interview with clara, solo travel grant awardee (winter 2018)
First can you describe your project in a few words?
-I travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina to produce the play kids, by French writer Frabrice Melquiot. I did the staging, the promotion and the translation of the play. I first went to Sarajevo to find a translator and recruit the actors, then to present it, in Bosnian, at the Sarajevo Youth Theater.
What inspired you to fulfill this project?
-When I first read the play, it was love at first sight and it stayed in the back of my head. Instinctively, I knew I would produce it someday, and after trying to make it happen in Montreal, I was left questioning my legitimacy to produce a play on a topic that I wasn’t familiar with. I first went to Bosnia to make some research, then I realized that what made sense to me was to produce it there, with local teenagers that were the same age than the characters and had something to say because, just like the story, they were post-war orphans. It might have been a couple decades since the war ended, but they’re orphans nonetheless. Orphans that have no hope at that; there are not many possibilities for the youth in Bosnia.
How did the locals respond to this initiative?
-Most of them were surprised; they didn’t understand why a student from Montreal would travel so far to hear their story. Once they realized that it was genuine, some sort of artistic impulse and that I truly wanted to hear what they had to say, they opened up and we created a nice bond based on trust. Teenagers feel the need to express themselves, but these ones didn’t have a place to do it, so I think they were touched that someone would go so far as crossing the ocean just to listen and get to know them.
How did you manage to collaborate, despite the language barrier? Because, correct me if I’m wrong, you don’t speak Bosnian, right?
-We communicated in English most of the time, and a young girl I met at the early stages of the project wanted to get involved without acting, so she became my Assistant Director and since she was very fluent in English, she also helped me out when the actors and I had a hard time understanding each other during the rehearsals. Once we were more advanced in the process and it was time to fine tune the details, I allowed her to take more responsibilities. Also, I had a copy of the play where one side was in French and the other in Bosnian, so I was able to follow line by line and know exactly where we were at, and what emotions I wanted them to convey for each part of the text.
The play was first written in French, so did the locals find that it to be loyal to what they had been through? Did it represent them well?
-It depends. The younger people really liked the play and since we translated it, we adapted it. We added some younger slang that made it closer to their reality and easier to perform. Teenagers between 15 and 18 years old never really had a chance to talk about the legacy of war so they felt connected to the text and they liked that it was both crude and poetic. Older people, on the other hand, have a more critical vision and I received certain comments… it’s hard to explain, but I think they could tell that the play had not been written by a Bosnian and it was a text presenting the point of view of a foreigner. There are plenty of people, to begin with, who are sick of outsiders coming to Bosnia to work on college essays and artistic performances about war, so should I do another project in Sarajevo, it would be on a different topic. But what do you want, I came to this realization afterward and didn’t know when I started the kids project.
What challenges did you face during this project?
-At first, it was the language barrier. I know I made it sound easy when I was talking about it earlier, but during the rehearsals my brain was going back and forth between 3 languages, which was really demanding. It was also a bit frustrating by the end of the project to not be able to work on the details as much as I wanted to, but it turned out to be a nice challenge; when you lead a project and realize at some point that there are people better equipped than you to make it happen, you have to let it go. I went to Sarajevo specifically to work on this project with people who were more familiar with the story, so I knew I’d have to delegate, but it still turned out to be more challenging than I expected it to be. I also felt a bit lonely; the actors were performing, I had an assistant director and a team in charge of the costumes and props, but I found it hard to wear all the hats and manage the budget, the makeup, the staging, I had to go meet with the venues to sell the project, talk to the media, etc. I had a lot of responsibilities and since I was in a foreign country, I didn’t have a network to support me. In the end, you accept that you cannot wear all the hats and lead them properly, you have to delegate some tasks. Also, it’s been hard to find the actors during my first stay in Sarajevo; it took me 2 months! Once I found them, we really connected and trusted each other, so I went back to Montreal. They trusted a stranger that told them she would come back 3 months later and I trusted 12 strangers that said they would make this project happen with me.
