Zadnje novosti...
Uvjeti korištenja i pravila privatnosti
© Hrvatsko narodno kazalište u Varaždinu

Kazalište i njegovo okruženje

Varaždin Theatre in Its Environment

The development and changes of the city are also reflected in the work of the Theatre. In recent history, changes are more frequent and faster, therefore the Theatre adjusts its communication with the environment in keeping with the circumstances in terms of marketing, but also in terms of performance; ways change according to the times, only the mission of theatre art is always the same.

Before the Homeland War, the textile and wood industries had been especially developed in the economy (for example, the textile giant Varteks, then Vis, Mundus, etc.), which with the beginning of the 21st century dried up or completely disappeared. According to the 2011 census, Varaždin and its surrounding settlements have 46,946 inhabitants, and the city itself has 38,839 inhabitants. With the ever-increasing expansion of the city’s territory and the assimilation of suburban settlements into the urban area, the wider surroundings of Varaždin County are increasingly connected to the its urban centre. In 2011, the county’s population was 175,951, and in 2021 it was almost 16,000 less due to emigration abroad. On the other hand, there is an influx from other parts of Croatia and abroad, and in recent years there has been an increasing number of workers from Nepal, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, etc.

Most secondary schools are in Varaždin. Together with the Faculty of Organization and Informatics (since 1974), which today has more than two thousand eight hundred students, and the Polytechnic since 2005, integrated in 2014 into the University of the North, with more than three thousand students, Varaždin is a small student town. The number of people with university level education is increasing, the demographic picture is changing, as well as the way of life and style, which is increasingly “e-style”. Changes in recent history of the theatre due to changes in the environment are noticeable at the beginning of the 21st century: in the repertoire, the ensemble and in the “change of the audience.“ 

The environment of the Varaždin theatre is not only Varaždin and Varaždin County. From the earliest periods of the Theatre, we come across information about regular guest appearances in the wider region, except in Varaždin, often in Međimurje County, but also in more distant places. Since the second half of the 20th century, the Theatre has participated in all relevant festivals of the former state. Even after the end of the war, the Theatre is active on foreign festivals and renews or establishes new cooperation with the theatres of the former Yugoslavia: in Maribor, Tuzla, Sarajevo, Mostar, Zemun, with theatres in Macedonia; plays participate in almost all Croatian festivals, but also in festivals in Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Poland, Turkey, Pakistan…

In recent times, residents of Varaždin have become increasingly mobile in search of cultural contents, so they often go to shows in other theatres, especially in Zagreb. They no longer come to the Theatre to be part of the Varaždin culture as an important social event, but choose the content according to their own affinities, often encouraged by the media, but most often still by “word of mouth”. The audience in Varaždin comes from the entire County, but also from the counties of Međimurje, Koprivnica-Križevačka, Krapina-Zagorje, Zagreb and other parts of Croatia. Synergy with the community is a dynamic process; The theatre is in a continuous dialogue: political and economic, related to financing, demographic, sociological and educational. Varaždin and the area of NW Croatia as the immediate geographical environment of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin forms a cultural performance space without which there is no mutual individuation in the act of theatrical performance itself.



“If a circle is drawn with chalk” (Huizinga,) or “a small carpet is spread in the space” (Brook, 1972), this is a sufficient sign that it is the “consecrated space” of the theatre. That space cannot be made only by those who are in that space; in order for the space to be marked, set aside and “consecrated”, those outside that space are necessary. “Someone moves in that empty space while someone else observes them, and that’s all it takes to create theatre.” (Brook: 1972,1). Mirror reflection enables the “consecrated space” to include two facing faces: the actor and the viewer.

