SMALL THEATRE DAYS FESTIVAL (1974 – 1994)
There are many reasons for the existence of the theatre festival Small Theatre Days. Yet, the crucial reasons are certainly creative and artistic ones. Cultural reasons are also important but only partly, while the other part or side of these reasons inevitably harmed an ideological and political idyll. It is interesting, for example, that concerning the program this festival was always necessary for its older brother ( “Sterijino pozorje” festival) but it has never been fully accepted and not to mention integration in its powerful program-organizational structure.
Cultural establishment has accepted, and it was even proud of, range of these gatherings but it still kept the distance. They did not care if some of the critics or foreign guests announced one of the performances from this festival as an event or the best play, even regarding performances from the “Sterijino pozorje” festival.
They were proud of it and they even boasted with them but they never provided real and essential support. Furthermore, this festival became alive as a need but also a reply to the growing creative pressure of this kind of theatre to find its place. Spontaneity of its genesis is reflected in its name. At the beginning it had several names: OFF theatre, Sterijada, Mala sterijada and finally Small Theatre. Although it is known as a Yugoslav festival, it should be pointed out that initially, there were few performances from abroad. This is important not only because the INFANT will derive from it, but also because already at that time some new ways of theatre work and education appeared. A creative and cultural need for this kind of festival is best illustrated by the conclusion, already after few editions, “that the festival was gathering for years, free, informal and non-institutional groups and theatre artists expressing new and radical tendencies in Yugoslav practice”.
Great theatre achievements in the whole South-Slavic region derived from the floating remains of broken waves of illusions from ’68, and mistakes of changes in whirlpools of locked creative energy of new generations. Derived from the border region of a mainstream professional theatre, and the energy and creative restlessness continually overflowing from it to some different shapes, as well as out of students’ curiosity and need for searching, but also the best quality amateur theatre instincts and commitment, this kind of theatre production drew the attention of theatre connoisseurs quite fast, calling for a need to gather that diverse and rich creativeness in one, wholly new context that would provide the right to an equal treatment and survival. Theatre performances and performances of classical national repertoire theatre used to have not only serious government, ideological and financial support, but also developed and built infrastructure that supported this spiritual construction in various ways, as well as special ritual places and forms for gatherings of competitive type or shows. Within them, once a year, the results were collected and compared. These rituals, allegedly established for artistic reasons, by the time have become more like mechanisms for the realization of ideological and eventually bare political interest. Since this newly developed kind of theatre has not been established only beyond institutions and at the same time beyond the influence and control of ideological censors, but it was also subversive and innovative in terms of new (that cannot be checked) ways of work, freedom to express oneself and freedom in the ways of organization, it stayed aside for quite long time. However, there was an increasing gap between the theatre practice and all those that satisfied rigid criteria of theatre rituals, as well as an unrestrained pressure and presence of new but quality and different theatre achievements. Those achievements, attracting an increasing attention of critics, medias and audience, conquered the theatre space and by the time became an equal part of the theatre family but still not having all those things that their older brother did. The final change of this situation happened in three waves: the first one was in the 60s when the “Small and Experimental Stages” appeared (in 1960), and “BRAMS” (in1966); the second wave was in the 70s when the “Small Theatre Days” were established (in 1974) and “Young and Open Theatre” (in 1976); the last wave was in the middle 80s when another three festivals of this kind of theatre were established: “Tjedan suvremenog plesa” (The Week of Modern Dance) in 1984, “Fijat” in 1985 and “Eurokaz” in 1987. That is probably the liveliest period in the theatre creativity but also the final break through and victory of a new theatre language whose forms and organizational shapes are named in completely different ways: off, experimental, open; finally, it is shown by the very names of some festivals, performances.
Furthermore, in an expressive form, there were the most diverse kinds of theatre, but the theatre practice as well, was more than enriched in terms of genre. That was the time of great challenges and questioning of not only theatre language but also social reality. It was also the time of searching for new hope and creative impulse. At that time, on the theatre stage, an equal participation was taken by the ritual, physical, and dancing theatres that slowly started to introduce technological innovations as well as experiences from the neighboring, paratheatre ways of expression. Video became an equal means of theatre expression. Certain theatre companies with their performances left the stage – box and started using wholly new spaces, environments for their achievements. The street theatre got a new impulse, as well. Concerning the literary theatre, it was not neglected, and not only dramas were adapted for stage but every kind of text was a motive or a base for a performance. Incredibly big number of texts was adapted for stage, which are not dramas and also not theatre plays in any respect. What is especially important is transparency of this kind of theatre in every way, so that the performances of older actors and directors were accepted provided that they brought something new or different. Simply, this became a space where everyone could express their unrealized or most hidden theatre impulses.
Poetic background of this festival meandered and changed the same way as artifacts. Therefore, it was written in the program booklet of the seventh festival that the Small Theatre Days was not a festival, competition, but an action, research, with a special idea to reveal, overvalue or deny young theatre production. That is why it is only an experiment in terms of festival, for “it is built in a wider spiritual basis than the theatre one”. Later, it was concluded that it was trying to include in its repertoire those performances that assume experiment as a form of research in the theatre media. Near its end, metamorphosis, its ambitions were to affirm “a new theatre practice that stands directly opposite to the hardened theatre forms: realism, psychological and illustrative theatre as well as opening towards other medias, high technology, arts, movement, dance; furthermore, opening towards new meditations and conquest of basic elements of a theatre act: tradition, acting, text, theatre direction. Also, there is an open support to a “new dramaturgy”.
This festival, during its existence of 20 years, hosted a great number of alternative theatre companies, students’ academic theatres, atypical performances of classical repertoire theatre as well as the best representatives of amateur theatre. In other words, more than 80 theatre companies with more than 130 performances.
Along with the falling apart of the spiritual and cultural space, every sense and reason for the existence of such festival disappeared. However, even if it did not happen, its concept was supposed to be changed and strengthened with new ideas. The last two-three festivals were an inter-phase indicating this need. Even a gradual change of its name to the Festival of New Theatre proves that new concepts and ways of work in the theatre have come here. A new and different theatre is born. It was more than obligation to give that new energy, sensibility and consciousness an adequate context. That context was provided by the new international festival of alternative and new theatre – INFANT.