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S C E N A : T h e a t r e ..A r t s ..R e v i e w
Novi Sad, 2005 . ..No. 19 . .January-December . .YU ISSN 0351-3963 .

A n a...V u j a n o v i c
 
STAGELESS DRAMA
Rough conceptualizations of new authors' drama production in Serbia

 

During last couple of years we have been the witnesses of appearance of a whole new generation of involved drama writers with an already significant drama production and several theatrical realizations, published works and public readings. This fact alone is important enough to begin and stimulize its synchronous conceptualization within the theatre, and its contextualization within the Serbian social milieu. The fact that those second-level discourses haven't yet been established makes it even more more important and stimulative, especially if we know that local "world of theatre" still hasn't prepared the organizational infrastructure or discoursive platform on which that drama discourse should be founded. Not only that we lack those new second-level discourses, but new drama also require new critique - we need to brake free from the critique that observes and evaluates production, and create a new type of critics - participators, interpreteurs and organizers, who create the play together with the actors. This is why it seems that this new drama corpus has happened and is happening 'on its own'1.
The almost simultaneous and often connected appearance of a large number of new drama authors is something new for Serbian theatre... During its history, it has often been known for long periods of reproduction of dramatical heritage and appearances of single great writers. This phenomena can be followed through the entire 20th century, from Nu{ic's to Kovacevic's plays. The same applies to the recent history of drama, with Biljana Srbljanovic's plays dominating the 1990's, and with works of Milena Markovic after that. And then, with the beginning of 21st century, a dozen new drama authors are formed from only two or the generations students. The most renowned are plays by Maja Pelevic, Milena Bogavac, Milan Markovic, Dimitrije Vojnov, Iva Modli, Jelena Kajgo, Filip Vujosevic, Ugljesa Sajtinac, Fedor Sili, Marija Stojanovic, Marija Karaklajic and Ljubinka Stojanovic.
Their plays are numerous and diverse by many different criterias: the autopoetics, materiality of dramatic medium, narrative and textual structure, ground rules of paragenre, subject, phonetic characteristics of the language, syntax, usage of jargon, construction of characters with differently formed and expressed motivations.
Apart from these important differences, the conceptualization of mentioned plays should be focused on similarities in politization of art2. It lies in their micro-sociality as a tactic that is typical for post-utopianism, post-historical period of Serbian society, which in its transition from real-socialism to neo-liberal capitalism passes through the process of primitive accumulation of capital and restructuration of basic political and ideological paradigm. And while the former generation (Srbljanovic) represented late socialism, the new generation is transitional and in search for language of a new subject in developing capitalist society. It is already visible in choice of drama subjects and protagonists, as well as basic social relations. Everything that makes the characters of these plays individual is reduced to banal micro-stories; banal, because they exclude every trace of metaphysics, utopia, historical neccessity, or positive criticism... That is the difference between these plays and works of Biljana Srbljanovic even when topics are similar. The latter always create a 'big picture' which opposes some other big picture (before it was Milosevic's Serbia, and now the Global Empire), and by doing that give relevance to the 'big picture' in itself. In works of new authors, these stories can't be formed, nor they are neccessary. Their ideology has changed. That doesn't mean that those plays are torn out from their macro-social context. They are thoroughly affected by macro-political traces of SFRJ, civil wars, sanctions, 1993 inflation, Kosovo, NATO intervention, Milo{evic's regime, October the 5th, corrupted society, current political scandals, etc. But here, they are just traces, media traces - pictures from TV screens rather than great meta-reality. Still, those pictures are not taken lightly, because they are the ones that create the reality delivered by medias which is 'realer than real' in our modern society. New authors are creators of these new context in which the media reality is the only 'natural surrounding'. The social context, symptomatically formulated in these plays even when it's not expressed in their content, but only shown in their texture, is the society whose meta-naratives have collapsed beyond repair. In such society existence is possible only through series of micro-actions which lost their foothold and verification in society's meta-discourse. And in that question of symptom3 lies the reason for 'ignoring' of these plays by Serbian world of theatre: they show things which are shut out from official discourses - the fact that every second-level narrative of this society has become obsolete. It is gone, and from neo-marxist point of view, that is the truth of this society, even though not the truth about it. The truth about this society is different, because we still need the appearance of stability of meta-discourse, just for a little longer, until Serbia completes the transition and form a new civic society, we need to maintain the illusion that the narratives of Serbian nation, mythology, history, tradition, and ortodox religion... complement the squalor of everyday life. But, instead of great social plays about crucial changes, conflicts, revolutions and utopias, plays of new writers offer a series of irritating, anti-utopian, fragmented stories that forsake the attempts at positive criticism and subversion, that is, the logic of social dialectics that offers 'light at the end of the tunnel'.
Altough these plays often have a critical view of the society, the dialectical turn of events is never in sight. They show that Serbia is a transitional society which identity is created and disintegrated every day, precisely dictated by global political climate it has no influence on. And that is why, even though we had a period of four years to create this drama corpus, it is still not widely accepted and supported by local 'world of theatre' in the same way Srbljanovic's and Markovic's plays were. Such institutional status of these plays is an excellent evidence of their unpleasant nature and at the same time an explanation of why their theoretic background is still incomplete. In structural sense, artistic scene is a neccessary inter-production of artistic practise, second-level discourses and an institution with organizational infrastructure. And the articulated inter-production is what the local production of new writer's plays lacks. That is why I reffer to it as stageless drama. Structurated and created in a such manner, it (seems to) deny the logic of 'art world' included in analytical aesthetic4, and it redefines neo-materialistic researches of relations of semi-autonomous social practises, in which art is one of most privileged, according to Althusser, 'government ideological apparatuses'5.
On one hand, the recent plays of new writers seems to be gaining ground over their second-level discourses, and on the other hand it seems to be completely disfuctional from the view point of social propositions and status.
However, both of these assumptions, viewed separately, are not clashing with local theatre doxa. Its minimal consesus is actually quasi-moderately modernistic truism about art as a unique and unpredictable practise which appears from out of nowhere, and in the case of theatre is also completely ephemerous, which means it is personally experienced in one unrepeatable moment and then it is left to oblivion. And 'from out of nowhere' isn't intuitive. Said in Deridian manner, it is a material trace of a trace, because artistic intuition is a complex mechanism of interpellation, recognition and activation of acknowledged propositions of working context. In art, personal experience and oblivion are not something misterious, unpredictable or unconceivable. Those are arbitrary decisions of theatrical world in completely material system of institutions of society and art.
That is why not having a scene helps preserve status quo through which dominant theatrical paradigm is asimilating new drama; but, new drama is eluding this paradigm in a programatic way, with its micro-political tactics and defying verification through meta-discourse, which must be predicted and prevented to maintain imaginary wholeness of the society that is in reality falling apart. It is why we should take stock before the symptom in current Serbian social and cultural context, where there is a breach, a rough stitch, a symbolical block in production.
The modern Serbian society is thoroughly defined by process of post-socialist transition6. Last decade was the decade of collapse of communist regime and socialist society as a functioning system. In the period of Milo{evic's Serbia, that society was systematically destroyed by criminal regime which tried to stop the process of globalization and transition, intentionaly eluding the grasp of international law and conventions. By doing that, Serbia of the 90's opened itself to great social meta-narratives which functioned as parts of government's ideological apparatus.
Through parliamentary election and mass protests, Milosevic's regime was overthrown on October the 5th 2000, the democratic option came to power and the second phase of transition started. It was the beginning of a process in which Serbia became a part of global relations and was transformed into liberal-capitalist society, like all other post-socialist countries. But new Serbian democratic scene is not predominantly international; it is not pro-war anymore, but it is still pro-nationalist. Conservative forces are growing stronger, and newly born middle class becomes the obstacle for all unconventional social practises and in 2004 democratic right wing comes to power. But in this second phase of transition it becomes apparent that Serbian society not only isn't capable of creating, but it even doesn't deserve one single macro-discourse that can verify its micro-practises. Borders of Serbia are slowly, but steadily being reopened, simbolically and literally (traveling abroad for specialization courses, workshops, and conventions make exchange of information easier, facing the world scene becomes more important, foreign magazines and books more available, international theatres and artists occasionally visit our country, and we are also more connected to the world through cable TV and Internet). All those factors unavoidably influence drama production of new authors. But they also make the existence of totalitary Serbia, island-society on the edge of the world, virtually impossible. It must be now preserved on imaginary plane, because by admitting that loss we admit that, in a global map, Serbia has the position that was given to it, not the one it chose by itself...
And that is where this new drama production appears symptomatical: created by the society that is disturbed by it, because it shows what this society is trying to hide. So the stageless drama is is the one that is systematically prevented from being acted out, so it often remains just a written play. It is a drama that is born as a symptom of problems in world of theatre, rather than having its infrastructure behind it. Above all, stageless drama is drama that is not defineded by dominating discoursive platform of theatre, drama that is working on 'other scene' of society and theatre, scene of subconsciousness, where it constantly undermines the Law of the Scene.
In that sense, this essay is the theoretical discours initiated from that 'other scene' of local theatre, which is, by theorizing the drama production of new authors in Serbia, showing where and how the dominating smooth discourse of Serbian transitional theatre hides its painful stitches.
There's the stitch. And there's the scene.