Since the very beginning of the theatre, society has divided the roles into spectators and performers (Divignaud: 1978), but according to contemporary theories of performance, the role of the spectator is already a performance. Darko Lukić, in an article with the indicative title The Whole World Are Audiences (2009), twisting Shakespeare’s catchphrase: The Whole World Is a Stage, states the London graffiti: “If the whole world is a stage, where does the audience sit?” We would like to offer a kind of conclusion to this witty rhetorical question: “The whole world is a stage on which the audience constantly changes its roles.“ 

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the theatre ceased to be a subject of the science of literature and thanks to the founder of contemporary theatre studies, Max Herrmann, the play as a whole, rather than the dramatic text, was put in the foreground, attention was focused on the performance, because: “drama a creation of the art of the words of an individual, the theatre is the effect of the audience and its servants.” (Fischer-Lichte: 2009:26) The auditorium and the stage thus become one body in the game as a dynamic process that ceases to be a work, an artifact, and the spectators and actors become teammates. In other words, the previous subject-object relationship, in which the actors are mere objects of observation for the spectators, and the audience for the actors are objects for conveying messages, ceases to exist. Herrmann points out: “The original meaning of the theatre (…) consists in the fact that the theatre was a social game – a game of everyone for everyone. A game in which all participants – are participants and spectators (…). A social community is always present with the theatre.” (Fischer-Lichte: 2009:28) The viewer is a “uniter of multitudes” and a “creative creator of himself.” (Čale-Feldman:) The plurality of his identities inevitably constitutes him as a discursive being.

Theatre is a “scene of conflict” between voice and body, a scene of communication, a scene of flow of pleasure and desire (Helbo, André, in: Carlson, 1997:253). The viewer participates simultaneously in multiple synesthetic experiences during the performance, in the process of meaning production, his senses become aware, he interprets signs and produces meanings. “The viewer attends a dramatic speech: mute, hands tied behind his back, restrained by the impression of some other world. However, his total passivity (the dramatic experience rests on this) should be transformed into an irrational activity: the viewer was and is drawn into the dramatic game, becoming the speaker himself (and that, of course, through the mouths of all the characters). The viewer-drama relationship only knows complete separation and complete identification, but it does not allow the viewer to penetrate the drama or address the viewer through the drama.” (Szondi, 2001:14)

The audience is always active, according to Stanley Fisch, it is an “interpretive community” and it is not necessary to insist on its activity, because the viewer has always been emancipated, as Rancière claims: “Being a viewer is not a passive position that should be changed into an activity.” This is our usual state. (…) Every spectator is already an actor in his performance, every actor, every man of action is a spectator of the same performance.“ (Rancière, 2010:15-16)

In European theatre studies, research of audience is of recent date and still little attention is paid to this phenomenon. Aristotle does not explicitly mention the audience in his Poetics, but he does refer to it in the Rhetoric. In his discussion in the form of polemic On the Sublime, Longinus includes the reception of the work of art in his circle of thinking. The sublime consists of the dignity and excellence of the language and thus, he says, delights the reader, that is, the viewer. (Beker, 1979) Victor Hugo in his preface to the play Hernani, which, along with the preface to the play Cromwell, is considered a manifesto of French romanticism, writes that the radical change in contemporary art came about for the better because of a new audience in the theatre that was willing to accept and approve news. He points out the difference between the reading audience and the theatre audience: the reading audience accepted the freedom of romanticism a long time ago, and the theatre audience only recently. He not only approves of the new drama but also demands it. So, the audience influences the theatre. In the 20th century, the importance of the audience was highlighted by Brecht, Artaud, Marinetti and Meyerhold.

Darko Lukić notes that “all leading and relevant experts agree and are unanimous, (it is a fact) that it is impossible to speak of viewers as a group that can be called the singular word audience, and that is why it is always necessary to insist on the plural of that word, on speaking about audiences.” (Lukić, 2009 and 2010: 235) Today, theatre audiences are dynamic, they change in accordance with the changes in the environment with which they are constantly interacting, and statistical analyses alone are not enough to study them, as Duvignaud warns (1978). Audience research uses different methods and is the subject of different sciences, from sociology, cognitive sciences, to communication sciences, economics, etc. Theatres are usually limited to marketing research, in order to increase ticket sales, but “even when we succeed with different methods (within the framework of marketing processes) to find out something about the spectators who came to the theatre on a certain evening, we still do not know anything about those who did not come that evening – which is perhaps more important information for the marketing strategy than the information about the spectators who did come. We don’t know why they didn’t come, or if they will come and when, or if they won’t at all, or why they won’t, or what should be done so that they might come anyway…” (Lukić, 2010:238) Cultural conditions have become more and more variable in recent decades, especially with the entry of new media into public and private space. However, despite fears that the media would “take over” the theatre audience, this did not happen, because the immediacy of a “live” performance is an irreplaceable aesthetic experience. Audiences are neither a material autochthonous mass nor an abstract community phenomenon, but subjects that change their roles in a tangle of gender, ethical, racial, class and cultural identifications, as Judith Butler (2001) points out. Different occupations, political and religious affiliations, material situation and a number of other factors influence, of course, the affinities related to the genre of the play and the tendency towards the so-called “popular” or “high art”. If theatre audiences need to be created, because “residents of cities (…) are not automatically audiences of art because this presupposes an enrichment of the ability to communicate with certain codes and languages” (Lopez, in: Lukić, 2010:295), it would mean that theatre needs didactic act even before their arrival in the theatre. Given that the perception of a theatrical play does not depend on education, and that, apart from clinical exceptions, almost every person at the moment of watching the play knows that it is an illusion, every subject is a potential spectator. Nevertheless, playwrights, directors and other theatre workers must assume for which audience a play is intended, what type and weight of “codes and language” it requires in communication. An experimental play will certainly have a smaller audience than a comedy, but it is possible for an audience that has already entered the theatre once with the desire to be entertained, to retain and educate them to watch more intellectually demanding plays.

