During the eight-day learning event with stage director Nina Kleflin the participants acquired various theatre skills and filled the gaps in their knowledge of the Croatian theatre scene.

The Croatian Heritage Foundation continued its collaboration this year with Nina Kleflin, a prominent theatre director from Zagreb, in staging a seminar in July for the heads of theatre and dramatic arts troupes active abroad. The event was organised on the isle of Galovac/Školjić from July 8th to 16th, gathering fifteen participants from seven countries. Among the more active participants of the Creating Theatre seminar are Josipa Kloštranec from Canada and Franjo Oreški from the Međimurje region in northwestern Croatia. Also dedicated to the dramatic arts and the process of creating theatre are Karla and Anto Bilić, Mirjana Bešker, Ana Markunović, Monika Maros and Nikola Lujić from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Participants Jolika Raić of Vojvodina, Michele Quici from the Italian region of Molise and Branislav Mikulić from the Netherlands said that the seminar was very useful, convinced that the skills acquired will be useful to them in their work with pupils and youth in multilingual settings.
According to teacher Mirjana Bešker “theatre builds confidence and creativity in children.” Gordana Bečirević, the leader of a theatre troupe in Germany, well-versed in the histrionic [acting] arts, says that “theatre – as a synthesis of sorts of all the arts – offers people, in its own specific way, a window to understanding life and the formation of identity, both cultural and person identity, especially in the multicultural and multilingual destinations of Croatian migrants. In everyday life the creative act in the dramatic arts serves wonderfully in the learning and instruction of language and culture, the development of creativity and in personal growth in one’s sense of the language – offered as an extracurricular or non-school form of working with young people born in foreign lands. Creating theatre in the methodological process offered by stage director Nina Kleflin allows young people to engage in a polyphonic dialogue: with the stage play itself as it emerges, with the other participants in the theatrical act, with the audience as a co-creator of the play, with the society in which one lives, with art and with life.”
Branislav Mikulić, a participant of this CHF seminar, a writer and a long time researcher of external migration living in the Netherlands notes that, “If we take the Creating Theatre seminar as a form of instruction via the stage experience, in the process of which the stage expression is used as a specific medium, then the essence of the stage expression is the play as a creative act.”
During these eight days of learning, creating and socialising the participants covered an abundance of beneficial advice and acquired practical knowledge they can use in their future work. The event programme was divided into morning theory sessions with audio/visual materials and afternoon hands-on sessions. In discussion stage director and the artistic director of the seminar Kleflin endeavoured to establish a positive atmosphere and to demonstrate that the murky tendencies of predominantly non-verbal plays focused on violence present in many modern theatres around the world have failed to squeeze out common human values promoted by dramatic theatre, created over the centuries in dialogue and language.
The seminar closed on the 15th of July with a performance of The Wizard of Oz for an audience of locals and tourists visiting Preko. We were particularly honoured that Želimir Puljić, the archbishop of Zadar, was on hand for the public event in the company of our dear friar Božo, the guardian of the monastery of Sts Peter and Paul and his fellow monks Ivica and Gabrijel, who have worked at Croatian Catholic Missions from the United States of America to Germany.
Through Lyman Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as adapted for the stage by director Nina Kleflin, various scenes were presented at a number of locations in the atrium and courtyard of the inspiring monastery of Sts Peter and Paul, a cradle of Mediterranean culture. As we know, The Wizard of Oz is an encouraging story and its author numbered it among the modern fairy tales. A century ago, in writing this fairy tale, the author felt that new times needed some new wondrous tales that would delight children and in which there would be no ghosts, fairies or other terrible events. His aim was to entertain children and to keep it in a spirit of joy at all times, leaving out sorrow. In his modern fairy tale the author followed his own idea and poured into it an abundance of poetry and joy, leaving out the cruelty and gloom we see in traditional fairy tales – the stage players from the Croatian emigrant communities revelled in the adventures of the chief protagonists of this modern fairy tale. Thus in their freshly staged Wizard of Oz the seminar participants had an opportunity to meet with witches, more precisely with the Wicked Witch of the East and the Wicked Witch of the West. They are not, however, terrible, but rather comical and funny. The performance, i.e. the open-to-the-public school lesson was marked by positive characters and it is likely that the small children that watched the performance will remember the main character, the girl Dorothy and her travel companions, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow. These key figures embody three very worthy human characteristics such as courage, wisdom and sensibility. The children in the audience were especially delighted with the witches – the good witches who represent the power of Good, while for the evil witches, leaders of the power of Evil, they even shouted out that they ought to be punished and doused with water to make them disappear from our lives.
Watching this wonderful open-to-the-public school lesson we learned details about every character, their desires and how the path to their achievement saw numerous hurdles, sometimes so overwhelming that they considered giving up their objectives. And while the director, like the author of the book on which the play is based, wanted primarily to see the performers enjoy this creative workshop, it is quite evident that the Wizard of Oz leaves an instructive lesson in our soul: “We can find everything we admire in ourselves, we need only recognise it, and persistence is important, especially in creating art on stage,” concluded director Nina Kleflin.
Another clear message transmitted through this seminar by stage director Kleflin and the CHF staffers involved in this seminar, project head Nives Antoljak and lecturer Vesna Kukavica, is that every one of us can work miracles every day, even the smallest of things, because life is made up of little things. It is also important not to be selfish, but to think rather of others, because it is only in unity and harmony with others that we can find the true meaning of life, as it was found by Dorothy and her team in the chosen work the play was based on at the CHF Creating Theatre seminar.
The project is organised by the Croatian Heritage foundation, with Nina Kleflin serving as artistic director and Nives Antoljak as project head. The greatest contribution to the CHF team that has staged this encouraging theatre workshop for the past nineteen years came from Anto Bilić. After the first seminar he founded a theatre group in Nova Bila in Travnik in Bosnia-Herzegovina and oversaw the construction of a home for the theatre troupe, whose members have for years now created the cultural life of their region. The performance closed with the presentation of certificates of participation to the Creating Theatre seminar participants.

By: Vesna Kukavica