For almost 30 years, I have been writing plays and teaching students how to write for theater. And for almost 30 years, I have been searching for an answer to the fundamental question – why plays and why the theater? It’s not that I haven’t tried other things: I’ve started novels, film scripts, poetry, short stories, but they always somehow turned into a dramatic text, into dialogue, conflict, action, into a story that can only be told from the stage. Why – I don’t know. I suspect the answer lies in my nature of eternal conflict with every environment: familial, social, class, political, national and international, with myself. These conflicts of love and hate can only be survived in the theater. That’s the only way to survive life.
Author, playwright, tenured professor at the University of Arts, Belgrade, chair of the Department of Dramaturgy at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts, PhD Student Theory of Dramatic Arts, Media, and Culture – Cinema Studies. Srbljanović is a Fullbright alumna 2002/2003., when she was a guest lecturer at NYU, Tisch School of the Arts in New York. She was a visiting professor at the Universität für angewandte Kunst in Vienna and Academy Paolo Grassi in Milano. Biljana Srbljanović has written more than 10 plays, all published and produced in theaters all over the world, translated in 25 languages and premiered more than 100 times in Serbia, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Croatia, Bosnia, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, USA, UK, Poland, Czech Republic, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Lebanon, Slovakia, Hungary, Belgium, Greece, Turkey etc. Six times winner of the Sterija Awards for a new play, most important national recognition for playwriting, as well as the Joakim Vujić award for lifetime achievement in Theatre, City of Belgrade Award, Slobodan Selenić and Ernst Toller Awards and Premio Europa – New Theatrical Reality Award, all for her different texts. Author and creator of a TV series “Open Doors” that marked a turn in a contemporary television program in Serbia, with a long-lasting legacy. She is an author and a co-presenter of more than 200 episodes of one of the first Serbian serialized podcast “Pleasure in the text”, an hour long interpretation and analysis of contemporary cinema and screen media texts that is in its 5th year of broadcasting. For more than a decade, Biljana Srbljanović has been a program editor at Heartefact Fund, an independent regional cultural organization dedicated to fostering a creative, critical and responsible rethinking of emerging artistic, social and political issues and phenomena at national, international level. She is a permanent jury member of the most important regional Competition for the best contemporary socially engaged texts that is in its 13th edition. She is an activist for LGBTI+, women and minority rights for which she has received several awards: Sarajevo Days award, Winning of Freedom Award, Icebreaker of the Year etc. She published many critical commentary in national and international newspapers (Blic, Javni Servis, Peščanik, Le Monde, La Reppublica, Der Standard, Der Spiegel etc). Srbljanović was the first godmother of Belgrade LGBT Pride 2014, recognized as an most important ally of the year and recipient of the French Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres).
The central place in the play Locusts is occupied by the problem of the elderly. Shown through seemingly unrelated stories that come together in the second part of this play where a clear connection between the characters is presented. Through several graphic, and often unpleasant family stories, the author points out problematic dynamics of the relationship between elderly people and their children in their thirties.
Their relations, shown through a paradox, warn us of the social problem of rejecting the elderly, while on the other hand, we see the perception of elderly people as the highest level of authority in todays’ modern society. A television presenter and his psychic acquaintance, a famous surgeon, his pregnant sister and their demented father, a retired university professor who employs his son as a personal chauffeur are just some of the characters of this play in which the author with moderate dark humor points out the problems in family relationships. Also, the play covers problems in broader social plan. Theater heute declared the author the best foreign writer of the year based on this play.
Death is not a Bicycle (to be stolen from you)
Death is not a Bicycle (to be stolen from you) is a play which begins with the image of a middle-aged daughter who brings her old father to the hospital where they wait together for a doctor who, like the others in the hospital, is unavailable because he is watching a TV broadcast of Serbian Christian-Orthodox patriarchs’ funeral. The author portrays three generations: overprotected children, immature middle-aged people and overambitious old people who selfishly grab for the future. With this play, the author criticizes family dynamics of family relations, local mentality, aggression, the system, but also the responsibility of individuals. One of the main themes of this piece is hypocrisy, and the author uses humor as a means of depicting social problems. The plays’ characters and their destinies are known to us from the world around us and are shown through a series of everyday images. The broadcast of the film Walter Defends Sarajevo is a scene that unites all the characters. With this scene the author symbolically indicates the generations that were before this one, the time that passed, the relationship between the past and the present. This is shown through both political and family-relationships context, and their connection with the former state of Yugoslavia.
This Grave Is Too Small for Me
This drama is a historically positioned work that talks about a controversial moment at the beginning of the First World War and focuses on the assassin Gavrilo Princip and his associates. Together they organized assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Gavrilo Princip assassinated him in 1914.
This piece depicts the weeks preceding the assassination in Sarajevo with a focus on the ethical and philosophical ideas of Gavrilo Princip, whom the author presents as a victim, not a hero. The author does not deal only with a historical event but opens the issues of contemporary society as well as today’s Serbia, because she re-examines historical moments that now serve to create nationalist narratives in Serbia. This connects the situation of the First World War with the one in Serbia today and draws a parallel between the two historical moments. Judging by this piece, the idea that guided Princip was Yugoslav, not Great Serbian. The viewer will not lightly celebrate or condemn the main character, because the latter is presented as a victim of the secret services, which, judging by the main points of the play, continue to influence our lives by indoctrinating and liquidating.
The Belgrade Trilogy
The play The Belgrade Trilogy is Biljana Srbljanović’s graduate work, awarded in 1996 with the Slobodan Selenić award. According to the author, the Belgrade Trilogy is “an autobiographical text of the entire city.” In three tragicomic stories set in Prague, Sydney, and Los Angeles, the immigrant and stateless lives of former Belgraders are depicted. They are connected by New Year’s Eve and a girl who stayed in Belgrade. Biljana Srbljanović’s drama The Belgrade Trilogy has been performed worldwide in around 30 different productions (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, America, Scandinavian countries, etc.). It was published in German in the magazine Theater der Zeit. Besides German, it has been translated into English, French, Arabic, Italian, Romanian, Danish, and other languages.
The Glass Neck
At the center of this tragicomedy is a Belgrade family that, due to the restitution law, suddenly loses their apartment in which seven decades were spent living, giving birth, dying, loving and hating, betraying and parting, deceiving and dreaming of happiness for four generations of its members The great, infinitely tangled ball of their shared life will begin to unravel at that moment, and along with it, the world in which they lived in and an era that has passed will also forever disappear.