Vacation from History

Tranzit House

Boris Bakal
directing, script
Boris Bakal, Katarina Pejovic
Katarina Pejovic, Boris Bakal
directed by
Katarina Pejovic, Boris Bakal
Authors and Performers: Damir Klemenic, Jelena Lopatic, Bojan Navojec, Marija Skaricic, Stanko Juzbasic, Katarina Pejovic, Boris Bakal
Collaborators (set design, costumes, technical support): Zeljko Zorica, Barbara Blasin, Stjepan Filipec, Sinisa Jakovcevic, Martina Franic, Milan Zerjav, Tomislav Pavlic

Date of the opening: december 03, 2010
Following the great success of their performance “Ex-position” and their concept which we might freely address to as the laboratory for reanimation of human fantasy, the theatre group Shadow Casters from Zagreb has come up with a new theatrical intervention in which everything is put upside down except one thing – remembrance.(…) The performance “Vacation From History” is a magical fairy-tale on the verge of dream and reality in which the audience – deprived of the usual theatre ritual and spectator’s distance – takes part with their entire being.(…) What one gets is not something that takes place on the stage, because there is none; it is neither the actors for we barely see them; it is something that happens – very individually – within the heads of those present. The set is almost completely in the dark; the spectators lie in modest compartments divided with sheets; a remote light from the street is faintly seen and the overall atmosphere reminds that of a refugee camp inhabited by those who have survived, let’s say, the last of the Balkan wars. And it is then, in that narrow corridor between consciousness and unconsciousness, when we are too week to hate and too tired to think ill of ourselves, that these distant voices visit us; sounds that we might have heard in our childhood, the intimate history that caresses us for we have gone completely mad from the real one. (…) This is exactly where the concept of director Boris Bakal lays: in showing how the outraged reality – in which we cannot discern the beginning or the ending of anything – merely deposits heaps of ill information into us creating a sludge which numbs us. What we are left with is to reach for the images of the real history of our own lives in the state of semi-conscious haze. The manner of achieving those images is truly masterful: deeply romantic and frightening at once. (…) Besides director Boris Bakal, dramaturg Katarina Pejovic, set designer Zeljko Zorica and composer Stanko Juzbasic, the team between the beds includes Jelena Lopatic, Bojan Navojec, Marija Skaricic and Damir Klemenic, an extraordinary breed of actors who have agreed to take on a precarious journey instead of the routine repeating the usual stage roles.  (…) Technically speaking, this performance is deprived of classical story, visible acting and even of spectators in the usual sense of the word; yet the impression that is born out of the half-sleep is so sincere, deep and healing that it is worth more than the entire repertoire of a theatre season.
Bojan Munjin, “Bitter sludge”
(Feral Tribune weekly, April 23, 2008)

(…) This is a poetic theatre of great performative power, whose co-ordinates are determined by the political nature of previous Shadow Casters’ performances: if the content of history is the constant degrading of human material (Hegel: ‘History is equally a slaughterhouse of individual happiness as it is a massacre of state wisdom’), it is legitimate to ask whether there is any place to rest from that routine destruction. The group Shadow Casters takes us to the communication context of childhood; to a time of bedtime story-telling, a time of parents tucking us in the bed and sneaking out of the room in which the little ones are dreaming away.
(…) The spectator is turned into one “gigantic ear” of a lyrical landscape of white sheets that surround and separate the beds, occasionally reminding of sails on a night-time cruise, while the cacophony of sounds gradually transforms itself into a peculiar, suggestive score of darkness. Thus the child in all of us is suddenly awarded with a possibility to peek into the adults’ world: to “cross the ramp” so fiercely guarded by our parents during the actual childhood, and see what was it that those who would remain awake after us would actually do. (…) It is through the prism of parent-protagonists that “Vacation from history” poses various questions: what we actually do with the minutes in which we may finally be alone or with our partners; how we fill in our most private time; are we capable at all to rest from the brutal everyday history; last but not least, does that vacation end with childhood? (…) My impression is that this performance would not be possible without the immense confidence among all performers as well as between the director and the performers, which I would determine as the criterion of highest theatre quality. And although there is no vacation from history, what is essential is that, at least in theatre, there is a lyrically precise reflection on how people should wake (watch) over each other: as if our childhood fragility actually never ceases.
Nataša Govedić, “A pillow full of night-time visions”
(Novi list daily, April 20, 2008)

