Tuesday, 15 March 2022
The jury for the Slavko Grum and the Young Playwright Awards report for 2022
The jury report 2022
The members of the Slavko Grum Award and the Young Playwright Award jury for 2022 carefully read all thirty-eight entries submitted to both competitions, twenty-nine for the Slavko Grum Award and nine for the Young Playwright Award.
This year’s competition was the second one organised according to changed criteria and with the requirement that only texts that are unpublished and unproduced at the deadline for submissions are eligible to compete. This change has created significant issues, as it prevents us from considering the entire spectrum of new plays for Slovenian theatre during the period the festival covers. Hence, the jury recommends that the festival once again reconsider the rules for all the competitions that are a part of the Week of Slovenian Drama and consider their fundamental purpose as well as the way to best achieve it. Further, we find that this year’s yield of texts submitted for the Young Playwright Award was exceptionally diverse and high in quality, so it might make sense to introduce nominations for this category as well, or at least mention a selection of texts.
After reading the submitted texts and extensively debating among the jury members, the jury concurred that the yield in both categories is diverse. Paradoxically, the reading also revealed that young playwriting is far more balanced in craft and in quality than the plays competing for the Grum Award. This year’s playwriting is well-varied, but is, unfortunately, occasionally marred by carelessness, insufficient craft and inconsistency, at times even beginner’s mistakes. In its best part – which, unfortunately, is the minor part – the diversity in themes and motifs are reflected in genre diversity and perfectionism that tell us that Slovenian drama is far from being in a crisis and that, in its best tonalities, it is aware of its advantages, but also dangers that that prey on it, whether in staging or the overdramatised society. The fact that contemporary plays are often on – or even over – the edge of dystopia must at this point be a result of hyper-politicisation and the crisis of democracy we have been witnessing in recent years.
The jury unanimously selected the four nominees and also compiled a list of several intriguing texts by young playwrights. The texts deal with relevant, fresh topics and often manage to invent singular languages of drama, post-drama and drama after post-drama. Genre-wise, the texts are diverse, often hybrid, fresh, with some unresolved dilemmas on the subject and story level. At times, they seem a challenge to stage, but for the most part, they are a challenge that can also bring theatre successes, the joy of reading and the joy of watching.
Members of the jury:
Vesna Jevnikar (president)
THE NOMINATED PLAYS FOR THE SLAVKO GRUM AWARD
a logocentric comedy for seven girls about particles, revolutions and theatre
The Story of the Copper King
a logocentric comedy for seven girls about particles, revolution and theatre
Only the actresses have remained in a theatre, empty during the lockdown, to guard and care for it, that is, to clean it, water the plants and so on. The play’s narrative frame thus establishes an allegory of a woman tasked with being on call, protecting, caring and nurturing – however, she takes things into her own hands and uses them to her benefit instead. In this particular case, the actresses take advantage of the emancipatory and mobilising potential of theatre, use it to intervene into the existing social order and change it, just as it happened, for example, in the 19th century when the Belgian revolution started in a theatre. But, as the protagonists find, first the theatre itself must change for a feat like this. Once the actresses remain alone with their roles, start acting them out and thinking about them critically, they realise that even the allegedly most emancipated and feminist characters don’t (always) rise to the level of their concept, that is, that even their rebellion against the patriarchal model of the world is not (necessarily) sufficient. Beautiful Vida, for example, revolts against the role of a housewife who has to take care of a child and a husband, but a revolt in which "you leave a child and go off with someone else" is "done by men, not by people", states one of the actresses. After all, after she flees, Vida stays at home with her thoughts, and her guilt even drives her to suicide. Pope Joan’s revolt is also insufficient – she ascends to papal authority by concealing her gender, by changing and acting like a man. She thus succeeds as a man, not as a woman. On the opposite end of the scale, the Greek Queen Helen uses her femininity, but this is only femininity through the male gaze. Helen essentially objectifies herself and becomes a sexual object. The three myths share a successful revolt, but the success occurs within the parameters of patriarchy to which – instead of changing them – each actress adapts in her own way. This happens because the normative frame for the existing stories and roles, be it of real or fictional characters, but also other cultural patterns in theatre (and art), was, and predominantly still is, determined by the male gaze. Any revolt against the dominant ideology of its time is always demanding, as it must target the position of statements, the frame in which it is said. For this reason, the play doesn’t offer simple and moralistic answers, either. Instead, it directs the audience to discover "the ambiguity of words, values, humans", gain an insight into the "conflict of the world", and perhaps at last abandon "its previous convictions and accept the "uncertain view of the world".
