“It’s Important to Have Something of Our Own”

DUBROVNIK–Few spots in Europe could boast a more dramatic backdrop for a festival. Now in its 62nd year, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival (running from July 7 till August 25) is a cornucopia of culture that focuses on everything from art, music, theatre, film, dance and pretty much everything else in between. The theatre aspect of the festival is particularly interesting in that they use many site-specific locales for shows; Goran Visnjic (famous for his role as Luka Kovac in “ER”) has played Hamlet at Fort Lovrijenac while Puck and Oberon have performed their Midsummer Night’s mischief on the nearby island of Lokrum, a 10 minute boat ride from the Old Town harbor. I have been to Dubrovnik several times over the last decade but I’ve never had the pleasure to be there during the festival. So this year I made a special trip (not exactly a hardship assignment considering the Adriatic is a salty turquoise pleasure to swim in this time of year) to see what the festival is all about. There are seven plays being performed over the course of the festival—including Tomislav Zajec’s “The Delivered” and Vlaho Stulli’s “Kate Kapuralica”—which means that Dora Ruždjak Podolski, who became the festival’s artistic director for theatre last year, is having a rather hectic summer. Yesterday I met with her in the festival’s offices in the Old Town to talk about the history of the festival and where she hopes to take the festival in the coming years.

Tell me a bit about the background of the festival. It started out as a theatre festival, right?

In 1949 there was the PEN conference here in Dubrovnik and there was the idea to connect Fort Lovrijenac to the Old Town. So they built stairs. Then in 1952 the idea came to Croatian theatre director Marko Fotez to have a performance of “Hamlet” there. So those were the kinds of beginnings of the festival. Yugoslavia at the time was like a buffer between the Soviet states and the West so it was important to have a festival here, to sort of connect East and West.

You first came to Dubrovnik to direct plays—tell me about your most memorable experience as a director.

We did “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2007 on Lokrum Island. Many international people were interested in this and bought tickets. I think they were interested because you have to take a boat ride to the island, you then get there and to take a nice short walk, so really it was this kind of overall experience. And people enjoyed it, they really loved the ambiance. I think maybe Croatian audiences were not quite as taken with the idea because for them it’s normal to go to Lokrum. They go there to swim and sunbathe so there were no illusions for them about the place. But, that being said, I think in the end they were kind of taken by the magic of it too; to be able to see these characters running around in a place so familiar to them.

THE_DELIVERED_photo_takne-by-Grgo_-JelavicIs it hard to create a program that caters to both Croatian and international audiences? I see that most plays are in Serbo-Croat so that is going to limit the audience.

I am not sure who to create the program for because you have the local community, who like that the more local shows, shows that are specifically about Croatian themes and for Croatian audiences. Then you have a modern young audience who really enjoy something more stylized and then you have old-fashioned kind of audiences who want classics. So you really have to take care about all those three profiles. However, I really do think there is something for everyone here this year. That has been my biggest concern, to find this balance.

So how do you go about choosing the plays to be performed and the directors to work with?

It’s a bit of a job but again, I think the focus is that there should be something for everyone. It’s very important to have these plays that talk about our current times and contemporary issues and that audiences are able to recognize themselves and their lives in these pieces. But I am also glad to have directors who are interested in the reinterpretation of older, more classic pieces. And so far we have had a lot of success with both of these, both are directed really well.

You took over last year as the artistic director for theatre. What direction have you taken the theatre aspect of the festival and what are your future plans—many changes afoot?

In 2010 it was like let’s see what changes can we take the theatre program. So this year it has been much easier because I had a better feel for who are audiences are and that gives you a better idea of who you therefore are making the program for. However, I never feel relaxed. This all keeps me on my toes and I cannot take an attitude of “I don’t care.” I think next year we will focus more on site-specific programming. Sure, we will also keep with the classics but we really want to use the space of the city more, to have two or three site-specific pieces with young artists. I think it’s also going to be important to have more international projects. For example, this year we have a Slovenian production of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex”, however there should be more co-productions and that is something I hope to realize.

The_SCENES_WITH_AN_APPLE_photo-takne-by_Grgo_jelavicHow important is this festival for Croatia as a whole in terms of culture?

We are unique because this is a repertoire festival. We do not have guest performances, only with rare exception. We direct and produce the plays ourselves. It is very important because we are making a Croatian cultural product. We are a small country and that means the cultural environment is small, so it’s really important to have something of our own.

 

Photos courtesy of Dubrovnik Summer Festival (All three photos by Grjo Jelavic–1st: “Kate Kapuralica 2nd: “The Delivered” 3rd: “The Scenes with the Apple”)

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