Interview by Nelko Nelkovski
Born in Skopje in 1969, Dejan Dukovski is one of the most important contemporary playwrights of the Republic of Macedonia. Under the guidance of playwright Goran Stefanovski, Dukovski graduated in dramaturgy from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Skopje; a screenwriter, he has also written many film and television screenplays.
His most famous play, Powder Keg (1994), is set in Belgrade during the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Patterned after Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, Powder Keg replaces the theme of love with that of hate and creates a grotesque chain-like connection of cruelty. After the successful enactment of Powder Keg on the stage of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre and a guest performance at the Bonn Biennale in Germany, the play has been translated into 20 languages and was made into a 1995 film.
Without exception, all of Dukovski’s plays have been huge successes: Siljan the Stork (1991), The Last Balkan Vampire (1991), The Balkans Are Not Dead (1992), Damn He Who Started It (1997). His works have been performed on 35 stages in 21 countries worldwide (including Slovenia, Romania, Serbia, Denmark, Croatia, Japan, Bulgaria, Greace, Netherlands, Germany, USA, Hungary, Turkey, Russia and Poland).
Dukovski is also the author of the screenplays Light Grey (1993) and Powder Keg (1995). The latter film, which was distributed in the United States under the title Cabaret Balkan and was directed by Goran Paskaljevic, competed in many film festivals and was awarded several prizes at a number of European film festivals (such as FIPRESCI for best film at the Venice Film Festival in 1998).
Dukovski has undergone advanced training in the USA (New York and Ohio) and in Italy. He presently teaches film and television writing at the University of “St Cyril and Methodius” in the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Skopje. His latest play Lost in Space is in production at the Macedonian National Theatre of Skopje in a staging by Slobodan Murkowski (one of Macedonia’s best directors).
NELKO NELKOVSKI: In your country / city, is there any major problem (e.g. a contemporary social problem) that artists fail or neglect to address on stage? Why? Is this due to censorship, or is it a blind spot in the common perception of the world community—or to a community’s consciously or un-consciously avoiding it?
DEJAN DUKOVSKI: Drama generally detects a crisis, a problem or some variance that generates a dramatic feeling. Sometimes, society, environment, collective conscious or unconscious fail to register these crises. Fascism can be born, for instance. The awareness and the conscience of the artist should be a mirror that attempts to correct such curved refractions in our collective visions. To be audaciously direct, we never fail to register completely the fascism that happens to us for many years in this area, and therefore we deal dramatically with the consequences of it.
What is for you hard or complicated in communication with designers/actors/playwrights/directors and Why?
Nothing [is hard] when I work with a team I know and love. I do find it hard talking about money when I have to pay my collaborators myself. For some film and theater projects, that job is usually done by my agency Verlag der Autoren in Frankfurt. I have been a freelance artist (a sole proprietor) for a long time, a status that is almost a science fiction these days in terms of survival. I want to say I find it difficult and complicated that I have no money, although it sounds pathetic that I use this opportunity to stress.
How early and how often do you exchange views with them on your next play?
Whenever there is an opportunity, a need, or simply when socializing.
Have you designed shows yourself, and if so, does that make communication easier?
A few years ago I tried to direct one of my own projects, The Blond the Brunette the Bad and the Bed, at Grob Theater in Copenhagen. The idea was to develop the concept and text along with the actors. Unfortunately I failed. Or it felt like a failure—one of the few times I have felt that way. However, I would like to try that again. Maybe I need to focus on writing.
In your creative process, which part do you enjoy the least? Why? How do you tackle it?
Maybe in the process of incubating an idea. I know roughly what I want to write about; I have a feeling, a hunch, but I have no clear path. Just as a baby needs nine months to grow, the play requires a period of waiting. I give homework to my subconscious and wait for an answer to unanswered questions. Writing for me goes quite fast, though extremely intense. Best, you can write a text that is basically a bad idea; it will be a well-written text on a stupid topic.
During your career, have you ever received a particularly insightful part of criticism? When, and what did it say? What was it that made criticism especially important for you?
The first criticism I have received in life was for the first performance of 11Balkan is not dead, directed by Saso Milenkovski. Alluding to the current political situation at the time, the criticism began something like this: “Turkey bought Macedonia for…I do not know how many millions of dollars…Dukovski sold vain…. Such a conclusion, I guess it was because I twisted one, for me, was a meaningless premise in Macedonian drama—the death of the evil Turks—the freedom of the Macedonian virgins—and Dukovski turned it into a sad love story between a Christian girl and a Muslim at the time of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.” There were many arguments and discussions about the text, however; it was later rewarded and was performed many times. Recently, a movie came out based on the same play; it was directed by Aleksandar Popovski, and it featured Nikola Ristanovski in the main role.
Please explain briefly your dramaturgical method?
