IVANA Sajko A multi-award-winning playwright
Meet the bomb maker
June 24, 2005
IVANA Sajko is considered a bit of a trouble-maker back home in Croatia, one of those annoyingly brilliant people who won't stop asking questions and just go away.
A multi-award-winning playwright, artist, theoretician, nationally renowned one-time presenter of her own radical arts television show, literary magazine editor, performer of "stand-up tragedies", and champion of what she calls "unbearable political theatre", Sajko is simply incapable of not engaging boots and all.
Woman-Bomb is a philosophically complex yet urgent work that explores the author's state of mind as she writes and, more specifically, what is going through a bomber's mind as she counts down the final 12 minutes and 36 seconds before detonation.
"I really wanted to speak about terrorism. I am always interested in the situation where from one perspective you have a criminal act where people are hurt, and just by changing the view you can see it as an heroic act," says Sajko, who was at high school during the Balkan Wars, when students set off tear bombs in class to get out of exams.
"It always, it always, has to do with hate. And there is always a reason for hate. But my secret question that I wanted to answer was this: is it a heroic act, or is it a suicide hidden behind a heroic act?"
It was her fearlessness and cerebral intensity that drew the esteemed Melbourne playwright John Romeril to Sajko's writing in the late 1990s, when he was tutoring at Interplay, an international gathering of young playwrights held every two years in Townsville.
Romeril has been quietly championing her work ever since. So when Michael Kantor took over as artistic director at Playbox, changed its name to Malthouse and relaxed the all-Australian-work rule, Romeril made sure Woman-Bomb was in his in-tray.
"Ivana's take on the times we live in resonated strongly with me. There's great depth to her key image of the traditional giver of birth being the bringer of death," says Romeril, who was also chairman of the Australian National Playwrights' Conference.
"She's pretty swish, a pretty sharp dame. What struck me from the start is what a mature sensibility she has. She tackles humanity's darks. There's a fierce intelligence there which I find very impressive, and a passion - she's unafraid to battle big ideas and just go for it. And she's on top of her craft, which I respect."
A monologue about terrorism could easily be a simplistic polemic, but Woman-Bomb is an articulate, layered, intimate and poetic examination of creativity and power, with a refreshingly unusual cast of characters. Besides the Woman-Bomb, there is Sajko herself, 20 of her friends, a worm, a politician, his bodyguards and mistress, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, a host of disenchanted angels, and God as a cranky bureaucrat who is sick to death of mankind's whining.
Sajko has written herself into most of her 11 plays. "I am like Hitchcock, always walking through. It is important to me," she says. "In this one I wanted to make a play about myself writing, and that is why you are not really sure who is the main character, the author or the bomber.
"It is not about ego, it is about understanding all the layers of the media you work in. When you read someone's work, the author is always hidden somewhere, say behind a character. I think it is more interesting that I don't hide myself.
"So on stage there are always three of us - the author, the character and the performer."
Another trademark of Sajko's is using stage directions as a character within her plays. "The words between the brackets give you the opportunity to be subversive to the main text, and in the forum of plays, a stage direction is for me a path out of the illusion. They are the territory of freedom. And in my plays they become a character. They are where the true power resides."
Sajko always knew she would be a writer. She trained to be a dramaturg at Zagreb's Academy of Dramatic Arts and wrote her first play when she was 20. She created, researched, hosted and edited a national television arts show when she was 24, is writing a novel, and is the editor of the literary journal Fraction. For Ivana Sajko, speech is a weapon.
"My plays are not plays, I am writing speeches," she says. "I'm trying to convince. It's very rhetorical, and rhetoric was the science, the art, the craft of convincing someone. When I say my theatre is unbearable, what I'm trying to effect is that you're surrounded by the unbearable pressure of someone trying to persuade you of something. And it is the same with the world we live in, and politics.
"Politicians no longer have ideological differences. They have different economic interests, and they are not your or my interests. You must be aware of the world you live in, how it works. You must be aware of things that you do. Everything is important."
For a recent play in Zagreb, Mass For Pre-Election Day Silence, put on a month after the recent Croatian election, Sajko recorded politicians' speeches and edited them into what she called "the best of shit". This was fed directly into the audience's ears through headphones.
"I don't want to torture the audience. I want them to have a good time, but I don't want them to get lost in dramatic artifice either," she says.
"It's all about power. The tragedy of Woman-Bomb is that it doesn't have any power. No one will react, no one will be offended. It will not change one thing."
Woman-Bomb is at the Malthouse, Melbourne, from tomorrow until July 17.