MESS is the 51st International Theater Festival in Sarajevo, which just took place last weekend. There were about four plays a day for a week all from different international theater companies- what was cool was that a lot of them were experimental and innovative in trying to I was lucky enough to go to three different plays, which were all amazing.

The first play that I saw was called “The Title.” This is the synopsis taken from the MESS website:

“Title“ is a performative research, that proposes misunderstanding as a way of communication in itself. Let us agree on the fact that we do not understand each other! And so, we approach the phenomenon of misunderstanding as an opening for “unreasonable” models of communication. We wonder how misinterpretation can be the source of creativity, that expands the possibilities for what something can mean.

We create dispostives for irrational communication. Therefore we look at the pure act of creating meaning. In order to disorganize our mind and to open new space for the inconceivable thought, we disconnect the significance from the objects, from their function and from our experience with them. What is beyond one’s point of view? “Title” is the result of this investigation, and the consequences of those ideas in our body- mind expression. “

It was a really cool play and interesting to see how they exaggerated misunderstanding in simple communication to the point of absurdity, but how on a closer look a lot of our conversations resemble that. Not really listening, just nodding- or feeding off one and another until you end up in an entirely different place than when you started and have a conversation so muddled its hard to figure out exactly what it is about. It was especially compelling in the backdrop of Sarajevo, because language/ communication here is SO politicized that I found a lot more meaning in the play’s message than I would have if I had watched it in New York or somewhere else in Europe.

I saw “Arabian Nights” which was all in Bosnian. I had a Croatian friend with me who was telling me what was happening as it was, but I wasn’t a big fan of the storyline even though I was really impressed with the acting. The story followed five main characters that are somewhat isolated and in their own mad worlds.

I met with one of the Directors of Mess to talk about political theater and he was super helpful. We had an amazing conversation about how anger isn’t a good enough motivator for art, and how there needs to be a deeper emotional pull to make meaningful art. He talked about how everything is so political in Bosnia that even the decision NOT to do a politically bent play is a highly political act. Leaving the meeting, I had a lot of questions that I was working out: What is the functionality of art when things are so bogged down in politics that people become apathetic? Can you make art that moves past issues of war when it is such a prevalent part of Bosnian society? How can people have faith in art as a means of new solutions and a site for understanding given the very serious day-to-day struggles that have been left in the wake of the war?

The last play I saw was called “Hypermnesia” and was absolutely incredible and seemed to answer a lot of the questions that I was thinking about. Using Testimonial Theater, it took the personal war stories from eight actors all from different countries and ethnicities around the Balkans and weaved them into a moving tale about the last war. It was absolutely beautiful and so honest. I loved the way that the play showed the mindsets of the actors through humor as well as seriousness to give an accurate portrayal of the war. But really, the whole audience was moved and burst out clapping numerous times and a lot of people were crying and really touched. But it was fascinating to watch in regards to my research, especially because it is the first war play I have seen or read that had used humor in such a realistic way and really treated the stories of individuals in a sensitive and caring manner. Just watching the audience during the play itself was an extremely amazing experience- to see actors tackle a topic that is very much in the lived memory of an entire audience and to simultaneously see the audience react back to what was being presented on stage really gave me a renewed faith in art and the work that I want to do here.

In the end, it reminded me the importance of personal storytelling in both defining the problem at hand as well as looking for innovative solutions to moved past it, and how important it is to raise necessary questions with art rather than just seeking solutions.


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