Photo: Jelena Janković
Photo: Jelena Janković

Coronavirus pandemic closed theatres and we were unsure of whether they will open again and when, but some authors refused to give up and found new forms for their art. That is how the performance The Cherry Orchard in the Cherry Orchard was created, and performed by actors at their homes via Zoom. Chekhov was not a random choice, explains the author:

“If you want to do a classic play, you cannot find many that remain valuable. In that respect, Chekhov ranks pretty high, like Đoković in tennis. He is very specific because the more times move away from him, the closer he is to the times. I have been doing his plays a lot lately because I am fascinated by his treatment of the present moment”.

Among Chekhov’s plays, The Cherry Orchard turned out to be particularly interesting for this format since, as Jelčić put it, individuality of the protagonists is nowhere as prominent as in this play. The characters are very far from each other, subordinate to themselves, and Zoom managed to radicalize that remoteness, which did Chekhov good. On the other hand, this play is very applicable to our regions, the director said, because it deals with the topics of leaving, or breaking apart, or breaking up, which is a term we have been living since the breakup of Yugoslavia.

“We keep separating from something, we keep finishing with something, hugging and kissing each other, but the real end never truly happens. Actually, the republics separated, but are still sticking together. That breakup, which keeps being postponed, and which, once it does happen, we do not want to believe it did, is a psychological notion in which we live our lives. Its name is transition which never seems to be completed. In one family story, Chekhov managed to summarize what that is supposed to mean.”

The specific format asked for a specific process, which implied a complete independence and interaction between the actors in all elements:

“It’s actually self-framing, they have to do everything. We agree on things, of course, but everything else is improvisation and the thing of the moment. Those are, after all, the people’s private spaces, where they live and sleep. So, to find your way, it places them - me too but mostly them - in a position of a hyper-author. They must think it up and control it, so they are very independent. They produce material that is half-movie, half-TV. They are all on their own, six short movies, actually not truly movies, that they author and control. There’s no one to do the light, sound, they are literally on their own.”

The director also talked about the way he generally works with actors, stating that regardless of the text, an actor must possess a specific component that makes you want to look at them. The characters are built, he said, both from the text and from actors’ personal attitude towards the task, because the character is not approached as a completed entity, but as a series of tasks, a series of patterns that ask questions which person playing that character must be able to answer.

Jelčić is a director aware of the moment and he is trying to present that through his work. That is why he emphasises that, no matter how long he has worked in theatre and how old he might be, he cannot come to terms with the things that are becoming normal and expected in theatre:

“Zoom turned out to be the thing in this situation, but if it weren’t Zoom, it would have been something else. The question is how we perceive theatre and the purpose of our work. Many things are done without true research and without reason. We see many performances that exist just so. That’s not how I see things. I don’t think you can make a Chekhov and then move on to something else, then again something else, at least that’s how I feel. I mean, you have to stick with Chekhov for a while. Also, I cannot prepare a performance for a month and a half, as it is usually done. I work for four, five, six months, as long as it takes. I see it as a way of life, as an exploration of a topic which is important, not as a mere production because of a repertoire. That strips everything of its meaning.”

Asked to comment on the new technologies, which, due to the pandemic, found their way to theatre, he says that audience and their reality ask for a reaction to what is happening.

“Theatre behaves as if it were God-given. What I hold against theatre is that it is self-sufficient, unaware of the times. So, Zoom, despite all its bad sides, represents a struggle to survive this horrible thing. We can see the new media in the same way. Here’s just one example: when I did The Seagull at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb, I found one part of the text by Arkadina not strong enough. So, I told the actress to try and find a new text, to find an interview with an actress. She found an interview of Tanja Bošković on YouTube. I cut out the original text for Arkadina and included Tanja Bošković’s words. And that was fantastic. It might not be the best example, but it does tell us something. So, the things Chekhov is saying aren’t all that strong anymore, not close to us, but here we are fighting for an attitude and for the audience. There’s a wide range of things that we can use”, he concluded.

Among the audience was also the theatre director and the member of Politika jury, Haris Pašović, who shared his impressions:

“If I hadn’t read and heard that this was Bobo’s performance, if it weren’t at Bitef and if it weren’t selected by Ivan Medenica, I would’ve rolled my eyes and moved on. Why would I waste my time watching Zoom and Chekhov, what kind of experiment is that? And yet, I am amazed. Every time anew, Bobo confirms that he might easily be the liveliest director in the region when it comes to essential reconsideration of theatre, essential understanding of the moment we live in. And I don’t find it unusual at all that he chose Chekhov, it’s quite natural, for, just as Chekhov was the harbinger of the new times, a new philosophy in theatre, we are now, in 21st century, through him and Bobo, talking about an essentially interesting thing. This was not an attempt to broadcast a theatre performance, this was not an imitation or a surrogate of theatre. This was theatre in a way that the characters rely on what they can in the given moment, in the coronavirus pandemic, when we could not go to theatre and didn’t know what to expect. Bobo and his actors said: we don’t want not to act, we don’t want not to direct, we don’t want to go extinct - we are going to give our characters the tools of the times.”