My observational as well as personal theater experience has taught me that female directors tend to convert their acting ensemble into a happy family (while their male colleagues often think of it as their private brothel or army base to command over). I consider directing mine and other literary works an inseparable part of my personal and artistic development. During the most exciting time of this process, the rehearsals, I started becoming a sort of primal mother hailing from matriarchal prehistoric times, whose role it was to chase away all negative, banal passions and impulses and to awaken the most humane in a person, the desire to play, thus reminding my actors to remain children. And vice versa. When I became a biological mother, I brought my baby girl to the theater, first to stay with the janitor and after frequent rehearsal interruptions because “the baby’s crying”, into the rehearsal room. (At the age of three, while attending the funeral of a relative and after being cautioned not to yell, as yelling at the cemetery is not proper, she remarked that she thought the “performance” was over, because the “audience” was leaving. We had just returned from the international theater festival in Montenegro, where we stayed for two months, me as director of production of 12 shows set in the beautiful backdrop of the old Mediterranean town of Kotor, and her as tiny me.)
Today, I’m excited to receive messages of my actors’ parenthood, those I’ve intensely worked with for lengthy periods of time. And those news automatically transform me into a kind of artistic grandmother: I carefully study their horoscopes, analyze their physiognomy and each interesting gesture caught by the camera (and copywritten by Facebook), while my imagination is casting them: Jens’ Milla could start her career as Little Red Riding Hood, which later she could develop into Ibsen’d Nora, Sandra’s and Hubert’s Paula I imagine to be the ideal Masha from Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”, Emir’s newborn Safia Lilly throws me back to the days of Sarajevo in 1990, when her father, age 10, played Polonius in the TV version of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. All roles, aside from the traveling Players, were portrayed by kids. That was the calm before the storm, a gloomy overture before a terrible war in the region of former Yugoslavia, which culminated in the bloodthirsty aggression towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and the horrendous 4-year long occupation of Sarajevo and during which citizens like clay pigeons were shot down from the surrounding hills. 1,600 (the number stated most frequently) of those were children. The need to put on “Hamlet” with kids ages 6 to 11 probably developed out of a premonition of this “bloody act”. My alibi to justify the “torturing” of the kids with this classic was: If kids in England had to work in coal mines during the 19th century, then 20th century kids in Yugoslavia had to play Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. Oh, how convincing was Hamlet’s speech given to the actors from the chair little Igor climbed to achieve celestial heights while talking about acting as the mirroring of nature. Together with my little colleagues I had shortened the text to about forty pages, without changing it or its sequence, that is the action. We eliminated sentences filled with exuberant Renaissant metaphors too complicated for the young ear & heart. They got the full story, the characters and their relationships, aside from, of course, Hamlet’s relationship with his mother (But who really gets the complex relationship between mother and son, which even gave birth to a religion?). The film aired on prime time TV right after the news, a kind of warning for the grown-up audience. The kids had so much fun during rehearsals and filming. They especially enjoyed playing adults, maybe taking revenge considering the majority of kids shows made for them by grown-ups treated them like idiots. Everyone knew all the lines by heart and probably remembered and repeated them a year later when Yugoslavia collapsed and they became refugees forced to flee across the world. Today, Melika / Ophelia works as a neurosurgeon in Brussels, Igor / Hamlet specializes in European law in Luxembourg, Emir / Horatio is an entrepreneur in Paris, Emir / Polonius, now in Washington DC, works in IT Services, Timur / Fortinbras specializes in computer software and lives in Atlanta, Ognjen / Claudius works in environmental services in Sarajevo, Tajna / Gertrude is a singer-songwriter and photographer based in Los Angeles, Jasmin / Soldier to Fortinbras specializes in IT Services in Brno.
Shakespeare’s divine mission was emphasized by Borges in the novella “Everything and Nothing”, which I directed in 1986. There, Shakespeare and God share the same destiny. Or as Orson Welles would simply put it: “Like a secular Bible, Shakespeare belongs at the bed’s head.”
With this pedagogical manifest from father to son, from Polonius’ to Laertes, who is leaving the house for the big wide world, I greet “my children” / actors, who have become parents.
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d courage. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in,
Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous choice in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all - to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell; My blessing season this in thee!
- Kaca Celan