At the Turn of the Century
The Varaždin Theatre 1990-2005
- V a r a ž d i n t h e a t r i c a l f i n d e s i è c l e (1990-2000)
The year of 1990 was a turning point in the activities of the Theatre in Varaždin because it marked the beginning of some important determinants of the entire decade. With its new management (M. Varjačić, B. Baletić), a new development phase began; instead of following more or less successfully developments in Croatian theatres, the Croatian National Theatre (HNK) in Varaždin was going to be one of the leaders. The e n e r g y of c h a n g e was first felt in the creative atmosphere and repertoire (R. Mesarić, 2019). The premiere of the play Elizabeta Bam by Daniil Harms, directed by Ranka Mesarić, was the beginning of radical i n n o v a t i o n s i n r e p e r t- -o i r e observing the movements in the European theatre of the time. The performance of three medieval French farces under the common name Bogi Ivač marked the r e v i v a l of Kajkavian dialect into theatre in Croatia, and the first performance of Kamovljev’s Čovječanstvo announces the continuation of the tradition of performances of plays written by Croatian writers in Varaždin. N a t i o n a l d r a m a s will be an important determinant of the repertoire in the nineties.
2. The Varaždin Cartel
In history of Croatian theatres, the use of the term cartel (agreement) is known for the directors who ruled the Croatian theatre after the death of Branko Gavella, although those named denied the existence of such agreement. In Varaždin, at the beginning of the 1990s, an agreement was indeed made in writing between the director of the Theatre, Marijan Varjačić, and four young theatre directors (Borna Baletić, Ozren Prohić, Robert Raponja and Leo Katunarić) on permanent cooperation in organizing and realizing the repertoire of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin. Cooperation was therefore not ad hoc; the participants of the agreement did not only have their individual interests in mind (directing plays) but also the activity of the theatre as a whole, its positioning in Croatian theatre and beyond. The meetings, discussions and agreements of the participants were devoid of any bureaucratic form and often took place like a symposium, in the original sense of the word. Of the aforementioned directors, only Borna Baletić was permanently engaged. Generationally close to him and of similar age were Bobo Jelčić and Dubravko Torjanac, who was in continuous engagement from 1994. The permanent engagement of dramaturge Ante Armanini, who was in the theatre from 1978 and formed a link with previous periods, especially the one from the second half of the 1970s, when Petar Veček and Miro Međimorec were active in the Theatre, was also valuable. Young directors invited numerous artists of similar generation to Varaždin as coworkers (actors, scenographers, costume designers, stage composers, etc.). The result of their activities was the permanent engagement of a large number of actresses and actors of approximately the same age.
According to Ozren Prohić, in the 90s Varaždin was an e n c l a v e of p o s i t i v e t h e a t r e , a place of f r e e d o m and true authentic and indigenous theatre (O. Prohić, 2018). The aforementioned directors were not gathered together in Varaždin due to the same understanding of theatre as art, but – FREEDOM, because it enabled the realization of any orientation – Varaždin appeared to them as a kind of free theatre territory.
Young directors (Baletić, born in 1964, Prohić in 1968, Raponja in 1963, Jelčić in 1964) belonged to the same generation at least in double sense: according to the years of birth and according to the spiritual situation of the time in which they grew up, were educated and formed as artists and in every other aspect. They all studied at the Academy in Zagreb as students of the same teachers, mostly (Georgij Paro, Božidar Violić, Kosta Spajić, Joško Juvančić and others). The time of their affirmation in Varaždin is marked by diverse phenomena in society, art and philosophy under the name p o s t m o d e r n i s m . Although they belong to the same spiritual and social environment, they gradually built their own more or less recognizable theatrical poetics. Their common characteristics was that all of them, like their teachers, devoted themselves to educational work at theatrical schools in Zagreb and Osijek. After all, their activities in Varaždin largely took place during the liberation and defence war in Croatia. That historical period also gave an atmosphere to plays that had no direct connection with the war (e.g. Elizaveta Bam – immediately before the war, On the Edge of Reason, The Trial, Kraljevo).
Philosophical anthropology deals with the coexistence of people of different ages within the category of historicity: Young, middle and old generations live in their own, rather distant times, which are represented for them by their peers. But these generations live this diachrony opposite each other and next to each other, thus synchronously, at the same time. This is how they gain the experience of history (G. Haeffner, 2003). With the engagement of fourteen new members of the Drama1, the Varaždin ensemble became twice as numerous, generationally complete and pervaded by the spirit of coexistence of people of different ages, personalities, life and theatre experience.