(…) Step by step, layer by layer, we are drawn into a twilight zone, a space between dreams and day-time awakeness, real and imaginary world. At least this is what happened to me. Abandoning to the performance comes out of physical and mental openness, which are, I would say, the prerequisites for the reception of the entire experience. (…) Physical openness arises from the fact that we are placed in a passive lying position reminding of childhood, dream, illness, death. Mental openness is born out of the slumber in which one loses the need for control. Openness and abandonment incite the feeling of vulnerability; yet the caring kindness of performers and the temperance of events bring calm.  (…)“Vacation From History” took me into a state similar to meditation. Soon I renounced the effort to discern; logic and reason have dozed off. It was a slumber from which it was hard to awake; the strange feeling went on for hours, as it always happens after experiencing self-confrontation. The experience is, understandably, entirely personal; therefore any more detailed account is not only inappropriate but also volatile. I am convinced that the peculiarity of experience is guaranteed to everybody.
Iva Gruić, “How to cross the ramp in avant-garde theatre”
(Jutarnji list daily, April 18, 2008)

If the overall domination of superficiality can be of any use, than it is mostly useful as a challenge to which Shadow Casters gave a memorable answer with their latest premiere, “Vacation From History”, process_city 01. (…) In their creation but also their approach to the recipient, Shadow Casters take resort in intimacy and this is literally what they do in Vacation From History: the stage and the auditorium are merged into a dormitory divided in several compartments, while the seats are being replaced by beds.  (…)The smell and taste of oranges, the quiet bed-time conversations with the performers, a long calm monologue broadcasted in the privacy of headphones – all this implies a tacit suggestion of sleep and dream as an equally efficient and desired possibility of being in the performance, while its dynamic and changeable scenario invite for a repeated viewing, i.e. vacation. (…) As the narrative of the performance seems persistently to elude or escape us - as does history saturated with the immensity of information - its place is filled with endemic occurrences in the 21st century, such as the feeling of calm and pleasantness in an unknown place, with unknown people, amid the safe incompetence. The realisation of the impossibility of finding out, grasping or controlling EVERYTHING, overwhelms the spectator as a legitimate way of living, freed from our present-day panic and bestowed with a bud of different sense, celebrated in the performance most appropriately with “awakening” through conversation and a glass of champagne.
Višnja Rogošić, “Dream as a possibility of a performance”
(Vjesnik daily, April 17, 2008)

(…)The entire performing team have raised a great number of issues that regular theatre performances never manage to reach, probably because the tissue of Vacation From History is mainly created out of personal testimonies treated as a scripting of collective consciousness and sub-consciousness potentially familiar to everyone. This dramaturgical procedure, characteristic for the last two Shadow Casters’ performances, is something I consider as one of the most vital points of our theatre today, in which the spectator, in interaction with the actor, is acknowledged the possibility of performative co-creation. (…) Vacation from history – if there is one in the first place – manifests itself as “memories shared”, i.e. as a performatively initiated reflection on the tragic-comic situation in which people are being pushed into straight jackets of political regimes. (…) Bakal’s ensemble asks us when exactly the “fear of darkness” and its abstract monsters is being replaces by the fear of too a bright daylight, its media superficiality and concrete criminal protagonists. The thing is that we can, we are allowed to be both over-awake and over-sensitive: in my mind, Bakal’s performance permits us to have confidence in those agitated wakes of ours, so different from the declarative “directness” or the single-minded reality of military machineries.
Nataša Govedić, “Drunken orgies, bed-time stories and wake-up calls”
(Zarez bi-weekly cultural magazine, April 18, 2008)

