By Ivan Cankar
Première March 20, 2015 at SSG Trst
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes, no interval
WHAT I SAW
At the beginning of the play, we are seated in the Slovene National Theatre Maribor’s largest space, the Grand Hall. The curtain is down, and the downstage lip of the stage is set like the end of a great party, or a party gone badly. Loud contemporary pop music is playing, lots of empty drink cups and balloons. Six people are onstage, and no one is speaking: rather, they stare at the ground, at their hands, at the ceiling. Anywhere but one another. Finally, one breaks the silence, saying, “our Nation is healthy and strong.” Others utter similar platitudes – variations on, “our country will bounce back,” and “everything happens for a reason.” We are at a political rally, perhaps, and their guy lost.
We shift quickly into life under this new political regime: immediately, in fact, with no light or scene change. A priest appears, looking for the man responsible for “spreading filth to students.” The group blames Jerman, who subsequently appears. Jerman, a man in his seventies, is admonished by the priest, but he seems to expect this and takes it genially. Next, everyone, Jerman and the priest included, starts dancing. It’s a group dance, like the electric slide. While they dance, a stage crew disassembles their stage.
The ensemble exits, leaving Jerman alone. He speaks to us directly. It appears he, the actor, not the character, has some qualms with performing the role. He invites us up onto the stage with him. “Come see what it’s like up here!” he says. The curtain rises, and we see seating set up for us onstage.
After resituating ourselves, Jerman (or the actor playing Jerman) continues his critique. This play he is set to perform in, The Serfs, is a play written at the beginning of the twentieth century, after the Slovene People’s Party, both religious and conservative, came into power. In it, the losing liberal party wholly conforms to the doctrines imposed by the SPP, with the exception of Jerman, who alone speaks out against these doctrines. A Slovenian Enemy of the People, it is one of their most famous and most produced plays. This actor’s qualms, we learn, are existential: what’s the point in standing up for ideals, when they become corrupted when put into practice? Furthermore, what good will producing this play do? What actual change will come of it? None, he thinks, and so no need to continue the play.
But it appears the play will continue regardless of his participation in it. The curtain rises: on the lip, the stage is set – we are in a turn of the century living room. Here there is another Jerman, younger. He paces the room, agitatedly poring over papers. We meet Jerman’s mother, a liberal sympathizer friend, and a young woman, a potential love interest. They all try to convince this younger Jerman to give up his protests. This scene is full of Victorian melodrama: Jerman stomping his feet and pounding his fists, his mother’s anguished cries muffled in the pillows of an ornate settee, his strong arms encircling the young woman he loves as he slowly leans in to kiss her…but he is interrupted. The older Jerman breaks up the scene, arguing with the younger about the absurdity of his convictions and actions.
This too is interrupted, as the curtain lowers, and the cast assembles for another dance party. What follows is series of entrances and exits: other characters encircle Jerman, one after the next, and he tries to keep up with their questions and requests. He is whirled into a new scene: a group of people have come to hear Jerman speak, at a secret meeting. He attempts to find the words, or perhaps he attempts to remember his lines, but cannot. Or will not. He refuses to utter the words they want him to utter. The scene dissolves.
There is a flurry of activity. It seems a scene is being played out on the other side of the curtain. People are preparing Jerman to go on: putting make-up on him, running lines. He has a sweet interaction with the woman from before, the woman Jerman loves. They kiss. It is unclear if it is rehearsal for a later scene, or real life.
The curtain opens. Jerman takes the stage and delivers a monologue away from us, to the grand hall audience. Haze envelopes the stage. He speaks of his current fears, his desire to do nothing but watch TV all day, his sense of being utterly alone in a world that is falling apart. But, he goes on, we must remember we are not alone. We are together. He chants: “we are together! We are together!”
The haze clears. The lights in the hall rise. The seats are empty. He is speaking to no one.
WATCH A TRAILER FOR THE SERFS
NUTS AND BOLTS
Cast Size: 11
Touring Size: 11 actors, 10 technicians, 4 escorts, 25 in total
Minimum height/widtch/depth of stage: 5m, 10m, 9m, + tribune/platform
Maximum height/width/depth of stage: 7m, 12m, 11m + tribune/platform
Load in time: 10 hours
Strike time: 2 hours
Cartage Information: Set fits in 1 truck 6 m depth, 2,2 m width, 2,2 m height
Please note: the audience at the beginning of the performance is in the standard audience seating and then it moves on the stage, where it sits on tribunes – the host theatre shall provide them – thus, the audience should not exceed the number of seats on the tribunes on the stage.
12 performances in Slovene Repertory Theatre in Trieste (March 2015 – October 2015)
2 performances in Gorizia - Kulturni dom (April 2015)
1 performance in SNG Drama Maribor in Maribor, Slovenia, Borštnikovo srečanje (October 2015)
Translation Options: subtitles/surtitles available in English
Representation: Valentina Repini, Organization Director
T: 0039 040 2453805
T: 0039 348 0032035
The Future: CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION ON FUTURE PRODUCTIONS
Availability: This production is available for touring through Spring of 2017.
