Every week we catch up the movers and shakers in the Dubrovnik region. This week The Dubrovnik Times speaks exclusively with Michael Lederer, the founder and artistic director of the Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival. Lederer explains why the first festival has been pushed back to 2013, the bumps in the road he has faced and what the future holds for the festival.
The Great Game, a collection of your short stories, was just published in Berlin. The newspaper Die Welt calls you “one of the great American writers.” They also wrote that you are “a renowned man of the theatre who leads your characters like a director on a stage.”
It was nice to read those things.
What are you working on at present?
I’m now writing a novel called The Land, which is set in America in the 1960’s and 70’s. And also, of course, we are developing exciting plans for the Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival in early May 2013. I hope your readers will join us for that.
Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival is scheduled for May 2013. The 2012 Festival was postponed. Can you explain why that happened?
The financial pressures now facing the rest of Europe also face Croatia. This is a difficult time. Companies with their eyes fixed on the bottom line ask whether support of culture is a luxury or necessity. In the short term, withholding support for the arts may seem like a convenient cost saver. But in the long term, the development of a town like Dubrovnik depends on it. Can you imagine not having a vibrant art scene in New York or London or Berlin? The arts bring visitors, sustain the quality of life, and generate business. They create jobs. They also enhance a city’s reputation. Hotels, airlines, banks, restaurants, real estate, construction, the insurance industry, yachting services, everyone stands to benefit if the arts scene in Dubrovnik flourishes. This year the Julian Rachlin and Friends Festival, which has been growing in importance and having a wonderful impact on this city in the fall, has had to cut back because of lack of sponsorship. Companies that seek to do business here need to invest more in this city’s future, because it is also their future.
Can you be more specific?
Dubrovnik today is surviving largely on the strength of the cruise ships that bring around one million visitors a year. Those visitors stay for an average of five hours. And that’s fine. They walk around the old town, have one meal and an ice cream, buy some souvenirs, and then it’s off to Venice or Istanbul. If Dubrovnik hopes to develop as a market for people who wish to stay longer, maybe even buy a home here, it needs to offer a wide range of world-class experiences. Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. It should be host to the most extraordinary music, theatre, dance, fine art. Can you imagine how the character of this city would change if the excitement we enjoy during the six week summer festival lasted all year? Even in winter there are so many beautiful days here. And spring and fall are warm and un-crowded and just begging to attract more visitors.
What support have you already gotten for Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival?
The two biggest companies to support us are Valamar Hotels and Croatia Airlines. I thank them, and Dubrovnik thanks them. Both those companies recognize how important it is for an international theatre festival to take root here in Dubrovnik in the springtime, and therefore extend the season. President Josipovic has given us his enthusiastic help. Above all, the City of Dubrovnik is our greatest supporter. We are also grateful to Jasna Jukic, the Director of the Marin Drzic theatre. We could not do the Festival without her help. Unfortunately, however, banks, real estate and construction companies, restaurants, travel agencies, yachting marinas, the insurance industry, have not supported us…yet. We are still looking for partners to brand with us, show their support for Dubrovnik, and help us make this dream a reality.
What has Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival already done, and what are your future plans?
Our declared goal from the outset has been “To help bring the world to Dubrovnik, and Dubrovnik to the world.” In 2010, Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival produced our first play, Mundo Overloadus, in New York City. That literally helped shine a spotlight on Dubrovnik in America. In 2011, we sponsored an exhibition of 17th century Shakespeare related manuscripts and artefacts in the Marin Drzic Museum here in Dubrovnik. We also commissioned the first modern English translation of the play The Miser by the 16th century Dubrovnik playwright Marin Drzic. Later this year, DSF and the London theatre group Performance Exchange will present our translation at the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden. The great Russian artist Genia Chef is about to begin work on a 2 metre by 2 metre painting called “Shakespeare in Dubrovnik.” We are filming the work as it is painted, and the resulting documentary will be shown in galleries in Berlin, St. Petersburg, London, Denver, and also here in Dubrovnik. And of course plans are being made for the Festival itself here in the Old Town the first week of May 2013.
Any last thoughts?
The question facing us at DSF is not the existential question: To be or not to be? We will leave that question to Hamlet. The issue DSF faces is: What and when to be? To our visitors, we promise that Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival will continue to add to this city’s cultural heritage. And to the companies that do business here, we ask you please to get involved. The public will recognize those companies and individuals who support the arts in Dubrovnik.