December 16, 2012
I was in Serbia last week. I crammed a lot into four days and it was well worth it. I’ve been going to Serbia once a year for more than a decade and each time I experience the joy of people supporting other people to develop and, at the same time, their frustration with how hard it is to maintain and grow developmental activities in an overall environment that essentially ignores the necessity of human development for social, economic and cultural growth. Looking back over the activities I was involved in, I can see that in each one I listened and responded to what people were saying and doing in ways that I hoped gave them a glimmer of seeing in new ways.
First stop was the southern town of Vrnjacka Banja for the annual meeting of the Zdravo da Ste (“Hi Neighbor”) community of psychologists, educators, social and youth workers who’ve created a Vygotskian-influenced approach to performance and development, and take it into collective centers, schools and cultural institutions in villages, towns and cities across their country. About eighty of us—adults and children—created countless conversations and some performatory skits centered around “opposites” like inside-outside, in front of-behind. I invited them to do some exercises with me that could help them to see the unity and not merely “the two ends.”
After that, we traveled to Belgrade post a big snowstorm, which made the bare woods surrounding the roads and highways quite beautiful. In the city, I had a lovely evening with alumni of the Institute’s International Class and heard of their successes and struggles in creating developmental programs on their own. On Monday afternoon I spoke at the final day of the Off Frame performance festival at the invitation of Aleksandra Jeli? and Bogdan Španjevi?, co-founders of ApsArt and its new Community Theatre.
Through photos and words I shared what “Performing a New World” looks like. Our conversation then focused on and helped the theatre artists, students and educators see that community organizing is giving people—all kinds of people—opportunities to participate in creating something new, something other than the same old same old (which by their own accounts is alienating, isolating and without much hope).
That evening I was honored to be one of four speakers on creativity at the promotion of a new book, Creativity in Interaction, by Bojana Skorc, a psychologist, member of Zdravo da Ste, and friend. The event was held at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Belgrade where Bojana teaches. I couldn’t comment on the book because I don’t read Serbian, so I focused my brief remarks on people’s capacity to create environments (“mundane creativity”) as a necessary bi-condition of what is typically identified and revered as creativity. I fear much was lost in the translation! My impression from the other speakers’ comments is that the book definitely needs to be made available to English speakers. I hope that happens.
It was gratifying to spend time with friends old and new and see how they, in a different cultural-historical environment from mine, doggedly persist in efforts to reinitiate hope and possibility through performance, creativity and play of all kinds.