About This Issue
15th Annual Nová Dráma / New Drama Festival
Bratislava, Slovakia 2019
REPORTER: DAVE WHITE
When looking for an engaging week of theatre, productions, conversations about topics at the forefront of our field, and workshops, Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is not the first city that leaps to mind. Situated on the Danube between Vienna and Budapest, Bratislava, is home to dozens of theatres, from itinerant, experimental companies doing site-specific work to the National Theatre of Slovakia. The Theatre Institute is also based in Bratislava and, since 2005, has presented the Nová Dráma/New Drama Festival, which has been under the leadership of Vladaslava Fekete since 2006.. For the past fifteen years, Fekete has presented plays from theatres around Slovakia and, through her “Focus:” program, international productions from many other countries, as well as conferences and workshops aimed at contemporary issues in European and Slovak theatre.
I attended the Nová Dráma/New Drama Festival in 2008, at the invitation of Philip Arnoult and CITD. At the time, Nová Dráma was four-years old and Slovakia itself had gained independence 15 years before. The 2008 festival featured an accompanying program with an international Focus: Russia program curated by John Freedman, theatre critic of the Moscow Times.
In 2009, I returned as a guest from the US and the international program was Focus: Serbia. The festival was nurturing its academic conference, and the guest was Aleks Sierz, UK critic who christened the “in-yer-face” generation of UK writers. There are a few memorable moments from those first two festivals, but my strongest impression is of a festival that was interested in being more than a festival – they wanted to be a conference and a conversation starter. The Focus program was emblematic of this, and illustrated the Theatre Institute’s desire to be in the international dialogue and learn what was happening with theatre in other places, which would—as international exposure tends to do— impact Slovak theatre artists and scholars.
In 2019, I was once again asked by Arnoult and CITD to return to the festival and see how things had changed between the fifth and fifteenth year of Nová Dráma/New Drama. How was Slovak Theatre reacting to a tumultuous moment in Slovak politics? In 2018, massive protests erupted after the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancé. In 2019, the Slovaks elected as president Zuzana Čaputová, a single-mother and progressive, environmental lawyer, President in April—a clear rebuke of far-right politics and corruption.
As Slovakia defines itself in contrast to several of its far-right, nationalist-leaning Eastern European neighbors, Nová Dráma presented a festival that defined itself by refining all of the elements that distinguished it a decade before and becoming a forward looking international festival. Each element of the conference and festival grew in either breadth or focus: ten ambitious works selected by the dramaturgy committee; a roster of guests from 23 countries; Focus: Greece; Green Drama, which in 2018 commissioned 22 new works from leading Slovak playwrights focused on climate change; and a conference focused on environmental issues and the performing arts.
In this year's Nová Dráma Festival, several of the ten plays showed a desire to reflect on history, from the Galacian migration of the 1880s to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Velvet Revolution; other productions reflected the present conundrums of medicated emotions and insidious racism; while others tackled bleak futures, and the ongoing realities of motherhood and the futility of love. Half of the productions were from Bratislava, while others were from the cities of Košice, Bátovce, Žilina, Prešov, and an itinerant company founded in the High Tatras.
Five of the ten productions were directed by women and three were conceived of or written by women. The festival presentations took place in eight diverse venues around the city of Bratislava: a shared workspace house in north eastern Bratislava, a classic proscenium venue, the marble lined state theatre’s mainstage and blackbox, the city theatre, underground theatres, and even a military tent in a field. If April’s election had gone a different way, the productions in the Nová Dráma Festival were poised to respond, and many seemed aimed at the dangers fomenting in the far-right and neo-Nazi movements.
The accompanying program was also robust. The “Focus: Greece” project involved a half-day conference looking at contemporary Greek theatre since the financial crisis, as well as a presentation of “Revolt AthenΣ,” a vibrant and imaginative production from ODC Ensemble looking at the migrant and financial crises impacts on Athens.
Gianina Carbunariu was the patron of the festival this year, and led a playwriting workshop talking about her process generating theatre and docudrama. The Theatre Institute also released an anthology of Carbunariu’s plays translated into Slovak. The two-day workshop on environmental issues involved eight artists speaking about how climate crisis is impacting the kind of art that's made, and how perspectives on art are changing. In addition to all of these programs, there were Slovak language programs in playwriting as well as a Young Criticism Seminar for Students.
On the final evening of the festival, the international jury of Juraj Šebesta (Bratislava critic and scholar), Margareta Sörensen (President of the International Association of Theatre Critics and Swedish critic), and Savas Patsalidis (Greek Theatre scholar and Professor), crowned Júlia Rázusová’s Moral Insanity with the Grand Prix Festival Award, while a special jury prize was given to Iveta Kitte Jurčová and Katarína Caková for the creative concept of American Emperor. NUDE Theatre’s Love You and Take Care received the Audience Choice Award. Rázusová’s The Reunification of the Two Koreas received the Student Jury Prize, awarded by the participants in the Young Criticism Seminar.
The 2019 Nová Dráma/New Drama Festival offered an ambitious program and a full week of events. 2020 promises to be even more compelling as Nová Dráma will also be host to the International Theatre Critics Association’s international conference. After 2020, I’d expect more eyes to be on Nova Drama, Bratislava, and the Slovak theatre festival on the Danube.
Dave White (he/him/his) is a Baltimore-based director, playwright, and professor at Towson University. His focus is on nurturing new and diverse voices for the stage. Dave’s artistic and scholarly work has been seen on stages, at conferences, and festivals around the U.S. and in as far-flung locations as Russia, Portugal, and Uzbekistan.
A recipient of a 2014 Likhachev Fellowship to St. Petersburg, Russia, Dave’s resulting work, Dance on Bones: a jazz libretto for actors and musicians, has been presented in the U.S. and in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Working with Yury Urnov, Dave translated two plays that were featured in John Freedman’s anthology, Real and Phantom Pains: An Anthology of New Russian Drama.
In over a decade of working with Philip Arnoult and CITD, Dave has travelled to Slovakia, Poland, and attended the Golden Mask Festival in Moscow, Russia; directed Yury Klavdiev’s I Am The Machine Gunner for a U.S. Tour; as well as hosted artists from Romania and Lithuania at WordBRIDGE Playwrights Lab.
Photo: Dave White
Photo: Archív PND
Photo: Dave White
Photo: Radovan Dranga
The Trust for Mutual Understanding
The Trust for Mutual Understanding, a long-time supporter of CITD, is a unique and important player in Russia and Eastern Europe. Set up as a trust by a single anonymous donor in 1984, the focus was “to support direct person-to-person contact between American and Soviet professionals working in the field of art and environment.” A second gift was made in 1991, continuing the dual focus of art and environment, and opening up to Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe; the Baltic States; Central Asia; Mongolia; and Russia. They are now celebrating their 30th year continuing this essential work.
Thank you to Vladislava Fekete and the Nová Dráma staff and students, Zuzana Uličianska, Towson University College of Fine Arts and Communication + Department of Theatre Arts
THE CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL THEATRE DEVELOPMENT
Philip Arnoult, founder & director
Carol Baish, Lindsey Griffith, Jarod Hanson