All audiences (and non-theatrical audiences) are only potential theatre audiences, until they buy a ticket at the box office and enter the auditorium. No audience can be reliable, because it is possible that, due to disappointed expectations of the theatre experience, the one that was already, will cease to be a theatre audience. It is possible to establish a balance between the expectations of the audience from the theatre performance and the expectations of the theatre from the audience precisely through interdisciplinary audience research, a good assessment of theatre authorities in compiling the repertoire, setting top criteria in performance practice, regardless of whether it is an experimental or “popular” performance, and media activity which aims to inform and attract the audience to the theatre.

Thanks to the Varaždin audience, today we proudly celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the theatre building; the need for a theatre is part of the Varaždin milieu to this day. For decades, the so-called cultural elite perceived theatre premieres as important social events. Denis Peričić, writer and theatre critic, writes in an article about the Varaždin audience:

„In any case, the composition of the audience is surprisingly diverse. Contrary to all (black) expectations, regular viewers are not connected by belonging to any social caste, but mainly by their love for theatre art. Among them are retired people, teachers, medical doctors, artists, economists, directors, writers, secretaries, ‘representatives of county and city authorities’, musicians, fashion designers, officials, sports workers…(…) There are critics and apologists and experts among them and theatre illiterates, and ardent fanatics and phlegmatic sceptics. They are mostly natives, ‘true Varaždinians’, for whom the Varaždin theatre must be ‘very Varaždin’ (which it is), but some arrived from other, even very distant areas of foreign countries, settling in Varaždin and embracing the Varaždin theatre as their own’, asking it to be universal (which it also is). (…) In every play, the Varaždin audience likes to feel the ‘spirit of the times’, wants the play to correspond with current everyday life. From the events on the stage, the audience can read the events in the Croatian reality, detect the atmosphere in which we live.“ (Peričić, 1995:5-6)

According to Mirjana Šalamun, who spent her entire working life in the Theatre’s publicity office, “the Varaždin audience looks at you in your face and praises you, but the applause will not be sincere and there will be no viewers in the rerun if the play is not good.” She recalls the introduction of the so-called Theatre communities, subscriptions to which in the 70s of the 20th century were supposed to make culture accessible to all citizens. The trade unions of the numerous “labour organizations” at the time paid the full amount of the tickets to the Theatre, and the workers received ID cards with which they collected free tickets for performances. A key role was played by cultural animators, employed in all factories, in charge of mass involvement in cultural events, so they filled the auditorium in accordance with the socialist slogan “culture for the workers”, and numerous soldiers, pupils, and students joined the “cultural superstructure”. Radmila Vlahek is one of the last mediators between the Theatre and the then numerous employees of Varteks, who until the end of the 90s of the 20th century “animated” the audience from the work collective.

