THE TRIP. DAY ONE
Milena, Pavle and I are travelling to Sweden on workshop for young playwrights called Interplay Europe. Milena is my mentor. Pavle is my older colleague. He and I have written plays for children on an ASSITEJ workshop Stories from the recess and now we’re going to further develop them in Sweden.
The only way to reach Sweden that day was to fly to Berlin first, spend six hours there, then again fly to Goteborg, and finally take train to a small place on the seaside where Interplay takes place. That meant that we’re going to miss the beginning of workshop activities, welcome party, the first lecture and dinner.
In Göteborg, a participant from Romania joined us. I recognized her name from the Interplay program, she’s supposed to be in my base group for play development.
“You’re in my group! I read your play, it’s the one with little birds, right?”
The girl from Romania just stared at me. She seemed too shy to speak English. On the train from Goteborg to the place on the seaside we didn’t say a word to each other. I didn’t mind. I kept thinking about how I should have packed something warmer than my thin leather jacket. And that it’s probably forty degrees Celsius in Belgrade now. And that I’ll probably be shy just like the Romanian girl. And that I won’t be able to remember a single word in English. And how they should have sent someone else to represent ASSITEJ.
And about the passport control in Berlin.
Man from the passport control in Berlin asked me where I was going. “I’m going to Sweden” was not the correct answer, and for the life of me I couldn’t remember how to pronounce the name of that place on the sea side where we headed. “We’re flying to Goteborg, and then we’re going to take a train to… to… to…” It takes people seven seconds to pass the passport control and I stood in front of that man and stuttered for five minutes. The only reason he let me thru is probably because he realized that I’m clearly not capable of being a terrorist.
Milena, Pavle, the Romanian girl and I are dragging our suitcases up a hill, towards a campus in which the Interplay workshop will take place. I’m trying not to squash slugs lying around, but there are too many so I have to carry the luggage in my hands. I see that the others have the same problem. Everybody starts laughing. At least I’m not cold.
We arrive at the campus. They give us keys to our rooms.
“Welcome to Ljungskile!”
Ljungskile. Ljungskile. That’s how I should pronounce it. Silent “l”, silent “k”, “s” sounds like “sh”. Ljungskile.
I’m in front of my room. A small, curly girl comes out of an elevator. She takes a quick look at my key and the room number.
“I’m your roomate! I’m from Greece. You? Listen, are you a smoker? I think we’re not supposed to smoke in our rooms. But let’s pretend that it doesn’t apply for us. Deal? Ok, now let’s go downstairs and have a beer. The first one is free! You just take your time and join me later. But hurry up, don’t take a shower now, who cares! I’ll wait for you downstairs.“
My roomate is cool.
We missed a lecture about theter in Sweden. Everybody has already met with their mentors and groups. They already had dinner. A small party in the hall has already begun. And yet, I feel like we haven’t missed a thing. It’s like beeng really late to a party and still felling welcome from the second you walk in. Come to think of it, I’ve never been to a party where I felt welcome straight away.
At one point, I spotted a girl typing a text message.
“That’s my language! Oh sorry, sorry, I don’t know why I had the sudden urge to look over your sholder and read…“
The girl from Croatia hugs me. She’s here by herself, without a mentor or any other participants from her country. I introduce her to Milena. The three of us chat and laugh for some time and we find it amusing that no one can understand our language. I realise that I woudn’t mind spending the rest of the days in Sweden with just the two of them. I feel so safe.
But I move away from them anyway.
I have to get lost in the crowd and listen to other languages and other stories.
The sound of my roomate’s alarm wakes me. (We’re both immune to the sounds of our own alarms, so she sets hers for me, and I promised I’d turn it off, get up, and give her fifteen more minutes of sleep, before waking her up.)
Last night I managed to meet almost everyone and still get enough sleep. I talked to a guy from Austria most of the time. We simply clicked. People thought we knew each other before. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but I know we were relaxed and open and that there were no awkward silences.
Coffee, breakfast, base group meeteng. We’re devided into groups of five. I’m with the Romanian girl, a girl from Sweden, a Dutch girl, and a guy from Iceland. Our mentors are from Germany and Latvia. Mentors treat us almost as equals. We all discuss each other’s plays and I write down everybody’s comments. I’m in a great base group.
Mentor from Latvia is talking about character development. What makes a character act is his Dream. One big Dream he can’t tell a living soul about, maybe not even to himself. And that’s eating him from the inside. The Dream has to be almost impossible to achieve. But you have to give him two persent chance. That two percent is what makes the character move forward. And he’s not going to stop untill he fullfils it or die trying.
“What is Michael Jackson’s Dream“, asks the mentor from Latvia. And we try to guess.
“To sing.“ „To be famous.“ „To be rich.“ „To dance.“
“No“, he says. „Michael Jackson’s Dream is to be white .“
Coffee break. The girl from Sweden says that she’s having a great time in the base group, but that it’s a hard work, that she never worked on her play with such attention to detail. The rest of the group agrees. I don’t. I start telling them about the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade and how we work with our professors the same way we do here. They listen to me carefully and really want to know more about my faculty. And I felt proud. Somewhere in Sweden, in the eyes of people from all around Europe, my faculty is cool.
