How can festivals be used to curate site-specific arts performances that are immersive and respond to the history and emotions that a space holds to tackle complex questions and socio-political issues of the world.
Subject: Grad Theatre City Budva
Anything and everything can change in a moment. The city municipality of Budva knows this very well and in partnership with the Theatre City Budva captures the moments and changes that this ancient city holds so close in its heart. The festival “Theatre City” is a series of events that are held in different spots all around the city of Budva and even outside the city in some instances. My work as a festival researcher is to establish the relationship the connection of people to spaces and how that might be explored to answer the pressing issue of migration and displacement.
I started my research in space awareness in Mid-July-2023 in Normandy, France because this forms a part of a broader study of festivals and creating site specific works. The blessing of finding an opportunity for further research of theatre in site with a well-respected institution such as TheatreCity Budva, back-to-back with the training workshop can never be fully expressed. I define site specific work as that created specifically for a particular location. That has led me to start will further investigation of different sites engaged by Theatre City Budva in the creation of this amazing festival.
I chose this festival because of its longevity and of what it represents in terms of generational impact of changes in spaces, in opinions, in voices, in longevity, in connection to the senses, diversity of location and objects, in stories told and untold through events in site, the role of time and the conflicts and convergence of all those themes. I divided my subjects to first focus, second focus and third. The first focus is the curated program of the festival, curated shows, and selected venues for the events. The events ranged from theatre to dance, literature, music and art exhibition. The second focus is the people involved in this festival. The third focus is the technical aspects of hosting this festival which I expected to get bit by bit as I went along with my journey.
The city of Budva has come a long way in rebuilding after the devastating earthquake that rocked this ancient city in 1979. A few walls remained standing as the rest of the stone walled city tumbled. It was the triumph of the human spirit and man’s insatiable quest to form a society that brought it back to life. Artists began meeting up in different locations within the city to create different works. A case in point is the meeting point of poets, where they would come together to recite new works to each other and use their art to motivate and inspire each other and mourn the losses of the dead and celebrate life of those that remained. As the city picked itself up, construction around their chosen location saw the rise of new buildings and the location remained with that name enshrined forever! The Poet’s square. In today’s Budva, where Theatre City operates, the Poet’s square with its preserved old blocks that remained after the quake was the location of choice for its entire literary program.
To begin, I had a few points to explain about the sites chosen and the significance of each selection. At the start, my points were the following.
- Define how spaces selected.
- Identify the plan for traffic control for both human and machinery.
- Explain the transport to site arrangement for audiences.
- Discuss other human issues considered, such as ablution facilities.
- What informs each decision?
First Focus; Spaces. In today’s Budva, where Theatre City operates, the square of poets with its preserved old blocks that remained after the quake was the location of choice for all its literary program. The three churches, also rebuilt after the earthquake provided a perfect indoor venue for a music concert and an exhibition from local artists, some dating as far back in the 1930s. The scene between the 3 ancient churches is small, yet big enough to construct a makeshift outdoor theatre, complete with a raised gallery for the audience, a high-tech stage for performance and perfect sound and lighting to make for spectacular shows. Then there is other out of town venues, such as the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Stanjevići. The starting questions were the following.
- What are the spaces?
- How are they chosen?
- Who chooses the spaces?
- How are they prepared to host performances and audiences?
On the scene between the churches, I saw two performances. First, was the theatrical play, “Blood Wedding”,by director Igor VukTorbica, coproduction of Theatre City. This play made the whole idea of theatre in site to really sink in. The smell of the Adriatic sea filled the air because we were literally at the edge of the city where the sea starts and the crushing sea waves created an ambiance of romance with a delicate balance with danger. This all helped to tell the age-old story of a love triangle gone wrong. The leading role was by a very talented and seasoned actress Milica Grujicic who is well known and well-loved and formed part of this international cast. Another show on the scene between the churches was ainternational Croatian ensemble and the dance-theater piece “Runaways” by Croatian director and choreographer StašaZurovac. This brought a perfect balance with local and international performances which the audience loved very much. I was especially touched by their portrayal of the issue of migration and displacement which seemed to fall perfectly in place with the crushing sea waves, as most migrants use the sea to reach their destinations.
The Poet’s square hosted Author and university lecturer MihajloPantić who came to speak about his book and even read abstracts from it to a very well pleased audience. He is an honorary citizen of New Belgrade and for this life experience he brings a world view of politics and socio economics of the different places he has experienced in his life. Montenegrian author BalšaBrkovićalso featured on the Poet’s square with his latest book “Aurora”. Finally, Monastery of the Holy Trinity, where Belgrade dramatheatre was showing a play by Johan WolfgangGete“(Pra)faust”.