Primary and secondary schools in Varaždin, Varaždin County, but also beyond, are real nurseries of the audience – some principals, Croatian language teachers, librarians, etc., have taken care of regular visits to the performances in the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin, organizing group visits or encouraging students to come individually to plays that are discussed in class, thereby sensitizing students to an analytical approach to performance. There is a respectable number of schools and individuals with a great commitment to creating a theatre audience, to mention some of them: Spomenka Dragović, Marija Kraš, Tatjana Ruža…

It was from the ranks of the children and young audience that many pupils and students were recruited who more actively and directly contributed (and contribute) to theatre art: as extras in plays, members of numerous theatre groups, including a group founded in the Theatre itself (AC’ 77 Youth Drama Studio) or, more recently, as participants of the Youth Theatre Studio. Of these, every year more and more young people decide to devote their professional life to theatre art, enrolling in theatre academies.


Vesna Kosec-Torjanac


City – Theatre

The building of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin celebrated its 150th anniversary having been renovated, and the rich drama, music, stage and dance program is now worthy of the acquired national status. The history of theatre life in Varaždin is consistent with all social, demographic, political, economic, educational and other changes in its immediate environment.

Helmer’s architectural beauty owes its life to the people of Varaždin – who have built the theatre and lived with it for generations; synergy with the community is a dynamic process, so the history of the Varaždin theatre is very much conditioned by the history of the City. Varaždin – the Croatian capital from 1756 to 1776, “Little Vienna”, a “city – museum” with the wealth of its palaces, the most beautiful cemetery in Europe, with its churches and bell towers, streets and squares, immersed in the melancholy of Stančić’s oil paintings; the city of “baroque and art”, rich in cultural manifestations, proud of its many famous cultural workers, artists and scientists, today it is a dynamic living urban space “according to man”, the inheritor of an impressive cultural tradition. Like every life, the life of the City in its history is full of amplitudes, so its theatre is not spared from ups and downs. “It was certainly easier to erect a building, but much more difficult to achieve the goal – the foundation of a permanent theatre. Generations died in that struggle, partial and shorter achievements in this cause filled us with hope, that the more difficult and bitter the failure, which was, for the most part, our own fault.” (Filić, 1973:30) The persistence of theatre enthusiasts and the city nevertheless resulted in the realization of a dream: with some earlier short-lived flare-ups, the continuity of the ensemble and repertoire has lasted for almost eighty years.

Charismatic artists, who recognized the uniqueness of the immediate environment in the Varaždin theatre, and perceived the theatre building as a creative home, contributed to impressive achievements in the history of the Varaždin theatre.

The building binds, it sets an imperative for all structures in society, but also for its “tenants” – without theatre art, Varaždin would not be what it is. The synergy of the city and the theatre throughout history enabled theatre development in the Croatian and European context. Today’s building lives its life to the fullest, and “the physical space of the theatre is also a cultural space“. (Petlevski, 2001:171)

As the immediate living art of the moment, the theatre leaves behind only scant information (theatre note, poster, criticism, etc.), and a significant part of history is still vividly written in the Varaždin audience. This monograph, of course, relies on available facts, but its primary goal is to show, through words and photographs, the atmosphere, the fullness of life, of which only a shadow can be grasped. The theatre has an invaluable humanistic mission; develops criticality and self-criticism, deepens aesthetic standards, does not change the world, but constantly questions it; it provokes, laughs and grieves – evokes the deepest human emotions that are perhaps more necessary today than ever before.


AC ’77 Youth Drama Studio (1977 – 1987)

The AC ’77 Youth Drama Studio (abbreviation ODS, “AC” are the initials of the writer August Cesarec, after the name of the Theatre at the time) was founded in February 1977. The Varaždinske vijesti on March 17, 1977, recorded: “Two auditions for members of the Youth Drama Studio were held in the premises of the Varaždin-based August Cesarec National Theatre. (…). An unexpectedly large number of girls and boys came forward, mostly middle and high school students. (…)“

The incentive for the establishment of an amateur theatre, which continued to operate alongside and in the premises of the August Cesarec National Theatre, with a permanent or variable number of members (mostly around twenty), was given by the director of the Theatre at the time, director Petar Veček, and the basic idea was the aesthetic education of young people through creative works in drama and theatrical performances, active and nurturing attraction of a wider circle of people interested in theatre and avoiding confinement within narrow professional frameworks.