Director: Sebastian Horvat
Sebastian Horvat works as associate professor of Theatre and Radio Directing at the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television, University of Ljubljana (AGRFT UL). He co-founded the independent theatre association E.P.I. center. Among the numerous awards received for his work are the Grand Prix at the Week of Slovenian Drama (1999), Borštnik Award (1999, 2008) and the Young Director Award at Salzburger Festspiele (2005) as well as the Prešeren Foundation Award (2008).
Playwright: Ivan Cankar
A Slovene writer, playwright, essayist, poet and political activist. Together with Oton Župančič, Dragotin Kette, and Josip Murn, he is considered to be the father of modernism in Slovene literature. He is regarded as the greatest writer in the Slovene language, and has sometimes been compared to Franz Kafka and James Joyce.
Theatre: The Slovene Permanent Theatre in Trieste
Established in 1945 as a professional and permanent theatre, the Slovene Permanent Theatre in Trieste is one of the eight theatres in Italy with the status of teatro stabile. With an ensemble of seven actors, the theatre produces five premières per year, often staging works that intertwine the cultural specificities of the Slovene and Italian community, thus strengthening the theatre's role as a cultural mediator between the two cultures.
Formally organised already in 1902 as a Dramatic Society, in its initial period of continual activity (until 1920) the theatre staged 245 dramatic works, including world classics and original Slovene works, and 19 performances in the opera and ballet programme. In 1920 the theatre's building was burnt down by the fascists, which interrupted the theatre's activity for the following 25 years. In 1945 the theatre was re-founded as professional institution and has since then staged over 450 dramatic, opera, and ballet works. In 1964 the Slovene Permanent Theatre in Trieste finally got its own space in Kulturni dom (Cultural Centre) in Trieste (architect Edo Mihevc) and in the same year was also officially acknowledged by the Italian state, becoming one of its permanent theatres.
WRITINGS AND REVIEWS
The staging successfully attacks the expectations of the audience, bangs the set of beliefs, about what The Serfs are and how they act, but it requires a good understanding of the source text in order to recognize the original and now moved and deconstructed statements of the teachers-actors choir.
At the end a question arises, whether are more shocked the 'naive' and more orthodox spectators - and thus it has a bigger effect on them - or the spectators who are already tired of Cankar’s plays and as connoisseurs of contemporary performative practices they are pleased in recognizing the real-fictional loopings, entries and exits in the performative space and a wide range of alienations.
Matej Bogataj, Delo , 01.04.2015
The spectator easily believes the old Triestinian Jerman that he is tired, bored of all the so far existing performances, of all the Jermans, who fought and rebelled and addressed the Slovenes, but achieved very little or even nothing. Otherwise, today we would not have to deal with greedy banks, corrupt politicians, apathetic students, lying media...
Andraž Gombač, Primorske novice, 23. 03. 2015
REFLECTIONS BY KELLIE
The SerfsIt is an interesting experience, watching the deconstruction of a classic play you have no relationship with. Ivan Cankar’s The Serfs is required reading for most Slovenians, but few Americans have heard of the play or playwright. I was no exception to this rule. Having said that, knowing Ibsen’s explorations of similar topics (this play is distinctly reminiscent of An Enemy of the People, in particular) allowed me to play catch up quickly enough.
Once I got my bearings, I found this piece to be playful, smart, and well-produced. It both represented the source text and brought it in conversation with the present moment, through the lens of Radko Polič, who played Jerman. It’s important to note that Mr. Mr. Polič is one of the most famous Slovenian actors around, in the autumn years of his long and distinguished career. The piece is therefore his reckoning with the world at this moment, a world in which he feels more alienated from and powerless to change. Through it, he questions his own life and career as he asks larger questions about humanity’s ability to affect change in general. This is one of many times at this festival that I saw a production utilize the experiences of an actor in order to more deeply investigate elements of a play. Here life and art intermingle to produce a more honest and human piece of theater.
Besides Mr. Polič’s performance, the other star of this piece is its dramaturgy: after Mr. Mr. Polič establishes his consternation with the play and the role, and after he invites us to join him onstage, the play unfolds in relation to his relationship to it and the world. Though Mr. Polič is seemingly not in control of what is happening around him, the scenes are manifestations of his fears and questions: they operate in the way he understands them to operate. Even the contemporary elements that pepper the piece adhere to this: the dance parties represent contemporary youthful apathy, highlighted when one of the young female actors spoke to Mr. Polič while dancing, asking him why he talked so much, why he was so boring, why he didn’t ever have any fun. Thus, from the moment we sit down on the stage, we are entering into his subjectivity. The final moment therefore is no revelation, for but for us, a manifestation of his experience. As the haze clears and the empty seats are revealed, we understand on a gut level his sense of shouting into the void. Perhaps we’ll better fill those seats moving forward.