How spaces are prepared for shows; there was an audience stand/gallery installation on the square between the churches, complete with high quality lighting, sound and high-tech special effects which came handy during the show of the play “Blood wedding”. The same were used at the monastery, a short drive outside the city where the theatrical production “(Pra)faust” was played. There were also movable single chairs for audiences which made up the gallery and which are moved from place to place to cater for seating needs of the audiences. These movable chairs were used at the church, the square between the churches, the square of poets and the monastery.
Second Focus; The people.This where I took a deeper look at the people making the festival. These are the artists, audiences, and organizers. Regarding the people factor, I had the following questions to start.
- Who are the people making the festival?
- Who are the chosen artists?
- How are performances selected?
- How are artists cared for?
I was very fortunate to be working very closely with Ms. Anna Aleksandra Maslovar, who co-ordinated my work and movements during this wonderful time and ensured that I was feeling welcome and safe during this time. I also got to meet Ms.Svetlana, Iva, Pele, Dado, Luka and Mane. This is the team bringing the festival to life. What stands out is that they are each holding different offices, in which they are specialists, hence there is a clear separation of responsibilities and that makes it easy for them to devide work. There is also a very close relationship between members of staff, which became evident on my first evening out, after the concert at the church I got to sit for drinks with 2 staff members for drinks after work. Another concrete evidence of the good working relationship between members of staff came in the form of a testimonial given to me by Ms. Aleksandra who explained to me how she often runs to Ms. Svetlana for council when she gets stuck with work. She states that their relationship started as student and lecturer and today they work as colleagues who support each other at work.
It is very important to mention that there were interns whose purpose and presence were felt from the very beginning. They were strategically placed at the entrance of each venue to help with the sale and distribution of entry tickets. Most of them spoke English, which means they are well suited to welcome the diverse audience, which might include tourists from other countries into the festival venues. Interestingly, their work did not start and begin at the venues only. I went to the Plaza, where I found a kiosk by Theatre City Budva, being managed by one such intern. So, during daytime the interns were working in places where they were visible and sold tickets to the public and also in the evening time. This is like hitting two birds with one stone. It answers the question of accessibility to tickets for the audiences and also the branding and marketing of the festival.
SofijaJović and SimoŠišević were the pianists playing at the church venue, on my first event, which was a concert at the church. This was part of the music program of the festival. The literature festival comprised of several local and international authors. I had the pleasure of attending the evenings of an interview withauthor AlekdandarŠurbatović, which was moderated by Tamara Krstic on August 2 and that of author MihajloPantić, which was moderated by GojkoBožović on August 4th. The Croatian theatre “Runaways” was showing at the scene between the churches as well as the world famed local ensemble for the play “Blood Wedding” by director Igor VukTorbica. Another theatrical ensemble was for the play “(Pra)faust”that showed at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Stanjevići. Others were the featured artists for the exhibition which was on show at the church. The exhibition “Mentors and protégés of Herceg Novi Art School – by The National Museum of Montenegro fund” features the works of the most significant Montenegrin artists: Miodraga Dada Đurića, VojislavaVojaStanića, BrankaFilipovića Fila, UrošaToškovića, MirkaKujačića, JovanaJovaIvanovića, Maria Maskarelija, Luke Berberovića, ĐorđaPravilovića, KemalaRamujkića, Luke Tomanovića, DragaĐurovića, MilenkaŽarkovića, MomaVukovića, DaniceDanjeĐurović, VojislavaVojaTatara i MilošaVuškovića.
Performances;All performances were hand picked after careful consideration by the Council and expert associates, in accordance with director who started by attending the events as they were shown in their hometowns or natural habitat to ensure the quality of the production.
In terms of artist safety, there were always private spaces reserved for the artists and control regarding who can access them. There were no reported incidents which lead me to believe that their plan worked. The safety of the audience and public lies in that most events are held outdoors and therefore the risk of diseases spreading is minimized.
Third Focus; Logistics the logistics of creating, managing, and executing a festival of such magnitude this relates to the issue of traffic control to events. On every day to every event, I collected the ticket just before the start of the show. I also noticed that the ticket stand was always there and ready to sell or hand out tickets. It’s safe to say tickets were pre-booked and collected at a convenient spot until the last minute before the start of the show. This helped to control the flow of human traffic and to prevent overbooking. It is important to note that some events were free to attend, such as the literary program at the square of poets. This to me says; there must be a generous balance between free and paid shows to make a successful festival.