In the beginning, directors Petar Veček, Miro Međimorec, Srećko Capar and actress Vesna Stilinović did the ‘duck-steps’ on stage and acting improvisations, while theatre dramatist Ante Armanini held theoretical lectures on the history and aesthetics of dramatic theatre. Actress Vesna Stilinović, later the leader of the KUO 3 and KUO 4 drama groups of the Gabrijel Santo Secondary School Centre, today’s First Gymnasium, from 1977 until the founding of the Youth Theatre Studio, from time to time realized various stage projects within the AC ’77 Youth Drama Studio, such as Antigone by D. Smole, improvised plays ‘on the theme’ entitled The King’s Game and Tosca, and the play Dripping on Hot Stones based on the poetry collection The Flowers of Evil by C. Baudelaire. The AC ’77 Youth Drama Studio performed its own repertoire and staged plays independently and with the support of the theatre’s stage and technical staff. The plays were listed on the monthly theatre posters on an equal footing with the plays of the professional ensemble, and its members occasionally took part in professional productions.

The first performance of the AC ’77 Youth Drama Studio was The Forced Marriage by J. B. P. Molière (March 30, 1978), followed by the recital The Earth Will Spin as Before…” (a selection from contemporary poetry by V. Ban, V. Poljanac, I. Zamoda, Z. Balog, J. Menart, Lj. Opačić, D. Mazur, V. Topić), June 30, 1978, the play Something Will Happen in the Town by D. Torjanac (February 10, 1979), and Frenzy for Two, or More by E. Ionesco (1979) Journalist Ivica Vrbanić comments in the newspaper Varaždinske vijesti on May 24, 1979:

Members of the Youth Drama Studio recently performed the play Something Will Happen in the Town, based on the text by Dubravko Torjanac, which deals with the problem of passivity and lack of interest among young people in Varaždin. Due to the lack of space, young people can only choose between a ‘guesthouse in the centre of the town’ and a ‘guesthouse on the outskirts’. Indecisiveness, insecurity, inability to make a true and accurate decision in life, and in addition being guided by the will of their parents, reduces their activity to passive observation of life around them and to deceptive verbalizations.  

In the first three mentioned plays of the AC ’77 Youth Drama Studio the scenographer was Marin Gozze. The painter and scenographer Ivan Duić created his first theatre scenography for B. Brecht’s play, A Man’s a Man, Goran Merkaš designed his first theatre posters for plays: D Torjanac, Something Will Happen in the Town, and E. Ionesco, Scene in Four / Madness in Two; the musical collaborator of all performances was Nataša Maričić, the actors Velimir Čokljat and Zdenko Brlek made their first stage steps in Molière’s The Forced Marriage (Brlek in Ionesco’s one-act plays and in the recital And the Earth will Spin as Before… ), and the actor Ljubomir Kerekeš in Smole’s Antigone, Ksenija Krčar took the stage in Dripping on Hot Stones, while the author and playwright Vesna Kosec-Torjanac tried her hand as an actress in the Cabaret Chekhov. In addition to the mentioned projects by V. Stilinović, the director of the other plays of the Drama Studio was Dubravko Torjanac.   

„(…) after a two-year break”, wrote the Varaždinska vijesti on October 7, 1982, “The Youth Drama Studio was re-established (…) and now Dubravko Torjanac works with amateur actors (…)”. In the next five years, plays for adults, plays for children and (anti-)recitals followed: … reflections on Gundulić’s Dubravka and Something Else, that is, Let’s Set Everything in Green Groves! (and then stare?), with the texts by Gundulić, Voznesensky, Majakovsky, Brecht (1982); B. Brecht, A Man’s a Man, (March 1, 1983); L. Paljetak, Executioner or Two Restless Days in the Town on Lake Q and The Encore Performance (based on the text by L. Paljetak The Death of Mr. Olaf  (March 16, 1984); The Ballad of a Great Death (with texts as in Advokat Pathelin, a farce by an unknown author from 15th century, The Ballad of a Great Death, by M. de Ghelderode, Germania, Death in Berlin, by H. Müller, 1985); Mockingbirds (cabaret program with texts by F. Villon, W. Shakespeare, Z. Balog, B. Brecht, by J. de La Fontaine, E. Deschamps and texts by members of the Studio, April 30, 1986); A. B. Ruzzante, Mosquito (August 15, 1986); M. Krleža, Kerempuhove pesme glas (stage fragments of The Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh, 1987); Skurjeni (pantomime for the opening of the Matija Skurjeni Gallery, Zaprešić, July 15, 1987); A. P. Chekhov, Cabaret Chekhov (stage adaptations of the novels by A. P. Chekhov, August 19, 1987)     

The AC ’77 Youth Drama Studio also performed three plays for children, THIS YEAR’S NEW YEAR (December 10, 1983), Animal Kingdom (1984), “who goes to sleep with children / adults…” (December 24, 1985), all texts D. Torjanac.