Translated into English by N. J.

1 Video presentation of the project by Bitef Theatre and DMS, CRVENA - sex i posledice, Milena Bogavac, directed by Jelena Bogavac, 2003/4 Biennale of Scenographic Design, Museum of Applied Art, Belgrade, 2004
2 This is not a reference to daily politics, but to a specific use of artistic discourse as a mode of operation of art in public life.
3 Symptom as in Marx's and Lacan's materialistic-psychoanalitical definition, later developed by Zizek; see Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Verso, London - New York, 1989, and "How Did Marx Invent the Symptom?", Mapping Ideology, Verso, London, 1995
4 Logic in question is the one that states that in order to exist, a work of art needs a world of art (second-level discourse, knowledge, history, atmosphere, infrastructure); see Arthur Danto, "Artworld" in Philosophy Looks at the Arts: Contemporary Readings in Aestethics, Joseph Margolis, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1987, pg. 155-16
5 I'm aiming at social acceptance of of new drama production in Serbia, above all its disfunctionality from the aspect of dominant ideologies, political paradigm and transitional economy. Here I'm reffering to Althusser's theory of government ideological apparatuses, for further elaboration see "Umetnost, druzba/tekst", (Slavoj Zizek, Mladen Dolar, Rastko Mocnik, Danijel Levski and Jure Mikuz), Problemi - Razprave, Ljubljana, 1975, pg. 3-5
6 Here I will give just several key thesis for this macro-social frame of modern Serbian theatre, and for more thorough analysis see Ana Vujanovic, "Performance signifies Class Struggle; Contribution to "Discussion on Contemporary Serbian Theatre Scene", Monty Theater, Antwerpen, April 2004

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