Posts by John Russell '14
For the first time since starting to provide words for Colorado College’s blog, I am going to relate the content of the post to the title: on Tuesday our class will be presenting our final performances for the block… jet lagged.
We have safely arrived back in the United States of America as of about 3PM Saturday, and I think that I might speak for more than just myself if not two or three people and maybe everyone when I say that Serbia was a wild experience. Looking back on it, it all seems like some weird twilight zone. We learned so much in that twilight zone, though, so the next challenge is maintaining that in our everyday lives.
By the end of our week in Serbia, I had really started to piece together the violent and disturbing recent history of the former Yugoslavia, in particular the events between Serbia and Kosovo, and NATO and Kosovo and Serbia. Dah Teatar’s relevance as an important catalyst in the process of remembering and addressing the region’s history of atrocious crimes against humanity, involving genocidal violence, massacres, rapes in unbelievable numbers, and ethnic cleansing, became clear to us as these pieces fell into place.
Dah Teatar is in the business of forcing people to recognize parts of their history that they are trying to ignore. They use performance, both in the theater proper and the public theater of the street, to help people recognize the truth of their country’s history, rather than accept that which is professed by the state. Dah also addresses a more positive side of the region’s “alternative history” by showcasing in public performance the beauty of ethnic and cultural diversity and promoting recognition and acceptance.
We met with an activist group, under the guidance of Dah Teatar, called Women in Black. This is a global organization that has a strong and extremely interesting branch in Belgrade. Their performances are powerful and have been the target of retaliation from nationalist factions in Serbia. These women carried themselves with a confidence and conviction in what they believe that was enthralling. When asked whether they get scared when they are beaten verbally or physically on the street during their protests they answered simply. Getting scared doesn’t occur to them. Their devotion to the cause for which they are sacrificing their personal safety negates any fear. They act with purpose.
Everything we have learned from the workshop with Dah Teatar will be an available technique for our final performances. Personally, I can’t wait to see how the projects improve from the two we did before Serbia. I think that even with the added challenge of jet lag, we will see some pretty inspiring stuff.
On a separate note, I was excited to eat a meal that wasn’t a meat sandwich and to walk around both indoors and outdoors without feeling like I had just inhaled a pack and a half of cancer. I know I probably speak for at least myself and maybe a second or fourth person or more when I say that I am happy to be back in the US. Belgrade was a lot to take in in just one week, and now we’ve got three days to process it before the block plan leaves it all behind and we move on to bigger, smaller, greater and lesser things. Maybe I’ll even look for a job.
Check out the pics below to see some of the things we saw!
Belgrade is a picturesque city. Our hotel sits on a large traffic circle through which trolleys and busses and cars come careening with little regard for one another. A few blocks down the main shootoff of the roundabout you’ll come to a large plaza with a statue of a man riding a horse. A common meeting place. The subsequent blocks are pedestrian only and well used. It seems that at any time of day (and we have checked it out a almost every hour of the 24 hour cycle) there are people roaming. During the day the cafes fill up as the locals sit for an espresso to fuel their continuous, leisurely stroll. We stop for a sip of water from the communal fountain and look at watercolors of Belgrade in the rain.
Over the last few days we have seen and learned an overwhelming amount of really cool history, politics, acting techniques, new words, names, foods, and more.
The fortress of Belgrade has been the site of bloodshed for eons. Fighting between tribes, clans, empires, nations, and any other manner of human organization has occurred here since the beginning of history. We toured the fortress with narration from Dah Teatar, the theater company with which we have been doing our workshop. They shared their own experience with the space and how they have used performance to try to “cleanse” it of its bloody history.
Back towards the hotel and up a small hill you’ll find the Parliament building, St. Mark’s church, and various parks dotted and criss-crossed with perfectly pruned tulip gardens. We stopped at the foot of the stairs up to the front door of parliament for story time with one of the leaders of Otpor!, the revolutionary group that was instrumental in the ousting of Milosevic.
In our workshop with Dah Teatar we have been exercising our budding skills as thespian-activists. Practicing everything from pilates to speaking text while barking like a dog to improvisational and stage presence skills, our workshop days have been geared towards the acquisition of performance techniques for sending a message.
In addition we have heard lectures from Deanna, a co-founder of Dah Teatar and a performer of many works of political theater. Also a lecture from Zoe who is a performer for women’s rights and the leader of Queer Belgrade.
Our days and nights have been stuffed full to the brim of new and outrageous adventures and more knowledge than you can shake a book at. Check out the attached pics for a little taste of your own. Feel free to live vicariously!
In the words of Lauren Traub ’14, “Deuces!”
I say that because I’m conditioned to say that when I wake up from a couple hours of slumber. For example, now. The problem remains, though, that it is 8:00Pm. I probably shouldn’t have taken a three hour nap, in terms of killing jet lag, but the weight of my eyelids at 4:30 this afternoon after grabbing only thirty minute, sporadic intervals of Z’s since 6am yesterday (MST) was too heavy.
So obviously, or not so obviously given the current haziness of the brain, we have arrived in Belgrade, Serbia! My route, along with Mac, meandered lazily over to Detroit, then picked up the pace across the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped in to say Bonjour! to the early bird Parisian community, but only briefly. So briefly, in fact, that my bag (which I was coerced into gate checking due to overbooking in Denver) didn’t have time to run to the connecting flight (or get driven there, or however that works).
Lost bag notwithstanding, this afternoon we landed in Belgrade to a springing spring complete with budding trees, seventy degrees of fahrenheit, and grass and flowers. We grabbed a bus from the airport to the hotel for tri stotina dinari. The ride was a good intro tour to the immediate outskirts of the city. Lots of old houses with red tile roofs, grass growing amidst the flowers in the medians, small cars and trucks on smaller streets.
We wandered hazily through the surrounding blocks this afternoon, grabbed some chocolate-stuffed croissant things at a bakery, checked out a park and a little art gallery kinda thing with a human hampster wheel, and walked under old european style buildings surrounding one apparently war-torn structure.
The whole crew has just arrived in the hotel. 30 hours of traveling for them so naturally we are gonna go to bed…. later after we do stuff.
Thursday, Week One, Block 7, Year 4.
This week is the first of four in which a group of 14 Colorado College students will be focusing their academic energy on the connections between acts of insurgency, civil disobedience, protest, regime opposition and performance. The focus is largely in the Balkans. What roles did performance play in the usurpation of Slobodan Milosevic? A short documentary about the non-violent anti-Milosevic organization, Otpor!, along with readings highlighting acts of civil disobedience and discussion of effective insurgent strategies have guided us this week. We explored the tactics that effective movements use to gain a following, to become legitimate, and to ultimately achieve a goal. Many of these strategies, we found, are based on varying types of performance: street performance, humor, political performance, public image, and the arts.
Sta ima, bre!
If you don’t speak Serbian that’s a nice, “What’s up, dude?” Our afternoons are spent learning the basics of Serbian in preparation for next week’s journey to Belgrade, the capital of the Balkan state whose turmoiled and fascinating recent political history is our morning focus.
Tomorrow, we will perform our first project. Using performance, doing rather than saying, to provide an insight into power relations and obedience.