70 years of thorns and roses
To speak of an illusion as of something flowing through time and leaving its trail, as historical concepts always do, is ungrateful at the least. Illusion is a bridge between a moment and infinity, it is a point in which sense is compressed to meaning which can be felt only by a pulsating muscle in the chest of creatures “condemned” to love. That is why illusion is given to the soul, while facts and the flow of time are turned into an institution called the theater, or – in our “pitiful” case – association.
It has been a long time since 1948 when we performed our first play on the first day of spring and the audience in Samobor, positively shocked and impressed by the skills of blind and visually impaired actors rewarded us with a long applause. In order to make this historical overview as contemporary as possible and not to test the patience of the reader, we will start with the latest news and move towards the older ones, all the way back to the beginnings of the urbanization of free time covered in patina and smells of theatre. Keep in mind that the journey through the last few years my seem illogical at first because at the point where experience becomes a memory we will make things simple and move from ancient toward newer past.
While these lines are being written and the summer of 2018 sings its last chorus, we are preparing Ionesco’s “Jack or Submission” whose performance is directed and modeled by our longtime associate Ana Prolić and every member of our theatre will give this piece the final spark of life.
At the beginning of March, to be more precise on March 6, 2018, an “Olm”, written by Vojin Perić and directed by Petra Radin, surfed to us carried by a wave of actors that include Dajana Biondić, Suzana Bliznac, Milenko Zeko and Vojin Perić. Sara Lovrić designed scenography and costumes for this play, Željko Špoljarić provided the music and Nenad Lalović technical support. It is a story about the environment preservation, but also the preservation of spirit, intended for preschools and first four years of elementary schools.
As regression keeps getting faster and faster because it is founded on memory and not on the realistic passage of time, we already find ourselves in 2017, entangled in Budak’s “Ball of String” directed by Željko Duvnjak. Hana Letica designed the costumes while Marta Crnobrnja designed the scenography. It was all illuminated by Nenad Lalović and heroically performed by Anita Matković, Dajana Biondić, Suzana Bliznac, Ružica Domić-Lalović, Ružica Drenski, Milenko Zeko, Igor Kučević, Marijo Glibo, Vojin Perić, and Matija Major as a special guest.
October of the year 2016 was decorated by Ivo Andrić’s “Damned Yard”, directed by Mario Kovač. The entire company took part in this play, along with our guest Nikša Marinović. Scenography was created by Leo Vukelić and Iva Matija Bitanga while costumes were designed by Hana Letica.
If we go one more year back, the February will reveal the poetic title “I Remembered the Blue Yesterday”, our first look into documentary theatre. It was written and directed by Petra Radin with performances and stories by Suzana Bliznac, Dajana Biondić, Milenko Zeko and Vojin Perić. Three months after this performance, floorboards of the theatre stage creaked under Cervantes’ “Don Quijote” which was directed and brilliantly framed by Ana Prolić. Music by Mato Matišić, scenography by Marta Crnobrnja and costumes by Hana Leitca really took us back to the age of knights, Sancho Panza and other peculiar characters. Our entire company performed in this play.
The year 2014 started cheerfully and playfully with children’s play “The Dinosaurs” which was written and directed by Petra Radin. Our dinosaurs were played by Dajana Biondić, Anita Matković, Suzana Bliznac, Zeko Milenko, Vojin Perić, and our guest Dražen Šivak.
Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” is one of the most prominent steps of our theatre, not just because of the renowned literary template, but also because of its very complicated dramatic structure. Once again Saša Božić and Ksenija Zec showed their remarkable skills and our guests, Maja Posavec and Ivana Rushaidat, provided the musical framework and a display of professional acting. Our actors Dajana Biondić, Marijo Glibo, Anita Matković and Vojin Perić also performed in the play.
Year before that one was marked by 2 plays. One of those belongs to the theatre of the absurd and it was directed by ingenious Ana Prolić. This is of course Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano” which was a success both among the critics and our faithful audience.
Alongside that theatrical treat, we also performed one written by Vojin Perić which was called “And How Do You Make Love” and brought back up the practice of joking at our own expense.
The play “Think Before You Speak” is the first project we did with Ana Prolić and it resulted in a play that became a part of our regular repertoire even now when we write these lines. Besides directing, Ana also wrote the script, Nenad Kovačević gave us music and Maša Žarnić dressed us. Actors are Anita Matković, Dajana Biondić and Vojin Perić.
Now we turn to chronology that starts at the beginning and ends with those plays described above. History is here just to summarize and analyze while our program booklets can provide detailed insight.
