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Nebojša Bradić, theatre director

Culture Is Standing On The Shoulders Of Previous Generations

He has staged around a hundred dramas, operas and musicals on the theatre stages of Yugoslavia and Europe, receiving the highest theatre awards for those works. He has served as the administrator of four professional theatres and as a successful Serbian minister of culture during the toughest years of economic crisis. And over a four-year mandate he also edited the Cultural and Artistic Programme of Radio Television of Serbia

Together with his then colleagues at the Ministry of Culture, he succeeded in finalising the reconstruction of the National Library of Serbia and the Yugoslav Cinematheque Film Archives. As a personal challenge, he arranged a marathon television broadcast of Belgian playwright Jan Fabre’s famous play Mount Olympus, which opened the 2017 Bitef and lasted as long as the play itself: 24 hours! And so it was that the theatre of antiquity, recounted in the most modern way, entered 220,000 homes throughout Serbia. It was a feat previously unrecorded in the history of Yugoslav and Serbian television, and an endeavour that wowed the world’s theatre public. He staged the musical Les Misérables at Madlenianum Opera & Theatre, which went on to be performed for 15 years as this theatre’s most successful production, while the version of the musical Fiddler on the Roof that he directed for Sofia’s Muzikalen Theatre was declared 2021’s best play in Bulgaria!

Whatever he’s done, Nebojša Bradić (1956) has done as a man of culture; culture represents his most enduring point of reference. For him, culture is ’standing on the shoulders of previous generations, continuity and the establishing of public awareness’. He knows how the system of funding culture works, has high criteria when it comes to artistic scope, and is precise when locating the right address to resolve problems in this area.

With Goran Marković and Zoran Hamović

“As long as prime ministers and finance ministers view culture as an expense, and not as an opportunity to provide the basis for the country’s success and good reputation, this trend that’s leading to the country’s decline will not change. Culture is not and can never be degraded. The degradation of culture can only be a projection of powerful people who are unworthy of that culture.”

The premiere performance of his interpretation of the opera Falstaff was recently staged at the National Theatre in Belgrade. This work by Giuseppe Verdi, which is again being performed in Belgrade after a break of 45 years, enjoyed unprecedented success at its early June premiere. And Bradić is today already rehearsBeling at Terazije Theatre for the musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, based on Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s 1998 film of the same name.

The position of minister is always a challenge, it’s like being Vuk’s monument. You are raised on a pedestal and actually become the best target for pigeons

When they do have free time, Nebojša and his wife Zaga, a renowned psychiatrist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist, plan holidays, but also tours of some important museums and exhibitions, in order to watch shows in some European countries. They have been married for more than 30 years.

“Zaga and I provide each other with unquestionable support when it comes to the work we do. Our life is serene in these years, and oriented towards our shared interests. Our jobs are each inspiring in their own way. Her work is particularly interesting to me in that part in which she offers complex understanding of the human soul and the human situation today. But we have a clear agreement not to discuss topics that are strictly professional. Her patients are her problem, my ‘patients’ are my problem. Zaga loves the theatre and art, and particularly literature.”

With Peter Handke

CorD’s interlocutor had an exciting upbringing in the house of his father Momir, an actor and theatre manager in Kruševac, and his mother Milica, a teacher of mathematics who accompanied her husband on his journey. He was often left alone in the company of books and his own fantasies, and he believes that this was a good way to form the basis of what would be his future steps.

“I was nevertheless most profoundly determined by the close proximity of art and people who belonged to that world. On the other hand, I was interested in sport, music and literature, but also the natural sciences. In line with my mathematical mind, I defended my graduation thesis in the field of atomic physics.”

Divided in such a way, after completing high school he moved to Belgrade and enrolled in three colleges: one in the field of technical sciences, a second covering the subject of language, and a third in theatre direction at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts.

“Compared to all my previous interests, I made the decision to deal with the theatre rather late and slightly unexpectedly, because I’d never previously been involved in the theatre and wasn’t even a member of the drama club. And it was because I wasn’t sure if I would pass the entrance exam for directing that I also enrolled in two other colleges.”

With Andrea Bocelli

He succeeded at the first attempt and enrolled in the class of Professor Borjana Prodanović, the granddaughter of famous Serbian politician, writer and academic Jaša Prodanović (1867- 1948), who was a special character in her own right.

