A Roma dream turned reality
Other than being the only Romani theatre in the world that has its own location, the theatre Suno e Rromengo is a unique oasis of energy that came into existence after a long and hard collective endeavor. Its creators learned their trade from others and became teachers themselves. Thanks to their immense enthusiasm, they keep creating new shows and pushing the boundaries of performing arts.
The only Romani theatre in Serbia is located in Novi Karlovci, a small town from the Srem district. It is also the only Romani theatre in the world that has its privately owned space. It‘s enough to cross its gates in order to feel the relaxed atmosphere and the intimacy that are characteristic for the area. And this is not the kind of theatre that most people would expect. A visit to the Suno e Rromengo theatre opens up a whole new world to you. Once you enter the theatre’s courtyard, other than becoming a guest of Zoran Jovanovic – the founder and director of the theatre that also works as an actor – in his private home, you also get the strange feeling of being part of the show because the only boundaries between the stage and the audience are a couple of doors.
In the theatre’s garden we met with Zoran, other actors, Penelope Dimond and Jonathan Swain – two guests from England that came together with the BBC journalist Snezana Curcic. The latter came here not only to get a deeper insight into Zoran’s work and into some new tendencies that Suno e Rromengo will introduce to the public for the first time, but also to discuss the participation of the theatre company in some of the most prestigious theatre festivals in England. There are only a couple of days left until the premiere of its newest show – “Seven deadly sins”, so we also enjoyed a delightful chat with our companions that told us many amazing things about this truly unique theatre.
The group, which now consists of about 20 members, is the product of a huge dream that sprung from Zoran’s love toward theatre, which he sees as a different and more comprehensive means of expression than writing. He has learned a lot by taking part in tours and various types of workshops, but instead of keeping all the knowledge to himself, Zoran wanted to share it with other people.
“After I have rounded up my education through workshops led by Ljubica Beljanski Ristic, I took five young Roma, who were teenagers at the time, and together we started organizing workshops in the schools of Beska, Novi Karlovci and Krcedin. All five of them have shown since the very beginning an incredible interest for theatre, and later on, an immense talent and willingness to perfect themselves”, Zoran talks about the beginnings of a theatre that has grown into a professional public institution.
In addition to falling in love with theatre, these young people have actively participated in several workshops that also taught them to write scenarios and to direct in addition to acting. The first show was based on the idea of the Romani dream and its name was literally that, Suno e Rromengo – Romani Dream. As time passed and as the experience accumulated, that important spectacle gave a name and an identity to the theatre.
“We have been invited to the Week of Romani Culture in Paris due to that particular show. It was the first time, as a small amateur theatre, when we experienced a real audience. The morning after the show, we were front page news in 32 countries because the show turned out to be a surprise for the audience. The expectations from Romani Theatre are that it should involve a lot of singing, dancing and colorful dresses, while we showed an unexpected maturity in the theatrical form and a more professional approach. That festival served as a great incentive for everything we have done so far and for what we are still doing”, says Zoran.
The success of this exceptional show and all the awards received at various international festivals have established the reputation of Suno e Rromengo to such extent that they are asked not to compete but to be honorable guests to festivals, for fear that they might take all of the awards.
Since then, the theatre has presented 10 original plays, each and every one of them based on a unique idea and written by members of the theatre’s crew. These shows are adjusted according to the audience, so everyone can understand them, highly educated and illiterate alike. The equality that exists, both among actors and in the audience, between Roma and the other ethnicities, contributes to the theatre’s versatility.
“We have taken part in many workshops”, says the actress Slavica Jovanovic. “We have enough experience that every one of us can write a scenario or direct a show without any difficulties. The atmosphere between the crew members gives everybody the right to suggest, to propose, to ask and to give his or her best for every show, and that’s something rare in the Balkans. Sometimes we change the core idea completely while putting together a show, but this has the purpose of improving the final outcome, so each contribution is welcomed. I also work with other directors, and I sometimes forget that such democracy doesn’t exist everywhere, and feel like proposing changes, but then I remember that such freedom only exists when working with Suno e Rromengo”, laughs Slavica.
Shows are played both in Romani and Serbian language, sometimes even combined, but Slavica says that this never posed a language barrier for the audience. The main emphasis of plays is on the movements of the actors so that everyone can understand and enjoy the show. We watched a rehearsal of a Suno e Rromengo show rehearsal, whose premiere is on 29 June, and experienced firsthand the thrill of the audience. This show is an absolute premiere in the country, it is a 3D animation that tells, with the help of stage effects, the story of sins that people (un)willingly do.
“This idea has come after our visit to the Film Museum in Stockholm. We have done a series of workshops there together with our Swedish colleagues, and came up with the idea of including new technologies in our theatre. We now have the opportunity to share and show our English friends our creations and we hope they will become a part of their programs in the future”, says Zoran.
It was not hard to notice the satisfaction of the English guests, despite the darkness in the hallway of the theatre. It was as if, despite their experience, they watched theatre for the first time. Penelope and Jonathan agreed that this visit has cheered them up and introduced them to previously unknown topics, not only that of Romani culture, but of something foreign to English contemporary theatre in its approach.
Although they have already achieved international fame and recognition, the actors had to struggle for a place in their own hometown and country. They were lucky that the Executive council of Vojvodina, the Municipality of Indjija and the Ministry of Culture recognized their value and supported a project called the Small Romani Academy that formed, in 4 years of existence, professional young actors.
“We have turned amateurs into professionals because certain institutions have recognized the value of what we do. It was not easy, but we have succeeded. Still, one of our dream is to turn our theatre into a National Romani Theatre. According to the Ministry of Culture, we can do that if scholars acknowledge our theatre as an institution of crucial national importance. We are on our way to becoming one. We have received recommendations from Romani organizations, and various others institutions and individuals. Many well-known actors and theatre people come to see our shows and are always anxious to see what we will do next. My mantra is that, despite existing for so many years, we are still at the beginning of the road that leads to our dreams. Once the National Romani Theatre is established, those dreams will finally turn into reality”, Zoran says.
Zoran jokes that there would be no grammar if Vuk Karadzic didn’t go to Vienna, just like there would be no electricity if Tesla didn’t go to USA.
We strongly believe that an international tour of Suno e Rromengo will bring them more recognition and awards. This would put pressure on government to subsidize an important aspect of Romani culture that would also promote Serbia as a country of tolerance towards its Roma minority.