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51st Week of Slovenian Drama

Friday, 5 March 2021

The Competition and the Accompanying Programmes for the Week of Slovenian Drama have been revealed. This year’s Festival has been moved to November

The Competition and the Accompanying Programmes for the Week of Slovenian Drama have been revealed. This year’s Festival has been moved to November

The preparations are underway at the Prešeren Theatre Kranj for the 51st Week of Slovenian Drama, which – because of the uncertain situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – will take place in the first half of November.

The Week of Slovenian Drama is the central festival of productions based on Slovenian drama texts. The Prešeren Theatre Kranj (with the support of the Ministry of Culture and the Municipality of Kranj) has been organising it for over half a century. Last year’s anniversary Festival was only partially realised due to the coronavirus epidemic in Slovenia, with the Competition and Accompanying Programmes cancelled for the first time in the Festival’s history.

This year’s 51st Festival was scheduled to begin on 27 March. The current situation prevented its realisation, so the organisers decided to present the Competition and Accompanying Programmes in the first half of November. Despite the epidemic and the stunted theatre production, selector Rok Andres saw thirty-eight productions based on Slovenian drama scripts and selected the following into the Competition and Accompanying Programmes (the order listed is not hierarchical):

Competition Programme

  • Seven Questions About Happiness (Ljubljana Puppet Theatre and Mladinsko Theatre), directed by Tomi Janežič
  • Rok Vilčnik – rokgre: The Post Office (Drama SNT Maribor), directed by Juš A. Zidar
  • The Game (Maska Ljubljana and Mladinsko Theatre), directed by Žiga Divjak
  • Matjaž Zupančič: The New Race (SNT Drama Ljubljana), directed by Matjaž Zupančič
  • Father Romuald/Lovrenc Marušič: The Škofja Loka Passion Play (Prešeren Theatre and Ptuj City Theatre), directed by Jernej Lorenci
  • Nejc Gazvoda: Jazz (Ljubljana City Theatre), directed by Nejc Gazvoda

Accompanying Programme

  • Jernej Potočan: Laments (Ljubljana City Theatre), directed by Jan Krmelj
  • Not Dead Enough/Western (Glej), a devised theatre project
  • Patrizia Jurinčič Finžgar: Bidovec–Tomažič: Comradeship (Slovene Permanent Theatre in Trieste), directed by Patrizia Jurinčič Finžgar
  • Mythical (EX-teater), directed by Hristina Vasić Tomše
  • Matjaž Zupančič: Vladimir [Владимир] (Stoyan Bachvarov Drama Theatre, Varna, Bulgaria), directed by Nikolaj Kenarov

In addition to the selected plays, Andres recommended a Special Accompanying Programme which would include some of the projects that were created last year online

  • Monologues from the Couch (Prešeren Theatre Kranj), directed by Maša Pelko and Luka Marcen
  1. Rok Vilčnik – rokgre: Make It Move Me
  2. Varja Hrvatin: What Do You Call That Vertical Line That Flashes in Word?
  3. Simona Hamer: The Cage
  4. Tjaša Mislej: Roots and Wings
  5. Peter Rezman: After the Night Shift
  6. Kim Komljanec: Somebody Has to Take Charge
  7. Simona Semenič: chill
  8. Nejc Gazvoda: Martens
  • Sandi Jesenik: Queens (VLU Association), directed by Jana Menger
  • Reading performances, Vzkrik! (Outcry!) 2020 Festival:
  1. Nika Korenjak: How a Woman Becomes a Murderer, directed by Aljoša Živadinov
  2. Brina Klampfer and Kaja Blazinšek: Paloma, directed by Brina Klampfer
  3. Gašpar Marinič: I’ll Clip Your Wings, directed by Žiga Hren
  4. Suzana Tratnik: There’s No Homophobia Around Here, directed by Živa Bizovičar
  5. Varja Hrvatin: I’d Rather the Earth Swallowed Me Up, directed by Eva Kokalj
  6. Peter Rezman Reza: Suspended by Decree, directed by Nina Ramšak Marković
  7. Jernej Potočan: Watching the Years Go by as We Run in Place, directed by Luka Marcen
  8. Tjaša Mislej: The Special Dinner, directed by Mojca Madon

As the prolonged closure of theatres is bound to result in much pressure on theatres to realise their programmes as well as honour the obligations to their season ticket holders in the autumn, the organisers have decided to carry out a part of the additional programme in spring – particularly the part that could be organised following the recommendations of the health authorities regarding preventing the spread of infection. The jury for the Slavko Grum and the Young Playwright Awards, as well as the Grün – Filipič Award for dramaturgy (this year consisting of Matej Bogataj, Amelia Kraigher and Srečko Fišer as president), has thus already finished its work. They read thirty-six Grum Award entries and eleven entries for the Young Playwright Award. The nominees were published on the day the Festival would have typically opened – World Theatre Day, 27 March 2021. The winners – Maja Šorli for A Taste You Haven’t Tried Before, Nina Kucler Striković for Tomorrow Seemed Different in My Dreams, and Milan Ramšak Marković – were announced on 6 April 2021, the day the Festival was due to close.

The spring – usual – term of the Festival also saw a collaboration between the Prešeren Theatre and the Slovenian Theatre Institute to organise interviews with the nominees, as well as the annual playwriting workshop, which Kim Komljanec mentored this year. Together with the Playwrights’ Unit of the Slovenian Association of Dramatic Artists, we started a project to develop short plays intended to be performed on the conference platform Zoom.