1 Actresses and actors: Barbara Rocco, Matija Prskalo, Sunčana Zelenika, Ljiljana Bogojević, Igor Mešin, Robert Plemić, Zvonko Zečević, Marinko Prga, Alen Liverić, Zoran Ćubrilo, Edvin Liverić, Berislav Tomičić. Directors: Borna Baletić, Dubravko Torjanac. All of them graduated from ADU / Academy of Dramatic Arts /in Zagreb. The engaged members in the 1990s averaged less tha twenty-five years of age.
The arrival of a larger number of young people did not result in an exclusive, so-called generational theatre. It was influenced by the invisible hand of tradition, the Theatre and the Town.Accordingly, although the direction of the Theatre was determined by young people, the engagement of directors and other collaborators in the 1990s was not exclusively generational2. Actors were also hired for some plays, whose participation was stimulating to the young members of the Drama.3
Generational coexistence is also reflected in the repertoire of the Varaždin Theatre. Dalibor Foretić noticed two main features of the Varaždin Theatre in the 1990s: A happy balance between great innovative achievements and mediation of tradition in a new way (D. Foretić, 2000). As a rule, the bearers of the first feature are B. Baletić, O. Prohić and B. Jelčić, and the others are their teachers G. Paro, V. Gerić and I. Boban. However, we can only conditionally divide the performances into two groups because both features are sometimes found in the one and the same performance (for example, Antigona and Kraljevo).
Among the great innovative achievements one can mention the plays: Observation or Varaždin Stories directed by B. Jelčić (the authorship of the play template is signed by the director, dramaturgist Nataša Rajković and the acting ensemble); Kraljevo by Miroslav Krleža, directed by Borna Baletić; Two Legends (Christopher Columbus and Michelangelo Buonarotti) by Miroslav Krleža, directed by Borna Baletić; Elizaveta Bam by Daniil Harms directed by Ranka Mesarić; The Trial by Franz Kafka, On the Edge of Reason by Miroslav Krleža, directed by Ozren Prohić; Woyzeck by Georg Büchner, directed by Bobo Jelčić; Sophocles’ Antigona directed by Ivica Boban.
Performances, whose important feature is the mediation of tradition in a new way are: Bogi Ivač / Poor Ivač (three medieval French farces directed by Vladimir Gerić; Shakespeare’s Puno larme a za ništ / Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Vladimir Gerić, Jedermann or Vskavič / Everyman by Hofmannsthal and directed by Georgij Paro; Theatre of Miracles by Cervantes/Araball, directed by Borna Baletić; Ilija Kuljaš, Kaj, Ča?, Što? (an adaptation of Molière), directed by Ivica Kunčević; Don Juan by Molière directed by Petar Veček.
2 Directed by: Vladimir Gerić, Georgij Paro, Petar Veček, Ivica Boban, Ivica Kunčević, Ranka Mesarić, Želimir Mesarić and others
3 The following actors acted as guests: Božidar Boban, Božidar Smiljanić, Boris Miholjević, Zlatko Vitez, Slavko Brankov, Ivan Lovriček, Ivo Rogulja, Siniša Popović, Sreten Mokrović, Damir Lončar and others.
The repertoire of the Varaždin Croatian National Theatre (HNK) in the 1990s was p o l y h i s t o r i c a l , covering all major periods of drama literature (ancient, mediaeval, renaissance and modern age up to the twentieth century). C r o a t i a n d r a m a represented almost half of all titles. In this period too, the centuries-old tradition of connection with Croatian literature continues. The P r e m i e r e s of the Croatian writers were: Humanity by Janko Polić Kamov, The Lottery of Imperator Augustus by Ivan Supek, Stepinac, The Voice in the Desert by Ivan Bakmaz, Amajlija by Josip Kulundžić, Pinta Nova by Boris Senker, At the White Swan by Slobodan Šnajder, Norci / The Fools by Dubravko Torjanac. There is a notable presence in the repertoire of the circle of important
C e n t r a l E u r o p e a n w r i t e r s (Molnár, Kafka, Büchner, Schönherr, Hofmannsthal, and finally, Krleža). The renewal of the r e p e r t o i r e in Kajkavian dialect, primarily, of the performances Bogi Ivač / Poor Ivač, Tri kurviša pod raspelom / Three Manwhores under a Crucifix, Puno larme a za ništ / Much Ado About Nothing, Jedermann iliti Vsakovič/Everyman and Norci / The Fools was particularly noteworthy. On the occasion of the performance of Jedermann, Zvonimir Mrkonjić writes about the revival of the Kajkavian dialectal form of the upper Croatian theatre, which mostly refers to Varaždin and a little less to Zagreb, i.e. to Histrioni of Zlatko Vitez.
