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The history of Macedonian theater is undoubtedly a part of the larger Balkan theater history, and not only because of the obvious geographical coordinates which have defined it through the centuries and the millennia.
I think some generally known theatrological facts serve best to show that the Balkans cannot be understood/ experienced/ interpreted exclusively as a “sum of all possible negative characteristics, which is opposed to the positive and self-flattering picture of the Europeans and the West”(Todorova, 1997) or as a marginal/provincial and dangerous location dominated by hereditary violence (or as a “powder keg” as Dejan Dukovski ironcially states).
The historical birthplace of the so-called European theater phenomenon – more exactly, of all that the collective consciousness of our (European, Western) civilization understands and thinks of as theater – is without a doubt the Balkans. Perhaps the skeptics are right in maintaining that the oldest arguments that support this unquestionable and unquestionably correct thesis are more mythical or poetic than historical, but the beauty of these arguments oblige us to repeat them again and again:
Somewhere around 535 BC, a certain Thespis, a poet and actor, accompanied by his colorful crew who shared his ideas and were from the ancient village of Ikaria, loaded up several large carts and headed off towards Athens. They arrived there exactly on the feast days for the merriest of all the gods, Dyonisus. There – in medias res – Thespis’s troupe improvised that famous (or fatal, it doesn’t matter) performance which began the entire history of theater. This most probably occurred in one of Athen’s squares: in place of a real stage, one of those which was constructed only in the following century (V BC, the century of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) and thus they remain immortal to this day, Thespis’ actors got into their carts and so, in a chorus, sang and performed a dithyramb. Thespis himself acted as the chorus leader – the one who started the singing and dancing, that is the one who was constantly in dialogue with his fellow performers. The first actor! Theaterologists have concluded that this moment marked the beginning of that which one century later, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and the others would articulate as tragedy. Even the pedantic Nietzsche would admit that it happened that way (Nietzsche 1960). Theaterologists, then, have one more piece of evidence to support their crucial thesis that in the beginning was the performance (theater) and only later were the drama texts written down.
Of course, the roots of theater arts are magical, so the date for the beginning should be pushed much further back than that suggested by the ancient legend of the rascal Thespis and his merry brethren. These roots can be easily identified in numerous folklore customs and rituals – extremely old, some even preserved in their entirety to this day! – but all based on that which in the semiotic system of Ann Ubersfeld is called imminent/virtual theatricality. The elements of this theatricality are mainly defined as ethno-scenography and all the basic theatrical/theater suppositions are therein implied: space, producers, text, public.
Among many peoples, especially those who mainly deal with agriculture, collective ethno-theatrical festivities are held cyclically, following the changes in the seasons. Such an intensive (“calendar”) connection undoubtedly suggests an ordered meaning of these festivities, since (as ethnology, anthropology and related disciplines have shown) occasions for celebration marked key moments in the resurrection of the life cycle: the survival of the community depended on its regularity.
Contemporary interdisciplinary research, not only theaterological, more and more often looks to traditional pre-classical customs and rituals (carnival, wedding, funeral, solstice), wondering, for example, as in the very incisive suppositions of the Macedonian archeologist Nikos Chausidis – how and by what intermediaries did these traditions survive to the end of the second millennium of our era and who were the last carriers which were built into what we call the folk culture of the middle Balkans (Chausidis, 1996).
Like all young sciences, theaterology is courageous and direct. Therefore it is bold enough to suggest that the imminent/virtual theatricality of these pre-classical customs and rituals if only because there were made into theater and thus enabling their constant (creative, cyclical) repeating – simply had to contribute/continue to contribute to their “survival to the end of the second millennium of our era.” By suggesting just this, theater studies in essence insist on an entirely different approach to the whole history of European theater. By this, theater studies advocate a completely different reading, as well as a different interpretation of this same history, which, of course, must include its entirely different (future) writing. Concretely, such a writing that will comprehend (reconstruct) differently the rich, extremely rich, meta-theatrical/para-theatrical/ethno-theatrical folkloric tradition. Here we have in mind a tradition that quite simply marked the beginning of it all, as well as a tradition that is eminently Balkan.
Based on evidence gathered from a whole series of various disciplines, to which theater studies naturally directs its curiosity without limits (disciplines such as ethnology, anthropology, history of art, sociology, philosophy, intellectual history…), it is more certain that the adventure of Thespis and everything that came after it could not have transpired in any other place on planet Earth. The only exception is the place where it did occur. In the Balkans!
Theater studies has become more certain that the Balkans is the birthplace of the so-called European theatrical tradition, that is the European theater model, just because it was able to support/fulfill the “emancipation” of that model and its sensational aesthetic self-profiling in art, which is exactly what happened here, twenty-five long centuries ago. Only the Balkans with its unbelievable, intriguing, long, enigmatic, complex and multiplex, multiethnic and trans-ethnic folk culture and tradition has the strength and the power to bring about an entire new medium for mass/cultural communication, as is theater.
Research has shown that this folk culture and tradition, which for millennia have successfully been realized through its own Balkan cultural dialogue – constantly animated by the most variegated participants (Illyrians, Thracians, Paeonians, Ancient Macedonians, Ancient Greeks, Slavs…), was able to maintain/manifest its own continuity and vitality up to the present day. In spite of all the surrounding circumstances (is it really necessary at all, to call them Balkan?), the preservation of this dialogue – louder please! – managed to succeed in the field of theater. By constantly discovering new arguments, theaterologists have become more and more certain of the thesis of the certain, multi-millennial, continuous, exclusively dynamic pulsating of the phenomenon which should be loudly proclaimed as the BALKAN THEATER SPHERE.
I think that it is easy to decode in this book that the Macedonian part of this exclusive phenomenon – both the literary-drama, and especially the theater/theatrical – has been constantly confirmed/enforced as one of the most dynamic, and also that such self-maintenance has been especially strengthened in this period of the last forty years.