“Interestingly, one of her students in the generation before me was my colleague and longtime friend Branislav ‘Žaga’ Mićunović, who also served as minister of culture of Montenegro, while Jagoš Marković was later also a student in her class. Three people with totally different sensibilities who were all her students.”

For Nebojša the student, socialising with Belgrade actually meant socialising with the theatre.

“It was as a student that I saw the best plays at Bitef; it was then that I watched the directing work of Robert Wilson, Grotowski, Eugenio Barba, Peter Brook and others. Belgrade was a centre of world theatre, and I unfortunately never again had an opportunity to experience that in Serbia. However, thanks to that initiation, I continued my personal and professional development in London, the theatrical magic of which still motivates me.”

The success of the opera Cinderella in 1998 was all the greater because the very process of working on it was marred by threats that we were to be bombed

Nebojša still remembers the fascination he felt when he watched his first play in Belgrade, Radovan III, starring Zoran Radmilović in the title role. He also recalls theatre director Jovan Bata Putnik (1914-1983), who just happens to be one of those deserving of the credit for Nebojša having entered the world of theatre in the first place, and whose plays impacted on him viewing theatre as art. As a second-year student of theatre direction, he was an assistant to Dejan Mijač (1934-2022) on the Yugoslav Drama Theatre’s adaptation of the play Pučina [The High Sea], which remains remembered as being ‘revolutionary’ because of the way Mijač interpreted Nušić’s melodrama. Just as he interpreted other Serbian classics, which is why Nebojša rated him so highly.

Another great of Serbian culture, writer Borislav Pekić (1930-1992), had a deep impact on Bradić’s memory. When he decided to stage an adaptation of Pekić’s book The Golden Fleece, Nebojša approached the writer in the club of the National Theatre on one occasion in 1979.

“After that first meeting, we had several ‘sessions’ at the then City Tavern, where we discussed his work. He listened carefully to what I intended to do with the Fleece. That instilled a sense of self-confidence in me and I believe it influenced my future attitude towards art and artists. Pekić was then already a successful writer, and he spoke so seriously with a student of theatre direction. And did so totally openly, filled with understanding. We later saw each other occasionally; he invited me to be his guest when I came to London. I directed his plays and was impugned for that, but also rewarded. I am proud that I was one of his friends.”

Nebojša had his first independent directing assignment while he was still a student, while he graduated with the Henrik Ibsen play Nora at the National Theatre in Niš. He has since gone on to put his name to around a hundred plays, musicals and operas that he’s staged in the theatre and opera houses of Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and elsewhere. He’s received positive and even outstanding reviews, won the Sterija Award and numerous others, but he approaches his work on each new play as if it were the most important, or, as he says, ‘every play is the last’.

Encompassing a significant and successful part of this artist’s work have been his terms as an administrator of several theatres. His first such management role was at the Kruševac Theatre, where he spent 15 years as a theatre director, artistic director and manager. It was under his tenure, during the late 1980s and the first half of the ‘90s, that it became the most respected theatre in the Serbian provinces.

With Radoslav Zelenović

“I was 30 years old when, based on the incentive of the actors, I first became acting manager and then administrator of the theatre. I accepted that duty with the precondition that the first job be the reconstruction of the theatre. The new theatre was open to guest actors, who included the likes of Đuza Stojiljković, Branislav ‘Ciga’ Jerinić, Tanja Bošković and many others. That was the impetus to launch the theatre and create successful and authentic plays.”

The triumph of the play The Damned Yard [based on Ivo Andrić’s book] at the Sterijino Pozorje festival in the year 2000 marked the crowning of Bradić’s ‘Kruševac cycle’. He both dramatically adapted and directed this famous Andrić novel, receiving the Sterija Award for his efforts, with the play declared the best of the entire festival. The cast comprised the then young Vojin Ćetković, Sergej Trifunović, Nebojša Milovanović, Nebojša Dugalić et al.

Nebojša would subsequently spend a short period as manager of Belgrade’s Atelje 212 theatre, a position he took on at the suggestion of fellow director and then outgoing manager Ljubomir Muci Draškić (1937-2004). It was from there, based on the suggestion of then Minister of Culture Nada Popović Perišić, that he moved to the helm of the National Theatre, where during the following two and a half years of isolation he would break the blockades by realising international cooperation at this theatre. It will remain recorded that in the building of the National Theatre on Republic Square, on the eve of the launch of the 1999 bombing campaign, he succeeded in staging the premiere performance of a Jagoš Marković directed version Rossini’s opera La Cenerentola, aka Cinderella. The costumes for the play were created by famous Italian fashion designer Renato Balestra.

