Destination: travel (Bristol to Serbia)

 Destination: travel was an interdisciplinary collaboration between students of Acting and Tourism, led by Goran Tomka (TIMS University, Novi Sad, Serbia) and myself, with students from the HND Acting and Theatre Making, Filton College, Bristol.

What follows is the original blog of the project from the Theatre Bristol website. The organisation brokered the project following their support in founding Theatre Serbia.  For more info on Theatre Bristol, click here:

Destination: travel (Bristol to Serbia)

Posted by: Anon at 16:06 on 17.05.11

Destination: travel is an interdisciplinary collaboration between students of Acting and Tourism, led by practitioner-lecturers, Goran Tomka (TIMS University, Novi Sad, Serbia) and Lizzie Philps (HND Acting and Theatre Making, Filton College, Bristol).

If we imagine the city as an individual, it performs everyday. Tourists, visitors and inhabitants are its audience, while streets, squares and parks serve as a stage where stories are told. What new stories can be found or (re) created when each overlap?

Taking inspiration from the philosophical ponderings of De Botton and Ruskin; the paintings of Hopper; the novels of Kerouac, Lee, Jerome and Bryson; the performances and interventions of the Situationists, Wrights and Sites, Forced Entertainment, LIGNA (to name but a few), and all the artists who ever went beyond their hometown looking for ideas, we aim to plot, perform and document the self-conciousness of 21-st century travel.

We hope we might have some good stories to impress our mates with by the time we return. In the meantime, watch this space as we subvert notions of sightseeing and souvenirs,  indulge in the illusion of finding ourselves, embrace the unglamorous not found in brochures, and ask ourselves why we ever left Brizzle in the first place.

THURSDAY 19th – ” A day of limbo, but not the fun kind with sticks” – Stephen Voake, student
Our connections were messed up, it took 24 hours to make a journey that can be done in 2. Funny how days in non- places like airport terminals turn into non-days, with no time markers or events, just waiting and eating. Rome airport performs Italy in minature. In contrast, here there are no iconic images to let us know we’ve arrived.  No kangaroos, kimonos or, erm…Kalashnikovs ?! We have no expectations of sights to tick off, so everything has the potential to become one.

 FRIDAY 20th – “Stravo, my lover” – Bristolian greeting – Chloe Messenger, student
It is tempting to get evangelical about the power of simple drama games. Remembering the name of the person you caught a ball from feels like an achievement. We created flash-mob performances together and took them into the city. Nobody pretended not to notice.

SATURDAY 21st  – “Complicated, but cheerful”  – Chamaine Stevens, student. 
We all want to know how we are perceived, and a city is no different. In making guided tours with our local colleagues, we are telling them how a stranger sees them. We superimpose the assumptions we brought, and they relish the unconsciously Arthurian themes in our imaginings as a confirmation of their own myths about us. Its complicated, but cheerful.
One block back from the picture postcard pedestrian zone the city stops performing. These are the places we choose to inspire and set our work. It’s exciting to momentarily change the perception and use of these places, but in documenting some of these spaces I feel as if I am photographing a proud woman without her makeup. The subject captures the imagination, but I feel a certain responsibility in how I represent her publicly. The effects of the war can still be seen but I feel like Basil Fawlty.I justify my curiosity with comparisons to theatre and the desire to be moved, but I’m not convinced. A performer chooses to make theatre, after all.

SUNDAY 22nd  “What, so you mean we can do whatever we like?!” – Jess Gager, Student
Day off. Cake, sunshine, wine cellar. The end.

MONDAY 23rd – “But what will we perform tomorrow?” – Stefan, student.
A tourist is more often tolerated than welcomed. Today we attempted to subvert the conventional exchanges and perform positive, non-commercial acts as visitors to the city. We sketched postcards to be given to locals. Each picture is as unique as each individual’s response to the place. It felt like a small but significant act, and it makes you look longer at the subject, too.
Working fast and loose, we’ve begun making an ensemble performance for tomorrow. It’s a collage of local and visitor’s voices, of personal experiences and fragments of fascinating facts. Its like ripping up the guidebook and seeing what pages you catch.

TUES 24th May – “We’ve been asking them questions and questions and questions – on holiday you don’t even talk to anyone sometimes”, Njeri Githiomi, student
Apparently, street performance is rare in Serbia. It is surprising for us Bristol folk that its also quite low status. But people are curious everywhere, and a group of noisy performers mixing Serbian and English language and gestures certainly drew a crowd.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to perform in Serbian or English. Ours is a “McLanguage”, a symbol of opportunities in travel, commerce, education and power. Its a tool. For us, learning Serbian phrases acknowledges and celebrates locality in the face of globalisation (Monsoon, Peacocks, and Office have all arrived recently). In our performance today, the sound of Serbian fricatives was in urgent and vehement contrast to our vowel-y intonation. It translated as saying ” We’re interested in you, your culture, your place”.

WEDS 25th – ” I come from a village, but not a village with pigs or something”  – Stephan, student

Funny names
Mountains of luggage
Rain warmer than the shower
You are trusted here
The flats remind us of communism
9 girls – one bathroom

A German soldier fell in love, fighting for liberty and freedom
I wound down the window and waved at her
and she waved back
History waits for no-one.
Dubnaski park has a circumference of 800 metres by 962 metres and contains 22 different species of tree. The park was erected in 1887.

I have strong feelings for Novi Sad
other places in Serbia don’t have so much comfort.
My father made me a basketball hoop
its still there.
There is a festival for children
My mum worked there
and now I work there
I enjoy the people in the street, whether it rains or in summer the street is like a festival

The police are called dogs here
Because in 1924
every policeman
a dog.
Our police cover things up.
The mannequin stands in a doorway wearing a grey suit.
Look where 9-5 gets you.

Trust an artist to take over a fortress!
This is a life-changing place for me
To clear my mind
Rakir leaves a warm feeling in the back of the throat.
2,941 people agree with this fact.

The post box by the church is everybody’s meeting point.
I remember you said you thought it would be all grey buildings
I come from a village
but not a village with pigs or something.

One hundred and twenty years ago trains were 15 mins slower than they are now.

If you go to that school you are nothing
If you see a wealthy gypsy you’re surprised.
If you go to that park after 10 o’clock you get robbed.
If Bristol bars never ID’d people many more girls would get pregnant

Graffiti is an outlet for the past.
Nepotism here is very present
Before the bombing the church was made of wood.
It was varnished every 9 minutes
It had 12 different types of knot.
The planks were 4 mm thick and 4mm long.
The grain ran northwest;
There are 3963 planks in the church.
All the plywood made a sound of one decibel when knocked.
The church was built on Wednesday
16th October
By a man who wore glasses.

THURS 26th May – “Volim te, Serbia!” (I love you, Serbia!) – Gemma Rogan, student
Our goodbye is the biggest performance of the week. The sighing, the crying, the lingering kisses, the promises to write are all played out across the suitcases. It is all so dramatic, and its easy to be cynical, but secretly I am touched by the intensity of new experience in these young artists. The last thing we do before we get on the bus is post letters to our Bristol selves. When they arrive, we will add them to the photos, souvenirs, diaries and dutifully dog-eared travel writing to create a new piece of work. You can see it as material, but its much, much more.
Its the end of this trip, but just the beginning of another one. We have been a-plotting and a-planning over those beers in the sunshine, and our ambitions for Bristol-Serbia work have grown as a result of this initial collaboration. Thankyou, Theatre Bristol, and watch this space!