As a theater director and CEO of The Festival of Ecological Theatre for Children and Youth (FEP), a manifestation with a long tradition held every August in Bačka Palanka (Serbia), I always posed a question: What does ecological theater mean, and what can it become? What it means to be sustainable, and how can art become more sustainable?
In my ecological mission, I face different challenges and risks. We can say that Serbia has no systemic solutions or proposals for cultural institutions and organizations to be more sustainable. At the same time, we can say that we already have older but progressive ideas and forms. Back in the 90s, these ideas highlighted the meaning and perspective of ecology and sustainability and supported new and brave attempts of young artists to think in the way of ecology.
Today these people are advocates for changing the artistic landscape in a sustainable manner. Even though we do not have programs or enough understanding and support from the government regarding this topic, we have individuals who are making sustainable art in Serbia very visible and important.
In this article, I will present The Festival of Ecological Theatre for Children and Youth and a few positive examples of nature and theater coexistence in Serbia.
Looking at The Festival of Ecological Theatre for Children and Youth, from today’s perspective when ecology is the main global topic, we can tell that it didn’t happen because it was “trendy” or because of an abundance of funds. It happened because it was truly needed.
The war, hyperinflation, and substantial material loss in ex-Yugoslavia at that time affected people’s self-respect and created an atmosphere of fear, weakness, and jeopardy. Two teachers – Ljubica Kovačević and Nada Marinković – understood the needs of children who lived in these surroundings and decided to do something about it. They founded the eco-conscious kindergarten “Različak(1)” in Bačka Palanka, Serbia. The Festival was first introduced as an extended kindergarten activity in 1995, on Različak’s first anniversary.
(1)The name “Različak” comes from a wildflower, Brown knapweed. Its literal translation in Serbian is someone different. In Serbian cultural heritage, the flower symbolizes bread and survival.