Novi Sad, Serbia

November 18, 2013

Welcome To Novi Sad

Novi Sad, Serbia, is about an hour from Belgrade, along the Danube; population around 500,000. I have an apartment near the town center that reminds me of that movie about East Berlin in the 60s and 70s. There’s lots of delightfully bad Serbian TV, but no internet. My language skills here are pathetically slow; lately I am pretty good at asking people if they speak English, but I realized last night that I might have been saying hello as I walk out of shops.

I met Milan Vracar in New York a few years ago, and he liked Open House enough that we have been in contact about trying to do a Serbian version, and have finally gotten it together. He got it translated and is doing the on-the-ground producing. We’ll do three shows here. I got a Fulbright grant to come give a workshop at the local arts academy, which covers my time and travel. I am directing a couple of amazing state theater actors who like the script enough to cram on it for a couple of weeks in between their real jobs, and then we’ll show it to a few people.

When I met Milan, four years ago, I had just hatched the idea for City Council Meeting, which has become a much bigger endeavor than anything I’d done at that time. I have more of a career than I did. Right now it feels like a very non-careerist move to be here, and I’m trying to hang onto the fact that that is a good thing – to do projects because there is mutual appeal and sincere urgency, rather than because it seems pertinent, or an opportunity.

While part of me worries that I’m missing some better chance to move forward that I should be capitalizing on, I also have become occasionally aware lately, as I make more of my living from my creative work, of a feeling that I have a job as an artist, for which I need to produce things in order to keep my support. On one hand it feels honest and right (everybody with a job has to show up); on another, it helps to do some things that keep me in touch with the wild spark that got me here.

The other day, we went through the Serbian translation with the actors. I tried to explain the confluences among race, class, gentrification and credit card debt. The idea of juggling tons of different bills in order to keep a lifestyle alive, beyond one’s means, was almost incomprehensible to them. There was a funny moment when I tried to explain “trust fund hipsters”. “It’s like, imagine people who dress like they do manual labor or don’t have any money, but they are actually rich.” Blank stares. An actor said, “When people here have money they dress like they have money, because they want everyone to know they have it.” Another actor: “Yeah, or basically everyone here is fucked.”