved, not only in the direction of the basic interpretation of the dramatic material, but they create creations that establish the actor’s performance at its core. I believe this is a performance in which the acting ensemble shows what it is like to play in the direction of creating the game of the leading actor.

Hangmen by Martin McDonagh; directed by Javor Gardev; produced by
Macedonian National Theater in Skopje; repremiered on February 21, 2023

The play premiered in 2019 and the following year, due to the pandemic, the Festival was canceled, but the play was staged only a few times. This year, it was repremiered and three new actors were introduced. Hangmen by Martin McDonough and directed by Javor Gardev is but a weighty performance that should represent the repertoire of the Macedonian National Theater. The strict director’s angle, recognizable in the precise image built in correlation with the entire creative and technical team of Javor Gardev and the ensemble of the Macedonian National Theater, creates a play that is contemporary (however out of context) and which is but a theater in its modernist form. The actors play dedicatedly, precisely creating intimate scores in correlation with the play of each of the partners on stage and, at the same time, jointly creating a
symbiosis of acting mastery and an excellent director’s narrative. I believe that the play demonstrates the prototype of the performances of the core theater institution in our country, in which each actor contributes to the performance demonstrating the joy of acting and active creation.

Inferno by Dante Alighieri; directed by Dejan Projkovski; produced by Jordan Hadzi Konstantinov Dzinot Theatre in Veles; premiered on October 29, 2022

The possibilities of the stage technique and technology in correlation with one of the most famous literary epics, Dante’s Inferno, is the starting point of the play. The director’s fundamental asset is the stage setting and showing how to best use the potential of one of the most modern theater stages in our country. The dramatization of Sasho Dimoski through the perspective of the pictorial directing of Dejan Projkovski, center-positions Dante and Virgil in a symbiotic relationship with the most dominant element of the play – the music, performed live by Sashko Kostov. Illustrating the dramaturgy of the eternal circles, the musical prelude performed live is one of the main protagonists of the play. The creation is the result of the cinematic depiction of the visual and auditory. The performance, in its concept, is connected through the joy of
creation in which all dominant actors create visually powerful images. Following his unique directorial aesthetics, Projkovski creates a performance that, in its essence, is but a display of the possibilities of the Veles theater.

Mistero Buffo by Dario Fo; directed by Andrej Cvetanovski; produced by Vojdan Chernodrinski National Theatre in Prilep; premiered on November 16, 2022

Created only by the actor’s inherent need to play, guided by the medieval mysteries theatrically updated by the eminent Italian playwright, the Nobel laureate Dario Fo, the play demonstrates how important it is for the director to give the actors the freedom to play. It is both serious and comic, sacred and profane, and above all, a play that shows that the basis of every theatrical work is the actor and that the most sincere acting creation is that of the traveling actors. Cvetanovski’s directorial signature helps the actors, protects them as if from a shadow, and, at the same time, liberates them. The actors of the Prilep theater demonstrate how acting is done, how the actor
conquers the stage, and afterward, how they hand it over to the audience. This performance demonstrates the fundamental and ontological relationship between the viewer and the actor, between the one that creates and the one that recognizes the created. In my opinion, the play stands out from the theater plays because it is not pretentious and guided by the position that it needs to demonstrate or prove something to us.

My Name Is Medea by Euripides, dramatization by Milan Ramšak Marković, directed by Sebastijan Horvat, produced by Bitola National Theater, premiered on September 27, 2022

Director Sebastijan Horvat and the complete ensemble of the Bitola National Theater demonstrate how one of the dominant ancient paradigms is actualized – the subject of leaving, migration, and not finding one’s home as a constant on which human existence is based on. Thanks to the acting performance, especially to the fact that the actor is left to network in the dramaturgical actualizations of the contemporary migration, placing the characters on the bridge between the unknown languages and personal failures, the play shows how a good actor who can play is enough on the theater stage, and that, suddenly, the world is to get its contours thanks to acting. The painful and difficult subject, the original context of the displacement in direct correlation with the motive of today’s search for a better world for living outside the borders of one’s own country, does not deprive the actors of their play; on the contrary, they motivate actors who show what and how they are capable of in the modern defaced world. In my
opinion, the play demonstrates how acting in theater is done, how the empty space, as Brook would say, helps the actor to show all their abilities, and, at the same time, shows how a contemporary theater performance is created. Theater should teach us to imagine and to imagine ourselves, and this very play does that.

Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov; directed by Qëndrim Rijani; produced by Skopje Albanian Theater; premiered on October 27, 2022

Three Sisters is a play of the main actresses and a play in which the original director’s blueprint is determined in the contemporary actualization of the leading motif of today’s classic by Chekhov. Chekhov is one of the most staged authors both in the world and our country. And the Macedonian theater just cannot help but stage Chekhov. That is why it is more than a challenge or defiance, in today’s conditions, to stage one of his most famous plays. The director Rijani and the ensemble of the Albanian Theater demonstrate how this piece of work can be staged in a contemporary context and show the joy of acting and the fusion of the whole ensemble into one. Through the riddles set as coordinate points of the main plot of the drama and the fateful “In Moscow, in Moscow, in Moscow”, the actors create a play that grounds the joy of acting in the creation. Updated in a contemporary context, the dramatic text is transformed into a
serious performance that aims to offer the spectator both enjoyment in watching and commentary on what they watch. Moreover, the performance trans-positions the spectator too, not only the actors, thus, moving them out of the theater space, allowing them to see the world through the perspective of the original acting mastery.

