The amateur theatre in Gnjilane, which now operates in the nearby village of Ranilug, has been gathering and instructing dozens of enthusiastic adults and children in the art of acting. As for the actors, their ages vary greatly - from as little as ten years old, to as old as 78, a record held by Đorđe Stojanović.
Theatre manager and actor Saša Stojanović says that the amateur actors are so thrilled about acting that they will frequently travel up to 50 kilometres each day just to attend a rehearsal. ”Theatre life has blossomed in eastern Kosovo in the last ten years”, according to him.
"We are working under difficult conditions even for an amateur theatre. Our centres are located in the villages of the Kosovsko Pomoravlje district (in eastern Kosovo). There are only few actors who have honed their trade in real theatres, while the rest are amateurs, but despite this, our theatre has picked up several significant awards in several different festivals," Stojanović told Southeast Europe: People and Culture.
One of the theatre's biggest successes was the FEDRAS golden award, which they received at the Festival of Drama Amateurs which is held annually in Malo Crniče, near Požarevac. The Gnjilane theatre company picked up the award for a piece called "Hamlet of Donjo Moravče," competing with 11 other theatres.
"Hamlet of Donjo Moravče" is a humoristic piece based on Ivo Brešan's "Hamlet of Mrduša Donja." The play provides a comic perspective on daily life after politics get involved, something that most people can relate to as the play's subject matter is universal, Stojanović says.
Stojanović recalled that in the past ten years, the troupe's actors have played in dozens of premiers for adults. The theatre pays special attention to children and gathers 30 to 40 permanent little actors.
"We attracted children in rural areas to theatre, not only as actors but also as audiences and this is our biggest success. Almost none of our little actors have ever seen a real theatre even though the shows that they play in are professionally produced. Most often, the children are able to see a real theatre only when we are on tour somewhere," Stojanović explained.
Some of the plays staged include Carlo Collodi's "Pinocchio”, “Captain John Peoplefox” by Dušan Radović, Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper," and Jovan Jovanović Zmaj's "Lutko moja lutčice, hajde da igramo“ (Hey Doll, Little Dolly, Lets Play)".
And while professional big city theatres have trouble attracting audiences, the Gnjilane Amateur Theatre, which exists and operates exclusively in villages, has no trouble finding either audiences or actors.
"Our theatre's children plays are seen by up to 3,000 kids. We frequently have New Year's caravans when we visit literally every village where performances can be held. Naturally, the kids are thrilled and after each show we have more acting candidates," Stojanović said.
The Gnjilane theatre's second pillar is Cvetko Stanojević, a director and actor, who explains that the theatre's biggest success is when it can perform in front of an audience that consists of people of all ages. "Our actors are full of good will and nothing is too hard for them. We have prepared shows under candlelight during power outages, but despite this, we average two premiers a year, one for adults and one for children," Stanojević says.
"The places that we use are mostly unheated so we are often forced by these circumstances to wait until spring to start preparing the next premiere, which our actors, but audiences as well, can hardly wait for," says Stanojević.
The preparation of a show often involves not only the actors but their families, friends and neighbours as well, since costumes are made on the spot, while most of the acting implements used in performances are authentic items, antiques dug up from cellars. For example the puppets used in "Pinocchio" were entirely original.