report from the research, workshop and premiere of the Human Caravana pilot
“I believe in the power of art as a form of being together.”
Jerzy Zoń, director Teatr KTO, Krakow
The idea of preparing a theatre of social inclusion, which would help to integrate the Ukrainian expatriates into society and to help the local population to understand the situation in which we all found ourselves, occured at a time when the wave of solidarity and help to our invaded neighbours was at its peak, yet the first misunderstandings and animosities were already appearing. We had no idea that their development would be so dynamic, nor did we foresee how uneasy it would be to map the state of the diverse relations between the locals and the refugees in the neighbouring countries, to capture and understand the key moments of human fates and in the process of creation to transform them into an attractive artistic and theatrical form that is understandable to the general public by using dramatic tools.
That is why the “ICEBREAKING” project has had and will continue to have a number of different and challenging phases. The whole project consists of 3 stages: RESEARCH, HUMAN CARAVANA, CIRCUS CARAVANA. The starting point was to approach four friendly theatres from the V4 countries and agree on the topicality of the theme and the need to help overcome the barriers between us, the closest neighbours. So that it is not revived prejudices, mental barriers and spreading hatred that prevail, but mutual understanding, humanity and dignity. We, The Ensemble of Irregular Theatre (AND) from Banská Štiavnica, approached and formed a creative consortium with Teatr KTO from Krakow, Krvik Totr from Prague and Firebirds company from Budapest to jointly create an international street production aimed at bringing local citizens in the V4 countries and the exiles from Ukraine together. We also invited the Ukrainian multimedia theatre WE: MEDIA THEATER from Lviv to join the partnership. Each of the partners of this European cooperation has a specific role in the project. The Slovak coordinator is responsible for the overall management of the project and its directing component, the Czech partner is tasked with writing the libretto and later the script of the production, the Polish and Hungarian theatres are mainly represented by their actors as performers of the production, and the Ukrainian team enriches the project with film and documentary production.
The initial stage in V4 countries was first undertaken by a smaller team: the main protagonists of the Krvik Totr theatre and the scriptwriters of the project from Prague − Petr Novotný and Tomáš Kout, together with members of our AND theatre, director Jana Mikitková and PR manager Ema Rajčanová, prepared various socially inclusive activities with local citizens of the V4 countries and the Ukrainian community in Prague, Budapest, Banská Štiavnica and Krakow. The four-day stays of the international team of theatre artists in each of these cities took place in August 2023 and were focused on RESEARCH and collecting authentic field stories of expatriates as an inspiration for the script of a future street production. From the meetings we attended, exploratory visits to temporary Ukrainian homes, from conducting creative workshops with local citizens and domesticated refugees, as well as from numerous individual interviews with selected respondents, we recorded a number of extraordinary stories and emotional testimonies that shed light on the lived experiences of diametrically different fates of similar generations in two neighbouring countries.
We understood that the power of the topic is enormous. We humbly respected that the personal experience of Ukrainian expatriates is largely non-transferable and incomprehensible to us, and at the same time we slowly found ways that brought us closer together, such as sharing recipes for national specialties, live music, singing favorite songs, or juggling techniques, or laughing at minor language misunderstandings.
“I feel at home. I feel like I’m among my own.”
“We don’t have a home anymore, we don’t have anything, I want to stay here.”
“Whoever loses his home and land, it is as if he did not exist, as if he had lost his life.”
“We went for a walk in the forest and didn’t have to pay attention to where the mines were…”
“We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be out at night and just enjoy life like the people here.”
“We’re having a good time here, but as soon as the war is over, I know which connection I’m going to get on and go back.”