As we have already mentioned, our story started with words and gestures of our predecessors way back in 1948 when we graced the first day of spring with our first performance ( “Mother” written by Mile Klopčić and directed by Vladimir Jagarić). The boards that created “New Life” creaked bashfully, gestures and words of blind and visually impaired 20-year-olds flew adorably and clumsily while the audience in Samobor, filled with prejudices and disbelief, frenetically applauded. The first step toward true art was behind ours Them.
Then came the years of one-act plays, recitals and other short forms when, at that time, unknown directors sharpened their professional spears on the creations of blind actors. As a testimony of the true path and the crown of the past success, the theatre hall (today’s Vidra) was built in 1956 within the House of the Blind in Draškovićeva 80. Tomislav Durbešić, Radojko Ježić, Jurica Frković, Dražen Grunwald, Vladimir Jagarić and Mirko Merle are just some of the great Croatian theatrical directors whose imagination shaped the success in 60s and 70s.
However, not only directors are responsible for “New life’s” professional work. From the very beginning, all aspects of our theatre were also covered by professional scenographers, costume designers and choreographers who contributed to the artistic ascent of the theatre.
Besides constant tours around the ex-Yugoslavia, blind and visually impaired actors at the end of 70s go on a two-week tour in Switzerland and Germany. Those were our first international steps.
Since one of the main values of the theatre is the affirmation of the abilities of blind people, the repertoire was adapted for the wider audience so our predecessors, up to the beginning of 80s, mostly performed comedies and theatrical forms of strictly dedicated content, marking different holidays and anniversaries.
In 1980 the writer of these lines joins the Theatrical Company of Blind and Visually Impaired and this is the year from which I can be a true witness of our theatre’s history. We cried with laughter performing the comedy of Branko Ćopić called “Bubalo the Wolf”, whose number of performances broke all the records and made us seriously think about the permanent logistics, our overhead expenses.
We still made the audience laugh by our recitations and acting, but the feeling of routine and sleepiness crept into our performances. It was as if we have reached some imaginary ceiling so we kept running in circle changing the titles but not the shape of illusion, if one can even call it a true illusion. Through those years our directors were Mirko Merle, Vladimir Gerić and Radojko Ježić, without any courage from younger generations to join us and take the lead.
However, in 1990 a young director Nina Klefin joins “New life”. Her energy, knowledge and imagination were hard to resist and they changed our old worlds by creating new ones. Literal acting turned into creation, static became lively, and cold, almost retarded, mimic turned into a composed, subtle face gesture. Nina decided to start her journey in this theatre with Moliere’s “Scapin’s Deceits” and the audience was finally satisfied. A 20-minute applause brought tears to the eyes of actors and disbelief in critics’ reviews. Thus starts the story of true theatre, one of the most beautiful stories of my life. Nina infected our lives with art, made us jump, run, go wild on the stage and completely forget all our limitations which are commonly attributed to blind people. Nina is also our close friend so her enthusiasm about art affects us all and carries us through theatrical genres.
Next came different theatrical experiments and researches, media and writers paid more attention, cultural publicity watched in awe and skeptics became even more stubborn. Besides Nina Klefin, whose directing and other innovations sparked the artistic fire in blind and visually impaired actors, Zoran Mužić, Snježana Banović and Ksenija Zec – a choreographer who became very important in the following years – brought their own imaginations and creations during those difficult years of 1990s. We are still flying on the back of comedy, but in 1995 we struggle with Danilo Ivanovič Harms performing the play “Harms-Čarms-Šardam”. It was a master piece of Nina’s ingenuity to which we will return in 1998 with the title “Noughts and Zeros” and again in 2001. This third attempt will take us on a three-week tour around Great Britain.
In the next ten years many directors will direct our hearts, but we will discuss that in a new chapter because there is so much to tell.
People and events
There is no history without names and proper data so allow me to title the first half of the century with some successful names.
A man whose name will forever be written among the theatre pages, in all chronologies and all memories is Professor Antun Lastrić. He was a man of unbreakable will and inexhaustible love for art. He initiated the founding of our theatre, found ways to finance it, chose the repertoire; he is a father of a big family which changed its members as the years passed by, but it remained “New Life”.
Next to him are our doyens Veljo and Vlasta Vukičević, Anita and Vlado Krančec, Ilija Maglaić, Ivica Domović, Pajo Gerenčin, Katarina Lončarević, Miro Vučina, Tihomir Pisanski, Mićo Zorić, Zdenka Kvačica, Josip Hrvoj, Minka Sitar, Kata Sigal, Snježana Gilić, Katica Krajačić, Marina Zonta and many others who are a part of this mosaic but will have to accept my apology for not mentioning them here.
