Located in south-eastern Europe in the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian: Bosna i Hercegovina; Cyrillic script: Боснa и Херцеговина) has Sarajevo as its capital. Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian: Federacija Bosne i Hercegovine; Cyrillic: Федерација Босне и Херцеговине) and the Republic of Srpska (Republika Srpska; Serbian Cyrillic: Република Српскa).
The history of puppetry in Bosnia and Herzegovina is similar to that of other southern Slavic regions. A rich folk tradition and religious aspects as well as secular forms characterized the art form until its institutionalization in the 20th century.
Origins up to World War II
Shadow theatre (see Karagöz) was introduced by Turkish occupiers of the country during the 15th century. It was then adapted to the local language and way of life. This genre survived in Sarajevo and Mostar until the 1930s.
A karagöz performance consisted of three parts: the mukademe (prologue), the muhavere (dialogue), and the fasil (principal action). The theatre historian Josip Lesić described the prologue in particular, in which Hacivat, “the sidekick of Karagöz, recites or sings a gazel (Turkish for an improvised form of solo singing) on the fragility of the world or on the wretched fate of man who, like a puppet, never moves according to his own free will, but to the will of a master or ruler who remains invisible”. During the Austro-Hungarian occupation, there existed one single karagöz theatre, directed by a hakobaz or “magician”, Mehmed Hasib. The last shadow theatre of Sarajevo was directed by Hasid Ramić, “grand magician of souls”. It disappeared with the advent of sound film, (the “talkies”), in 1930.
Titoism and the War
“Institutional” puppet theatre appeared in the 1950s with the affirmation of the socialist regime of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Bosnia and Herzegovina were a part.
The Sarajevo Youth Theatre – Pozorište mladih Sarajevo – founded in 1950 from the merger of the City Pioneer Theatre and the City Puppet Theatre, practised string puppetry under the direction of Adolf Pomezny. Jurislav Korenić succeeded him in the 1960s and gained a reputation for experimenting with techniques.
Between 1977 and 1992, the Youth Theatre of Sarajevo hosted puppetry workshops and independent productions. This was its most creative period. In 2004, it had to its credit one hundred-twenty puppet shows for children, adolescents and adults. Its activities were interrupted by the war (1992-1995).
The Mostar Puppet Theatre (Puppet Theatre Mostar) – Pozorište Lutaka Mostar – founded in 1952, opened with Snježana i sedam patuljaka (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), directed by Djordje Bovan, the theatre’s artistic director. At the 5th Biennial of Yugoslav Puppetry in Bugojno in 1987, the jury gave the award for best show to The Golden Horn (1986) by Zdravko Ostojić in a staging by Edi Majaron. The former establishment has been split since 1995 into two puppet theatres, one Croatian (to the west), the other Bosnian (to the east).
The Children’s Theatre of the Republic of Srpska – Dječije pozorište Republike Srpske (Дјечије позориште Републике Српске) – in Banja Luka, in the Serbian Republic of Bosnia, was founded in 1956. Its most accomplished production was Tuzni princ (The Sad Prince) by Predrag Bjelosević (1998, directed by the Bulgarian Biserka Kolevska) for shadow theatre and presented at the International Festival of Belgrade as well as in several countries, including Great Britain and Italy.
Festivals and Workshops
The two main Bosnian festivals were – until the breakup of the Yugoslavian federation – Theatrical Encounters (1971-1990) and the Bugojno Biennial (1980-1990).
The International Children’s Puppetry Festival in eastern Sarajevo, founded in 2000 by Vitomir Mitrić, presents small forms in the city and the surrounding region. There are also seminars and creative workshops as well as discussions on books about puppetry.
Since 2002, Banja Luka also hosts an International Children’s Theatre Festival, a gathering that in particular attracts the former republics of Yugoslavia.
The Puppet Workshop of Sarajevo was founded in 1997 with the help of the Theatre of Mostar (Bosnian side) by Dubrakva Zrnčić Kulenović and Marko Kovačević. It has been operating since 2002 as an independent entity, organizing seminars and creative workshops. Its instructors – notably Wieslav Hejno, Atanas Ilkov, Peter Schuman (see also Bread and Puppet Theater), Tim Likata, Jelena Sitar, Ivana Indjin, Josef Krofta – come from the outside. The students (sometimes children) come to seek a solid foundation of technical and artistic knowledge during summer sessions. These have given rise to twenty-nine productions presented in Bosnia and in seventeen international festivals.
- Lesić, Josip. Grad opsjednut pozorišstem: pozorišni život Mostara za vrijeme austrougarske uprave [Besieged City Theatre: Theatrical Life of Mostar During Austro-Hungarian Rule]. Sarajevo: Svjetlost, 1969.
- Lešić, Josip. Pozorišni život Sarajeva (1878 – 1918) [Theatre Life of Sarajevo (1878-1918)]. Sarajevo: Svjetlost, 1973.