First, I look for an idea that I think is important and which can provide drama. Second, I look for all possible conflict situations in which one can find from the characters. The play is based on conflict, disharmony, chaos, not order. Nobody wants to watch a movie or play with characters in complete harmony, without problems, and conflicts without drama. Third, I leave my characters (or their replicas) to develop the action themselves. I always try not to forget that emotion and humor are basic ingredients of a play.
How would you compare the two social phenomena “Theater” and “Football.” What is similar and what is different in each of them?
At the football stadium there are no high heels.
How would you evaluate the current development of theatre in the Republic of Macedonia after the Independence?
It is going downside. Like many other things.
How do you evaluate the development level of the theater in the Balkans?
Generally, the Balkans are full of drama. That does not automatically mean good theater, but it does mean that theater has always had an important role in the life of this region. Theatre is a living thing; it always has the capability for a rapid response to external conditions. Although it is not easy to be more dramatic than real life in certain conditions, sometimes real life can imitate theatre as well.
What is essential for the success of a playwright?
To be able to detect a general crisis at the right time and the right way. To have a fine focus of the problem, to present complex and recognizable characters, and for his signature style to be exciting and fresh. Plus, to be crazy enough.
What is your current occupation and what are you working on?
Currently, I am following rehearsals at the Macedonian National Theatre of the director Slobodan Unkovski on my last text Lost in Space. Casting is, to say the least, fantastic. To work with Unko and monitor his work process is always a great experience. This is the third time that we have worked together; he is one of the most important directors. This is the premiere of the text, and the play is due out in November. I believe that we are doing something special. At the same time, I am working on a film adaptation of the same text. It is an entirely different form and a different approach to the same material.
What is a playwright in the context of its place, meaning and function in the contemporary late post-modern theater?
In many phases and periods of theatre, the role of the text has changed. But even in the most radical attempts and experiments to replace the text with physical expression, the author is not excluded. A basic definition is: theatre is all that which someone will buy tickets to see. Someone needs to conceive it.
Describe briefly one of your selection processes of the topic / idea / piece of work, as well as the process of preparation from the first idea to the first rehearsal and from the first rehearsal to the opening night?
It is essential that I have no money. (I know I exaggerate on this topic.) I always have a couple ideas that I want to write about. I would be happy if there is someone who would like to work with me. If there is an advance pay, I’m in business and I write. After that, there usually comes a moment when I realize that the deadline is not that far away, so I take out all the notes I took in the meantime, I find that my idea is absolved, and I fast begin the actual writing. When I start to write, I cannot stop, because the mosaic I build in my mind is very complex, and if I stop the construction, there is a danger that it might never be built. That period exhausts me, and those around me. A bit like an obsession. Many cigarettes, lost girls, suicide-in-waiting for something to be born at the end. I’m talking about that maternal instinct when I read through the finished text.
What is most important in the process of working with actors in terms of dramaturgy?
The moment of trust. Some of the most beautiful monologues, situations, were replicas that I’ve written at the suggestion of the actors. For example, there is a monologue in the scene called “Love,” in the drama Damn He Who Started It, that tells the Third, played by Nino Levi, which does not exist in the official versions of the text. At the dress rehearsal Nino told me, “Dejan I’m really missing something here to say.” I agreed. After an hour in his dressing room, I think we reached a very emotional end with his new monologue. When you work with actors like him, it is silly not to realize that you have a golden treasure trove of ideas.
How does working with a permanent team affect the quality of future scenic artwork?
Confidence and knowledge contribute to quality. Theatre is teamwork; the motto that everyone is dispensable is fatal. I’m happy when I work with new people, but I can never get over old loves.
What is specific in writing for the stage in the contrary of writing for the screen?
One is like making love with a condom; the other is like swimming with boots. Nonsense. There are many differences.
Can theater change the world?
 Nelko Nelkovski (born in 1970) has an M.A. in theatre studies. He is a theatre director, critic, writer, musicians and Secretary for International Cooperation at the Macedonian National Theatre. He serves as President of the Theatre Youth of Macedonia, the IATC Center for the Republic of Macedonia. Theatre Youth of Macedonia is a Macedonian center for such international organizations as ASSITEJ, AITA/IATA, IATU, AMATEO and IDEA. Nelkovski is a doctoral student of theatre students at the Institute for Sociological Political and Juridical Research in Skopje, where he is working on his doctoral dissertation “Theatrical football, a comparative method for treating mutual catharsis phenomena of “theatre” and “football.” He is chief editor of the newspaper and electronic portal www.teatar.com.mk. He writes and publishes plays, essays, theatre analysis, poetry and fiction. He has directed 25 plays, five television series and more than 300 hours of television programs. An active member of numerous international theatrical organizations and associations, he has participated in more than 80 international congresses, conferences, symposia and festivals in the world. His website is www.nelko.mk.