I. Tretinjak: “In my opinion, theatre for children is more interesting, more positive, unpredictable, and even more modern”

21 04 2023

Igor Tretinjak. Photo: Personal archive

Author: Gabrielė Pelakauskaitė

Translated by Laima Bezginaitė

The international project “EU Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform” is coming to its end. On March 20-24, the project participants’ last residency took place in Croatia during the 13th international puppetry festival “Lutkokaz” organized by Osijek Academy of Arts and Culture. Theatre expert, critic, and lecturer Igor Tretinjak shares his thoughts about the implemented project, its results and the state of modern puppet theatRE in Croatia.

What is special about the international puppet festival "Lutkokaz" in Osijek? What’s its story?

At the beginning, the idea of the festival was to publicly present students’ works, to attract the attention of Croatian directors, producers, and managers and give them the opportunity to get to know future professionals. However, this idea did not turn out well. The guests did not come, because the city of Osijek is far from the big cities of Croatia, as well as its capital Zagreb, where the majority of theatre creators live and work. Also, we set the dates of the festival based on the students’ finals, so the selected month is usually one of the busiest for the creators.

Although the initial idea was unsuccessful, we decided to continue looking for solutions. Now the program of the festival includes not only works by students, but also performances by theatres of Croatia’s other cities, as well as of Slovenia, Serbia, and Hungary. Every year the content and the size of the festival varies, but we always try to add new ideas to the program: creative workshops, exhibitions, or film screenings. Currently, our festival “Lutkokaz” is intended not only for students, but also for city residents and guests. We are happy that every year we are improving, growing, and becoming more recognizable. We hope that the city's municipality and theatres will take part in organizing the festival by providing facilities and the opportunity to grow further.

You are a member of the “EU Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform” project. What were your tasks?

The project encompasses Slovenia, Lithuania, Scotland, and Croatia. I represent the Osijek Academy of Arts and Culture. During the project, I was a mentor for young critics and the editor of the Croatian section of the EU Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform. I had a lot of responsibilities. If something was late, I knew it was only my own fault (laughs). One of the most important tasks was the compilation of the book “Contemporary Puppetry and Criticism” and the Croatian part of the magazine “LUTKA”.

The project lasted for more than two years. What is its original idea and what was the lasting value created?

One of the main ideas was to create an online platform for hosting reviews, interviews, and other puppetry-related texts and to nurture the young generation of critics. In Croatia, the participants who had joined the critique workshop were performing arts students. Perhaps in the future they will not become actively writing critics, however, I am glad that this project gave them the opportunity to get acquainted with puppet theatre criticism, to travel to theatres abroad, to see performances by various creators, and to learn what the modern puppet theatre is. During the workshop, students learned to substantiate their arguments and opinions and to criticize not only others, but also themselves. When I read texts of young foreign critics, I feel happy about their development. I hope they will continue to write actively.

During the project, we created a platform which is the only one in Europe that hosts different countries’ texts about puppet theatre. I hope that after the project ends it will continue to be actively filled and improved. Also, during the project, we published a book and a magazine on the topic of contemporary puppet theatre. After the end of the project, I plan to create a new lecture program. In Croatia, modern puppet theatre is not defined, thus few can really describe what this term means. Although the concept cannot be defined unambiguously, this project helped me to answer many questions based on the experiences of other project participants, therefore I want to continue this in my curriculum at the academy. 

You mentioned the book “Contemporary Puppetry and Criticism” that was published during the project. Who is intended as its reader?

I believe that books written in complex scientific language are not that interesting to many readers. My goal was to compile a book that would be easy to read and clear to everyone. Of course, this does not mean that the book consists of insignificant and superficial texts. This tone of the book was important because I wanted to engage readers, who might be new to contemporary puppetry, rather than scaring them off. The book consists of two parts; the first part is useful not only for puppetry students, but also for existing puppeteers and creators, who probably are the most important readers. When conversing with colleagues in Croatia, I often hear about their desire to create modern puppet theatre performances, but at the same time, about their lack of knowledge. The readers will not find one definite answer in the book, but they will be able to familiarize themselves with examples and form their own opinions. The second part of the book is dedicated to future critics. This part consists of project participants’ reviews, which provide an opportunity to get to know the young critics and serve as an example for future creators. I think if I had had a chance to lay my hands on this book when I started writing, I would have read the second part first. 

Which performances are the most interesting to write about?

I have studied various subjects: the Croatian language, literature, information technology, programming, and theatre studies, where I fell in love with theatre. Later I worked as a teacher, started a career as a journalist, where I slowly fell in love with writing reviews. At first, reviews were mixed, dealing mostly with drama theatre performances for adults. Since drama theatre performances in Croatia are mostly traditional and there’s little change, I began paying more and more attention to children’s and youth theatre. As my interest grew, I would visit the international puppet theatre festival PIF every year, where I got acquainted with puppet theatre and its examples from different countries. In my opinion, theatre for children is more interesting, more positive, unpredictable, and even more modern than drama theatre.

Why do you think theatre for children is more modern than performances for adults?

It’s not a rule that theatre for children will always be more modern than theatre for adults. I believe that the creators of children’ theatre are more open to searching and innovating. Maybe it is so because when observing children directors know that they need constant change, dynamics, and surprises. If children find theatre frightening or boring, they will not return there, except maybe as a part of a school trip. Therefore, it is very important to nurture the viewer from the very first meetings in order to establish a connection. Also, the young audience is more open to innovation and does not yet have strong opinions.

You work as a teacher, and you actively attend performances. In your opinion, what is the future of modern puppetry in Croatia?

If I were to consider it from a lecturer’s perspective, I believe the future is very promising. The young creators who become acquainted with puppet theatre during their studies fall in love with it and associate their future with it. During the lectures, we discuss the modern puppet theatre. Students have many ideas, they want to learn more, and to observe examples from other countries.

However, after graduating from the academy, motivated students begin their careers in theatres where traditional theatre overshadows everything, therefore there is not much development and changes in the general field of theatre. Also, there’s a lack of puppet theatre playwrights and directors. With regard to these shortages, the academy offers puppetry directing studies. We hope that the graduates of these studies will be actively involved in future work. In my opinion, it is important for theatre repertoires to consist not only of modern puppet theatre, but also of diversity and balance. We can already see examples of puppets being incorporated in drama theatre performances; therefore, I think that puppet theatre in Croatia will expand and become a part of different types of theatre and art. After all, one of the ideas of the modern puppet theatre is to become a part of theatre. 

This publication is written in the context of the project "European Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform"