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Romeo and Juliet Finds New Life in Serbia and Kosovo

By Beka Vuco ... May 19, 2015




The actors pace an X-shaped stage; the audience is shrouded in darkness. This is the crossroads, the divider between two worlds that are separate, but so close to each other.

The new, bilingual production—in both Albanian and Serbian—of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s famous story of warring families, has begun its life in the Balkans. This unique production is a collaboration between two local NGOs: Quendra Multimedia (Multimedia Center) from Pristina, Kosovo (led by artistic director Jeton Neziraj), and Radionica Integracije (Integration Workshop) from Belgrade, Serbia.

The production, directed by the well-known actor/director Miki Manojlović, who also leads the Belgrade NGO, and presented by a tight-knit group of outstanding actors from both Kosovo and Serbia, represents a unique and powerful collaboration—a chance for Serbs and Albanians to come together to create a piece of art that shows how love and understanding can triumph over centuries of hate, division, and war.

The production began its life on the stage of the National Theatre in Belgrade on April 5, and this past weekend finalized its second block of shows at the National Theatre of Kosovo in Pristina. The production will continue its run in the fall, both in Kosovo and Serbia, and will tour other parts of the region. In the meantime, Manojlović is finalizing a documentary film about the making of Romeo and Juliet.

“We are doing a play and this process together, that is our statement,” Manojlović told the Guardian. “It is much more profound than saying, ‘I think this.’ Do something together. If we merely talk about reconciliation, it is just words.”

Indeed, the actors themselves, as well as the production team, are deeply dedicated to this mission. By choosing to be part of this undertaking, each individual is making a personal statement. Their message is clear, expressed deeply through the power of their artistic participation.

The live performance makes a much stronger and lasting impression than what could be realized from a summit or a conference. It breathes in tandem with the audience. It opens sensitive topics and tries to offer answers. The very fact that Serb and Kosovar thespians have embarked on this public journey together is part of what makes the play and its message so extraordinary—finding common ground, communication, and empathy with the other side.

The reception in both cities was extraordinary. Not that it was always easy. Even for the professionals, getting used to working together required a period of adaptation. But this behind-the-scenes learning process, and the special bonding and friendships that were formed, informs the play’s message of compassion and trust.

The uniqueness of this production is manifold, from the two languages that are spoken in the show to the myriad symbols that the production employs, thus breaking through communication and cultural barriers. Even the sources of funding for the production represent a spirit of breaking down walls: it has financial support from both the Serbian and Kosovar governments, it has been performed on the stages of the two national theaters, and it has secured funding from the European Union and a few foreign embassies. The private funding came from a number of donors in the Balkans, including the two local Open Society foundations, in Pristina and Belgrade.

This Kosovar Serbian Romeo and Juliet is a strong piece of art. And, as with all artistic creation, whether one likes it or not is a matter of personal choice. However, it would be difficult to deny its powerful message. Art has longevity, and the ability to transcend borders, cultures, and belief systems. It’s a perfect vehicle for fostering understanding between two groups.

In this production of Shakespeare’s tragedy, the characters on stage may fight each other, even kill each other. But at the end, they take off their masks and mingle with the audience where, by shaking hands and introducing themselves by their real names, they say that it is time to reconcile and live peacefully.








In 2015, program is financed by the European Union under the Support to Civil Society Facility 2013.
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