The Misunderstood Civilization by Dobri Voynikov; directed by Sofija Ristovska; produced by Ohrid National Theater; premiered on April 10, 2023

The director Sofija Ristevska and the six actors of the Ohrid theater create a play that demonstrates how a drama from a genre that belongs to the past is staged in a contemporary context. The classical folk play of the Bulgarian author Dobri Voynikov, through Ristevska’s directing eye, becomes a grotesque, displaced, and engaging performance which, against the simple matrix of the melodramatic plot, displaces in determining both the social and the political context. Male actors play all the characters, both male and female, as was the practice in theater history (yet, in this case, it demonstrates how a well-prepared director can use the ensemble in a great sense) while not hiding their characteristics but creating an ironic image of a society (a family) blurring the boundaries between its own traditionality and European modernity. In my
opinion, the play precisely shows how important it is for the actors and the troupe to enjoy both the process and the performance and for that acting play to be reflected in the audience.

Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren; directed by Jakub Maksimov; produced by Skopje Theater for Children and Youth; premiered on December 23, 2022

No matter whether that target group is children as an audience, Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter is a complex performance in which the joy of acting and the actors’ power for creation in the human–doll symbiosis is more than obvious. The play demonstrates the creative power of the transformation of acting, taking into account both the relationship with the audience (the opportunity to understand the moral vertical from a very young age) and the relationship among the actors (the opportunity to enjoy the demonstration of the creation of the story between the puppet and the actor). This double transformation aims to show theatrical creativity in the puppet. A puppet can be made out of anything, and with the help of basic tools, a story can be told. The dominant dramatological line of the play does not rely only on the educational but rather on the creative and creates a distinctive sense of belonging in every person in the audience.

Women’s Dressing Room by Arnost Goldflam; directed by Natasha Poplavska; produced by Skopje Comedy Theatre; premiered on October 26, 2022

The distinctive Czech humor characteristic of Czech film production can be defined as the leading motif of the play Women’s Dressing Room by Arnost Goldflame staged by Natasha Poplavska at the Comedy Theater. Behind the curtain, similar to Alice in Wonderland, as on the other side of the mirror, this contemporary Czech playwright, director, screenwriter, and actor creates an authentic world located in the dressing room of four female actors before, during, and after the performance, or, rather, in the whole process that we as the audience do not witness. The acting
performance in the play is caused directly by the joy of the play, by their collaboration with the director, and by their creative power to confront us with the good and the not- so-good side of the world the audience cannot see. This performance, unlike the other of the most dynamic theater ensemble in our country, shows an image of a miniature theater, of a theater as a microcosm, and, at the same time, allows the spectator to enjoy and watch the particular transformation of the actor into a character and the character into an actor. In my eyes, this play stands out from the rich repertoire of the Comedy Theater precisely in the original collaboration between the director and the actors and her power to play the life of the theater as a play of life.

This year’s OFF-Activa is in two sections, the institutional, focused on some of the plays that stand out from the usual performances of the theaters and the graduation plays of the students entering the world of theater, and the second section related to the work of independent production, whose choice was made based on a public call, to promote the activity of the independent production that stages Macedonian playwrights.

OFF-Activa selected theatre performances:

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh; directed by Sibel Abdiu; produced by the Turkish National Theater in Skopje; repremiered on February 15, 2023

One of the most staged plays by Martin McDonagh, The Pillowman, brutal in its expression, openly inclined to naked violence, in the format of the plays of the so-called in-yer-face theater, in our country, was restaged in the Turkish National Theater and directed by Sibel Abdiu. The young actors of the theater ensemble demonstrate how to perform when the challenge is in the personal relationship to the text and the context they create the play in. Extremely powerful in its presentation, the performance corresponds to the concept of the off-program, the activa, i.e., the activity in OFF. Not only as out of but also as an echo of the current social and political situation.

Circus Pirandello based on plays by Luigi Pirandello, adapted and directed by Bojan Trifunovski; produced by Anton Panov National Theater in Strumica premiered on October 20, 2022

Pirandello is always an excellent choice for the process of creating a theatre performance that should demonstrate how today’s theater is performed and how it behaves in correlation with some of the coordinates of the theater practice of the past. The director Bojan Trifunovski bases his concept on developing the idea of the main narrative lines in Pirandello’s plays while creating a space for the intercrossing of the fictional and the factual. Although the ensemble of the Strumica theater enters the performance a bit clumsily at the beginning, their acting creates a performance that challenges standard practices and plays with Pirandello’s lucid stylistic expression, thus commenting on both their own and his relationship to the world.

