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Dramaturge Slávka Civáňová: Ecology will be one of the main values of the theatre

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During the lockdown, theatre artists faced the challenge of staying in touch with their audiences even without direct contact. Some also used the time to create new works. This year, Slávka Civáňová, the dramaturge of Andrej Bagar Theatre, presented a new educational theatre play Until Silence Comes.

In an interview she revealed, among other things:

  • what motivated her to write the educational play
  • what new projects and initiatives the theatre has prepared for its audience
  • what Nitra has to offer in the context of European culture

You are a dramaturge at the Andrej Bagar Theatre (Divadlo Andreja Bagara – DAB) and also an author of plays. This year your play Kým nastane ticho (Until Silence Comes) was staged in DAB. Could you introduce it to the visitors of our website?

The idea to dedicate another edu-play for youth to the protection of Slovak forests was born when we premiered our first edu-play HOAX around 2018. The production of Kým nastane ticho is based on the events related to logging and the subsequent protests in the Ticha and Kôprová valley in 2007, which were preceded by the devastating wind calamity in the High Tatras in 2004, and also draws attention to the current situation – the unabated large-scale logging and its consequences in several areas of Slovakia. 

Directed by Iveta Ditte Jurčová, the edu-play speaks to the young audience in an engaging visual-musical form, as well as through environmental installations and experiments, but also through real documentary materials. She explains the consequences of deforestation as well as the constant need to protect forests to young viewers through a story that blends the boundaries of myth and documentary. It also explains concepts such as dead wood, natural forest, biodiversity, clearcut, wood wide web, etc. 

We have also managed to highlight the educational level of the play by publishing a knowledge-based companion game Ekohrdinovia (Ecoheroes), which, together with the Ecohero Lexicon, is also part of a comprehensive bulletin for the production. 

Andrej Bagar Theatre is a well-known concept even for those who are not fans of the theatre. How would you evaluate the relationship of Nitrančans to the theatre, and specifically to the DAB?

Since my work involves the history of our theatre, I can confirm that since the 1960s, i.e. since the era of director Pavel Haspra, Nitrančans have literally loved their theatre. We gained our audience especially in the 80s, in the so-called golden era of Andrej Bagar Theatre, when productions under the direction of Jozef Bednárik, but also Karol Spišák and Martin Kákoš sold out our theatre. It was during this period that the DAB emerged as a self-confident theatre institution that represented Czechoslovakia at international theatre festivals. It can be said that the DAB has gained its audience and a wide range of its fans of different generations during more than 70 years of its activity in Nitra. We have many spectators who come to every premiere, who like to come back to us and whose support we feel even now, in a rather difficult period for us.

In your opinion, what is the role of the DAB towards the residents of the city? Should the priority of the theatre be to reflect what is happening in society and to raise questions, or primarily to entertain and present issues in a light-hearted way?

To begin with, we are an established public repertory theatre funded by public funds. Hence our core mission is to bring theatre works of different kinds and genres to the widest possible target groups (not only) in the city and region. It is this diversity of our repertoire, our non-theatre activities and our target audience groups that we see as a creative challenge, but also as an enormous commitment to qualitatively fulfill not only the audience’s expectations, but also the artistic ambitions and the reputation of our theatre in the eyes of the professional theatre public. This is also the answer to the second part of this question.

DAB communicates its attitudes and values not only through its repertoire, but also through its rich non-theatre activities.

Of course, it is our ambition to always present titles that also reflect contemporary and topical themes and that seek to push artistic boundaries in the performing arts. Here I will mention our recent productions such as Banalita lásky (The Banality of Love), Dom (The house), as well as the hilarious play Drotár (The Tinker) and the edu-play Kým nastane ticho (Until Silence Comes). 

Within the diversity of our repertoire and our target we also bring audience favourite genres – mostly comedies or musicals, but at the same time we do not want to lower the bar in these titles either. Recently, we have been trying to bring, for example, comedies that also carry a more fundamental social theme – such as the French comedy Meno (The Name), or the popular Czech comedy Vlastníci (The Owners). In the same way, we have decided to take a more challenging path in the musical and in these months we are preparing for the first time in Nitra a musical with live choirs and a live orchestra.

How are the values of the theatre reflected in the offer of performances? Do you have any principles when creating the dramaturgy for the next season?

