Photo: Jelena Janković
Photo: Jelena Janković

What links the two performances is the fact that neither of them presents a performer on stage, so the first question concerned that phenomenon. One of the authors of the performance As if the End Were Not Quite Near, dramaturge Maja Pelević, said that, while they did not start off with the idea of not having performers present, the pandemics made them come up with something that could be performed during the lockdown. Now, however, they have come to realize that the performance would have looked like this even without the virus. She also pointed out that this performance does have performers - the audience of five, who are invited to participate over the one-hour performance as much as they feel like. The director Nikola Zavišić went on to explain that the restriction imposed during the pandemics was, actually, a lucky break, since it meant that they got enough time and space for such an experimental work in the course of the three months during which theatres were closed.

The director of the Conference of the Absent, Helgard Haug, explained that although the performance might seem linked to the pandemics, it does not, actually, have any direct connections to it, since the idea was generated much earlier, when the authors started considering the usual way of international touring. The idea was that no one from the troupe should travel but, instead, use online resources and train a team in the city they would otherwise travel to, and send them all the necessary material with instructions. Since the audience is expected to participate, the authors rely on various strategies to incite them, but at this Bitef that was not necessary, since the audience was open and willing to follow the instructions and take part, Haug explained.

Both performances toy with the audience’s free will to do something, while remaining true to the concept, Minja Bogavac remarked. In the performance As if the End Were Not Quite Near, the audience is not stimulated to participate but are left to use the period of sixty minutes as they find fit. That has elicited various responses - some groups sang, danced, while other groups just observed; a couple of times people left the enclosed space, and some people fell asleep. On the other hand, the performance by Rimini Protokoll barely leaves anything unplanned, explained Helgard Haug: from the moment a person decides to participate, everything they do on stage is directed through instructions they receive through headphones. This puts the participants in other people’s shoes, assume their identity, understanding what the person they represent is going through, which is the aspect authors find most important.

In the performance by Rimini Protokoll, the audience gives voice to the absent authors, while in As if the End Were Not Quite Near we can hear the authors themselves. Interestingly, all the voices belong to the female members of the team, which Maja Pelević explains by the fact that VR voices on the Internet are mostly female, which perfectly fit the concept. Also, the authors are not professional actresses which, the dramaturge thinks, fostered authenticity since their way of speaking reminds, in a way, of robot voices.

The text was not created in a usual way, she did not simply submit the final version. It was created over a month, through watching films, reading books, and discussions between the entire team. The first draft was significantly longer that the final, which, eventually, had six pages. The editing of the text was mostly led and insisted upon by the composer Anja Đorđević and the sound designer Mina Strugar, so that music and sound could sufficiently contribute to the experience. The text of the moderator in the Conference of the Absent was written by three authors through a series of trial and errors, until the necessary interactivity was achieved. On the other hand, the protagonists of the performance were real people who are not present physically but only through the texts spoken by the audience, so this part of the text was created through interviews with those people. They are different people from different parts of the world and are, in a way, linked through their absence.

Minja Bogavac raised the topic of the catharsis in contemporary theatre, motivated by the audience reactions and the critical reception of the performance As if the End Were Not Quite Near, mentioning that some people described intensive emotions they experienced at the performance. Zavišić said that they did not have that intention during the process, that they only wanted to create the performance by linking some poetic elements and that they could not guess what the responses were going to be. He said that he did not watch the performance so he cannot tell whether the catharsis takes place or not, but that some people did experience emotional peaks during and after the performance. He said that it makes him happy to know that someone has experienced separation from the reality at the performance, that he hopes they have achieved that, and suggested that people should change their minds at least for a while.

The end of the discussion raised the question of hope and warmth that permeate performances and open the perspectives of the future in which our life with machines could be good and pleasant, and communities redefined and rebuilt. Maja Pelević answered this question by saying that we are used to being aggressively affected by technology on daily basis, while she and the rest of the team had an intention to present the other side of technology that could be very warm and soothing. Technologies should be put to use, they should be taken over from corporations and used for something good, and that will save the world, the dramaturge concluded.



Audience survey after the Conference of the Absent


Ilija Stojković, high-school student

I represented a Holocaust survivor. And I had a really nice experience, I wanted to break the ice and take part in an interactive performance. I did have stage fright, but I hope it will be better in the future.


Sara Radojković, dramaturge and journalist

I found it very interesting, because I wanted the performance to be successful, to break the ice. I summoned up the courage to realize that theatre belongs to us. But I’m sorry to say that I didn’t feel absent while I was on stage. I am sorry that I didn’t see the entire thing, that I don’t know what Minja Bogavac said until the very end. I vaguely know what I repeated but I think that the point is to see a bigger picture, which I couldn’t see in that sense.


Ana Zorić, art historian

A very good performance, I liked the interactivity, it’s just, I don’t know, could be because of the technical things and everything, but it was kind of long. But generally, the concept was great, and the stories were really good.