Seven rooms of incomprehension

In 2015 the Theater of Jena staged “Seven rooms of incomprehension” (“Sieben Räume Unbegreifen”), directed by Giselle Vegter and Ilil Land-Boss, realized as an interdisciplinary project created in collaboration with University of Jena and the Buchenwald Memorial Center. This play, described by theater critics as “documentary-theatrical performance”, utilizes seven different spaces to speak of genocide – this “Problem from the Hell”, as it was named by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power. 

In each of rooms that the audience encounters, the central subject of genocide was approached from a different perspective, addressed in a language of poetry, myth, narration, play, or legal and philosophical ideas. On the half way of their journey through those spaces there is a room where the public could relax for a while, interact, and “gather their wits” after passing through previous scenes marked by emotionally more intense content. 

I was invited to take part in the play as a “host” of that room, placed on the main theater stage, featuring a large wooden table, alike the one depicted in Leonardo’s “Last supper”, surrounded by trees, old kitchen furniture, traditional utensils and pottery. 

Having 30 minutes of time to interact with audience and their imagination, I was tasked to create the space where strangers become friends, after sharing the same, difficult experience, preparing them for the second half of their passage. There, in a spontaneous talk, they could have a glimpse not only into escalation of violence, fear and insecurity, transforming their world into the nightmare of life in a beseiged city, but also to learn about the culture, spirit and humor of its inhabitants that didn’t cease to exist even in those years of destruction. 

This natural and relaxed conversation provided the visitors with opportunity to hear about variety of improvised tools, inventions and tricks devised for the purpose of a bare survival … They also had a taste of the Balkan cuisine as well as of food prepared during the war, from the very basic ingredients found in parcels of humanitarian help. Or, eventually, they spent some time drinking coffee prepared in a traditional manner and took part in the old custom of fortune-telling by interpreting the signs revealed in the coffee mud on the bottom of a cup. In such an ambience, surrounded by trust, mutual care, and music that evokes memories of the carefree world, half an hour allotted for their visit to this room frequently extended to an hour, or continued even after the entire play has ended.