Michael Lederer is a poet, novelist and playwright. Born in America he is a selfconfessed citizen of the world. He has spent time in Spain, England, and Germany and is currently dividing most of his time between New York, Berlin and Dubrovnik. I caught up with Michael in the centre of the historic Old City of Dubrovnik, a subject extremely close to his heart and one that he has passionate views about. The strong family roots that Michael has with the city have flowered and grown into a tree as he has recently bought a 17th century villa overlooking the city walls. It’s now his mission to hold a Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival with an international feel in 2012.
How did you end up in Dubrovnik?
I have family roots here, my father, Ivo Lederer, was born in Zagreb in 1929 then moved to America as a boy. The first time I came to Dubrovnik was in 1958 as a two-year old and through my childhood years we visited Croatia regularly. I have very sharp memories of the city at that time. My father was a professor of diplomatic history at Princetown, Yale and Stanford and so lived a serious life. However during our visits to Dubrovnik I observed a very different side. He was surrounded by a group of friends, many of whom were involved in creative arts, I never saw him happier in my life. It was here in Dubrovnik that I really got the idea that being a grown-up might not be such a bad thing, I saw that grown-ups could have fun too. This feeling, in many ways, planted a seed in my mind, a seed that one day I too would live here. After living in various countries I felt an urge to come back to my roots. Now I’ve bought a home here and the more time I spend here the more I feel that I need and want to give something back to this city that has shaped me so much.
Have you considered writing a book about Dubrovnik?
Firstly this is a great place in which to be creative, I love writing here. At the moment I’m working on a piece for The New York Times which is entitled The Soul of Dubrovnik? At the same time as the city is developing into a major tourist destination it has also found itself under attack. It is hard not to notice the windows in the Old City that remain dark at night and the lack of local children playing in the streets. There are also many times that the residents of this histories core are outnumbered by tourists. I’m interested in Dubrovnik both as a popular tourist magnet as well as a place of residence for the local population.
What is it about the Old City that fascinates you?
In one word – romance. From my balcony I see these walls, the fisherman coming back from the sea, the island of Lokrum, I can smell and taste the history. The city is beautifully preserved unlike Monte Carlo which has been decimated by modern construction. I have also seen this in Spain where the coastline has been destroyed in the name of tourism.
As a citizen of the world can you compare Dubrovnik to other destinations?
I think that Spain is a great example of what not to do. There mistake has been stepping to far towards its tourists rather than inviting their tourists to step closer to Spain. Many places along the coast it seems like you are in England or Germany. It is increasing difficult to find Spain in Spain.
Being involved in the theatre do you have plans to stage something in Dubrovnik?
Absolutely, I have already started with planning a small festival in May 2012. It will be called the Dubrovnik Fringe Festival and will run for ten to twelve days. I hope to combine both international performances with local traditional productions. It would be great to combine the old and the new. I have many old photos of Dubrovnik and I’d love to recreate that atmosphere during the festival, local people dressed in national costumes selling produce from the area. We hope to have five plays for the first festival. The underlying motivations are firstly to provide tourists with a cultural attraction in the month of May when there isn’t already any other festivals. Secondly, it is to provide the people that live here greater opportunity to see and participate in the theatre. In this first festival in 2012 two plays will be Shakespeare, Mid Summer Nights Dream and the Tempest. Also I will direct a play that I have written. Then I would like to invite a Croatian production company to perform one play. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln my idea is theatre “by, for and with the people”. We hope to model ourselves, in part, on what happened in Edinburgh.
If you could take one thing from America and introduce it here what would it be?
The spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. For example there is so much land in the region that isn’t worked, the city can and should be totally self-sufficient. Where are the animals, the livestock? This land must be put to use. America has many problems but this spirit of “I can” is extremely positive.