In addition to the above said, between 1985 and 1987, the Drama Studio occasionally recorded short radio plays on Radio Varaždin (texts by K. Bayer, Terence and its own texts). The radio program was titled The Nail File, and the editor was journalist Ivica Vrbanić.


Youth Theatre Studio of Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin – the First Fifteen Years

The Youth Theatre Studio of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin started its work in the autumn of 2008, and was started at the instigation of the then director Jasna Jakovljević, who a year before, while I was still at the head of the Zagreb Youth Theatre School, had proposed to me that a similar model work in Varaždin. I gladly accepted the invitation from Varaždin and understood it as a challenge to create a new focal point of theatre work with young generations. I considered the offer particularly challenging because it came from the circle of traditional institutional theatres in Croatia, none of which, unlike most similar theatres across Europe, has a department or an individual specialist who works with targeted pedagogical programs and in cooperation with schools and the community on education and creation of a new young audience.

During the preparatory period, the artistic and pedagogical concept of the activity was formed, the organizational and technical conditions of the studio work and the material and financial assumptions of its sustainability were agreed upon.

The artistic-pedagogical concept of the Varaždin Youth Theatre Studio is shaped not only according to the experiences of similar theatre studios in our country, the Zagreb Youth Theatre College above all, but the set goals and methodology are also the result of the strong development of drama/theatre pedagogy in the world in the last half century. In addition to the expected tasks of such work that takes place in the theatre institution (acquainting young participants with the theatre medium as the first step in educating the future audience, developing their artistic inclinations and creativity through regular study activities and through special workshops, designing performances, supporting gifted children, etc.), among the program goals of the Youth Theatre Studio, the emphasis is also placed on sociocultural tasks, since theatre and dramatic arts are precisely the area that most fully provides the opportunity for young people to express themselves and shape their worlds and worldviews as their own authentic culture. The Youth Theatre Studio is conceived as a place where these needs will be articulated and realized.

As far as organizational and technical conditions are concerned, the Youth Theatre Studio got at its disposal an almost ideal space for studio work – a spacious room/hall on the fourth floor of the Theatre, called “Studio 72”, in which it was possible to conduct drama classes with the desired number of participants per group (15). In addition to the necessary furniture, for the needs of the studio work, a set of stage elements (cubes) was made already at the beginning of the first season, with which the presenters and participants creatively shaped the space and scenography of their final productions. Thanks to the fact that all schools in Varaždin County work only in the morning shift, study work could be easily organized and distributed in the afternoon and evening during the working week.

The sustainable financial structure meant that the income from the membership fee for attending the Studio covers the compensation (fees) of the head of the Youth Theatre Study, as head(s) of individual study groups. For that, it was necessary to enrol a certain number of participants in each group. In the first season, we managed to enrol over a hundred students, divided into seven study groups of different ages.

The creation of an expert management team, as the second most important prerequisite for the long-term sustainability of the Youth Theatre Studio’s activities, represented a special challenge. Since there was no form of systematic education for the drama-pedagogical profession in our country at that time, motivated managers developed their professional competences through direct practical work with children and young people and by attending a series of educational workshops that were offered at the time.

Already at the beginning of our activities, a management team was assembled, which during the following years created the nucleus and established a model of professional work in the Theatre Studio. Its special feature was the cooperation and coordinated work of leaders from different backgrounds; on the one hand, from the area of professional theatre art, and on the other, from the daily practice of leading dramatic and stage activities in schools and related institutions. Actresses Barbara Rocco and Vesna Stilinović accepted the first season of hosting, and from the educational ranks, Ana Krčar-Velimirović, kindergarten teacher, Renata Eldan, class teacher, and Anđelka Rihtarić, Croatian language teacher. In the following years, when the number of participants increased significantly, actresses Gordana Slivka and Hana Hegedušić and director Ksenija Krčar joined the work of the Theatre Studio from the professional circle, while class teachers Roberta Barat and Nevenka Mihac, and Bojana Barlek, teacher of Croatian language and literature, joined as well. In addition to the expressed motivation for such work, all of them had previous or current experience of drama work with young generations, as well as the willingness to share and further build on previously acquired knowledge through joint activities in the Theatre Studio.