4. View of Dalibor Foretić 
In the last three years, the leaders of the Varaždin Theatre practically proved that creative tension is possible even in the so-called national theatre houses. (That right gives the Theatre its name, but not a status, although it deserves it.5). This was done by seriously considering the programme of all three components that the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin carries in its name. It is truly Croatian, with the national colouring of the repertoire, and national, i.e. folk-based, referring to the audience that responds it, and the theatre is constantly in tuning with the spirit of the time. Varjačić also achieved the theatre function by carefully taking into account all the factors of the theatrical acts. These are the actors in the first place. In our institutional theatres, there is almost no theatre where so much care is taken about the ensemble, that every actor is optimally used, that he or she is given a chance, so the repertoire is partly shaped according to the actors’ profiles. In addition, this theatre gives an opportunity to young directors who are entitled to incentives for creative affirmation, finding projects that could intrigue more experienced directors (D. Foretić, 1997).
5 The proposal for granting the status of a national theatre was first submitted to the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia in 1997.
In one of his last public appearances, before he passed away, Foretić had said: “In the Varaždin Theatre there has been a distinct creative tension for almost continuously seven or eight years (…). For me, it was our most relevant theatre in the nineties.” (D. Foretić, 2000.)
In the 1990s, the Theatre and some artists won dozens of awards, from the highest, the Vladimir Nazor Award and the Croatian Actor Award to awards at almost all theatre festivals (Festival of Actors, Marulić’s Days, Days of Satire, etc.).
Let us now go back to the fact mentioned in the introduction: in theatre, a t m o s p h e r e is everything. Young actors and their directors who joined them “occupied” the Theatre in Varaždin in the nineties, so to speak. German theatre director and theatrologist Veit Güssow writes in the book Actor’s Presence that “an actor’s presence is characterized by the intensity of the created atmosphere.” (V. Güssow 2013: 41) The actor’s character and personality create a certain atmosphere that can be the main feature of a play or film. For example, Ljubomir Kerekeš in Jedermann iliti Vsakovič/Everyman and in Tužna je nedjelja / Gloomy Sunday, Jagoda Kralj Novak in Elizaveta Bam and Ljubica, Barbara Rocco in Puno larme a za ništ / Much Ado About Nothing and Liliom, Ljiljana Bogojević in Woyzeck, Matija Prskalo in Antigona, Sunčana Zelenika in Scampolo, Zoran Čubrilo in The Trial and Marinko Prga in Don Juan. Atmosphere is almost a trademark for many drama and prose writers (Chekhov, Maeterlinck, Pirandello, Becket, Poe, Kafka). And directing, in an actual sense, is the manipulating the atmosphere. A performance without atmosphere is w i t h o u t s p i r i t , in the Kant’s sense of the word. A theatre in which there is no creatively stimulating atmosphere is lifeless, Brook would say “cadaveric”; atmosphere, in other words, breathes life into theatre (and to the Theatre). (G. Böhme 2015 25): 25)
II. P e r i o d o f C o n t i n u i t y (2001-2005)
Continuity means connection, continuity, constancy regarding the way of running the Theatre, taking care of the acting ensemble and creating and realizing the repertoire.
In the 1990s, a group of young directing graduates from the Academy of Dramatic Art in Zagreb took part in profiling the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin; now, at the turn of the century, permanent members of the house play an increasingly important role: especially Dubravko Torjanac, director and translator, Vesna Kosec-Torjanac, dramaturge and writer, Ante Armanini, dramaturge and essayist, and Tomislav Lipljin, actor and Kajkavian linguist. Their initiatives are encouraged and supported by the Theatre management. The engagement of coworkers from Varaždin (for example, Darija Hreljanović, Ivan Duić, Davor Bobić) is also noticeable. Young Croatian directors (Ozren Prohić, Borna Baletić, Dražen Ferenčina, Dario Harjaček, Hana Veček, Ksenija Krčar) as well as directors of the older generation (Vladimir Gerić, Georgij Paro, Petar Veček, Želimir Mesarić) marked the 1990s and continue to cooperate with the Theatre. The most prominent director in the years 2001-2005 was Petar Veček, who confirmed the distinctiveness of his director’s poetics within the framework of Croatian theatre. This will be highlighted in theatre criticism, especially by Zvonimir Mrkonjić, in the review of the play The Slaughterhouse) (2003). Vladimir Gerić cooperates with the Theatre as a director (Instruction, A Game for Two) and an excellent translator (Koljada, The Hen).