In the time and space that was not exactly spared by various kinds of ideologies and other so-called history systems, the offer of “Vacation From History” is not really something one would refuse. This is what Shadow Casters were well aware of, by offering precisely a little less than two hours of someone else’s small history along with the encounter with one’s own. (…)If Ex-position was an extroverted entrance into other people’s lives, into stories of ordinary and great men and women, and an active participation in them, Vacation From History is its introverted antipode, which leaves room to each of the visitors to summarise at least one part of his/her own existence, assisted by a guide. In other words, whereas Ex-position took one into a story, Vacation From History takes the story to the visitor. (…) Vacation From History consists of several phases, none of them being concluded; it is more of an instruction to stimulate memories or self-reflections than a rounded-up whole in the sense of a prose chapter or an act of a play. Being in bed in a collective situation reminds of boarding schools, hospitals or a mythical journey in a sleeping car-wagon; the sounds bring close the childhood; the subtle care of performers for the audience suggests a near-death state while the music evokes some latently better past. (…) Each show of Vacation From History is at once a premiere as if with each show and the addition of personal histories of each of the visitors the concept itself has purposefully augmented its importance. (…)Vacation From History deliberately leaves no traces, certainly not as spectacular as the ones left by Ex-position but it offers instead a possibility of a subtle step away, which makes those productions an ideal combination for presentation at some big and programmatically dense festival. It is undoubtedly yet another extraordinary and therefore unavoidable contribution of Shadow Casters to the Croatian theatre scene, irreducible to usual theatrical parameters.
Igor Ružić, “Vacation from history”
(Radio 101, Dnevnikulturni, April 9, 2008)

Those who had a chance to enter the Artistic Pavilion “Cvijeta Zuzoric” on Sunday or Monday and take part in the BITEF performance by the Zagreb group Shadow Casters “Vacation From History”, directed by Katarina Pejovic and Boris Bakal – and who belong to the numerous group of those traumatised by history (and/or story) – have received a rightful contentment to have a rest from (hi)story, if not for long then for a little while. This experience, lived during the one-hour-forty-minutes theatre session, is simply unforgettable. (…) If there is paradise, this is how one should be introduced to it!”
Zlatko Pakovic, “Vacation from (hi)story”
(Politika daily, Belgrade, September 26, 2009)

(Contrary to its title) this project enters the fight against drowsiness. The audience is brought to self-confrontation through being lulled, in the atmosphere of a dream. Will this confrontation make you escape (fall asleep) or you will finally and again start feeling yourself – that is the question. This is just an illusory escape from history. As a matter of fact, the project is structured to heal the sensitivity. Hence, with the newly acquired sensitivity, one may observe the resignation of the society, which on the one hand fights violence with big words and in reality escapes to the realm of dream. It avoids paying attention to those who step out, those who need protection and at once spreads the red victorious carpet in front of those who are ready to destroy everybody and everything. Can you imagine how far from such destroyers is the subtle tissue of this performance? Will it be safe in the future to step out even in performing arts – as this performance undoubtedly did – or such stepping out would be banned because of high risk?
Ana Isaković, “Dreamers and their shadows”
(E-novine, September 22, 2009)

