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Saso Milenkovski, director: Macedonian people are tough

What we will place as a collective impression of the play, of course, is not optimistic, but deep inside contains a powerful metaphysical message. And that is that the Macedonian people is tough. And has persevered. The Macedonian people has long practiced survival. And knows that lesson very well. We can write a manual for survival of nations that could be used by many more serious nations that are now reluctant about their identity, says director of "Powder Keg"

Over two decades ago director Saso Milenkovski put Dejan Dukovski’s “Powder Keg” on the stage of the Macedonian National Theatre (MNT) for the first time. This drama is the most frequently staged drama text by Dukovski and has been performed in Greece, Japan, Germany, Croatia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Bulgaria. This text has been made into movie as well.

Now Milenkovski has put the text for the second time, this time on the stage of the Drama Theatre, deciding to celebrate the theater’s 70th anniversary with this play. Interestingly, it is the first time Dukovski’s text to be put on the stage of the Drama Theater. His texts have been staged in the Drama Theater before, but they were co-productions.

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More than two decades ago you put Dukovski’s text on the stage of MNT for the first time. What has changed since then?

MILENKOVSKI: When I did the first play there was a different kind of collective spirituality, which appeared in the play, in the form of slightly greater optimism since Yugoslavia broke up then and we started forming our own state. After 23 years, when I read the text all over again, it became clear to me that “Powder Keg” is like litmus paper, and when you put it in a particular era, it very accurately diagnoses the problems of that era. I noticed that despite its wit and humor in the scenes, the whole environment is very dark because the text speaks of the former Balkan gloom, of the special dose of self-confidence of the Balkan peoples and their sense of individuality. Since the time we live in has lost its track, we can no longer invent many smart reasons why we would do something , so we decided not to deal with the causes and causalities, as in Pinter, why someone behaves in a certain way, but how they are behaving. In a way, “Powder Keg” is the second phase of my direction of “Jov”, where I treated the problem of integrity. The most deficient things at this time are personal integrity and collective and personal criteria.


About whom is this play?

MILENKOVSKI: This play is about honest, modest, unsociable and quiet people. In noisy times quiet people are the majority. But when they grow sick and tired of that, it becomes dangerous for everyone. The play is about quiet people at the moment before they grow tired of the situation. There are several murders in the text, but they are not on stage, because we stop them at the moment before the execution.

With this play the Drama Theater has celebrated its 70th birthday. You said that you wanted to unite all generations in the theater with the play. Did you manage to do that?

MILENKOVSKI: We wanted to heal internal divisions with a single play. The society is divided even, if you want, friends are divided as well, above all politically. Working on this play, regardless of the political views of the world which actors advocate for privately, a strong common platform has been provided. Let me be clear, the play is neither “against” nor “for” one or the other. It deals with more substantial things, makes an analysis of the genesis of why come to that. I thought that if we organizationally work together in a while, that we will really overcome those differences between us and we succeeded in that. It was our internal mission, not for the audience, to heal the Drama Theater. What we will place as a collective impression of the play, of course, is not optimistic, but deep inside contains a powerful metaphysical message. And that is that the Macedonian people is tough. And it has persevered. It is like the theater. The theater is also a tough medium, it has survived radio, television, the Internet. The halls are still full. So, has the Macedonian people. The Macedonian people has long practiced survival. And knows that lesson very well. We can write a manual for survival of nations that could be used by many more serious nations that are now reluctant about their identity. What is interesting is that our identity does not arise from the institutions of the system. It arises from the internal need, it is part of the folklore. It is much stronger, it lives in the language, the song, in the intangible cultural good that it brings. And it’s a wonder how it survives. It is really a miracle. Small nation, one will say, it’s just amazing how it survives.

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Will the theater save the world?

MILENKOVSKI: I don’t want the theater to save the world. I don’t want a theater that wants to save something. The theater is a diagnosis. If you’re diagnosed a serious illness, you must save yourself. We ask questions, but we don’t provide answers. Neither the theater can save the world, nor the world can save the theater. But the theater can profoundly hurt you even harder, unlike many other media, because it is alive, it happens before you. Here it is, at that moment. Here is its mortality. The theater lives only in the memory of the audience and the actors. With its death, only a a few photos, a peer review remain. That mortality is erotic. It is a deep connection between Eros and Thanatos. That’s why it is exciting.

Is directing a play a matter of life or death?

MILENKOVSKI: I am like a child. I see the plays as a shepherd. I give my hand to them to take me. Very often my hand is left hanging in the air, when no one takes me away in their world. I’m always excited when I work on a play. Every play is a matter of life and death, every play over again. With experience you’re more efficient, you’re not doing the same stupidity twice. But essentially you’re facing God. The theater is a medium like a CD for music. Music is important. And here you are facing eternity. Nobody can practice the notion of the clash with eternity, there’s no such thing.

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Will “Powder Keg” in Drama Theater reach the “Powder Keg” in MNT in terms of ratings, awards, guest performances?

MILENKOVSKI:: This performance will have the same fate on that matter. That can be seen right away. We know exactly, when the technique starts to collect, to watch the rehearsals, a place to work, then we know that we have a good play, that there will be good ratings, awards. Two days before the premiere, I’m constantly directing. And everyone knows it. I add, edit, do, cut until the last moment.

By: Aleksandra M. Bundalevska