Weltschmerz is a play about our time that simultaneously uses parallel dramatic approaches and matrices: from realistic and veristic to anti-utopian and grotesque-satirical. The playwright–rhapsode sets it into a typical neighbourhood of apartment blocks that could also be a Slovenian one. But we also witness the rich imagination with which the author connects several characters and situations that at first sight (prompted by the linguistic register, a clear simulation of spoken language) are realized through a series of clichés. Thirteen characters, scattered in seven flats, enter different interactions that sketch the micro-social environment of their different genders, age groups, ethnic backgrounds and education. Everybody struggles with the new normality shaped by the COVID-19 epidemic, but nobody can find an appropriate exit strategy. Additionally, the Orwellian monitoring entity, a phantom "Centre" to contain the epidemic that has transformed into a centre of power, control and intimidation, hovers above everything. The scenes follow each other at an increasing pace, with mounting aggression and (self-)destruction. In a world that seems to be described totally realistically, things get larger or smaller and bring the characters, these small "heroes of our corona time", closer to the reader and the spectator without moralizing or wading into the essayistic utopianism – or dystopianism. But despite all that, we find ourselves in medias res: the cracks appearing in the seemingly still controllable world become more and more grotesque, the position of the heroes helpless, the world, as if it were out of joint. But Weltshchmerz achieves excellence in catapulting a seemingly realistic text into hyper-reality with the help of a unique system of didascalies – they are exceptionally tightly written, precise, detailed, and because of their complexity at times seemingly unstageable, yet make the reader even more directly and wholly submit to the rhapsodist’s games with reality and about reality. And also through the special metafictional use of footnotes, which sketch the essayisation of this drama hybrid and outline the special atmosphere, so characteristic for the writer. Weltschmerz is thus a drama that mirrors the post-postdramatic time, into which it contributes some valuable solutions.
When the family members gather after Mother’s death to clean out her apartment and get it ready to put it up for sale, they find themselves facing a task more difficult than it seems at first. Together, they have to go through the things which Mother left behind and decide what to do with them: write them off and discard, or perhaps hold on to and keep them. But such decisions open more questions – what to do with these things? Where to store them? And not least – who will keep them? The material pieces and things mostly end up in boxes and boxes forgotten in the basement, but, as the protagonists find, it’s not only about the material things. There are events, impressions and memories from the past, deposited in a growing pile as the years pass. We not only leave sediments behind us but also in others, and in the end, they are deposited in ourselves. The play is thus a document of a life, its imprint – there are no particularly surprising or touching twists and turns, no big stories or particularly tense situations, nor are there any particularly ambitious characters. Everything is simple, uncomplicated, perhaps even banal or trivial. Still, through such particularities and intimate fragments particular to specific persons, the text enters into the universal and invents a way to reach beyond itself to us. It does not talk about big events and stories, but about minutiae, details, ones that when they happen to us perhaps don’t even seem all that important and might pass unnoticed. These tiny fragments, which gradually land at the bottom of our core, define and constitute us as personalities. The text cleverly follows this idea also on the level of the drama structure, constructed from impressions and fragments just as tiny and written in an almost (hyper)naturalistic style.
The Story of the Copper King
This unusual poetic play introduces a different theatricality in dialogue with the Slovenian poetic drama of Dane Zajc and Gregor Strniša, and at the same time in intimate dialogue with Beckett and his world of the absurd. In The Story of the Copper King, an Eliot-like wasteland, painted through poetry and drama, is void of all traces of thoughts and, within this void, dystopian, just like the time in which we have been living in recent years. The world that it verbalises in the sublimated language of poetry is empty and pointless. The King, who at the same time reminds us of Camus’s Caligula and Jarry’s Ubu, announces some Artaudian plague and destroys everything and everyone, even things that are already dead. The King remains alone, although, indeed, just like King Lear from Shakespeare’s ultimate play, as history has called it, he is accompanied by the Fool. And while the horizon of his consciousness might see a Queen, or woman emerges, she remains more from the other side than of this side of existence. And God, who appears as some proof of the total absence of meaning in thus simulacra of modernist geography, which this drama after drama represents, finally is written with the words of a rhapsodist: "And God is – finally, we might add – truly dead." But the metaphor of the King turns out to be a metaphor for the contemporary world, its almost cannibalistic leaders and ourselves, readers and spectators, who as contemporary subjects are exposed to the flow of time and the absence of meaning, which have seeped through our fingers and left only dusty traces behind. This pure and artfully written poetic play verbalises and embodies a series of iterations and differences and spellbinds us as poetry and drama simultaneously, or – even better – as dramatic impulses on the blade of poetic sharpness.