A new Maribor Drama production Celebration is an integral part of Port of Dreamers, an international coproduction project co-funded by the EU Commission programme Creative Europe, which took place between 2018 and 2020 in three different cities and countries – Dubrovnik (Croatia), Maribor (Slovenia) and Novi Sad (Serbia). The project is aimed at raising society’s awareness of ongoing migration issues, as well as at providing pertinent assistance in the integration of refugees and immigrants into their new socio-cultural environments. Various cultural and creative activities within the project acted as a platform of intercultural exchange in a secure environment, provided by the respective project partners – Dubrovnik Summer Festival (lead partner), Slovenian National Theatre Maribor and Kulturanova Association from Novi Sad. In turn, one of the final phases of the project is presentation of three staged performances that tackle the topic of migration.
Before the initial rehearsal of the Maribor production Celebration, educational and semi-confidential discursive workshops were held on the Chamber Stage (led by Mojca Marič and Benjamin Virc) between 21 February and 15 March 2019, with the participation of migrants of different ages, genders and backgrounds originating from different countries (Iran, Tunisia, Eritrea, Spain, Argentina, Russia, etc.). Namely, all participants have been living in Maribor for some time (some of them for several years), although the reasons for their arrival to Slovenia differed (war, politics, economy, personal, intimate).
The workshops provided an ethnographic and documentary material, which was then used as a base of the text created for our performance. Ivor Martinić, a multiple-awarded Croatian playwright, focused on the personal story of the Iranian political refugee, Navid Fadaee Nazer, and wrote an introductory part of the text Celebration, which later became the title of the play. As a project collaborator and workshop leader, Mojca Marič conducted an extensive semi-structured interview with Navid (as well as with several other workshop participants) and recorded it in detail in a form of dialogues. Furthermore, she also participated in the production as a translator and language consultant. In turn, the final version of the text was created by a group of actors, the stage director and other collaborators.
The trigger event of the first part of text is seemingly trivial: a well-known (Slovenian) politician had an unintentional slip of the tongue, which can be fatal in times of “political correctness”, therefore, she is forced to make a public apology. At a political session, where she spoke about the migration solution in German, she unknowingly used Hitler’s syntagm, “the final solution” that has a direct historical reference to the Jewish question. Before long, politicians then organize a celebration to honour her commitment to the ideas of humanity and values of European refugee policy.
In the second part of the text, Martinić confronts us with the announced celebration, instead of which an emotionally shocking Navid’s personal story about the refugee route from Iran to Slovenia takes place. It is a documentary-realistic description of what has happened since the beginning of the anti-government protests in Iran in 2009, in which Navid participated as a political activist, was imprisoned and tortured until, after several years of complete hopeless personal and social situation in 2015, he decided to flee the state.
From this personal situation, which is incidentally a part of the universal human condition as well, the stage director Jan Krmelj began working on the staging concept that started with the question to the team of cocreators of performance at the beginning of the first rehearsal: “Do you have the right to live elsewhere if you do not have basic living conditions in your country, if there is a war raging at your doorstep, or if there is a brutal regime of tyranny that denies the very core of humanity?”