As a rule, colleagues from education spheres worked with younger participants, elementary school students, introducing them to educational and creative theatre work. The main tasks for these age groups are primarily educational, and only then artistic, performing. On the other hand, female presenters who came from a professional environment worked as a rule with grammar school students and older people, where the emphasis was placed on the performance capabilities of young performers. Of course, this principal division of goals and methods of work – according to the age and experience of the participants, that is, what is also important, according to the pedagogical and artistic preferences and competences of the leader – in the live practice of every drama/theatre pedagogue changes and adapts in the concrete course and outcomes of the work with a particular group. In the Youth Theatre Studio, some very young or stage inexperienced groups performed great performances, which could be interpreted not only by the performance capabilities of the young performers, but above all by the artistic and pedagogical competence of the pedagogues who led them. From the very beginning of our activities, Ana Krčar-Velimirović, Renata Eldan, Roberta Barat and Nevenka Mihac have established high standards of studio work with the youngest groups, which is thanks to their previous experience of leading drama/stage groups in their home environments (at school, kindergarten, etc.), as well as numerous educations that have gone through opting for drama-pedagogical work as a creative complement to regular work. In addition to some special features of personal approaches, their practice is united by a common methodological framework and the principles of contemporary drama/theatre education, which place the child and the development of his creative possibilities as an integral part of the development of a complete personality at the centre of creative dramatic work. Transferred into practice, these principles require different, more creative and playful forms of drama/theatre work with young people, the kind applied by Zvjezdana Ladika, the founder of drama education in our country, and continued to be developed by drama pedagogues of subsequent generations. It is a methodology that, especially when working with children, includes a lot of dramatic games and interesting exercises (imagining, experiencing, emotional memory, etc.), improvisation as a basic method of work, and a free and creative attitude towards textual templates that are staged.

Unlike the traditional approach to work on a play, where the starting point is the (dramatic) text, in the modern practice of drama/theatre education, the starting point is the young participants and their creative needs and possibilities. Even then, when the (dramatic) text is staged “as written”, young performers are also encouraged to create their own – authorial – relationship to the text, its content and the way it will be staged. In our studio work with the youngest groups, text templates taken from children’s literature (picture books, stories, fairy tales and plays) were usually chosen for the final production. Some of them, as they represent permanently stimulating material for working with very young groups, were staged several times by colleagues Ana and Renata (e.g. G. Vitez, How Antuntun Lives and Blue Colour of Snow; M. Pfister, Rainbow Coloured Fish; J. Čunčić Bandov, Games with Dragons; I. Škuflić Horvat, Circustown; I. Milley, Dream Plane, etc.). The main feature of Roberta Barat’s approach is that she forms the final productions almost exclusively from material created by improvisations in drama classes, without relying on any literary template, while the main feature of Nevenka Mihac’s work was a free, creative relationship with textual templates and themes that she dealt with in groups. 

The aforementioned principles of drama/theatre education, concretized in the work with younger participants from the very beginning of our activities, were also present in the work with grammar school and older study groups, in which, as already pointed out, the emphasis was on performing, “artistic” outcomes for young participants. This does not only mean their successful stage and acting performance, but also the acquisition of a deeper awareness of the dramatic/theatrical medium, its various forms and its artistic, sociocultural and psychological functions. In the study work with more mature groups, the basic methodology of dramatic/theatre educational work (drama games and exercises, various improvisational techniques, methods of collective creation, etc.), aimed at encouraging the author’s attitude towards the contents and forms of dramatic/theatre creation, should be added one more characteristic feature – jumpy, discontinuous dramaturgy, characteristic of modern and postmodern art as a whole, which shapes plays by collaging fragments and scenes, mixing performance styles and genres and artistic types, editing texts by different authors, duplicating and/or splitting roles, copying and adapting original texts taken from literature, from the media, from websites or created through some creative process, etc. For this kind of theatrical work with young people, some writers – like E. Ionesco, D. Harms or, once, R. Queneau, to mention only the “classics” – as well as some themes – for example, the theme of Antigone, with a multitude of author’s interpretations – are especially stimulating.