The Explanation from Selector Rok Andres:

Reaching Beyond the Usual Frame

The year 2020 has radically changed our stability and our habitual ways. It was very far from ordinary, and its ruthlessness will go down in history together with the years remembered for fundamental shifts and shakes. The coronavirus year interfered, like in many other areas, with the image of the Slovenian performing scripts and (consequently) with the image of the performing arts. The state of emergency created harsh conditions of work and changes in the programmes and re-evaluated the work of groups, institutions and the sensitive creator. In this text, I can summarise my partial observations of the situation in Slovenian drama.

The different producers entered thirty productions for the 51st Week of Slovenian Drama. I saw thirty-eight, a significant deviation from the average of previous years (2016 – forty-nine, 2017 – sixty-two, 2018 – fifty-seven, 2019 – forty-eight). I could say that it’s possible to think about the consequences that were enforced by the public health situation and the measures connected to it. They are the most obvious in the smaller share of productions in the independent sector, which in the previous years covered the development of younger authors and non-drama scripts, reconstructions, documentary form and non-conventional staging principles.

I was pleased to witness the quick response in the Slovenian performing arts and original drama writing to the changed circumstances and their unpredictable nature. I was able to see a large proportion of the stagings live and only eight recorded, two of which were streamed live. This raises many questions for me because, in these new production conditions, the recordings and live streams increasingly use the film language of framing and editing. The hybridisation brings a strict focus of the view and a reduction in direct contact, thus breaking away from the collective audience into the individualised experience of theatre in one’s own living room. The challenges that we observe as an inherent part of the performing arts are a part of the current situation; their effect on the spectator’s reception, the development of drama writing and directorial poetics will have to be reflected in more detail.

The productions of institutional and non-institutional theatres showed genre diversity in the drama scripts. Unlike in previous years, fewer were based on the classic Slovenian texts. Creative teams used new texts more often, a number of them are written during the creative process, and there is a strong representation of the young generation of authors. The general trends that the selectors have noticed over the past several years persevere: socially engaged theatre, a high ratio of baptismal productions, actors’ self-reflections, auteur approaches to the text, and understanding drama texts as a script the creative team uses as a base text or uses it to improvise. An overview of the texts submitted for the Grum Award in recent years and the programme for the 51st Week of Slovenian Drama confirms that texts are increasingly being created during the production process.

The productions are characterised by a strong personal, even intimate stance, regardless of the institution in which they were created. The non-drama scripts are more engaged in principle, but even pure drama ones don’t lag in their aspirations, evident in the perfection of the productions. Most productions are still created based on drama scripts, and the shift towards the authors of younger generations is clearly visible. Despite that, a good number of productions were left outside the selection – I could describe them as concepts with interesting, promising starting points – that in places had a very good script but were weaker in its productive power. The already mentioned decreased presence of independent productions will most likely decrease further in the near future, as this sector has already been undernourished; the current situation (unfortunately) doesn’t promise any improvement. The consequence of the measures is also a smaller number of larger productions, as some projects were postponed. This is also the reason why there are more chamber pieces in the programme.

The productions from the previous year were visibly prompt in their response to the current political, social and health issues. The diversity of their creative approaches has one common trait: the clear stance that doesn’t hide behind phrases or quasi-bourgeois morals. Confronted with a diversity of topics, we can read in them the thoughts about socio-political problems which, through a historical perspective, set up analogies with the present (The New Race) or painfully determine our modern ethics or its selective application (The Game). In the forefront, we see existential questions, analysed with a great measure of sensitivity and humanity and a potent theatrical charge (Seven Questions of Happiness, The Post Office, The Škofja Loka Passion Play) and parables about the cyclicality of the world and relationships (Jazz).

Last year’s focus was also the diversity of genres represented in all their variants, with artists also questioning or re-establishing them. Such cases are (in addition to those already listed and some others that were not included in the selection), the strongly collective creation Not Dead Enough/Western, primarily defined by its genre, and the production Bidovec–Tomažič: Comradeship, which searches for the point of confluence between commemoration and performance. The traditional presence of documentary elements in drama writing and performative practice (Mythical) and in the whole of the selection is best represented in The Game. The contact with the tradition of the poetic drama can be felt in several adaptations, but it is most pronounced in the youngest generation (Laments). Slovenian drama is going through a period in which the ideological and aesthetic range of its producers includes the top mature directors and exceptional young directors, as is clear from the selection for the competition programme.

I dedicated a special part of the Accompanying Programme to the texts originally conceived as plays, but due to coronavirus measures, their realisations occurred in a different medium. To be performed (produced), they were directed with the thought of streaming, edited and synchronised, and given special effects. The new (young!) Slovenian drama presents itself quite successfully in the time of web-based events in the contemporary – and only partly –theatre language. Essentially, in the spirit of a line from Rudi Šeligo’s The Higher You Jump, the Faster You’re Smoke: "Live like you can if you can’t live like you want to."

All the selected productions are rich in contents and aesthetics, communicative and – like the title – reach beyond the usual frame. Regardless of the times in which the world has found itself and with it, the Slovenian creative community, the creators’ desire made the potential possible. Despite the uncertain future, I believe that Slovenian drama and performing arts will successfully fight against the woes of everyday life, call attention to social injustices, present the acts and the ends and grow from each other.    

Rok Andres, PhD.