Titles which filled the shelves of our virtual library came from all genres, but as we have already mentioned, comedies predominated. The name we heard the most was Branislav Nušić whose “Suspicious Face” appeared twice on our stage, but big success among critics were “Authority” and “Grieving Family”. Pero Budak made our audience laugh with “The Ball of String” and “On Thorns and Rocks”, as well as Moliere’s “The Miser” and “Scapin’s Deceits”, Fadil Hadžić’s “Dead Souls”, “Man From the Centre” and “Good Morning, Thieves”. Among other authors of national and international drama literature there are Ivan Goran Kovačić and his “Pit” and also several plays by Marijan Matković.
The fiftieth anniversary of the theatre was celebrated with the performance of “Noughts and Zeros” in the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb on October 8, 1998. The play was written by Danilo Ivanovič Harms and directed by Nina Kleflin. This was a dream come true for blind and visually impaired actors, the moment of glory we have all been waiting for.
A road to professionalism
Although the history of our theatre has a note of professionalism, our actors are only amateurs who secure their existence at another work place. In the first fifty years not one person received a fee for their performance and travels on which daily allowances are paid can be counted on the fingers of one hand. We were financed by good people, that is, by the institutions they represented, who never systematized our status or our cold drive. With the arrival of democracy, we expected stronger support from the state and, the very thing that many associations these days still don’t have – system, system, system!
On several occasions we wrote the elaborates, begged the institutions, but no one ever thought of founding the theatre of blind, to provide us with cold drive, that is, steady income, so that we could deal with pure art, not pouring from “empty to hollow” or depend on the good will of those who really love us but also of those who feel sorry for us. There is nothing worse than feeling sorry for art, giving charity to people who create and produce because in healthy societies cultural product is appreciated and sought after.
We still grew, developed and climbed the steps that lead into “the sky”, steps that we like to climb even though we know we can never reach the top. Persistence of Nina Kleflin and later Mario Kovač, Zoran Mužić, Ivan Plazibat, Ana Prolić and most of all Ksenija Zec and Saša Božić took us to the professional heights. We take part in renowned theatre festivals, go to some international theatre festivals and in year 1999 we organize the first BIT festival, the only theatre festival of the blind in the world.
Our next moment of glory happened in Umag in 2007 when we performed at the 8th international festival of the Chamber Theatre and won the Grand prix for the best play of the symbolic title “Nos Vamos a Ver” whose lines and moves were created by already mentioned Ksenija Zec. This play was performed on the 24th Week of contemporary dance, 53rd Split summer – in the same year, and on Transvisuelle Dramatik Festival in 2008.
Worthy of mention are also the prizes at SKAZ, when the play “Vane” written by Radovan Ivšić and directed by Mario Kovač won the first prize, and a year earlier, at the same festival, Vojin Perić received the first prize for the leading male part in “King Edip”.
In July 2010, the “New Life” ensemble performed again at “The Golden Lion”. No prizes were received this time, but there was a conviction that we are being seriously accepted and regularly invited to participate. We were presented with the play “White, White, White”, directed by Mario Kovač and dramatized by our longtime associate Ana Prolić. In 2013 we performed Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano” and in 2015 the play by Petra Radin “I Remembered the Blue Yesterday”.
Recent past, this present and near future of our theatre are created by Anita Matković, Vojin Perić, Zeko Milenko, Nikola Vijnović and Anto Jelečević – the middle generation – and Dajana Biondić, Ružica Drenski, Ružica Domić, Kristina Šporčić, Suzana Bliznac, Igor Kučević and Marijo Glibo as mature young actors.
People we can thank for the high level of their performances and who sign our plays for the last ten years are already mentioned Mario Kovač, whose expertise and enthusiasm for art, along with his simplicity and spontaneity are captivating and guarantee many more good plays which will enrich our repertoire. His work at directing Mitterer’s “Deadly Sins” marks the peak of our success and “White, White, White” honors all our efforts. Kovač’s Ph.D. thesis, “To Inhale the Lights of the Stage”, is an extraordinary piece of work, that is, a professional observation of work with blind and visually impaired actors.
Ivan Plazibat started his work very seriously with “Ubu Roi” by Alfred Jarry and Kafka’s “The Trial” in order to give us “A Ballad About a Penguin”, fairytale by Lana Šarić.
Anica Tomić directed “The Circus Elephant Charlie” and tremendously introduced us to the children’s audience.
Already mentioned Saša Božić made our ensemble dance, opened our imagination and explored us to the tiniest detail.