DAB communicates its attitudes and values not only through its repertoire, but also through its rich non-theatre activities. Here I would like to mention our “Zelené divadlo” (Green Theatre) activities – through which we are one of the first theatres in Slovakia to systematically introduce a number of ecological measures into our activities. The principles of environmental sustainability will continue to be one of the key factors in our theatre’s activities in the future. Through our rich educational activities and the activities of the Theatre Library (Divadelná knižnica), we communicate our attitude towards the constant need to educate and work with (not only) young audiences. Through the projects Divadelná zóna (Theatre Zone) and SQUARE SEEDS we communicate our attitude and responsibility for the public spaces around our theatre in the city centre.

During the pandemic, theatres were forced to improvise and invent new formats for their supporters. DAB came up with the programme “Spolu VYHRÁME” (Together We WIN), through which it offered the audience interviews with actors and also a lot of educational material. How did the audience react to this initiative?

Especially in the first wave of the pandemic, we registered very positive reactions to the programme. Our various activities such as online screenings, story readings and various educational activities were watched a lot, which was certainly because it was something new for the audience and because during the first wave of the pandemic, children and adults were indeed mostly at home and literally sought out such a programme during the winter months. These activities have helped us a lot to keep in touch with and retain the goodwill of our viewers, which has had a positive impact on our social media following, for example.

DAB has also become part of the SC AICT project, which aims to educate and cultivate young audiences in the field of theatre. How would you evaluate the activities of this project so far?

I rate the SMARTheatre project very positively, because it responds flexibly to the current pandemic situation and because it has found functional forms of communication and informal education about the performing arts also in the online space, which is very close and natural to today’s young people. At the same time, the project has a positive effect towards the theatres and creators themselves, whose work it promotes and communicates to new target groups.

The SMARTheatre project, besides offering young people the opportunity to get acquainted with theatre production in Slovakia, with theatre creators of different genres, types and forms, also promotes critical thinking, the expressive abilities of young people, mutual discussion, the formulation of one’s own opinion, as well as the perception of a theatrical work in a broader historical and social context. A very important aspect of the SMARTheatre project is the promotion and development of professional reflection on theatre art, which enables the education of future professionals in this field, which has long been undersupported in terms of systemic support in Slovakia. DAB participated in the project with the productions Hamlet je mŕtvy (Stav bez Tiaže) (Hamlet is Dead (State without Weight) and Faust je hladný a zabehla mu Grétka (Faust is Hungry and Greta is stuck in his throat) and with the musical Adam Šangala. I think this selection communicates very well the diversity of our theatre’s work.

How do you imagine a city that bears the title of European Capital of Culture? Can you imagine that Nitra could also be proud of this title?

I can imagine Nitra as the European Capital of Culture in 2026, but I can also imagine that one day Nitra will be a contemporary European city even without this title. However, it depends a lot not only on the people in the city’s leadership, the necessary system changes, but also on the attitude and awareness of the city’s inhabitants.

I would like to see Nitra as a contemporary, self-confident city that:

  • connects contemporary art and technology with cultural heritage
  • has a functional cultural infrastructure also using the latest technologies
  • attracts young people who will stay to live, create and work here after leaving school
  • educates young people and the public in art, culture and history
  • is ecological in thinking also in specific projects
  • addresses topical issues of general interest and holds open discussions with the public
  • creates space and systemic support for independent culture
  • systemically supports and develops established culture at the level of established municipal and regional institutions operating in Nitra
  • supports the development of the creative industries
  • is a focal point that creates space for international projects
  • improves public space – it is a safe, clean and cultural place to live
  • brings culture and art into the public space – not only live culture, but also contemporary works of art
  • supports and develops projects for the integration of minorities and disadvantaged groups

Do you think that Nitra has something to offer in the European context through art? What do you think is the most interesting artistic “export” of Nitra?
There are a number of institutions, activities and personalities that certainly deserve attention in the European context. Certainly, it is the 30-year tradition of the International Theatre Festival Divadelná Nitra and its leading personality Darina Karová, the director of the festival, the exhibition activities and curatorial projects of the Nitra Gallery, as well as personalities from the field of visual arts such as Karol Félix, Jana Farmanová, Igor Benca, from the field of theatre directing Ondrej Spišák, from the field of traditional puppet theatre Ivan Gontko, from the younger generation: photographer Ester Sabik or documentary filmmaker Jana Bučka, or from the field of cultural theory, semiotics and aesthetics personalities such as prof. Ľubomír Plesník, prof. Tibor Žilka or prof. Július Fujak.

Slávka Civáňová.