Many times, I needed to use the rest rooms. I quickly learned that the festival did not arrange one, but rather made up for that by placing their events in areas that naturally have foot traffic and have infrastructure to support audiences in natural calls such as that. To me that says, if you are not going to provide one, make sure your event is near other businesses or infrastructure that has facilities such as ablutions, water and even food shops. People are people and they will have their basic needs wherever they go.
Other issues; Language, media and weather
On my very first day here, I took a walk to the beach in the afternoon and I was pleased to see how visible and how well branded the festival is, based on ad posts and banners on the streets. The bright yellow of the Grad Theatre City Budva emblem is very eye catching and recognizable. It is safe to say the PR and communications department was on their toes and did a stellar job. Since this is largely a tourist town, it is important that tourists know about ongoing events and that was done to the tee! Their use of social media for announcements and other information dissemination on time was a stellar performance on its own!
This to me is a statement that says the festival is ongoing and events are really happening. If you were doubtingthat here is proof! There was also sufficient use of mainstream media such as newspapers and television. I had the wonderful opportunity and pleasure of meeting Miloch from TV Budva, who explained to me how they have partnered with Teatro Budva for a win-win situation in creating relevant content for the masses. The weather is something you cannot always predict. This problem was overcome by preparing prior to the start of the show of alternative venues. These were very well informed to the public by use of social media. It was also nice to be kept abreast and see pictures of events from the previous day.
Curating artistic experiences that are site specific has many facets which must be taken into consideration. All that work cannot be done overnight and needs a lot of planning with a long lead time to be successful. The world is leaning more and more towards events that give them more than just the show happening on stage. People need to feel safe. They need to know that they are not exposing themselves to diseases such as the pandemic, and outdoor events do exactly that for them. It is also not enough to simply say that there is a space outdoor that can be used for an event. Each space needs to be prepared for the kind of event that is going to be hosted there and mustconsider other human needs such as the availability of water and sanitation facilities to be used by the audience and others involved. Moreover, the chosen location for each event must be justified. We need to take into consideration the history of space and match it with an event.
The emotions evoked by new productions must speak to the experiences that have been felt by those who have used those spaces before. In that way, site-specific theater becomes a continuation of a story, rather than an end of one and a beginning of another. By looking at the Grad Theatro City Budva from the inside, I was able to pin-point the exact reason why their festival had stood strong for so many years and also, I was able to see the mistakes that I had made with my own festival, which I now want to correct.
From all the experiences, I was able to see how a well-planned and well executed festival consisting of performances in situ looks like. Also, I was able to see the mistakes that I had made with my own young festival, the African Indigenous Arts Fest-JHB. Comparing a 1-year-old festival to a 37-year-old festival was not the point. The point was to avoid 37 years of mistakes by learning from the people that have seen and corrected all the mistakes that one can make when staging a festival in site. I am now able to make corrections which will save my festival and give us a fighting chance of survival in these harsh economic times and socio-economic conditions.
Here is what is next for me; I have been commissioned to write a piece about the liberation of African spaces from colonial narratives by an online newspaper back home. I will use my learning here in making suggestions of how we can use theater in site to reclaim those spaces and create a new narrative that we, the new generation can identify with, while still honoring the memory and sacrifices that were done by those who came before us to liberate those spaces. Our objective must not be to erase past pain, but to acknowledge it. It must be to take the story forward, to allow space for the crying voices to be heard and introduce new voices who have benefited and are now able to ring louder in those spaces.
CONCLUSION:Spaces are alive! The whole point of creating work in situ is to honor the spirit of the venue where an event is being held. It is to understand and appreciate that locations hold emotions and history too. It is to know that the blood which once fell on that ground still speaks today. The laughter that once filled a room still rings out loud today, whether you can hear it or not. It is to know that the tears that once salted the surface still give taste to the new and current work shown there. It is the role of curators and theater makers to learn about the history of space; and to preserve the memory of the dead and to uphold the hopes of the living in their uses of different spaces.
My eyes fill with tears of gratitude to the Grad Theatre City Budva for hosting me and giving me this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn which I will cherish till the day I am re united with those that came and left before me. I also appreciate the arrangements with food and accommodation that enabled me to enjoy this beautiful city every day I walked its streets. Camagu!
Cebile Dube–Cece, artist, culture activist and theatre practitioner
Founder of “Emasikweni arts and culture” – organization concerned with the protection and promotion of indigenous cultures of South Africa
38 years old, South Africa, Johannesburg