The research trips culminated in each town with a nice NEIGHBORHOOD PICNIC and an informal yet purposeful program, structure, and light refreshments. After the initial introductions and participants’ handwritten first names on a common wrapping paper (it was remarkable to see who used Ukrainian or Russian signatures or pronunciations of names), there followed a fun exploration of the different meanings of sound-meaning words in our Central European languages (blueberry in Slovak, etc.), searching for similar words with different meanings (e.g. our amazing is terrible in Ukrainian), and realizing the loss of the original language identity and the acquisition of a new one among the departees (rejection of Russian, preference for Ukrainian, inevitable learning of the local language). The picnic continued with the idea of home, where the exiles live, but with their eyes closed (they often emotionally compared their current small, shared rooms with their big houses and orchards in Ukraine). Almost all of them lived in memories, in the past. Then it was their turn to hand out each other’s pre-prepared gift packages and guess what might be in them. After unwrapping them, individual consideration of whether the recipient needed the gift or would pass it on to someone else. The gift-giving game was followed by walking interaction in pairs with a string of parcels, guiding each other with eyes closed around the picnic’s exterior as a test of mutual trust. Then, all the gift recipients used pieces of gift wrapping paper to piece together the regions and cities of Ukraine and the V4 countries (the very name of the country “Ukraine” contains the Slovak word “ukrajovať” which can be freely translated as to remove, to take away or to cut). Older participants also willingly added their home region to this “map-making” of the new European continent. Each picnic (except Budapest) was multilingually moderated and enriched by an experienced stage designer and performer Tomáš Žižka from Prague, who presented an unusual musical performance at the end of the picnic with his captivating story about the European roots of his ancestors. He miraculously made various rhythmic sounds from a large dry tree root with the help of a sensor and various tools (sticks, brushes, toys…), which not only captivated the children, but also literally enchanted the older women who had not yet encountered similar contemporary art. Neighbourhood picnics took place in the exteriors of the Thomayer Gardens (Prague), in the park of the Konnektor Community Incubator (Budapest), in the garden of the Scout House (Banská Štiavnica) and on the outdoor stage of Teatr KTO (Kraków). The number of participants was variable over time, ranging from 20 to 40 over the course of three to four hours. Some people came and went according to their abilities. The majority were mostly Ukrainians, with the managers of the local partner theatres helping with the organisation of the event.
During the 13-day research tour, the members of the eight-member international team also met together every evening to not only pass on background information and personal experiences gained in individual conversations and situations during the day, to select interesting and inspiring moments for the production that could enrich the scriptwriters, dramaturg and director in the process of creating the future production, but also to “melt the ice” between the research participants and each other. In addition to a number of photographs, a rich database of all the activities that were recorded on audio and video by Liudmyla Batalova and Olha Klymuk from the partner Ukrainian theatre during the research trips was also created. They were later artistically processed by director Sashko Brama (UA) into the documentary ICEBREAKING as a reportage story of one of them. The premiere and a discussion with the filmmakers took place at the end of the 8th edition of the AMPLIFIER Festival − New Cabaret & Street Art 2023 in Banská Štiavnica.
“I am Russian, but my home is Ukraine.”
“I don’t have a home in Budapest. I’m here on a long trip.”
“Slovaks, Czechs and Poles help Ukrainians because they have to, they do it out of fear of Russia, they don’t want them to come to their countries. Hungarians help selflessly because they want to help.”
“The first thing that brought us together was a ball of wool. Our first word we both understood was mohair.”
(Zuzka, Banská Štiavnica)
“If there’s still a war next Wednesday, I’ll come to the shredding…”
“Everyone is in their place. My husband fights in the war, I fight with our culture, embroidery and the Ukrainian flag. We are in this together.”
Immediately following the research trips came the creation of the libretto for the future production. The author duo Petr Novotný and Tomáš Kout (CZ) wrote the first version of the script within ten days, which was then edited according to the comments of the dramaturgs and especially the director Jana Mikitková (SK) into the first version of the libretto. This, together with the previously prepared site-specific scenographic vision by Tomáš Žižka (SK/CZ), was the basis for the intensive creative work of the lecturers of the international WORKSHOP in the four most important production components of HUMAN CARAVANA. While Martin Geišberg (SK) practiced playing atypical musical instruments and singing with the seven actors and composed and recorded original music for the pilot production at night, costume designer Anna Weszelovszky (HU) was intensively creating costumes on site from pre-purchased and collected materials (sleeping bags) and adapted them to the actors’ bodies. Set designer Tomáš Žižka together with his technical assistant Henrich Žuch prepared visual installations and props for the street set: spotlights with smoke effect in the entrance gate of the Old Castle, fortune-telling place and cards, white shirts hanging in the treetops, a huge nest made of branches in the forest, boundary markings on the fence, a rope of parasols. They also modified a cart to haul the “new temporary home for exatriates”. However, the international team of performers from Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia was most physically exhausted by the creation of meaning-making movement drama-tic situations by choreographer Ladislav Cmorej (SK), who was a hearty reinforcement of the non-verbal and visual-movement concept of the work-in-progress staging by director Jana Mikitková (SK). Despite the fact that a three-day workshop cannot replace the classical six-week rehearsal process in a theatre, all the above-mentioned creators as well as the performers from the partner theatres and artistic groups Slawek Bendykowski, Paulina Lasyk, Mieszko Syc (PL), Gergely Kiss, Bálint Turai (HU), Tereza Kmotorková (SK) and Anton Eliáš (SK/CZ) worked intensively together from early morning until late at night, with respect for the expert lecturers and the intentions of the project. With their natural willingness, immediate humanity and especially professional approach they broke the ice and together formed a friendly 15-member artistic team ready to present the 45-minute work output from the creative workshop as a possible part of the future great work, which will bring a real artistic and emotional experience to the audience at the premiere and two reruns in Banská Štiavnica and its surroundings.
