Professors, alumni stage Shakespeare in Bosnia-Herzegovina
By Katie Sinclair, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, August 7, 2012
When Aidan Nelson ’12 first informed friends of his post-graduation plans to head to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, to help direct a performance of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” many were confused about where exactly he would be going.
“Every time I mentioned I was going to Bosnia for the summer people would be like, ‘Oh you’re going to Boston,’” Nelson said. “When people hear it’s really Bosnia they don’t know quite what to say.”
Nelson joined education professor emeritus Andrew Garrod, theater professor James Rice and Olivia Baptista ’12 in Mostar as part of Youth Bridge Global, a nonprofit organization founded by Garrod that facilitates youth theater productions in domestic and international developing communities, according to its website.
Garrod said he was inspired to start the project after visiting the region in 1998, three years after the end of the Bosnian War.
This summer’s group in Mostar also includes volunteers from the United Kingdom and Canada, in addition to a cast of about 35 local youth from Bosnia-Herzegovina’s three main ethnic groups — Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.
While many Americans remain unaware of the impact of the Bosinan War, it remains strongly apparent in the everyday lives of Croats, Serbians and Bosniaks, Garrod said.
“Many, many, people in our cast would have had relatives or parents or friends killed in the war,” Garrod said. “You can’t expect miracles. A lot of kids carry baggage and have been deeply affected by the war.”
Although outright violence among Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks has ceased for the most part, ethnic tensions remain a part of everyday life.
“The schools are still segregated,” Garrod said. “Some schools think they’re advanced that they have Bosniacks and Croats in the same school building, but they’re not taught together.”
The play provided an opportunity for students from different ethnic groups to get to know each other and form lasting bonds that would not otherwise be possible, Garrod said.
“If you’re committed to artistic goals, I think you don’t consider what the ethnicity of the person next to you is,” Garrod said.
One of the main challenges of this summer’s production was that although most of the volunteers only spoke English, 80 percent of the play was performed in a Serbo-Croat dialect, Nelson said.
“As a director it makes you realize how important movement is,” Nelson said. “I wasn’t always tied to the meaning of the words. You would watch a scene and if you knew what was going on, even without understanding the words, then you know you’ve got it right.”
The play also required dedication and a large time commitment from its young cast members, about two-thirds of whom had never acted before.
“They don’t realize what a disciplined process a play is,” Garrod said. “Sometimes they’re absent, sometimes they’re not punctual. They generally learn their lines pretty well. If you were to watch our production you would say, ‘This is a very good youth production.’”
Despite some difficulties in getting the teenage cast to commit to every rehearsal, the play came together in the final week and opened July 31 in Mostar. The opening was a successful one, with about 350 people attending the performance. It was staged in the courtyard of the Old Library, which still shows damage from the war.
Beyond fostering understanding and reconciliation, Garrod said the directors also aimed to create a high-quality performance.
After performing in Mostar, the cast took the play on tour and has performances scheduled in Niksic, Montenegro, Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Touring is one of the highlights for the cast members, because it allows them a chance to show off their skills and get to know each other through long bus rides and shared hotels, Garrod said.
Garrod said he is proud that Dartmouth graduates and professors played such a key role in the production this summer.
“The Dartmouth contribution to the program has been enormous,” he said. “[Rice] is such a treat — he’s so experienced, so good with teenagers. All the Dartmouth team are important to me. I’d like to think that the College would be very proud of what we do here.”
Youth Bridge Global, which also stages Shakespeare productions in the Marshall Islands, first started working in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2006. Their first production was “Romeo and Juliet,” especially relevant since Romeo was played by a Muslim Bosniak and Juliet by a Catholic Croat.
Garrod said he chooses Shakespeare plays since the themes of his plays are universal, and he feels most comfortable with Shakespeare’s texts.
The experience has been meaningful for both the cast and volunteers of Youth Bridge Global, Nelson said.
“I found working with a lot of the students very easy,” Nelson said. “They were very generous and open emotionally in a way that you don’t find a lot of American students being able to do. In some ways it was easier than working with 16 and 17-year-olds in the States.”
While ethnic tensions in the country will undoubtedly remain active for at least the near future, Garrod said he believes that his program has made a difference in encouraging understanding.
“Many of the people who were in the play years ago write to me, are still in touch with me,” Garrod said. “Clearly the experience was so powerful for them that they want to replicate it in some way.”