Prior to the performances of her play Invisible at Robsham Theater, renowned playwright and screenwriter Tena Štivičić detailed the personal experiences and motivations that drove the conception of this particular story Thursday night.
Born in Zagreb, Croatia, Štivičić graduated from the Academy of Drama Art, Department of Dramaturgy, Zagreb. She moved to the U.K. and got her master’s from Goldsmith’s College, University of London. Throughout her years at the Academy and the time following her graduation, Štivičić produced several theatrical performances. Her plays cover a myriad of topics, ranging from particular aspects of the human experience to broad sociological critiques. Her first play, the award-winning Can’t Escape Sundays, delves into the world of female versus male psyches, examining the processes of love and betrayal. Another of her most famous works, The Two of Us, challenges gender norms and brings into question the concept of a traditional family unit. Some of Štivičić’s other acclaimed works include Fragile!, Fireflies, PSSST!, and Perceval.
Originally published in 2011, her play Invisible follows the journey of four separate characters whose seemingly disparate lives are eventually driven together. Lara leaves home in search of a better life, as Anton is forced to leave his village and ends up in the city cleaning windows. Malik and Felix experience feelings of displacement and discontent. At its core, the story is about the convergence of different people and cultures, and understanding the many sides of migration.
As someone who has personally experienced the feeling of being an “outsider,” a feeling often induced by migration and new cultural contexts, Štivičić told the audience that she views this experience in a positive light.
“For a playwright, that has been an advantage for me because it gives you a point of view, a perspective, on both the cultures, both the culture that you left, and the culture that you are now a part of,” Štivičić said. “It’s hard to understand yourself and your own cultural makeup until you see how different it is to another one.”
Rather than an instrument of social change, Štivičić sees theatre as an outlet to think independently and critically. In a time of being overloaded with news stories and the biases of media, she believes theatre can highlight pieces of certain stories or phenomena, allowing for a more intimate and personal method of communicating a message. Problems like immigration are vast and catastrophic that it can be difficult for people to wrap their brains around, let alone take action, according to Štivičić.
“With immigration it is such a massive problem, and it’s so uncontainable, that we are not really prepared to do anything about it,” she said.
The process of immigration can induce intense feelings of displacement and turmoil within people. Štivičić described it as feeling “like other people are getting along with their lives very happily, but somehow you don’t know the password into that life.”
So to the playwright, the question turned to how one can go about making these experiences more relatable so that people will care enough to try to create change. While creating the characters of Invisible, Štivičić thought about how to provoke the audience to empathize with her characters and their migration challenges.
“People have individual identities that may be more compatible to ours than we might think,” she said.
The power of the stage and the performance gives people the ability to acquire a new perspective and gain understanding of something, even if they have not been through anything similar, according to Štivičić.
“We get a chance to feel noble, empathizing with their experience,” she said.
Štivičić traveled to an archipelago island in Croatia a couple years ago—she recounted memories from the beautiful nights she spent sitting above deck on a shuttle boat each evening on her journeys between islands. But, one night, the weather turned and the journey became very unpleasant. All of the passengers were told to go down below, and the choppy water were making everyone feel sick and nauseous. Štivičić reflected on her realization that within 20 or so minutes, she would be relieved from the discomfort.
“It is an intensely, intensely unpleasant experience, but that is what it’s like to be trapped in a boat crossing the Mediterranean when there’s a hundred times more people and much worse conditions, and they are risking their lives,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine what physically and mentally that might feel like.”
The challenges faced by people immigrating are not common sensations that people experience in everyday life.
“Good stories, good theatre, good films, have that power to pull you in to make you feel and see that journey and that experience through the point of view of the people that it’s happening to, and that’s where its power lies,” Štivičić said.
Featured Image by Kristin Saleski