“Home is where the blue sky is.”
PREMIERE OF THE PILOT
The premiere of the pilot street production HUMAN CARAVAN took place just one hour after the opening of the 8th International Festival of New cabaret & street art AMPLIFIER 2023 on Friday, September 22nd from 17:00 to 17:45. Approximately 80 to 90 spectators were guidedd from Holy Trinity Square to the gates of the Old Castle by the 22-member Dutch brass band Orkest de Tegenwind, which created a great atmosphere and the necessary anticipation of the audience.
The production was a simple story of a family with a dog who had to leave their home under dramatic circumstances. At first she tried in vain to return to it through a high wall in the style of an acrobatic grotesque, but soon realised that she had to embark on a long journey to find a new place to live. Already at this stage, the performers involved the audience in the action by letting them carry their ladder and luggage. Along the way, the family met a gypsy fortune teller who predicted an ambiguous fate for them from the big cards. At a fork in the woods, she and the spectators found a good-natured wanderer who showed the family members the way. However, it was full of pitfalls and danger. After wandering the forest trail for some time, they discovered a temporary residence in nature (the nest), but there they symbolically said goodbye to the father of the family, who had fallen defending their homeland. After further wandering with singing and music, the family discovered an old cart, which they managed to pull to the borders of a new, unknown country, but not without the help of the spectators.. After crossing it, dynamic dance-movement and even acrobatic scenes with clothes and sleeping bags were enacted in the new, free space, symbolizing not only the help from the natives, but also the rivalry between the family members and the cynical market society. Eventually, the wanderers settled into their new home, a cozily furnished traveling carriage, like itinerant circus performers whose new life was just beginning. Already, however, they felt what it was like to receive a helping hand. At the end, they personally shook hands with the spectators who decided to help them during their wanderings with their sweaters, food, or physical strength.
The production had the character of an errand theatre, the individual performances took place in a structure similar to the Stations of the Cross at the seven stops. The audience was greeted, accompanied and guided along the route by a delegate-moderator who promised at the beginning an excursion to a neighbouring country and an entertaining show. But what followed was an unexpected refugee tragedy with a long journey and an open ending in a new homeland. Almost the entire, otherwise essentially non-verbal production was carried by brooding ambient music from a portable loudspeaker and, at times, lively choral singing by performers with instruments, which captured and reinforced the atmosphere of exodus, the search for the promised land and, at the same time, happiness in adversity. The audience, with interest and patience, followed the entire march around the Old Castle through the forest path to the garden of the Scout House, where they rewarded the creators and performers with a long applause. It is therefore a great pity that in the following two days, due to the unfavourable rainy weather and the illness of one actress, it was not possible to carry out two more scheduled reruns at the Hájovna Cervena Studna on the outskirts of Banská Štiavnica and at the Kolping House Rest Area in Štiavnické Bane.
The pilot premiere of HUMAN CARAVANA was a laboratory for potential story, form, and interpersonal convergence through a street theatre of errands that, based on a refined script, will be staged in the spring of 2024 by the creators and performers of the four collaborating theatres under the name CIRCUS CARAVANA. The premiere is scheduled for the end of April in Krakow, with repeat performances in all V4 countries as well as in Ukraine.
“ICEBREAKING is uncovering the stereotypes in our heads.
Breaking down the pigeonholes into which we sort people − immediately, but forever.
Breaking the prejudices of our times.
Bonding with those we need to survive.”
Recorded by Ján Fakla, AND n.o.