“You even remind me of my class! We also have one boy and four girls!“
I start giving them roles, and they laugh. I got carried away a bit.
Roomate’s alarm. Coffe. Breakfast. Base group meeting. Lunch. Coffee. Lecture. Dinner. (I love this schedule. I forgot that a day can last this long.)
Discussion about children’s theater. This is the only conversation I didn’t manage to get involved in. They’re discussing some theater production related topics. Plays for children in Sweden are devided in age groups. There are those for kids from three to five, from five to seven, from seven to ten, and so on. There are even plays for babies. I try hard to imagine what people in Serbia would think about plays for babies. Someone is complaining that once, he wrote a play for three year olds, and that it was percieved as a play for five year olds. They have a long discussion about this. I listened almost untill the end and then I left.
Milena has already left, she’s sitting alone in the hall.
“Milena, they have plays for babies.“
Milena and I buy some wine. We exchanged too much money and didn’t spend any, because we have everything in the campus.
Soon, Croatian girl, Dutch girl, Romanian girl, guy from England, guy from Austria and Bulgarian guy join us. Someone suggested that we should go to the nearby woods, because there’s a waterfall and clear road signs that lead to it. Most of them decide to stay in campus. Croatian girl, Dutch girl, English guy, Bulgarian guy and I head for the woods.
Breakfast. Austrian guy sits next to me.
“Is it true you got lost in the woods? Do you know everyone’s talking about it?“
“What, it’s no big deal. It was daylight. We’re in Sweden, it never gets dark. Ok, it did get dark at one point. But we weren’t scared… Maybe we were scared a bit.“
“I hope that waterfall was really breathtaking!“
“We never found it. We found a lake. A beautiful lake. We sat in silence for so long, we lost track of time and it went dark all of a sudden. When we sarted getting back to the campus, we must have missed the sign and that’s how we got lost. There was this really long electric fence and we couldn’t cross it. English guy and Bulgarian guy touched it and got shocked, but the funny part is – they tuched it again, just to make sure they weren’t imagining. Like Homer Simpson! (I laugh) And then we went pass some cows and horses… It was fun.“
“Did you freeze?“
“We kept moving. English guy found the way back here. He’s really cool.“
“Did you get wet?“
“I had rubber trainers.“
“I looked all over for you.“
“All over campus?“
“Well I was in the woods.“
We’re in Udevala, that’s nearest town to Ljungskile. Now we’re visiting the theater. Our tour guide looks like Santa. He’s showing us all the rooms in theater: a big room for set elements, furniture, and set mockups. A big workshop. A big room just for tools. A big room for costimographers. A big room for costumes. Lots and lots of hallways with posters of plays and bookshelves. Big offices. They look neat and organized but with lots of papers, files, sticky notes, drawings and books. This is what creative mess looks like when it’s not just an excuse for untidiness.
Santa is showing us the office for playwrights. I see a big window with beautiful view and I see that the computer screen and the keyboard are placed so that you can stand while writing. Back at home I convinced myself that I’d have better concentration if I wrote standing up, I even put a pile of books underneath my laptop several times.
My room mate stands in front of the keyboard and starts typing something, her face all serious like she’s really busy. She acts like we’re her guests now, but she doesn’t have time for us, and continues typing. We laugh a little and than the group leaves further down the hallway. My room mate also leaves. I stay a little longer and stare inside the playwrights’ office. I notice that the girl from Croatia also stayed.
We’re on a boat back to Ljungskile. The sunlight is beautiful, so we’re all taking lots of pictures.
Dinner on the boat. Everyone leaves the deck and goes inside. The girl from Croatia is leaning on the fence, holding unlit cigarette in her mouth.
I lean beside her and lite her cigarette, then mine.
“You know what? The sea here doesn’t have a scent.“
She smiles and nods. We blow out smoke at the same time.
I sit across the Austrian guy during dinner.
“You know you can visit me in Vienna whenever you want?”
“Yes… It seems to me that space and time work differently in Serbia than in the rest of the world. Here, everybody keeps saying „come visit, come visit“, as if the distance from me to them is three stations by public transport. And most people here tell me they visit Serbia every now and then, just for the night life. “Belgrade? Ah, I remember staying there a few times. “And I find it strange.
“You can come to Vienna for a weekend, it’s not that far. Or for a long weekend! “
“For me, it’s an adventure just to go to Novi Sad. You know where that is? An hour and a half bus ride from Belgrade. “
“I know, I remember stopping by…”
“There you go.”
Austrian guy laughs. Suddenly I get an idea.
“Do you think that you and I could write together?“
He answered too quickly, but I continue anyway.
“We could send each other emails and see if something comes from that. You think something would come from that? We can pretend we’re characters in our play, we just have to develop us… I mean, them.“
“We can write in English and than you can translate yours to Serbian and I’ll translate mine to German, so we can sell it as a bilingual play. With subtitles, of course.“
“Great. Yes. We just need to stay in touch. I guess that’s the first step. And we should try not to forget this idea as soon as we cross the Swedish border. Do you think we’ll manage to stay in touch?“
“I know we will.“
I don’t believe him.
