A foreword to Four Decades of Macedonian Drama and Theater: from Darkness to the Slavic Chest
The contents of this book are exactly the same as its title: ten contemporary/modern plays written by ten contemporary/modern authors. According to the criteria set out by one theaterologist (e.g. a specialist in theater studies, and not a literary critic nor a historian of literature!), the aim of the book is to objectively present ten relevant plays, which in the course of the last four decades of the twentieth century have been successfully produced both in the Republic of Macedonia and abroad.
Nothing more and nothing less.
This book was not conceived as an anthology of contemporary/modern Macedonian drama so there is really no intention (nor ambition for that matter) of presenting the ten contemporary/modern plays considered to be the best in Macedonia. Nor the most beautiful. Nor, for that matter, the most interesting. Nor, even the most important for the four-decade development of drama and theater in this region. However, it is completely obvious that all ten of the chosen/selected plays are all well written, extremely interesting, and significant for the present status of the contemporary/ modern Macedonian drama, and the contemporary/ modern Macedonian theater. In other words, this edition simply does not wish to be weighed down by any “exclusive” anthological ambitions. Its intention is quite normal and quite practical.
This book, then, was not just conceived as a basic source of information on modern Macedonian drama and modern Macedonian theater, rather it strives to fulfill another important goal: besides the ten chosen/selected plays, it also includes all the necessary theatrical apparatus, including the complete information necessary on the authors and their plays, on the theaters in which they were staged, on the directors and casts which produced them, and on their reception both in Macedonia and abroad… Since it is neither possible nor desirable to “separate” drama from theater, nor to look at these individually/separately, this book strives to relate to the ten selected plays in the same way as Macedonian theater has related to them in the course of the past forty years. The thesis that there is no national theater without national drama (in any case, also vice-versa), was argued by good old Lessing somewhere between 1767 and 1768 and rendered irrelevant all his subsequent musings on this matter (Lessing, 1950).
Because it is mainly oriented towards the foreign reader, who until now was acquainted with Macedonian theater and Macedonian modern drama most often due to an accidental meeting at an international festival and thus, it is assumed, knows next to nothing or nothing at all about the subject, this book attempts to fulfill also certain expectations which must be set out in advance, at least hypothetically. Principally, these expectations are: to satisfy not only the high aesthetic criteria understood in the selection of each piece, but also to enable a serious look at the high professional and literary level which Macedonian drama and Macedonian theater has achieved up to this point. The high level of this theater and drama, which has been affirmed internationally, firmly puts them on an equal footing with the most highly developed international examples.
And now, to conclude:
Before the appearance of this book, the non-Macedonian reader and audience came in contact with modern/contemporary Macedonian drama almost by chance, singularly as it were, thanks to the personal efforts of a single dramatist or director, Macedonian or foreign, or as a fortunate result of a precipitous interstellar constellation. Whether this contact occurred due to a victory at an international competition, or due to the participation at one of the larger international theater festivals, or even due to being translated and published in one of the more respectable European journals, the fact remains that until now at least, Macedonian plays have had their foreign receptions individually. As individual examples or specimens of dramatic writing and of dramatic authorship, which, arrived from a faraway place, from a little known part of Europe, they therefore had an exotic quality.
That this drama is unquestionably superb, I believe, is confirmed also by the fact that singular, yet continuous appearances of Macedonian drama on European and non-European stages have already been going on now for three decades. And these are becoming more and more common…
So, for all of these reasons, such a book as this, ambivalent and open in its conception, had to be created. Until now, the theater world outside of Macedonia (including her nearest neighbors) has not had a real opportunity, except partially or incidentally, to get to know contemporary/modern Macedonian drama and its theatrical context. Knowing the plays of an individual Macedonian modern/contemporary author, the theater world outside of Macedonia has not been able to figure out, up to now, the origin of such great writers as Dukovski, Petrovski, Plevneš, Stefanovski, Čašule… The non-Macedonian audience could understand even less the dramatic/theatrical tradition articulated in their plays. For this reason, I think, they could not fully comprehend why these plays are what they are.
Although I realize that a single book by itself cannot significantly increase the wider (European and beyond) reception, which modern Macedonian drama and its best-known authors have already thankfully achieved, yet I still believe it is important that it does appear.
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What is, in general, the modern Macedonian dramatic/theatrical context and who are its current authors – writers and directors – mentioned in this book?
That the authors belong to very different generations is apparent from even a cursory glance at the bare biographical details: the oldest, as well as the doyen of Macedonian dramatic modernism, Kole Čašule, was born in 1921, continues to write and his plays are still performed. Between him and the youngest dramatists, Jugoslav Petrovski and Dejan Dukovski, there is a difference of almost a half-century (both born in 1969). Somewhere in between are the authors who, at the moment, formally belong to the so-called middle generation: Rusomir Bogdanovski (born 1948), Blagoja Risteski (born 1949), Goran Stefanovski (born 1952) and Jordan Plevneš (born 1953).
