December 29, 2011
I returned from Serbia a few weeks ago, energized from six very performatory days with friends old and new. Nearly every year since 1997 as winter begins I’ve made the journey to work and play with the extraordinary people of Zdravo da Ste (“Hi Neighbor”). They’re a group of psychologists, educators, social and youth workers who’ve created a Vygotskian-influenced approach to performance and group creativity, and take it into collective centers, schools and cultural institutions in villages, towns and cities across the country. Above all, they are developmentalists. They’ve devised elegantly simple ways to engage children, youth and adults in creating common joint activity—whether that takes a musical, artistic, poetic, dance, performance or conversational form, there is no goal external to the activity. Such a non-instrumental, tool-and-result method is dear to my heart.
So are the hundred or so people of Zdravo da Ste that I have come to know through the common joint activity we create one weekend a year. We have great love for each other as both comrades and family members can—love grown from mutual passion for a better world, fierce commitment to each other, and ever-growing understanding of and respect for each other’s uniqueness born of historical and cultural difference.
This year, we spent the weekend Vrnjacka Banja—a small town in the south known for its healing mineral waters—in workshops creating performances around the topic of identity as an individual and collective process. On Monday, workshop leaders (myself, Lina Kostarova-Unkovska, Paul Murray and Tim Prentki) brought the topic and conversation to Belgrade, as panelists hosted by psychologist Bojana Skorc at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Belgrade.
In 2009 Zdravo da Ste and publisher Dragan Stojkovic of MOSTART released the Serbian edition of Fred Newman’s Let’s Develop! A Guide to Continuous Personal Growth (translated by Bojana and Zdravo da Ste founder psychologist Vesna Ogjenovic). Social workers, psychologists, youth workers and educators in Serbia and other countries of the former Yugoslavia have a way to be introduced to Newman, social therapeutics, the performatory approach developed and practiced at the Institute, and to Zdravo da Ste’s unique way of generating development.
While in Serbia, I also led two workshops, one in Belgrade and the other in Novi Sad, organized by 2010 graduates of the Institute’s International Class Tamara Borovica, Bojan Drmonjic, Tamara Maksic and Milovan Savic. It was fun and challenging and especially rewarding to spend several hours creating with nearly 60 new performance playmates. I hope to see many of them, along with my old Zdravo da Ste friends, in New York City in October at Performing the World 2012: Can Performance Save the World?
Regarding the topic of identity, I invited those in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Vrnjacka Banja to challenge the hold our societal identities have on us by embracing (or, at a minimum, considering) our historical “identity” as creators and transformers of how things happen to be at any given societal place and time. It’s a common joint activity the world needs very much right now.