Theatre dept. press release

Stories of Women Survivors Become Moving Theater Work

sarajevoSmith theatre presents a premiere of a new work, Sarajevo Phoenix, by Ellen W. Kaplan, professor of theater, on January 24 at 7 p.m. in the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre; free and open to the public.

Directed by Peg Denithorne, Sarajevo Phoenix is based on interviews with Bosnian women who survived the Siege of Sarajevo and the 3rd Balkan War in the former Yugoslavia.

In the 1990s, Europe saw the worst carnage since WWII. In summer of 2011, Peg Denithorne and Ellen Kaplan interviewed Bosnian women who lived through the 3rd Balkan war and are now trying to recover from what they endured. Rather than share their horror stories of the war, the women shared their stories of survival, how each became a part of the group, how the group had given them hope.

Denithorne left Bosnia determined to help the women. “I realized it is their story that needs to be told, the story of courageous women rising up from the ashes of Sarajevo,” says Denithorne.

The locus of interviews is Sarajevo Phoenix, a collective of Muslim, Croat and Serb women who lived through the siege of Sarajevo and worked as their families’ primary breadwinners, making and selling hand-stitchery.

In addition to the primary group, Kaplan and Denithorne interviewed: women in Srebenica still searching for the missing bones of their relatives; survivors of rape camps; refugees rebuilding their lives; and Serb women who opposed the slaughter. Their stories form the core of a play exploring war and its aftermath, as seen through the eyes of women who work together as a means of survival and an act of courage.

Their translators, Vjekoslav and Asra Saje, were translators for the United Nations during the war, and have been part of Sarajevo Phoenix since its inception. They are deeply involved in the entire process, including selection of Bosnian music, which underscores the piece.

Kaplan and Denithorne have a deep commitment to theatre as a form of activism, and as a means to improve lives and give voice to the disenfranchised.

“This ‘theatre of memory’ is of vital importance to the women who tell us their stories,” said Kaplan about the Sarajevo Phoenix stage project. “They tell us that this is how they ‘let the bones (of their loved ones) speak.’ It is important to record survivors’ testimony to speak against the grain of official history.”

The play is presented in English, and will be re-translated for presentation at the MESS Festival/Theatre of Memory in Sarajevo.