Why do you think it’s been so hard to find actors?
-I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work with teenagers, but it ended up being hard to get in touch with them, let alone finding students who were willing to commit to rehearsals on top of attending school. Back then, I didn’t have a grant yet, so I had to fund the project myself and I think people didn’t really believe I could do it. The play wasn’t even translated yet, so it was like introducing myself saying ‘’Hi. I’m 20 years old, I want to produce French a play; it’s not translated, I don’t have money, but I’m looking for actors!’’ It was a huge commitment on their part, because I had pretty much nothing to offer in return. When I found the actors, I only had one scene translated to Bosnian. They wanted to be part of the play, but they didn’t even know if they would like the topic and the text. Honestly, I don’t understand why they joined this crazy project; I don’t even think that I would have haha!
Would you say that this trip helped you grow and develop new skills?
-Oh for sure. Absolutely! The first things that comes to my mind is self-confidence. I knew for a while that I wanted to be an actress, but this project made me realize that I don’t have to wait for the phone to ring. It pushed back the limits of the impossible! I’m proud of myself because now I know that I can achieve any goal I set my heart on. Finding a venue is possible. Finding actors is possible. There is something magical about this project that gave me full confidence in my own abilities. I’ve been acting for a while, but it was my first time managing a play; budgeting, promoting, filing all the paperwork required, etc. I had never written a funding request before, it’s not something that is taught in schools… I also developed a great deal of human skills. Teenagers can be confrontational and it allowed me to gain a certain educational ability, despite the fact that I was only a few years older. I can’t remember who I’m about to quote, but I’ve read somewhere that the stage director is a blind person guiding other blinds without letting them know that he also visually impaired. I understood what it means to be a director; you don’t necessarily know where you’re going, often figuring it out as you go, but still you must be able to lead the way to keep stress off of the actors shoulders, allowing them to fully embrace the performance.
Were you touched by the local culture?
-I was really astounded by the cohabitation of different religions. It’s something I had read, but couldn’t fully comprehend until I got there; you can find a mosque, a church and a synagogue within 100 meters! On a different note, I was a teenager in 2012 when the student protests were in full swing so to me, youth was synonymous with solidarity and hope for change. That’s not what I found in Bosnia. The country hasn’t really risen from the war’s aftermath and 18 year old folks think ‘’I can’t be part of a play because my father is about to retire and I’ll have to provide for my family’’. There is a severe employment crisis. Working at McDonald is a good job for them, while here it’s a student job and not something you’ll do your whole life. It really saddened me. Hence it touched me even more when I found my actors, who were all full of energy and dreams and had something to say.
Do you have another project in mind?
- I have a rehearsing partner and we’re preparing our auditions for the Drama Conservatory and the National Theatre School of Canada. That’s been my main focus lately, but I also have a new play in mind, though the project has yet to take form. My brothers are passionate about Japanese culture and my dad is a Japanese water stone knife sharpener so someday I’d like to go on a family trip to Japan, but it’s probably not going to happen in a near future. That being said, I quite often tell myself that I would not travel for a while, then the wanderlust hits me and next thing you know I’m boarding a plane haha! It wouldn’t be too shocking to find me interning in Italy next year or something… My family is Italian and I’ve been studying to reinforce my grammar so I can take a master class in Italy someday. I’m only dreaming about it though, there is no actual plan yet.
Well that’s all the questions that I had! Would you like to add something?
-I didn’t really get a chance to say it so here it is; I really want to thank the Youth Travel Foundation for all the help! You were the first to believe in me by offering me a grant and it was a huge step forward for me. On top of the funding, you supported me throughout the trip with encouraging words and it really gave me the confidence I needed to fulfill this project.
It was a pleasure! We were all very impressed by your courage and resourcefulness; it was quite an ambitious project, but you presented it with such passion and determination that it was obvious you really believed in it. We are more than happy for contributing to it.
- I am very grateful for it.