The very recent performance of BITEF Theatre, The Ability of Birds to Have Fun within the framework of the Pierrot 2023 puppet festival in Stara Zagora points us to a generally marginal territory for the theatrical – anti-anthropocentricity. We are accustomed to thinking of theatre as a purely humanistic art, democratic and looking at the various aspects of the human; and in this case, the anthropological is displaced, or even absent. The performance is not only the first of its kind as a production in Serbia – as BITEF Theatre Director Milos Latinović claims, but maybe also in the Balkans.
The text of the young playwright Tijana Grumić, who graduated in dramaturgy at the Faculty of Theatre Art of the University of Belgrade, replaces the usual optics about what the theatre scene can problematize at all. With his unusual choice of topics and problems, Grumić takes us to where the man has either long gone or is just a mute observer of the ecological disaster, he creates himself (and destroys himself). The play insists that we are simply one of the species that exist in nature and at the same time warns us that we attach too much importance to our own existence.
‘What will be left of us?’ director Nikola Isaković (a directing student in Prague) asks in the context of the increasingly impoverished natural resources and the recent wars; and the audience lurks in fear when three drones threaten to take off from the stage towards the end of the performance. Could machines hurt us as much as we hurt each other? What if the immutable position in which humans occupy a central place in today’s world were replaced by some smaller, insignificant role, what would happen even if humans disappeared? Tiana Grumić’s text puts the perspective from the point of view of animals and plants, of water masses; on the planet in general, and humans, as far as they are present in this text, are just an annoying detail – a grain of sand in the landscape. Combining the personal stories of different characters who are witnesses of natural life or are natural life itself, the text, which is divided into different episodes and read and recorded as a narrative text, enters into different relationships with both video projections and the subject environment.
Without a single living person on stage, in the role of an actor or actor (the only living people are puppeteers who operate with objects and works, but we see them only on the bow); Isaković’s performance shows us that the human world has its limits, which we completely forget about. Beyond them are vast and unfamiliar spaces that we cannot know only through humanistic optics – this is what the performance claims. The form in which the performance is realized – object theatre, materializes at the same time this inexhaustibility of the unknown, but also purposefully reminds us of our own mortality.
The materiality of the performance is made up of things and objects created by humans in their industrialized being. They serve as aids to their survival, to create comfort and entertainment. Vacuum cleaners and fans, drones and TV sets dance, wink, flirt and exist in their own context and rules that, although distant from us, are immanently linked to human existence – like debris from a disappearing being. The language of the performance is built through the creation of their own electromechanical life of the objects, which receive new and unexpected functions – they begin to sing, joke with each other, flirt, dance. Thus, they complement Grumić’s text, which is played from a recording, accompanied by unexpected images projected on a multimedia screen.
The stage set created by Jovana Matić and Emma Pavlović is made entirely of recycled materials and objects that have already been used and discarded and no longer have any function. None of the items, according to the director, were purchased specifically for the performance. The electromechanical life of these objects is ensured by Stevan Golubović and is played by Mladen Molojković, Danilo Brankočević and Ana Milosavljević. Thus, objects become silent witnesses of our existence, until they finally speak in this performance and come to life in the context of the characters, the woman-tree and the man-bird, as a summary of the fact that there may be a harmony that we are unable to see, obsessed with their destructive nature.
The Ability of Birds to Have Fun
BITEF Theatre Text: Tijana Grumić
Director: Nikola Isaković
Set design, puppet-objects design: Jovana Matić, Emma Pavlović; Electromechanics: Stevan Golubović
Video animation: Masa Tadić; Video editing: Momčilo Vujović
Performers/puppeteers: Mladen Milojković, Danilo Brakočević, Ana Milosavljević 27.09.2023 State Opera – Stara Zagora, within the Pierrot Festival