Shakespeare's work as an incentive for a theater holiday at the "Bitola Shakespeare Festival"

The privilege is great when you realize that you are continuously following the growth and development of a theater festival. The privilege is even greater when it comes to the only festival in our country dedicated to the leading playwright in the world – William Shakespeare.

In the National Theater in Bitola, they had an incredible feeling and instinct that exactly such a festival was missing, not only in the city of Bitola, but also in the country in general. Although at the beginning there were some doubts as to whether it would be possible to put together a program for the realization of the festival and whether there would be enough plays and theaters from Macedonia and the world that could perform at the festival, however, from 2013 to today things have changed drastically.

The eighth edition of the festival showed that year after year the number of applications for participation in the festival increases, and the only obstacle to stronger growth is financial resources. In the previous two years, the covid-pandemic appeared as an obstacle, but the successful realization of the eighth edition of the "Bitola Shakespeare Festival" from June 25 to 30 confirmed that the organizers from the Bitola National Theater have already acquired the experience of dealing with a crisis of any type.

What pleases us the most is that the Bitola audience has been attached to the festival since the very beginning and follows the performances closely, and responds fantastically to the evening parties at the theater's buffet.

The return of the festival audience was very easy and natural, because Bitola has a great theater tradition

The eighth edition of the "Bitola Shakespeare Festival" was held with the motto "Thought is free", taken as a quote from Shakespeare's "The Tempest". At the festival, seven plays were performed in the main program, three in the off-program, and there was also a promotion of the "Shakespeare for Children" edition published by "Ars Lamina". In addition to the hosts from the National Theater of Bitola, theaters from Poland, Montenegro, Albania, Italy and Bulgaria also performed, as well as students from FDU.

The artistic director of the National Theater of Bitola, Lina Chorevska, reveals that they had an unusually large number of applications.

What specific challenges did you face during the organization of the 8th "Bitola Shakespeare Festival"?

- The biggest challenge was to organize the festival after a two-year break. Like it or not, the past period has had an impact on all of us and on culture as a whole. But here, when there is a desire and "free thought", nothing is impossible and we managed to mobilize with all our strength.

How was the selection of the plays made?

- We had an unusually large number of applications, in the end we chose plays and theater troupes which, in addition to the quality, we could also bring to Bitola, considering the budget of the festival. But, of course, the artistic quality should not be left out. Some of the theaters are also our personal friends, who pledged in their countries to provide funds to be our guests. In the end, I think we had a strong, interesting and colorful selection. It was also important for us to include events that would include different age groups, and from there came the idea to organize a workshop for children and, of course, to bring student performances.

What experiences did you face this year during the implementation of the festival, considering that you had guests from five countries?

- Every year at the "Bitola Shakespeare Festival" is different. So was this one, in the end all the difficulties in the organization will be forgotten and only the beautiful moments will remain, for which, believe me, it is worth organizing a festival. I'm already looking forward to the next one!

The theater from the Polish city of Bialystok participated in the main program with the play "Macbeth"

The honor of opening the eighth edition of the "Bitola Shakespeare Festival" went to the actors of the "Aleksandar Wegierko" Drama Theater from Bialystok, Poland, who on June 25 performed the play "Macbeth" by Shakespeare directed by Gregor Suski.

The performance of the play is based on a classical text, looking for mechanisms that determine power, knowledge and human life. Female characters play an important role in the production of "Macbeth", and 18 actors and actresses participate in the performance of the play.

Among them is Monika Zaborska, who performs with the character of Seyton. She explained to us that the city of Bialystok is located in the western part of Poland, and what she first noticed in Bitola was the beautiful and sunny weather, because in their city it was often cold and cloudy. He also explained that "Aleksandar Vegierko" is the city theater in Bialystok, founded in 1945, after the Second World War. In their repertoire, they have world and domestic classics, and in addition to "Macbeth", a few years ago they also played "Romeo and Juliet" by Shakespeare. Inevitably, there was also the question of her role in "Macbeth", where she plays the assassin Seyton.

Actress Monika Zaborska as Seyton in "Macbeth"

- It was not easy, because I am a woman and instead of being dressed in beautiful dresses, I had to prepare for the character of a hired killer. However, it was an amazing experience, because I had to go into my own soul and find its dark side. I needed to find the segment of my personality that would be able to kill without thinking, without fear and without hesitation. And I managed to find it, which on the other hand showed me that the line between good and bad in a person is very thin. It all depends on a certain situation or history of events when both the dark and the light side of the person can be opened. So the role allowed me to find something in myself that doesn't look like me at all. I am an open and communicative person and I don't want to do bad things to people, but thanks to Seyton, I realized that man carries both darkness and light in himself - explained Zaborska.

Her theater also performed in the off-program with the play "The Merry Wives of Windsor", which was performed at the Officers' Home in Bitola on June 27. The plays from the main program were played on the big stage of the Bitola National Theater. On their own field, the hosts performed "History of Madrfakers" directed by András Urban.

Director Kendrim Riani (third from the left) with part of the cast of the Bitola National Theater

Another guest can be called a host, because this spring he staged the play "Arturo Ui" by Bertolt Brecht on the stage of the Bitola Theater. This time, the director Kendrim Rijani came to Bitola with the play "The Merchant of Venice" by Shakespeare, performed by the "Andon Zako Chajupi" theater from Korca, Albania.

