Theatre in Dark Times

In America, we have a tendency to view political theatre as risky. Producing a strongly political play can be a great financial risk if it does not appeal to audience taste. Writing a strongly political play can be equally risky as theatres may be afraid of the financial risks of producing the play. In other parts of the world, however, creating political theatre can be an even greater risk—a risk to one’s personal safety and even one’s life.

In 1991, three women in Serbia decided to face these very real dangers by creating Dah Theatre.  Two directors, Jadranaka Andelic and Dijana Milosevic, joined actress Maja Mitic with the common goal of speaking against the war and violence in their homeland. Their first piece, This Babyonian Confusion, was a play created in response to the war in Yugoslavia. They performed the anti-war piece outdoors in the center the city of Belgrade at a time when it was illegal to even mention the war. Dah Theatre expanded in 1993 to include the Dah Theatre Research Center, which focused on creating workshops, lectures, festivals and seminars. The company places special emphasis on artistic education, providing workshops, theatre training and dance training to young people.

While Dah is concerned with the local issues of Belgrade and Serbia, they have an international scope, touring extensively through Europe, the U.S., New Zeland, and Austria throughout their 20 years. When you look at the topics addressed in recent seminars, it’s clear that Dah has a universal message. Founding member, Dijana Milosevic currently delivers a lecture called “the Role of the Artist in the Dark Times,” addressing the following issues:

“What is the role of the theatre when people are suffering around us? What are our responsibilities as artists and human beings in the situation of war? What kind of art has the power to create positive change in society?”

Today, Dah Theatre continues to create theatre pieces that deal with the wars of the 1990’s and the shadow that still lingers over their homeland. A recent production, called Tender, Tender, Tenderly deals with “nostalgia and its influence on the cultural scene of former Yugoslavia.” A 2007 piece, In Search of the City, is a site specific piece on the ruins of a former national library. It focuses on “invisible walls…made of hidden histories and taboos tied to our city.” Over its 20 years, Dah Theatre has gone from a small group that opposed the law to speak out against injustice to an internationally renowned theatre company. [Colleen Ahern]