Ksenija Zec is a poet of movement; symbiosis of friend and sister, a woman who can turn the most trivial situation into a master-piece.
Ksenija is the one who brought Maja Marjančić to our ensemble because she is also one of those responsible for the mobility of our ensemble. With her persistence and adamancy she gave us tasks that pushed as to break all the limits that blindness imposes on us.
Besides directors, our artistic expression was fulfilled by scenographers: Velimir Domitrović, Ljubomir Miščević, Miljenko Sekulić, Darko Bakliža, Ratko Janjić, Iva-Matija Bitanga, Leo Vukelić, Igor Pauška and Marta Crnobrnja, as well as costume designers: Ruta Knežević, Danica Dedijer, Marija Šarić-Ban, Katarina Radošević-Galić, Zdravka Ivandija, Iva-Matija Bitanga, Leo Vukelić, Petra Dančević, Ana Biondić, Hana Letica and Vesna Kutnjak.
Let us not forget those who made our faces expressive and used their blushes, powders and other make-up products to make us pretty – Felicio Cecić and Fadil Hanušić – the duo that writes the history of Croatian make-up art. Light designers Saša Mondekar and Nenad Lalović steered their reflectors in the right way, so that we can at least feel them if not see them.
Now, let us get back to the basics. These include the need to have someone accompany us during our travels, to reach something for us and to help us in certain situations. Let us get back to those moments when our work needed administrative touch, when our projects needed to be written, our accounts calculated, when we needed someone to take us to meetings, love us and watch over us both privately and officially. All this was done by people who work in our theatre, from Dubravka Banda, Zvjezdana Lazović, Dubravka Ivanić to Marina Ćurić whose golden hands and ideas still help us. Marina dedicated over 15 years of her life to our theatre; she lived for it, worried about our failures and cried tears of joy at our successes. She became the very symbol of our theatre so we have to add a surname to all Marinas that come after her because when we say Marina it means Our Marina! Ana-Maria Perić also works in the theatre and she temporarily-forever took the last name of one of our actors which means that she fell in love in the theatre and then, logically, stayed in the theatre.
There are also members of our technical support team. Besides their theatrical duties, they became our friends and remained with us in memory and in the present: Krešimir Obradović, Robert Ruk, Krešimir Lastrić, Lidija Špoljar, Ana-Maria Doro, Dubravka Ivanić, Đurđica Dulić, Martina Zeko, Irena Jelečević, Vlatka Matković, Ivana Veran, Ana Biondić, Branko Ostojić, Anto Jelečević, Nikola Višić, Nenad Lalović, Tea Bešić, Andrea Čavara, David Čavara and others!
This list of names goes on to the place where our integration begins, to the place where we decided to invite some guests to perform in our plays. Sometimes they were professionals like Franjo Kuhar, Sven Jakir, Maja Marjančić, Živko Anočić, Goran Bogdan, Judita Franković, Iva Dragan Peter, Nikolina Majdak, Marko Makovičić, Maja Posavec, Ivana Rushaidat, Dražen Šivak, Nikša Marinović, and sometimes they were amateurs like Ana Bučević, Ana Biondić, Ivana Veran and Matija Major.
Through playfulness, cheerfulness and dancing we jump out of the historical context and offer ourselves in the form of Croatian cultural product, deprived of our status, but deeply invested in our mission, confident in your need to see us and evaluate us yourself.
One more thing
We are the Theatrical Company of Blind and Visually Impaired “New Life”, because we are not allowed to be registered under any other name, but we dare to call ourselves the THEATRE OF BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED “NEW LIFE”, and you – respected audience – decide for yourself who and what we really are after you see one of our plays.
Last couple of years
Everything that flows is subject to transience, it changes, fades and welcomes people, closes and opens like a flower before the sun; it grows and passes through metamorphoses, staying the factory of illusions and the rarity that does honor to Croatia by growing into the brand. In fact, we have to complete the list, update the repertoire and boast a little with rewards and acknowledgments, and display our playfulness before the eyes of the readers of these lines.
We will mention the Charter of the Republic of Croatia which was awarded to us by the President Ivo Josipović in 2013, and two awards from the children’s “The best, best, best” festival (in 2013 for the play “Think before you speak”, Bird Flame for the unity in theatre, and in 2016 an award for the music in the play “Dinosaurs – Matej Meštrović). There, thanks to the Ministry of Culture and the City of Zagreb we still exist, although in 2012 we were very close to disappearing because the Ministry of Youth and Social Policy of the time completely revoked the funding of our regular activities, but with the support of people from two above mentioned institutions, we kept on going.