Sterijino Pozorje as a Map of Theatre Culture

‘Remembrance is expensive, oblivion even more.’

Đorđe Radišić at the Small Hall of Pozorje in 1974.

This year’s Sterijino Pozorje will last from 26 May to 3 June in the European Capital of Culture, and will bring together theatres and supreme artists who will present as many as nine plays in the competition selection and three in the international selection Circles (you can see a detailed programme here). The opening of the theatre festival will be enhanced by a play that will take place outside the competition – MILEVA, about the life of the heroine of science Mileva Marić Einstein, directed by Anica Tomić, whose interview you can read on our website. The National Theatre of Sombor is implementing the play in co-production with Sterijino Pozorje and the Novi Sad-European Capital of Culture Foundation. On the eve of this year’s festival, we reflected to the importance of founding Sterijino Pozorje for Novi Sad, as well as the breakthrough in culture and the goals of the event founded by Ivo Andrić, Radomir Raša Radujkov and others.

From the Yugoslav Theater Games to Sterija’s Pozorje

Sterijino Pozorje is a permanent festival of national drama and theatre of a competitive nature, which is held every year in Novi Sad at the end of May. The festival was established on 15 April 1956, and developed from the general Yugoslav celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth and 100th anniversary of the death of Jovan Sterija Popović, a great Serbian comedian, playwright and famous cultural worker of the 20th century. The official name of this festival was the Yugoslav Theatre Festival, but it soon received the popular name Sterijino Pozorje.

Novi Sad as the Cradle of Theatre

Renowned professor of the Zagreb Academy of Theatre Arts Slavko Batušić, said about the founding of Pozorje: ‘Sterija’s jubilee year gave a happy occasion to hold the First Yugoslav Theatre Festival and to determine a concrete plan for its future. Why Novi Sad has this honour? The answer is quite simple: by the right that the city has as the cradle not only of Vojvodina and Serbian, but also of the Yugoslav revival theatre.’ The idea, conceived in the circle of prominent Novi Sad intellectuals, was accepted in all cultural and theatre centres of the former state. Since then, every year Sterijino Pozorje organizes a theatre festival, in which theatres from the country and abroad participate with plays based on texts by Yugoslav writers. On the other hand, the founding of Sterijino Pozorje also had elements of the institutionalization of a cultural, literary and theatrical movement. Perhaps it was the first real turning point and a step forward in the culture, especially in theatre art, of the entire Yugoslav area. The most prominent personalities of the society, culture and art of that time participated in defining the programme and status of Sterijino Pozorje: Ivo Andrić, Milan Bogdanović, Milan Dedinac, Miloš Hadžić, Eli Finci, Veljko Petrović, Bojan Stupica, Velibor Gligorijević, Radomir Radujkov, etc. The programme goals were clearly articulated: through a permanent festival of national drama, to improve theatre art and stimulate the development of dramatic literature. Until the 90s of the last century and the disintegration of the country, new generations of creators, artistic associations, scientific and educational institutions were involved in the work of Pozorje and the creation of the more and more numerous and diverse local and international programmes. The disintegration of Yugoslavia changed the identity of the festival, although it remained open to all the environments that created and developed it.

The core of the festival and its uniqueness was and remains a contemporary dramatic text New programmes and contents, local and international, have been created around it and are constantly being implemented. During a little more than six decades of continuous development, Pozorje founded and developed a series of systematic professional works important for theatre culture, became a reliable instrument for verifying stage and dramatic values and the basis of scientific thought about theatre and drama.

How the Repertoire Is Formed

The repertoire is based on a selection, chosen by a three-member selection team, headed by the artistic director. Professional theatres and groups from the country and abroad can participate in Sterijino Pozorje, with plays based on texts by local writers, as well as local theatres with plays based on texts by foreign writers. The festival programme includes two selections: the Selection of National Drama / Competition Selection and the Circles Selection. The Circles Selection, envisaged and initiated by the artistic director Ivan Medenica, can be defined as an international contextualization of the most provocative and interesting social, cultural and theatre phenomena. Only foreign performances can participate in this programme. A five-member jury decides on Sterija Awards for artistic achievements shown at the festival: best play, text of contemporary drama, dramatization, adaptation, directing, scenography, costume, stage music and acting achievements. In addition to these awards for artistic achievements, Sterija Award for Best Theatre Review and Sterija Award of the Scena magazine for theatrology are also given.

Pozorje as a Meeting Place for Art

Sterijino Pozorje is a meeting place for students and professors of acting, directing and dramaturgy at high theatre schools for performing arts from the country and the region. The unique manifestation, in terms of character and significance, which is organized every third year, is the Exhibition of Theatre Posters and Graphic Design, which makes up the visual identity of the theatre. The International Triennial ‘Theatre in the Photographic Art’ presents the creative achievements of photographers-artists, inspired by theatre and theatre act. This exhibition is the only international programme of Pozorje that has been promoted abroad, at the German Institute of Art. The International Symposium of Theatre Critics and Theatrologists is a permanent institution of Sterijino Pozorje, under the patronage of the International Association of Theatre Critics, with the basic task of exchanging contemporary experiences and knowledge of world theatre theory and practice. The publishing activity of Sterijino Pozorje started in 1956, along with the founding of the institution. Today, the editions ‘Sinteza’ and ‘Prizor’, the publication ‘Yearbook of Serbian Theatres’ and the magazine for theatre art ‘Scena’ are published in Serbian and English. The Centre for Theatre Documentation researches, collects, processes, preserves and publishes theatre documentation and provides services for the needs of scientific research.

A Festival that Nurtures Multiculturalism

Today, we can say that Sterijino Pozorje implemented the ideas of its founders and became a highly professional theatre institution, for the promotion of national theatre expression and dramatic literature. Numerous statements during the 1990s crisis prove how much Sterijino Pozorje has become a ‘meeting place’ and a ‘world address’. Prominent British theatrologist and professor Clive Barker, in the midst of the civil war in Yugoslavia, wrote: ‘If Sterijino Pozorje can no longer be an available treasure for me, it is still vital that it leaves open, for as long as possible, for the possibilities of reconstruction and re-creation in the future.’ Theatrologist and former president of the International Association of Theatre Critics, Georges Banu, stated that Novi Sad was ‘…a bit of our cherry orchard. We miss it and hope that we will find it again.’ A group of prominent European

intellectuals appealed to UNESCO to exempt Sterijino Pozorje from sanctions, due to its importance for multiculturalism, not only in Yugoslavia, but much wider.

Author: Author: Ljiljana Dragosavljević Savin, MA Historian

Photo: Vladimir Veličković

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