On the repertoire, “great innovative achievements”, as Dalibor Foretić called them, can now be recognized especially in the performance Croatian God Mars by Miroslav Krleža and Sophocles’ Oedipus, both directed by Ozren Prohić. “Innovative realizations” are characterized by the joint work of artists from various fields. Thus, famous video artist Ivan Faktor cooperates with Prohić, as a scenographer and author of video projections. One sees what the critic calls the mediation of tradition in a new way, for example, in the performance A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, and directed by Peter Veček; with partial Kajkavization dialect (T. Lipljin), the play reminds one of the most successful performances of the 1990s, Puno larme a za ništ/ Mnogo vike ni za što / Much Ado About Nothing. Georgij Paro also approaches tradition in a new, innovative way staging Sveti Aleksi / Saint Alexy by Tituš Brezovački.
The repertoire is still, as in the 1990s, p o l y h i s t o r i c a l . It covers different periods of drama literature (Sophoklo’s Oedipus, W. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, T. Brezovački’s Sait Alexy, T. Strozzi’s A Game for Two, Croatian God Mars, The Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh, In Agony by M. Krleža, A Romance about Three Loves by A. Šoljan, John Smith – Princess of Wales by T. Zajec, You Are That Angel by M. Jergović, The Slaughterhouse by S. Mrożek, The End of the Carnival by J. Topol, Don Juan Comes Back from the War by Ö. von Horváth, The Hen by N. Koljada, The Instruction by E. Ionesco, The Destruction of the People by W. Schwab, The Threepenny Opera by B. Brecht). The continuation of tradition of premieres of the works of Croatian authors, and even orders of new works, is represented by the premiere of Miljenko Jergović’s play You Are That Angel which was written by the order of the Varaždin Theatre.
Among participations in theatre festivals, one must point out the International Festival of Antique Drama Stobi in 2004 in the Republic of Macedonia, where performances from the Netherlands, Turkey, Armenia, and Macedonia were performed, and Oedipus from Varaždin, Croatia. All the reports highlight the success of the guest performances and mention the “ovations to the guests from Varaždin” in Stobi. Participation in the 11th Festival was also very successful: the play The Hen was awarded the best performance as a whole, and the actress Jagoda Kralj Novak (Alla) was awarded for the best female role.
The obvious continuity of the period 2001-2005 with the previous period is also confirmed by Zvonimir Mrkonjić, who at the end of his review of the play Klaonica writes: “With three premieres last year, Don Juan Comes Back from the War by Horváth, Saint Alexy by Tituš Brezovački and Mrożek’s The Slaughterhouse, Varaždin’s Croatian National Theatre becomes the most successful Theatre in Croatia. (Z. Mrkonjić, 2003)
L i t e r a t u r e
Foretić, Dalibor (1997), Varaždinski kazališni slučaj, Varaždinske vijesti, Varaždin, 22.1.1997.
Foretić, Dalibor (2000), Dobri duh Varaždina: 40 godina umjetničkog rada Tomislava Lipljina, Hrvatsko glumište br. 10, Zagreb, 2000., page 53
Foretić, Dalibor (2000), Nije mi ni do kakve vlasti u kazalištu! (intervju of Andrije Tunjića s Daliborom Foretićem), Vjesnik, Zagreb, 20.5.2000.
Häfner, Gerd (2003), Filozofska antropologija, Naklada Breza, Zagreb, 2003., page 112
Güssow, Weit (2013), Die Präsenz des Schauspielers, Aleksander Verlag, Berlin-Köln, 2013, page 41
Mesarić, Ranka (2019), Tragalaštvo i otpor, u: Jagoda Kralj Novak (monograph), HNK u Varaždinu, Varaždin, 2019, page 29-31.
Mrkonjić, Zvonimir (2003), “Jakost tragigrotesk”, Vijenac, Zagreb, 23. siječnja.
Prohić, Ozren (2018), Intervju s Ozrenom Prohićem, Varaždinske vijesti, Varaždin, 16.6.2018.
Varjačić, Marijan (2016), Umjetnost atmosfere, u: Varjačić, Put u ništa i drugi ogledi, Društvo hrvatskih književnika, Zagreb, 2016, page 101-118