“Vacation from History” is a theatrical act that brings down conventional notions of theatre, inviting the spectator to interactivity and to becoming the co-author of the performance. While classical theatre strives to keep the spectator’s attention, “Shadow Casters” tend to abolish it, bemusing and lulling the audience so that, half-conscious or unconscious, it would surrender to exploring the basements of memory, liberated from the chains of consciousness and ratio. Given that the performance took place in the wee after-midnight hours, a good part of the audience fell asleep; some have even ruthlessly snored. This unusual but desired behaviour in theatre aroused in the rest of (awaken) audience some sort of undefined alienation effect – a feeling that urges to radical questioning of the notion and essence of theatre, the relation between performers and spectators and the problem of stage time and space. The specificity of performing this show has brought to a striking occurrence of intimacy between spectators. After the performance those who woke up (some remained asleep for quite a while) were excitedly exchanging their impressions, definitely more connected than they were at the beginning. “Vacation From History” thus has a strong cohesive function bonding the audience who becomes part of some kind of ritual, an event that offers a different, psycho-dramatic experience. Needless to say, just to those who are open for aesthetic experiences of high risk.
Ana Tasić, “Bonding among the audience”
(Politika daily, Belgrade, September 24, 2009)

In the semi-darkness of the room reminding of kindergarten or a collective refugee centre, spectators lie and listen to fragments of actors’ confessions, watching like voyeurs through semi-darkness and the flickering light of candles as a dramatic situation unfolds, recognising merely elements of problem, crying, conflict. The performance “Vacation From History” is exceptional in that it offers us to discover through an all-encompassing experiential perception of the performance that the essential Kafkaesque labyrinth is actually the labyrinth of our intimate histories and that the essential Kafkaesque problem is the problem of finding the sense and the goal of our own private history.
Aida Pilav, “Vacation from one’s own history”
(Dnevni avaz daily, Sarajevo, October 20, 2008)

We can only conclude that given the lifestyle of today’s world the project of Shadow Casters is a deeply humane act that gives us the chance to turn to ourselves, if only for half an hour, and to question our own experience of reality.
Asja Krsmanović, “Shadow Casters – a unique theatrical experience” 
(MESS Bulletin, Sarajevo, October 27, 2008)