– "The Merchant of Venice" is my first Shakespeare text that I put on stage. Previously, I staged the play "The House of Bernarda Alba" by Lorca in the theater in Korča. That performance opened the gates for further cooperation with the theater. And as for the choice of "Merchant of Venice", I was carried away by the casting and the opportunity to play in the play the famous actor Sotirac Bratko, who plays the role of Shylock. When I already had the main character, it was much easier for me to create the concept for the play, in which I introduced updates with our times. To give the action an additional dynamic, half of the play is played in a boat. In addition to the ensemble of the theater in Korča, Adem Karaga from the Albanian Theater in Skopje, as well as several actors from Tirana, also play in the play - said Rijani, who also revealed that he is in love with the Bitola National Theater and that he will use every next opportunity to work again. in Bitola.

"The Merchant of Venice" is the first text from Shakespeare that Qendrim Rijani puts on stage, and Adem Karaga from the Albanian Theater in Skopje also plays in the play.

Part of the main program of the "Shakespeare Fest" was the play "The Taming of the Fury" at the City Theater from Podgorica, Montenegro, directed by Dejan Projkovski, where the focus was on the comparison of the two principles - male and female, while on June 29 they were performed two Italian theater productions. "Romeo and Juliet, the last hours" was a dance performance choreographed and directed by Ina Broek and Walter Matteini, and in the second evening, actress Caroline Pagani performed with "Hamletelia".

Actress Caroline Pagani performed the play "Hamletelia"

Caroline studied dramatic art in Milan and Venice, and lives in Rome. The production support in the performance of the play comes from the "Baretti Cinema Theater" from Turin, although she performs on stage herself. Her way to Bitola led through the "Shakespeare" festival in Gdansk, Poland, where she met the director of the Bitola Theater, Ivan Jercic, and they agreed to perform at the Bitola Festival dedicated to the works of Shakespeare. Her play "Hamletelia" is practically a combination of Hamlet and Ophelia, and the narration begins with the death of Ophelia.

- Because I think that Shakespeare gave Ophelia a much smaller role in the play than that of Hamlet and now, 400 years later, through the spirit of Ophelia, I present arguments why her role should be bigger. In the play, Ophelia's ghost meets other ghosts of female characters from Shakespeare's plays, such as Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra and Juliet. The dramaturgy in the play is based on the plot in Shakespeare's works from which the characters come. There are also moments when Ophelia compares her death with the death of other female characters of Shakespeare - explained Pagani.

The play "Hamletelia" is a combination of Hamlet and Ophelia, and the narrative begins with Ophelia's death.

The eighth edition of the "Bitola Shakespeare Festival" closed on June 30 with the performance of the play "Hamlet" directed by Hovhannes Torosyan at the "Ivan Radoev" Drama Theater from Pleven, Bulgaria. The most significant benefit of the festival was the easy bridging of the two-year break made due to the measures to protect against the coronavirus.

Bitola has a great tradition of theater art, so returning the audience to the theater was very easy and natural. The parties that took place after the performances were fantastically received, and the beauty of the festival is that the guests from foreign theaters and the hosts from the Bitola theater and the audience in Bitola participated in the socializing. And all this was carried out under the watchful eyes of the quiet, modest and hardworking team of the Bitola Theater, led by Lina Chorevska and Ivan Jercic. With such a team and enthusiasm, the festival can only conquer new spaces and high values.

The Bitola National Theater participated in the festival with "History of Madrfakers" directed by András Urban

Ivan Jercic, director of the Bitola National Theater, is also satisfied with the realization of the festival.

Taking into account the previous editions of "Bitola Shakespeare Festival", but also the two-year break due to the covid-pandemic, what was the desire and motivation for the festival to return to the theater scene?

– The desire was huge. But also fear and responsibility. The pandemic took its toll both in terms of audience loss and the financial crisis it caused. We have overcome both successfully. Bitola once again showed that it is a representative theater center. Although the financial support due to the crisis was understandably less, thanks to the connections we have made all these years, we managed to put together a super program. I thank all the participants who made a huge effort to come and participate in the festival. And I have no words for the audience. Festival of the theater.

An indispensable part of the atmosphere of the "Bitola Shakespeare Festival" are the parties after the performances

What does holding the festival mean for the city of Bitola?

– So a lot. It is already a representative festival, a member of the European Shakespeare Festivals Network (ESFN – European Shakespeare Festivals Network). One of the few in Europe. The guests get to know the beauties of Bitola. Young people love him, they come to the shows and the parties afterwards. Their presence every year is a joy for us as organizers. Young people are wonderful!

To what extent does the organization of the festival and the reception of the audience oblige and motivate to think about the next editions from now on?

- It may sound like a worn-out phrase, but we prepare throughout the year, mostly with the selection, because the interest is great. The selection, unfortunately, mostly depends on our finances. The Ministry of Culture and the city of Bitola are our biggest supporters and with a little more support in the future we can do even more.

But... and this is not a little. As for the reception and "feedback" of the audience, as I have already said, this is what makes us a positive "nervousness" and an obligation not to disappoint their expectations in the future. We are proud and happy with such an audience.

Photos: Kathy Talevska-Bakrevska

(The report was published in "Kulturen Pechat" issue 135, in the print edition of the "Sloboden Pechat" newspaper on July 2-3, 2022)

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