“A Female Thing” – this was the motto of the 29th Bora’s Theatre Days festival in Vranje in southern Serbia. The event is devoted to Bora Stanković (1876-1927), Serbia's celebrated and widely translated author, a native of this town.
For the first time, the festival had a common theme - the emancipation of women in a conservative society.
"All of the plays featured in the festival were themed on women's emancipation. While not all the writers of these pieces are from Serbia, the subject of not enough understanding between men and women, and the struggle for women's emancipation is universal and easily understood everywhere," says Nebojša Cvetković, director of the Vranje Bora Stanković National Theatre.
Another reason why women's emancipation was chosen as the festival's theme has to do with Stanković's reputation as a "writer for women," a reputation he acquired for his tragic and misunderstood characters of Sofka and Koštana, and for opening the question of women's role in society over 100 years ago.
Stanković's novels are set in Vranje at the turn of the 20th century, soon after its liberation from Turkish rule. They depict a patriarchal world full of "old and new customs," a place where the only suitable position for a woman was "next to the stove" - where women were married off and traded among the well-to-do. Even today, southern Serbia remains a predominantly patriarchal environment, and negotiated marriages can occur.
"The motto of this year's Bora's Theatre Days was 'A Female Thing?'. The symbolism of the question mark is clear: women's emancipation is not solely a female concern but also an important question for men, since the emancipation of women is impossible without the emancipation of men, and only this can lead to a better world in which people of the opposite sex can communicate normally," Cvetković says.
This year, 1,500 theatre goers watched two shows played by a troupe of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre from Belgrade: "That's How it Had to Be," a comedy written by Branislav Nušić (1864-1938) and "Frau" by Laza Lazarević (1851-1891), directed by Ana Đorđević.
Actors from Belgrade's Atelje 212 performed "Orange Peel" written by contemporary writer Maja Pelević and directed by Goran Marković, and "A Male Thing" by Franz Xaver Kreuz and directed by Miloš Lolić. The Užice National Theatre performed Milutin Uskoković's (1884-1915) "Settlers," directed by Aleksandar Saša Lukač.
Part of the festival was about organising meetings between actors and audiences for the purpose of "demystifying theatre." Art director of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre Gorčin Stojanović and theatrologist Jelena Kovačević made guest appearances. "I would like to see a director appear, who will read Bora the way that I think Bora deserves - not as folklore, but as a deep and horrifying insight into the essence of what is seen as patriarchal," Stojanović said.
Gorica Popović, an actress who played in Franz Xaver Kreuz's "A Male Thing" talked about her long-standing acting career and, naturally, women's issues.
"I am overjoyed that this festival is themed around women's issues. I believe that a woman needs to fight for her way of life, but there are many women who do not succeed because the circumstances are too strong and they are up against too much," said Popović, adding: "There are many victims of domestic violence and this needs to be addressed, by the theatre too."