The performance is the first part of the trilogy Process_City inspired by Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial and its philosophical and political implications.
Vacation from History is a meta(physical) comment on Kafka’s work: a travel on the edge of collective and individual consciousness, through the realms of dream and death as the only safe refuges from history.
The performance premiered in April 2008 in Zagreb, in the library “Bogdan Ogrizovic” and since then has been performed over 20 times in Zagreb (on 3 different locations), within the frame of 2008 Croatian Theatre Showcase and International Conference PSI#15, Sarajevo (MESS 2008) and Belgrade (BITEF 2009).
- Avaz Dragon Award (as part of the trilogy Process_City) - MESS (Sarajevo International Theatre Festival, 2008)
- Special Jury Award and Second Audience Prize - BITEF (Belgrade International Theatre Festival, 2009)
If we concede (if for no other reason then out of an ironic predilection for Fukuyama’s thesis, at present obviously naïve and inadequate) to the idea that history has already reached its end, and we manage at once to avoid the “post”-trap, then we might claim that what we live today is a non-historic time. In a way this is not far from being true. History is nothing else than an agglomerate of dominant perceptions of the past; hence, an agglomerate of those subjective views on past events that have prevailed all other views, usually by force. The principles ruling today’s world are those of acceleration and expansion; all major phenomena and processes are affected by their vertiginous dynamics. Production, consumption, wars, truces, natural and men-made disasters, the wealth of ones and the poverty of the others, concealed truths and public lies – they all grow and spread with a speed that is ever harder to follow, or rather, a speed that increasingly obstructs the perception of reality. The amount and frequency of everything is too abundant – and in dramatic dimensions – to survive in either collective or individual memory longer than the interval between two editions of TV news or daily newspapers. The satiety of perception leads to the loss of criteria for classification of information according to importance, which is followed by the loss of sense for importance itself. Losing importance gradually brings the loss of sense. Is this not an ideal chance for those who (think they) administer the acceleration and expansion of the world to (think they) tailor history by their own whim, amid over-sense and over-significance, when everything turns anyway into non-sense and in-significance?
Fighting against the domination of official history, determined explorers would nevertheless always find a way to discover traces of personal histories, those that would reveal new facts on the hierarchy of significance and sense of events in a certain period, thus becoming parts and particles of a mosaic of parallel history/ies. This was so until recently. If one imagines from the present-day perspective the forensic investigation that some future detective-archaeologist would have to perform on the sample of our reality, one might also imagine a somewhat different outcome: exposed to acceleration and expansion, the lives of today’s individuals remind more and more to a delirium thick with excessive drives, unrealistic dreams, unfulfilled desires, burning ambitions and even more burning frustrations. They are similar to an ailing tissue, helpless in its efforts to resist the furious metastasising of everyday life. Even personal information succumbs to the overall inflation of information, while the personal time for processing them disappears by geometrical progression. The paradox is almost painful: there have never been more opportunities for recording and distributing personal views of reality; yet there has never been less possibility for them to become relevant. Inflation of information + time deficit = entropy of relevance criteria and sensible substance. Amid this diabolic equation, how should one shape his/her personal history – one that, in the sum of a multitude of personal histories, provides with utmost certainty a different view on an époque – so that its criteria overcome this entropy.
The price paid for seeking an answer to this question is not lower than the one paid by Franz Kafka who sought to find answers to this and similar questions. The trilogy process_city, inspired by Kafka’s Trial, is an endeavour of Shadow Casters to speak of this question through Kafka’s work (paying an adequate price naturally comprised) from at least 3 different viewpoints and in a non-chronological sequence. Thus the third part of the trilogy was at the same time the first to be realised as a synthetic interpretation of the entire corpus of Trial on the crossroads of two media – theatre and film – submitted to multiple live editing spanning from VJ’ing to spectator’s gaze. Having the Parable on the Law as its starting point, the second part, Ex-position, opens the gate of journeys into personal histories and the subconsciousness of The Other through a series of one-on-one encounters that promote spectators into sensators, exchanging their institutionalised passivity for compassion, exposing them to public view in moments of their utmost dedication to the intimate, offering them also a bird eye’s view of the situation lived moments earlier, all this accompanied with the possibility for the sensator to pass through all positions, stories and phases. At the end of the trilogy, which is in fact it’s beginning, stands Vacation From History, which tackles directly the mentioned question. Behind the transparent title there hides an onyric voyage through a kafkaesque day yet deprived of clichés on kafkianism and even on history. Kafka’s metaphysical distance that deprives the tragic dimension of pathos in a humorous manner consists of a paradoxical blend: on the one hand, the categorical rejection of the imperative to leave a mark for eternity; on the other hand, the cheerful complying with the imperative if it proves to be truly inescapable. Indifference towards history makes it irrelevant in a way that preserves the relevance of personal experience. From this perspective, personal experience travels through time and space by unrecorded trails, leaving its trace as a view that inevitably alters that, which is being observed; as a thought that, spoken or not, alters that, which is being reflected upon; as an emotion that gives birth to a tone by which all imminent emotions of others will be tuned or counter-pointed: as an entire presence in a particular time-space sequence, unique and unrepeatable, and as such utterly irrelevant as the food for the entropic devourer of historical relevance. What is the shape in which this experience might materialise?
As I lie in the darkness, on the bridge between two days, I let the silence be filled with images, voices, sounds, feelings of the past hours, days, the parallel time-space of thoughts, desires, recollections, fears and hopes… associations fly between them, weaving the net; momentary sensations bounce from the net only to be caught again in it and bounce once again… My head is a running night train. In a lit wagon, two men play ping-pong with a multitude of balls. While the train-head slashes the softness of the dark, people-associations whip the balls-thoughts that fly back and forth, back and forth… Or not? Can you imagine the movement of ping-pong balls in the running train?
If we concede (if for no other reason then out of ironic predilection for Fukuyama’s thesis, at present obviously naïve and inadequate) to the idea that history has already reached its end, and we manage at once to avoid the “post”-trap, we might easily imagine this movement. And/or experience it.
Katarina Pejovic