In working with older study groups, a special contribution to such an approach was made by Vesna Stilinović, the doyen of the Varaždin theatre, creating performances marked by the emphasized authorship of young performers, whether it was the staging of Brecht’s one-act plays (Two One-act Plays, 2009), Andersen’s fairy tales (The Snow Queen, 2013) and Bakmaz’s plays (Authentic Experiences with Dogs, 2011) or about completely original plays (Blind Passengers, 2010; Tea for Chekhov, 2011; I Love You, I Really Do, 2012). In the latter, the performers agreed on a general theme with the lady leader, and then, through improvisations, they jointly shaped their roles and the entire performance. I join these productions with my own, such as Exercises from the Croatian Conversation for the Youth of Varaždin (according to E. Ionesco, 2009); Acting School (2010); Shakespeare for Teenagers (based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, 2011); I Am Not an Insect (based on the piece “From the Life of Insects” by the Brothers Čapek, 2012); CSI Antigone (according to J. Anouilh and Sophocles, 2013); You are Welcome (according to the texts by D. Harms, E. Ionesco, P. Handke, A. Šenoa and S. Mihalić, 2015); The Emperor’s New Clothes (based on Andersen’s story, 2009) and Say Yes to a Good Fight! (as in newspaper and media articles and online comments of the actual event, 2016). The productions of other colleagues who led older studio groups are characterized by the same approach. Among Bojana Barlek’s plays, it is important to mention the great Dead Queen (2013), shaped by the collage of Ionesco’s classic dramas The Chairs, The Unpaid Assassin and The Dying King, while Gordana Slivka’s adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary (2017) stands out among her productions. It is especially worth highlighting the productions of Ksenija Krčar, who during her work at the Youth Theatre Studio realized a series of plays marked by a distinct author’s approach (When the Monkeys Fly Off to the Sky, 2012; Hysteria Lane, 2013; Zootopia, 2014; The Case of the Friedman Family, 2015.).

Strengthening the professional team of the Youth Theatre Studio, as a guarantee of its quality work, has been a permanent task in our work so far. It was during the difficult and demanding years of the epidemic that the professional band that had been forming and developing the activities of the Youth Theatre Studio was joined by Tanja Novak, a graduate drama teacher, Hana Kunić, graduate actress and our former student, and Zvonko Zečević, actor of the Varaždin Theatre. All three have successfully integrated into our work. In addition to the engagement of new drama pedagogues, at the end of my work at the head of the Studio, the basic prerequisite for its sustainable work in the future was fulfilled – the employment of an expert in the position of head of the Youth Theatre Studio, which made the activity of the Studio an integral institutional part of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin.

What criteria should be used to evaluate the outcomes and achievements of the fifteen-year activity of the Youth Theatre Study? In addition to the evaluation of professional work, the basic features of which have been described, other criteria are more crucial for the survival and future of the Studio, such as the question of whether the activity is financially sustainable and whether it really represents an important social and/or cultural need of the community in which it operates. The financial sustainability of the Studio was never in question, even during the Coronavirus epidemic, which significantly limited our work, but did not interrupt it at any time. The increase in the number of students enroled after the Coronavirus, in addition to once again strengthening the financial security of the Studio, once again confirmed that the citizens of Varaždin and the County consider the activity of the Youth Theatre Studio necessary and socially useful for their own children, for their social development and cultural and aesthetic education. Let’s add to this that the professional theatre also benefits from our activity, primarily this one from Varaždin, under whose auspices the Youth Theatre Studio was born. Every year, a number of our students apply for the entrance exams of theatre academies in Croatia and the region. From the first generations of former students, Filip and Nikša Eldan, members of the Varaždin Croatian National Theatre ensemble, Sara Ipša, Hana Kunić, Tena-Antonija Torjanac, Jurica Marčec, Karlo Bernik, Anamarija Brđanović and Jura Ruža, as well as Karla Aračić, who is bringing her studies to an end. They are asserting themselves on the independent scene with their own projects, and several younger alumni have recently started or are preparing to enrol in acting studies at various schools.