Irena Šentevska

Swinging 90s. Institutional Theatres in Serbia and the Yugoslav Wars

This paper is based on my upcoming book Swinging 90s: Theatre and social reality in Serbia in 29 pictures (Orion Art, Belgrade, 2015) which discusses various points of response of the Serbian theatre production to the social (political, economic, moral) crisis of the 1990s and, among other things, to Serbia’s involvement in the armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo).

Although slowly and belatedly, the Serbian theatre system in the 1990s entered a process of transformations which visibly changed the ‘theatre landscape’ in comparison to the models of management, production, financing, PR and, of course, artistic poetics and expression, inherited from the 1980s (the late socialist period). Nevertheless, my research focuses on what changed the least in this landscape – the ‘old fashioned’, institutional theatres. I am especially interested in their specific social roles in pacifying or mobilizing theatre audiences for participation in (or revolt against) the political projects pursued on the frontlines. The main paradox (and, in my opinion, the most interesting thing about them in this period) is that, whatever they did, whichever strategy they opted for to „deal with the war“, they still operated within the same system which propelled and maintained the military operations – the system which catered their very existence and used them for embedding a sense of ‘normality’ in the social climate of permanent crisis.


Irena Šentevska studied at the Department of Stage Design and at the Department of Arts and Media Theory at the University of Arts in Belgrade, where she completed her PhD. She lectured at the interdisciplinary doctoral studies of the University of Arts in Belgrade and various departments at the University of Belgrade (sociology, architecture, electrical engineering) and University of Novi Sad (architecture, theatre design). From 1996 to 2006 ahe curated the Biennial of Stage Design (Bijenale scenskog dizajna), independently co-produced national exhibition / festival dedicated to design and technical production in theatre (NGO Yustat and Museum of Applied Art, Belgrade). Her interdisciplinary research focuses on the issues of identity (re)construction in the post-Yugoslav political and cultural contexts, as reflected in the contemporary arts, media, popular and, specifically, urban culture in the region of South-East Europe. Since 2006 her exclusive interest in theatre has shifted to other realms of cultural production (mainly film and music industry).