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Balkans Summer Camp 2004

26 July - 2 August 2004
Puntižela/Pula, Croatia
by Elizabeth Carmack

The Balkans’ Summer Music Camp was first established in 1995. Nigel Osborne’s initiative was to address the needs of children who had been victims of trauma caught in conflict and war-locked zones in the former Yugoslavia. Through a professional exchange with Nigel Osborne at the Cambridge Music Conference in 2003, my sister Catherine Carmack (12 October 1957 - 12 December 2003) had decided to work as a volunteer at the camp in the summer of 2004. Owning to her untimely death I went in her place to observe the creative and curative process of the children’s development. 

About 35 children from the Special School of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, came to the Adriatic for a week’s vacation on the coast of Croatia. Most of these children live in an orphanage in Mostar, but are receiving music therapy through the Pavarotti Music Centre. Although most of the children were attended by carers, a few of the children were accompanied by their mothers. Many of the children are primarily suffering from exposure to violence and remain traumatised. Some of the children have special needs including Down’s Syndrome, two were marginally disabled with cerebral palsy. Although the Balkans’ Summer Music Camp is Nigel Osborne’s personal initiative, he admits to acting on an assessment made by UNICEF, which diagnosed the children of Mostar as the most seriously damaged and least able to address the effect of violence and conflict in their lives.

Music therapists and interns working at the Pavarotti Music Centre came to volunteer at the summer camp, as well as a group of therapists and teachers associated with War Child in Priština, Kosovo. About 15 university students came from the Music Department of Edinburgh University to help, as well as half a dozen volunteers from Japan, Canada, England and Germany, including myself. Nigel Osborne had decided on "Waiting for Godot" for the opera project for a variety of reasons. However, Nigel Osborne thought Beckett’s play especially poignant because it would creatively capture the truth, that all the children at the music camp are in fact “real survivors”.

Since 2001 the Ulysses Theatre has run a cultural initiative of renewal on Brijuni, part of Brijuni Archipelago, which is a protected National Park. Three former Yugoslavs, actor Rade Šerbedžija, artistic director Lenka Udovi?ki, and philosopher/writer/ translator Borislav Vuj?i?decided to work with the cathartic effect of tragedy to implement social renewal and cultural regeneration in the aftermath of the war. Many of the best actors who fled the former Yugoslavia and received political asylum abroad have agreed to endorse this new initiative.

Every summer a meaningful collaboration develops when the legendary figures of the past return to work in Croatia with an upcoming generation determined to forge new cultural terms. As of yet the choice of dramatic works the Ulysses Theatre has performed captures aspects of brutal misfortune and psychological despair many suffered under the political regime of the former Yugoslavia.

Often the intensity of interpretation portrayed on the stage subtly speaks of the recent atrocities witnessed during the war. Nigel Osborne was asked to join them as music director and has set each feature the Ulysses Theatre has produced to music. The first year Shakespeare's “King Lear” was produced in 2001, the second summer Euripides' “Medea” in 2002, Peter Weiss's “Marat/Sade” in 2003, and Samuel Beckett's “Waiting for Godot” in 2004. Although Nigel Osborne’s  “Marat/Sade” was orchestrated for Zagreb Opera Theatre Company, “Medea”  best  reveals how music works as the voice of conscience.  Each summer the work from the previous years has been revived.

As a result the Ulysses Theatre performed four plays this year. Next summer they are thinking of a new production of "Hamlet" in place of "King Lear", which has been seen by 15,000 people during the past four summers. Besides the all male production of "Waiting for Godot" in Croatian “Play Beckett”, the Ulysses Theatre is hosting a workshop of an all female English cast with Amanda Plummer, Caroline John, Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave (renown for her initiative in human rights). The Ulysses Theatre usually performs on Mali Brijuni in what was once an Austro-Hungarian fortress. The atmosphere of tragedy is enhanced by the permanent reminder of misplaced authority and power.

This year the Ulysses Theatre decided to make a film about the spiritual dimension of their work, for which they received permission for a workshop/production of "Waiting for Godot" on the island of Goli Otok, Tito's former penal colony for political "deviants". A few female survivors of Tito's concentration camp were approached to participate in the project and made themselves available for interview giving testimonials of their suffering. The persecution of women on Goli Otok from 1949 to 1956 remains a censored epoch in the history of the former Yugoslavia. In an attempt to redeem the past through their workshop performance on Goli Otok, the all English cast hope to recapture the inhumanity of the female colony run by women. I have found it very meaningful to see Nigel Osborne's therapeutic work at the Balkans' Summer Music Camp set within a broader context of human rights issues than I had anticipated.

Every morning the children swam in the sea, whereas afternoons were dedicated to drama and music workshops. "Waiting for Godot" was divided into seven short scenes for the children's opera project. The seven themes, which emerged from Beckett's text were: 1) putting on shoes, 2) waiting for something, 3) waiting for someone, 4) a tree, 5) a child/lullaby, 6) a dog and 7) a monster/giant. The children worked at finding words and music, as well as creating a short dramatic presentation to put their ideas across. What is often silenced in an individual who has been traumatised is given voice through music. The children experience through the opera project just how their words and music are taken seriously by others. What often goes unnoticed and unexpressed in their inner lives, they perceive acknowledged and affirmed through hearing their words and music sung by others. Each of the seven acts of the children's rendition of "Waiting for Godot" emerged as a separate development of the plot, but was linked by a common refrain composed by the different groups.

To help raise the aesthetic development of the opera within the consciousness of the children they went to perform their songs in a hospital in Rovinj, a neighbouring town. Although a medical centre for over 150 years, the hospital is now being run during the summer months as a rehabilitation clinic for physically disabled children and adults, specifically addressing the needs of children who have been victims of land mines. The director of the medical centre we visited in Rovinj made it clear that the beauty of the physical surroundings was the primary therapy people came for.

At least 500 metres of sea front on the Adriatic had been redesigned for wheel chair access. People ordinarily unable to partake of a seaside vacation or swim in the sea can now experience the joy of a seaside holiday with an able-bodied friend or member of the family. On the penultimate day of the music camp we were joined by the Mostar Sinfonietta, who play for the Ulysses Theatre during the summer. The Mostar Sinfonietta is unique in so far that it is comprised of musicians from different religious/ethnic groups in Bosnia Herzegovina. The Mostar Sinfonietta joined the Balkans' Summer Music Camp to accompany the dress rehearsal and final performance of the children's opera. Although the melody of the songs for "Waiting for Godot" was composed by the children, their music had been orchestrated into parts by the composition students from Edinburgh University.

The children's music was not only enriched by the support of the Mostar Sinfonietta, but by the guest appearance of Vedran Smajlovic, the legendary cellist of Sarajevo, whose reputation in human rights emerged as he performed music, where atrocities were been perpetrated during the war, occasionally accompanied by Nigel Osborne on the front line. The children's audience was truly unique. Actors from the Ulysses Theatre as well as the female cast from England performing "Waiting for Godot" came to see the work of the children. It was wonderful to witness how the alchemy of music overcame all the cultural and linguistic barriers we had faced during our week together. The Balkans' Summer Music Camp renews one's trust in the human spirit to heal the unseen horror of violence and injustice in the world!

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 - Elizabeth Carmack (25 July - 4 August 2004)

Puntižela/Pula, Croatia: Adriatic Coast looking across at the Brijuni