As fate would have it (or as a result of that fortunate interstellar constellation), two of them – Bogdanovski and Stefanovski – were also professors of drama at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Skopje (the only such educational institution in Macedonia), so that they had the rare privilege of teaching the generations now coming to the fore or who have already arrived: Saško Nasev (born 1966), Žanina Mirčevska (born 1967), Jugoslav Petrovski, and Dejan Dukovski. Their “generation poetics,” although not capable of being represented on a single common matrix, is undoubtedly referential to the poetics of their mentors. This should not be understood as a criticism, but only as a notorious fact.
Only one of the youngest authors included in this collection, Venko Andonovski (born 1964), came to modern Macedonian drama directly, alone, without having first passed through the master workshop (the so-called “Skopje dramatist school”), established by his theater precursors. With a doctorate in philology and a specialist of literary theory (and professor of literature at the University of St. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje), Andonovski plays a unique role in this theater score: his manuscript is one of the most original in the corpus attributed to the syntagma of modern Macedonian drama.
Thus, this book could – in the generation as well as in the poetic sense – “deconstruct” or recognize three important periods, whose authors-protagonists in turn fundamentally affirm three important phases/stages in the development of national drama, as well as of national Macedonian theater.
The first generation (or, if you like, phase/stage) is determined by the symbolic leader of the Macedonian dramatic and theater modernism as a whole, Kole Čašule. Macedonian specialists in theater consider his play A Twig in the Wind to be the first modern Macedonian play, and the date of its production (1957) as the critical moment when Macedonian theater definitely stepped into the modern epoch of its development. Entering the Macedonian theater scene already in the late 1940’s (incidentally, this happened in 1948, one of the pivotal years in the history of all countries in the then Eastern European Bloc, including Macedonia), but achieving his fullest recognition only in the second half of the 1950’s, Čašule’s work dominates two entire decades in the history of Macedonian theater from the sixties to the seventies. At the same time, his work was the first Macedonian play to breakthrough abroad: the play Darkness was the first Macedonian play staged outside of Macedonia. From 1944 when it was legally constituted until 1991, when its two million inhabitants decided in a referendum for complete independence, or separation from the then united federal state, Macedonia was one of six republics that made up the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. And former Yugoslavia, in Poland (Catowice, 1972), as well as the first Macedonian plays translated and published in a foreign language (1977, Five Modern Yugoslav Plays, Cyrco Press, New York).
The second phase/stage in the development of modern Macedonian drama, which coincides with an entirely new phase/stage in the development of modern Macedonian theater, is defined by four authors who belong to the so-called middle generation (born between 1948 and 1953): Bogdanovski, Risteski, Stefanovski and Plevneš. Although two of them successfully debuted in the middle of the 1970’s, it was in the ensuing fifteen years (between 1979, when Proud Flesh, perhaps Goran Stefanovski’s best play, was produced and 1994/1995, when Dejan Dukovski’s The Powder Keg began its assault on the world’s stages), that many plays of this agile and aggressive quartet dominated Macedonian theater. As much as they are different in their individual/personal poetics, as well as in their individual/personal feeling for and understanding of theater (as a medium), the dramatists who hypothetically belong to this extraordinarily productive quartet share a single common characteristic: they had and masterly made use of the fascinating privilege of “bringing” contemporary Macedonian dramaturgy from the modern/modernistic into the postmodern/post modernistic age.
The third phase/stage is made up by the youngest, most penetrating, and – according to the number of plays chosen – the most represented in this book. Obviously, we could also call them postmodernists, which would also require some explanation. There are five of them, so that exactly one half of the authors represented in this edition belongs here. And rightly so!
Here we are dealing with four young men and a single woman. It is interesting to note that all were born in the space of a five year period – between 1964 and 1969: Andonovski, Nasev, Mirchevska, Petrovski, Dukovski. Of course, the most interesting fact is that it was exactly these five – regardless of how they have been received up to now – in essence have replaced that earlier generation of modern Macedonian dramatists who were the first who had to prove their own qualities. If as we keep in mind their individual talents, their theoretical and practical knowledge in the field of dramaturgy, their level of professional preparation which none of their predecessors enjoyed, and finally, the technological and communicative possibilities which the time in which the live offers them (and they have already proven how well they can use such possibilities), certainly we can state that the youngest Macedonian dramaturgy has a brilliant future.
And the current Macedonian theater will profit greatly from this fact.