EurAfrica 2011 travel blog

Into the Woods

The Boss in Full Uniform

Waving at Air

Boris and Nikola

Tanja and Kristina

Uros and Aleksandra

Ceca, Tamara, Aleksandra

Una and Ugljesa

The Walk Home

This is such an interesting, varied and vivacious group.

Uroš is tall and lanky, and a native of lovely Niš. He is a huge Lady Gaga fan, and can perform any of her songs with or without request. He has a quiet intelligence but a loud and extravagant sense of humour, a winning combination. It's difficult to stiffen him up as the Tree, but he is wonderfully funny in his characterisation of the Cow, hard-working and very team oriented.

Ceca (pronounced Tsetsa), given name Svetlana, is Uroš’ schoolmate from Mitrovica. She is weirdly sexy, with wide hips and narrow shoulders, a bit like the ancient fertility icons, with an asymmetrical nose, long brown hair and the deep voice typical of Slavic women. She also has a keen and quirky sense of humour with which she imbues her characters. She tends to be less demonstrative than the other women, but she’s sharp. She needs to work on her physical strength as an acting task.

Stefan is from Kraljevo, and like Kristina, worked originally with Slavko in his youth group. Though he’s 22, he was just admitted to the national academy in Novi Sad last week. He wears wire-rimmed spectacles which give him the look of an intellectual and his demeanour and thoughtful consideration of issues lends dimension to that identity, although Tamara pegged him on his repeated use of “et cetera” last night. He is prone to over-thinking, and I’m concerned he has begun to stress himself into a tizzy over the preparation of his scene with Kristina. He’s less physically confident than he should be and less experienced in his actor training, so he has the task of not letting that get in the way of his natural creativity. But he is so eager to learn it's palpable.

Tanja is stunningly beautiful even when her hair is pulled back, wearing no make-up and she’s twisted into the weird positions of BoxWhatBox. She is a hungry actor who takes copious notes, asks questions and competes fiercely even when overmatched, as when she wrestled with Nikola yesterday after Višnja’s class. She is adorable. Vulnerable, cuttingly funny, generous, kind, self-deprecating and a talented improviser. And when she dresses up and lets her full mane of almost black hair down, as she did last night when emceeing a pageant for the diabetic children and teens at the hotel, she is beyond distracting. She’s a lovely person.

Nikola is a young giant, the son of a former professional weightlifter who is now one of Serbia’s best known strength coaches. He is full of energy, all the time, to the point where he can wear people out, like a big dog that continually wants to play. But he is always sorry for what errors he makes and deeply sensitive to the disapproval of others. When we played Hunter and Fox the other day, and Boris chose him as a fox, I knew we wouldn’t find him. He was gone for forty minutes, and returned finally after realising the exercise must be over. Uglješa and Vlado ripped into him for irresponsibility and he felt it. He needs to be liked, and most often he is liked, because he is warm, generous, and side-splittingly funny. A master of accents, the other night he rapped non-stop as the others shot requests at him to rap in faux languages: I heard convincing Russian, Finnish, Italian, Hungarian and Macedonian amongst many others. He’s an outstanding athlete and a dominating physical presence who can nevertheless sometimes be awkward and ungainly. He is also very intelligent, a keen student of acting who continually peppers me with questions about process on the way down the mountain after rehearsal.

Uglješa is sometimes overlooked amongst the men, because he is quieter, though no less intense. He is of normal size compared to Nikola, but is possessed of a great deal of physical strength and athletic capability. His acting is smaller and more detailed than some of the others, and his initial instincts about a role such as Snake go instantly into his body and are expressed in a clear way. Basically, anything I ask him to do I know he’ll be able to do. An intense worker in the BoxWhatBox training and a dependable, supportive team mate.

Aleksandra and Tamara are inseparable, so they have be treated together in this description. Tamara is the older sister, taller, a bit larger of frame, but less physically strong than Aleksandra. They are olive-skinned and dark-haired, a contrasting look to their colleagues, both intelligent and discerning and generally quiet. Their bond is unbreakable, seemingly; in the work with Višnja and in BoxWhatBox they invariably gravitate first towards each other. But they are also quite distinct. Aleksandra is more confident and outgoing, with a lovely sense of humour. Tamara is more the one who watches, listens and laughs than the one entertaining, but when you ask her to commit emotionally to a moment, she has great depth. I didn’t hesitate to cast her opposite Nikola as Deer to his Bear; physically she is regal when she carries self-belief. They are both people of high quality, discerning and kind.

Vlado is the clown (and, apparently, the Lothario), but he is much more than that. He has a very interesting, hunched over physicality that sometimes masks the fact that he actually quite a big guy, athletic and capable. He has the face and demeanour to play a lifetime’s worth of trouble boys, drunks, low-lifes and Vanyas. So he was the natural choice for Slavko’s mad uncle Lunjo. He’s stubborn, according to Višnja, in terms of taking feedback, and not the greatest team player, but he’s never a problem. He has a different rhythm and way of accessing what’s going on, and as an improviser he is effortless. He can reduce everyone around him to tears of laughter. He has managed, at a very young age, to create a persona where no one really ever knows what to expect from him, which makes him widely castable as an actor.

Una was born to play Greek drama, the dramas of O’Neill, Chekhov, perhaps even Racine. She has years and years of ballet training but her body is that of a jazz or modern dancer—packed with muscle, but soft on the outside. I'll admit I can't take my eyes off her. She is generally quiet, with a wonderful sneaky smile and a way of holding her own in performance without ever forcing the energy. She is both strong and supple and can do almost anything she is asked to do, even to sing, which she first indicated she could not do. Her concentration is exceptional and she is one of those thoughtful actors you always want around because they are so completely reliable. She’s a joy to have around; I smile every time I see her.

Kristina knows the other Novi Sadsters from the academy but first came to Slavko’s attention as a member of his youth group in Kraljevo. That attention flowered; as her work and skills increased, and she made it into the academy, she and Slavko became a couple. They are absolutely adorable to watch together. He’s a compact bear of a man, slow-talking and moving, piercingly intelligent and with acute analytical skills. She is compact and strong with a lovely open face and demeanour. She works fiercely hard at every task. She’ll make it because she has the desire and the work ethic. She also has a puckish sense of humour and a natural warmth that endears her to the people who know her. Though quite a bit younger than Slavko, there are moments in their relationship when she takes charge; it’s a relationship with defined roles that each inhabits comfortably.

Of course Višnja and Boris deserve mention as well. Višnja is the movement coach, a fine professional actor in her own right and a lovely presence at rehearsal. She is quiet and calming yet full of fun, a typical Serb who can enjoy fellowship long into the night. She is ambitious for her skills and asks tons of questions. I already trust her implicitly.

Boris is a trained director who hasn't had a lot of luck scoring productions in tight-knit Serbia. He makes good money translating literature and books from English into Serbian, and he was my assistant on both I DREAM in 2006 and HAWKS in 2007, both hallmark shows that left a deep impression on all who participated in them (including Slavko). His casual manner and subversive sense of humour mask the fact that he is an incredibly talented guy--adept at the rhythms of music and theatre equally, a connoisseur of film and literature, and a true man of the theatre.

There are many other characters working with us to create this piece of art in just nine working days, but these are the essential people. Every time I undertake the terrifying task of creating a BoxWhatBox show I am dependent on the talent I work with. On this show, remarkably, I feel no apprehension whatsoever.

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