THE LAST DAY
The last day is meant for presentations (we’re supposed to choose and somehow connect parts of plays from each member of our base group). Each base group has a presentation in different parts of campus. It’s meant to be the last goodbye to every corner in which we spent time during our stay here.
My base group presentation was scheduled last. So we decided to have it in the dining room – a place we all were together every day.
We’re sitting at the table (all similarities to ’The Last Supper’ are purely coincidental) and we have a plate filled with food. The first one at the table eats from the plate, and the rest of us act a piece from his or her play. And so on. Sweedish girl gave me the leading female part from her play, and I gave her the leading female part from mine. We didn’t realize that earlier. Her name is Nata and she helped Dushan to learn that he doesn’t have to pretend to be a hooligan in order to fit in, and I’m Nea who found freedom in a fictional online world made only for girls.
During the act from a play that guy from Island wrote, we hold hands and keep our eyes closed. Girl from Sweden reads the lines, inviting everyone in the dining room to some group meditation. So they all listen to her, close their eyes and try to relax.
At one point, a girl from Romania starts humming a beautiful, tender, melody. We never rehearsed that. But it fits perfectly with the text. Romanian girl’s voice is so pure and lovely, I forget we’re doing a presentation and completely give in to the meditation. I hope it never ends.
I open my eyes a little and see that the whole room is spellbound by Romanian girl’s song.
THE LAST NIGHT. TWO HOURS BEFORE LEAVING
A mini-party in Milena’s room.
Everyone’s just comming in and out.
There are more mini-parties in other rooms.
“I should go pack.“
“You can’t go pack, you said – no sleep and no packing!“
True. I did say that. Milena, Pavle and I have to leave earlier, because of our flight. And everyone agreed there’s no sleep untill the three of us leave.
Austrian guy sits on the bed next to me. „Don’t lay down, you’ll fall asleep.“
“I’m just stretching“.
I can barely keep my eyes open.
Milena’s stuff are all over the place, even though we’re supposed to leave soon. Good, I’m not the only one. Pavle has probably finished packing a long time ago. All this time in Sweden I had the impression that Milena is my older colleague and Pavle is our mentor.
“Come on, play some Serbian music“, Bulgarian guy yells.
Serbian music is on. I have nothing against it, it’s just that I don’t feel like listening to it right now. I have that feeling like I when I stay at a party for too long and then I have to stay even longer and wait for the morning bus, because I’m too drunk and too far away from home to walk.
I shouldn’t have came up with that „no sleep“ rule.
Austrian guy is looking at me. Maybe he reads my mind. He stands up and leaves the room. I go after him.
We’re alone in the hallway. There are voices from every room. Serbian music from our part of the hallway mixes with techno from another.
“Good night. Let’s try and actually do that writing thing we talked about on the boat, OK?“
He nods quickly. I still don’t believe him.
He hugs me.
We hear two voices in the background.
“We have more time“, the girl starts.
“Why don’t we just call it a night“, says the boy.
“Because we have more time.“
“You’re so annoying. I’m tired.“
“You’ll sleep on the plain.“
“Don’t you have a feeling that, in a way, we already left this place?“
“Don’t get all philosophical on me! Come on! Just another hour and than you can get a power nap!“
“Half an hour?“
Austrian guy and I laugh.
I’m back in Milena’s room. Guy from Lichtenstein is really drunk. He’s talking about how he never really understood why some people are poor and others are rich, when there’s an obvious solution: those who have should share with those who don’t. Problem solved. The end. World peace.
Without thinking, I raise my voice at him.
Luckily, he doesn’t hear me. He’s too busy giving away boxes of cigerettes to everyone in the room. He looks like a little leprechaun, with his smiling face and his cheeks all red. He hands me a box. „What were you saying?“
“Nothing”. I smile. Here in this beautiful place by the sea in this room filled with young playwrights for children, he’s allowed to say silly things. He has about half an hour and than he’ll have to stop, anyway.
I should go pack.
In my room. My roommate is in bed, but she’s awake. She reminds me that the shampoo is in the shower and that my slippers are under the bed and that my pj’s are under the pillow.
There, I’m packed. I sit on my bed.
“Do you want to take a power nap? I’ll wake you up in fifteen minutes.”
“Sure”, I say, but I don’t actually lay down and she doesn’t insist.
I take a photo of her while she takes a photo of me.
I grab my suitcase and she turnes away from me and covers her face with a blancket.
THE TRIP BACK
On the plane. My ears hurt so hard. I put my head between my knees and cry like a child. I hope Milena and Pavle don’t see me.
On the Berlin airport the pain doesn’t go away. Nothing helps, not even gum or equalising preassure. I switch the wi fi on just to get my mind off my ears.
There’s an unread message in inbox. It’s from Australian guy:
“First step done. We’re in touch. J”
By Mina Na Brodu