Culture doesn’t belong exclusively to any one party or convocation of the Ministry; it should not be preyed on by political interest groups

“Cinderella signalled the return of our theatre scene to the world. Its premiere came in the time following the signing of the Dayton Agreement, after the lifting of sanctions. It was a stride forward for the theatre in difficult years. The staging was supported by the Serbian Ministry of Culture and the Italian Embassy in Belgrade. You should know that this success was all the greater because the very process of working on it was marred by threats that we were to be bombed. We ignored that a little, but that kind of uncertainty and tension was present.”

The Belgrade Drama Theatre also recorded years of great success during the two mandates when Nebojša was at the helm. He also founded the international Dance Festival, which today – after Bitef and Bemus – is undoubtedly a top national cultural treasure. He arrived at the BDT at the invitation of its actors. And he once again began his tenure time by seeking that the building undergo reconstruction.

With Nada Perišić Popović

“We quickly reached agreement that it was first necessary to work on the infrastructure, then to deal with the programme, followed by the ensemble, and in the meantime to work on bringing back the audience. We had to come up with a code for the way we could attract the audience and re-establish the theatre on the map of Serbia’s important institutions of culture. There were successful plays, but also those others. Successful plays can be soothing, but you can draw better conclusions when a play fails than when you achieve success. Our artists and theatres are mistaken when they try to create success. Success isn’t created! Rather one creates a good repertoire, a good division of duties and a good show.”

His successes led to him being qualified to be nominated for the position of Serbian culture minister by then political party G17 Plus, and he subsequently spent three years in that ministerial role (2008-2011) and showed how it could be possible to start solving some problems. However, political games took other turns. He described the situation well, saying: “The position of minister is always a challenge, it’s like being Vuk’s monument. You are raised on a pedestal and actually become the best target for pigeons.”

He had a lot of ideas that would have proved useful during the times that we were then in, but that wasn’t to be.

“That was the moment of the world economic crisis and that was the biggest handicap for the then Government, and for the Ministry of Culture in particular. It wasn’t possible to implement many of the ideas that we had. One of the things we finalised was Serbia’s presentation at the Book Fair in Leipzig, where we were the guest of honour.”

Bradić showed what he was capable of doing in his time as minister. Famous actor Velimir Bata Živojinović (1933- 2016), a long-time MP of the then ruling Socialist Party of Serbia, praised their exceptional collaboration during the years when he was in opposition and Nebojša was minister. And the author of this article once testified about him in an interview for NIN.

With Lidija Pilipenko, Dejan Miladinović and Nebojša Romčević

“I was in all government bodies, and film bodies, in all film funds, where I could influence things for the better, to solve problems. Of course, without the help of some minister, especially Minister Nebojša Bradić, who did plenty to resurrect the film industry, while we film workers wouldn’t have been able to do much either. He deserves credit for the fact that Serbian cinematography is in a much better situation today than it was yesterday, though he didn’t have the understanding of many relevant people. If there were any stoppages, they weren’t his fault. Serbian film progressed so strongly that it began very successfully presenting our cinematography worldwide. It’s a shame that Bradić left.”

Today, when people from the domain of culture are dissatisfied with the government’s attitude towards them, Nebojša’s stance during his time as minister represents a rare, bright example of desirable conduct.

“Both back then and today, I considered cultural clashes as not being needed by culture, that they are not good for culture, no matter how ‘attractive’ they sometimes seem to the media sphere. Someone in the position of a minister shouldn’t be someone who judges or adjudicates in a way that belittles someone or assassinates their character. The decisions made at the Ministry actually determine the policy that will be led by that Ministry. It is beyond my sense of civilised conduct when a minister clashes with a writer, director or actor. Culture doesn’t belong exclusively to any one party or convocation of the Ministry; it should not be preyed on by interest groups. The tone and manner in which individuals are discussed in the National Assembly, whether actors or someone else, is particularly insulting. This only causes the further escalation of violence in society, fear and insecurity. I’m proud of the dialogue I had with people who don’t belong to the same aggregation of political ideas or stances, because in that way we were able to collaborate with the aim of developing culture and the arts.”

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