Interview: playwright Jeton Neziraj of Kosovo

WLPG:  Was there something in particular that motivated you to start writing for young audiences?

Jeton: My first meeting with the dramaturgy for children took place in 2002. I was invited to participate in a Drama Workshop for children, which was organized by a small theatre in Skopje (Macedonia). The workshop was led by Swedish dramaturge Marie P. Hedenius. I believe that the experience I drew from this workshop and the knowledge that I acquired regarding dramaturgy and theatre for children in Sweden was the main motivation that pushed me to begin to write children’s plays. At that workshop, I wrote my first children’s play “Sytë e shkruar” (Speckled Blue Eyes) which came to be successful. From that time, I continuously went on writing plays for children. So far, I have written four children’s plays and all of them have been staged and have started to be translated into other languages. And, I should also add that I come from a tradition of dramaturgy for children that is still in its beginning stages.

WLPG:  Is there a production, playwright, or theatre company that has been influential on your work?

Jeton:  I believe that my main influence is from Swedish theatre. As much as it has been possible, I have followed developments in Swedish theatre for children.  It is really fascinating to see how important a place it has in the Swedish theatre. The articles that playwright/director Suzanne Osten has written regarding children’s theatre have had quite a big influence on me. But generally, I like the Swedish theatre for children, which,  it seems to me  is rather more sophisticated than  in other parts of the world. For instance, I don’t prefer the English theatre for children, which is overloaded with educative and social aspects. I should not mention here the very poor and tradition-lacking children’s theatre in Kosovo, which continues to treat children as naïve and stupid. Moreover, I could say that one of the motivations that pushed me to start writing was to challenge this type of boring children’s theatre that continues to be produced in Kosovo today.

WLPG:  Why is it important to write for children and young people?

Jeton: I think that this answer has been already given. This question is similar to the one ‘why do we need theatre?’. Yes, we need theatre. And yes, we need children’s theatre. And yes, it is important. And yes, it is important to write plays for children and young people.

I would like to tell something here. When in 2003 I initiated an ambitious program called Center for Children`s Theater Development, with the idea to more seriously tackle children’s theatre, through writing original plays (more than 20 plays in Albanian have been written so far) and through aesthetically more advanced theatre productions, one of the challenges was, of course, the financial aspect. How to finance this program! Who would give the money?! In Kosovo, you could not find an interested donor.  Fortunately, we found a Swedish donor.(The Olof Palme International Center). During that time, the person in charge of this foundation, Mrs. Sahna Johnson, visited us. And while we were trying to explain to her ‘the importance’ of a children’s theatre, she stopped us and said: ‘you don’t have to. I know it very well. A children’s play that I saw when I was a child is one of the rare beautiful things that I recall from that time’

WLPG: What is your typical writing process?

Jeton: It is a common process, I would say. Sometimes I am instructed by theatres to write for certain topics and other times I identify the topics myself. In both cases, the upcoming process is then similar. I think and I simultaneously start writing. Frequently, the writing of the start is only ‘scribbling’, and slowly, everything starts to get its shape.

WLPG:  Is there any real difference between writing for young audiences and writing for adult audiences?

Jeton: I don’t know. As far as I am concerned, the only difference is in approach, in topics, in the presence of characters of children, in structure… Simply, I approach children’s plays differently, not in a more simple or in an easier way, but simply ‘differently’. I believe that this is a common process for anyone who writes children’s plays.

WLPG:  Since Kosovo is such a new country, do you think theater, especially theater for young audiences, is helping establish a national identity?

Jeton:  Theatre for adults, yes; it is involved in the process of what could be called ‘the creation of national identity’. But not children’s theatre. Unfortunately, children’s theatre is totally underdeveloped and it has no power to be part of some significant social process. Theatre for adults, on the other hand, is striving to formulate issues connected to national identity, which is in the process of establishment. But it should be mentioned that this is a process with quite some risks. Theatre should support the creation of national identity challenging it with questions that are usually ‘forgotten’ or there is a fear of making them when the country goes through these kinds of significant political processes. In these kinds of processes that are followed with quite some euphoria, the theatre is there to provoke ‘the wounds’ and the problems which are usually forgotten being ‘in there’, within societies.

WLPG: What question would you like to ask your fellow playwrights making plays for young audiences?

Jeton:  How do they identify the topics? Simply, how do they decide that this or that topic belongs to ‘dramaturgy for children’?

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Jeton's web site