FDA Performance

Independent Production Starring Macedonian Playwrights selected theatre performances:

Elegy in five breaths by the author and director Filip Petkovski, independent production in co-production with Jordan Hadzi Konstantinov Dzinot Theatre in Veles, premiered on June 13, 2022

Ethereal and lyrical, stylistically visually created in the minimalism of certain basic dance discourses, the performance demonstrates how to deal with the verse in combination with the physical. Filip Petkovski creates a performance that can be defined as dance theater, yet there is more to it. Based on the poetic verses of Radovan Pavlovski, Petre M. Andreevski, Mihail Rendzhov, Nikola Madzhirov, and Aco Shopov, with the exceptional dance aesthetics of the selected cast, the performance choreographically and directorially creates a network of subtle and emotional states that reveal the spectator the intimate side of the theater. This a rare opportunity for the audience to see and feel stylized aesthetics in a performative context.

Departures; collective authorship; directed by Dragana Gunin; independent production in cooperation with Peace Action; premiered on December 29, 2022

Four female actors, two languages, and the same pain is perhaps the simplest explanation of the performance. Located in an inter-space between the past and the present, crucified between the personal and the foreign, the performance communicates with the audience on several levels. The director sets a spectrum of emotions, inspired by the documentary research processes of Peace Action. Leaving or being uprooted from home during a war is one of the most traumatic experiences, yet, this performance is dramaturgically set in a kind of balance through testimonies that are immediate and vivid, funny and sad, cynical and serious, and have a powerful message.

Shame by the author and female actor Angela Stojanovska; creative collaborators Milosh B. Andonovski (director) and Eva Kamchevska (playwright); produced by Tiiit! Inc.; premiered on December 3, 2021

The performance was staged within the framework of REHEARSING FEMINIST FUTURES Performing Arts Platform, part of the ПРВО ПА ЖЕНСКО Festival. The female actor, using her personal stories related to rejecting shame, creates a kind of monodrama that provokes and, at the same time, makes you laugh and cry and, most of all, makes you enjoy the power of acting. Angela Stojanovska is a jewel of an actor, dominant in her expression, with a creative splendor rare in our country. It is of crucial importance for the performance to show the spectator how, from personal trauma, theater creates a unique piece of art.

The Skopje People based on the short stories of Olivera Kjorverziroska and collective authorship of the cast; directed by Milosh B. Andonovski; premiered on November 13, 2022

The creative team of the performance demonstrates how to play with prejudice related to the residents of the capital and the ones of the “province”. The short stories of Kjorverziroska serve as the initial motive, but the performance is much broader because it is more powerfully upgraded with the actors’ personal experiences. Sitting at the dining table at a saint’s day celebration, both the audience and their narratives take part in the performance, creating a bond of active participation that simultaneously makes one laugh, imagine, and seemingly innocently yet directly makes you enjoy both as spectators and as witnessed of scattered pieces of intimacy all around. The young cast demonstrates the joy of acting and the power of acting transformation.

The Actors; collective authorship; directed and produced Artopia; premiered on December 26, 2021

The performance is interactive in which each of the actors gives an account of their acting profession, at the same time, drawing the audience into their own acting fragments, fully committed to revealing all the aspects of the art of acting – both the glittering ones (like the sparkly dresses and the confetti at the end) and the cruel ones (like the poignant seemingly comical interventions on the subject of what a female actor should represent); both the visible ones (like all the prejudice about female actors as women) and the invisible ones (like all the marks/scars/stigmas left behind on their bodies covered by makeup). If you are not ready to look both the theater and the most difficult theater profession and art straight in the eye, then do not watch this play!

Под.готвено based on the poetic and prose works of Gjoko Zdraveski, the short stories of Elizabeta Bakovska, the poetry works of Blazhe Koneski, and the adaptation of a scene of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women; directed by Dejan Spasovikj; produced by RKC RAKATRAK; premiered on November 16, 2021

How is the story created? How are the details woven? How does the actor become a character? What can an actor do? The performance gives the answers to these and many other questions. Original in concept, placing a female character of three different ages (maybe even four) while cooking or preparing a meal served to the audience and, thus, making it but a part of the performance. The performance demonstrates the theater in its ethnological, even ontological version of the actor narrator who is a part of the dining table with tempting food and enriched by the story they tell, proving that the theater is a place where we are created both as individuals
and spectators.

Are you crazy?; author and director Jovan Ristovski; produced by ATO – Centre for Contemporary Art & Culture, Bitola; premiered on June 13, 2023

The performance is a part of the Festival as a presentation of the activities of ATO – Centre for Contemporary Art & Culture, Bitola. The director Jovan Ristovski and the ATO’s creative team explore theater in different contexts, making it accessible to those who cannot approach it in the usual way. The idea of this theater performance is to enable the hearing impaired to experience the sensational feeling of theater art for the first time in their life, presented in sign language; also, for the general public and the audience to become familiar with the world of silence, to gain basic knowledge about the foundation of the sign language and the everyday challenges of this vulnerable group. Aiming to show the other side of the theater, as well as, include all those unable to be part of it in the creation of theater art, the performance is a guest at the Festival as
our support and encouragement to discover creativity in all forms and situations.

Ana Stojanoska, Ph.D., Artistic Director and
President of the Assembly of Vojdan Chernodrinski MTF in Prilep

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