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Bos/Hrv/Srp 31 Oct 12

Financial Sword Hangs Over Roma Theatre

Roma Theatre ‘Suno e Romengo’ has brought Roma culture closer to Serbian audiences with sell-out shows - but its future is threatened by financial crisis, the founder and manager Zoran Jovanovic, says.

Andrej Klemencic
BIRN Belgrade
Zoran Jovanovic, founder and manager of the Suno e Romengo Theatre

The town of Novi Karlovci, some 45 minutes drive from Belgrade, is home to the only professional Rome theatre in the Balkans, and one of the few in the world.

Founder and manager Zoran Jovanovic, that works also as a stage worker for major Belgrade theatres, decided to one day sell off the family inheritance and buy a building in Novi Karlovci.

With the assistance of a bank, a friend from Switzerland and of Bitef Theatre, Jovanovic renovated the building and set up a repertoire.

“After doing some workshops at the Culture Center Stari Grad in Belgrade I got the idea to write the books ‘Do You Speak Roma?’ and ‘Tales of Gypsies in the Night.’ Those inspired me to put what I wrote into a play, which is how the idea to set up a theatre came about,” Jovanovic recalls.

“The most important message I wanted to convey by opening a Roma theatre was to bring the diverse Roma culture closer to the people,” he adds.

“What I could not have foreseen is how great an impact the theatre would have on the Roma population, primarily when it comes to raising awareness about the importance of education.”

In the beginning, the theatre had no money. “We even used to tear up our own clothes in order to make costumes for the shows,” Jovanovic remembers.

The theatre was founded in 2000. Three years later it was registered as an amateur theatre and in 2005 it became the Foundation Suno e Romengo, which made state financing possible.

After receiving several awards, the theatre obtained support from by the regional authorities in Vojvodina and later from the Serbian Ministry of Culture. A Protocol of Cooperation was set up. However, that expires at the end of this year. Without money from the ministry, the theatre’s future is in jeopardy.

“We are waiting for the ministry to pay a year’s worth of outstanding money for the theatre and for the Municipality of Indjija to pay money for maintenance costs, which they stopped doing in 2010,” he says. “We will be in trouble if the money does not come.”

He says the path from the idea to the theatre begun with his private work with talented children and adolescents, as there were no professional Roma actors. With the support of Bitef’s founder, Jovan Cirilov, he then set up a project called Roma Academy for the Young.

“Cirilov and theatre theoretician Borka Pavicevic worked on educating the actors for five years and, in 2011, 13 actors received diplomas, making our theatre a professional one.”

The main theatre hall has 70 seats. The second, unused part of the building is being re-constructed and turned into rooms to store costumes.

The company puts on some 15 shows a year – two premiers, two reprises, seven guest performances in theatres around Serbia and three internationally. They recently performed in Britain, Austria and Sweden.

They had their first big success with the production Suno e Romengo and in the recent years their popularity increased with shows like “Not Everything is the Way It Seems”, “Romokaust” and “Seven Mortal Sins” being completely sold out.

Seven Mortal Sins” is also the first theatre play in Serbia to be shown in 3D.

“When it comes to choosing shows, we function more like a family than a professional theatre group,” he says.

“We sit down together and think about which are the most outstanding social issues and we do a show on them. One example was ‘Romokaust’, which came at a time when public was becoming more aware of Roma suffering in the Holocaust.”

Two premiers for children are on the way and will be shown in December. 

Jovanovic says the significance of the Roma as the second largest minority in Serbia, and the impact they have on Serbian culture life, is widely underestimated.

He believes it is important for the Roma to have their own theatre as this helps educating the young.

“Unlike the older generations, many young Roma are college graduates and we believe they need access to their own culture through theatre,” he says.

“Theatre plays also make it easier for the people of other nationalities to get to know the Roma and break away from stereotypes and prejudice.”

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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