Friday, 26 March 2021

A Message on The World Theatre Day

On the occasion of the World Theatre Day, the Slovenian Association of Dramatic Artists (SADA) published a message by a Slovenian actor Saša Tabaković:

Dear artists and theatre lovers, 
we are celebrating the international day of performing arts, the medium and art form that never ceases to provide a vibrant and compelling source of inspiration.

We, the drama artists, are trying our best in nurturing the essence of diverse aesthetic approaches with a free spirit, by valuing a world that can provide distinct points of view and by promoting sensitivity that can fathom the complex universe of human nature. It is truly amazing how many forces are working simultaneously in this small space one calls the stage!

The past year has been indeed quite challenging and troubled on many levels. Not only because the pandemic turned the world upside down and, in turn, prevented the audience from having a direct contact with the actors and performances, but also because it exposed the crisis of social values that we share with our fellow citizens and other human beings. Moreover, the crisis has permeated all pores of our personal and public life, and theatre is no exception here.

When there is hunger, there is hunger for everyone. The feeling that we can ignore the crisis by merely hibernating is utterly deceptive. At such a pace of degradation of the common good, there can be no spring.

Politics must take responsibility for this. Due to an ongoing general lack of interest and a growing neglect of the cultural life, the politicians in charge did not know, could not, or wanted to protect various artistic practices and the most vulnerable group, i.e. the self-employed artists and auxiliary professions within the cultural sector. The politicians preferred to isolate themselves in marble offices explaining their irrational and reckless decisions through readers’ letters in daily newspapers. Thus, the allegation by the critical public that the government attempted to dismantle cultural institutions, organized activities and regulated employment relations is more than justified. Let us remember the well-calculated ignorance when the administration arbitrarily withheld financial resources from the film industry, to which they are legally entitled. Unfortunately, the situation has not changed until this moment. Therefore, we are rightfully concerned that the government would enforce these vulgar and even vindictive acts on other cultural segments as well, which is reflected also in continuous appointment of politically acceptable, yet incompetent staff to leading positions.

The responsibility for our reality is also upon the cultural community. The latter also showed, although in its own perspective, a general lack of interest, despite occasional protests and artistic actions that were taken in front of the ministry of culture. The community became oblivious to professional honesty, while the artistry succumbed to private interests and their financial benefits. Within art guilds, clans and friendships predominate, and there are all too few, if any, moral authorities who could cut this Gordian knot. In their public appearances, with rare exceptions, individuals do not wish to reveal their views about the dilemmas that affect us all, not even when they are publicly invited. Let’s just take a look at how immature we have responded to cases of sexual abuse and violence at the AGRFT (Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television) in Ljubljana. When the regrettable news was exposed, the social media were full of support and sympathy for the victims. Even the academic staff sat up and took notice. But the further unfolding of events showed that we were more comfortable with public performances than bold and radical moves that would bring a much-desired fresh air into the blurred atmosphere. The professors, who had a strong feeling that they would be exposed, instead of resigning, thus following the example of the director of the Berlin Theater, who in consequence preserved the integrity of the institution he represented, despite the fact that the official prosecution against him had not even begun, preferred to go on sick leave. Well, some of them maybe even muttered a word or two about feeling guilty. 

However, the professors in question are now doing nothing but patiently waiting for the storm to pass. How could they not, as the thunder of the cultural public is less and less prominent. Instead, the public prefers to photograph their palms with the inscription #nisisama (#youarenotalone), rather than closely observe further developments. Meanwhile, the culprits are waiting and slowly preparing for a career rehabilitation, so that they could resume with teaching and working in theatre. They are probably being assisted by either their colleagues who owe them a favour, or by their kindred spirits in aesthetical or personal views for that matter. At the same time, the cultural community forgets that we do not need self-evident letters of either support or disgust, not even an academic staff, but rather resolute actions that are public and do not hide behind the demagogy of internal procedures.

The situation is not better in theatres either. A week ago, the Slovenian Association of Dramatic Artists and the Screen Actors Guild of Slovenia sent a letter to the management of major theatres asking for their views on sexual abuse and violence in the workplace and how such acts will be recognized, regulated and sanctioned in the future, thus protecting their employees. Regrettably, everyone has not responded to this letter to date. Can we really be surprised if even the Board of Directors of Slovenian Theatres has not been able to form a single sentence to at least condemn such acts?

Each of us must take responsibility. Every time we ignore the dishonest actions of morally compromised people, fearing for our positions or existence, instead of pointing out flaws and violations of the law, we contribute to the reality we live. Even when situations were more benign than those cases of abuse or violence, or when we did not agree with something, preferring to keep the opinion to ourselves in order to avoid pressure from our peers and superiors.

Every such move was another step towards the obstruction of the drama stage, its poetics and the freedom that is given to us to reflect and analyse ourselves on that stage.

Gregor Strniša, a unique voice of Slovene poetry, wrote the following in one of his plays: "The city is buzzing through the collapsed door. The roof is gone. We are standing between the walls, but the sky is above us."

Dear colleagues, on the occasion of the Word Theatre Day, I wish us to stand next to each other and to be able to touch the sky again, towards which we are now gazing blankly. Only then will our heartfelt invitation to the audience to return to the theatre after the pandemic be truly sincere.

Saša Tabaković, drama actor

The international message on the occasion of the World Theater Day was written by the theatre, film and television actress Helen Mirren. The recording is read by the 2020 SADA Award winner, an SNG Nova Gorica actress Ana Facchini.