‘Timbuktu – Montažstroj’s play about dogs and humans’ by Igor Ružić (Radio 101)

Ethics instead of aesthetics is a slogan more and more heard in artistic circles, from architecture to theater.
Thus, Borut Šeparović, before a once performance group, and now a production brand Montažstroj, does not work on his plays for themselves any more, if ever he did. The wider scope of projects such as “T-formance” or “The Theater You Deserve” is continued with the announcement of the play “Timbuktu” on Scene Travno – the second stage of the Zagreb Puppet Theater.
It is a liberal interpretation of the namesake novel by Paul Auster, the author made famous by “The New York Trilogy”. A small and untypical book is a story of a dog and a homeless man, told from the viewpoint of the quadrupede, which inspired Borut Šeparović to set up a play that marks a formal as well as a substantive shift in the repertoire of the Croatian theater. It is also the best way of promoting, on the one hand the Shelter for Abandoned Animals in Dumovec and its protégées, and on the other, the new theater space in New Zagreb, the white stain of Zagreb’s cultural supply. The theater hall in the International Center for Cultural Services in Travno, more accurately, on a plateau in front of the Mammoth building in Travno, is today one of the best equipped stages in the city, rarely seen by audiences in spite of the fact that the Zagreb Puppet Theater occasionally performs its productions there. “Timbuktu” might change that and revive the New Zagreb theater, Borut Šeparović believes. The other side of the activist potential and the desire of this project is the promotion of adoption of shelter dogs because, as the author of the play claims, “dogs need people as much as people need dogs”. These canine “protégées” also participate in the play, which demanded extremely demanding production work, because they were brought to and from rehearsals to Dumovec, and Tatjana Zajec, as the manager of the city shelter for abandoned animals, was the most responsible for that part of the operation,.
“Timbuktu” is a monologue for a dog spoken by an actor in the audience. This is not the first time dogs are on stage, but they are usually trained police dogs, while the lead actor in this play is a working dog named Cap, a champion in rescue and agility and intelligence test, his coach being Alen Mareković. They are accompanied and voiced by Sven Medvešek, but that is only one segment of the largest project Borut Šeparović ever realized in Croatia. Still, he does not want it to seem that he was the first to think of a play with dogs, because such attempts occurred before, but not in domestic context.
The novel Paul Auster dedicated to his dog was dramatized by Jasna Žmak, a dramaturgist, and Borut Šeparović. Sven Medvešek is also a recent dog owner and still an advocate of human-canine relationship. He claims from personal experience that a human life has more quality with a dog, than without id, and states a proverb he had heard after his pet passed away, saying “Walk your dog even when you don’t have one!”
The play, just like the novel, owes its title to the mythical African, more specifically, Malian, city of Timbuktu, whose name supposedly means something remote and distant. As such, here it is a symbol for a better, less dog-like life for both dogs and humans. The fact that differences between a human and his supposed best friend are not so big is confirmed by the canine philosophy, as defined by the American writer: “If you can’t eat it or screw it, piss on it.” In a slightly less anecdotal form, Medvešek is most interested in the roaming mentality of dogs, which presupposes a somewhat more open relationship toward dogs and humans around us, as well as a way of accepting the world outside the well-treaded roads and an everyday “routine”. “Timbuktu” is thus not only a play about dogs, but also about humans who are not at peace with the mentioned routine but, on the contrary, for this or that reason cherish the roaming mentality. Aside from the bunch of abandoned dogs, people without a real address who mostly spend their nights in the shelter in Heinzel Street also participate in the play. Establishing a collegial relationship with them when creating the play was an especially sensitive task, one that Borut Šeparović managed to perform, or at least so he claims since he did not want to reveal their exact role in the play before the premiere.
Aside from this being the biggest project he worked on in Croatia, “Timbuktu” is special for another reason, the fact that this is the first play intended for youth. He wanted to create an engaged play for the young, with a certain activist and educational potential, which he dedicates to both his ten-year-old daughter and his thirteen-year-old dog. In spite of the seemingly depressing topic, he hopes that the effects of this play on older children and adolescents, as well as all the adults who will see it, will be measurable. Will that be the adoption of dogs from the Dumovec shelter, or at least a less harsh view of the homeless, who are not uncommon on our streets either, is not that decisive, but is possible and desirable and that’s why “Timbuktu” was advertised as a play that doesn’t end by leaving the theater building.
Anyway, even buying a ticket or a cookie the canine-actors will be reworded with is more than what the supposedly socially responsible corporations did to help this project, because it would seem, judging by the response of sponsors to “Timbuktu”, that abandoned dogs and people without addresses are not a decent topic for large capital. The play which, after the premiere on October 4th and 5th, will be performed in blocks from October 9th to 12th and 16th to 19th, deals, among other things, with that as well.

Igor Ružić: Timbuktu – Montažstrojeva predstava o psima i ljudima


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