Slavko reflects on the journey of bringing ‘Soulfood’ to life and his hopes for the monodrama created in lockdown.
“Ten years ago in Novi Sad I was passing by the market and I saw a beautiful lifestyle magazine called ‘Sensa’. I was very attracted by the design, and I bought it. I saw the Editor-in-Chief was Žana Poliakov and that was the first time I saw her name. I researched her and learnt about her as a writer and artist and discovered that as well as writing for magazines, she was also writing books, drama and theatre plays and I discovered that she had written a book called ‘Soulfood’. I went to the bookshop and bought it. I read it from cover to cover and I realised that I related to so much of what the book was saying, even though it is written from a female perspective I realised that I was living 80% of it too, no matter that I was a man. I bought that book so many times and gave it to many friends.
In 2013 when I took part in ‘X Factor Adria’ I reached out to Žana and she began to think about writing something for me, a monologue drama perhaps? But 8 years ago I didn’t feel I had enough experience, in both life or acting, to bring something to life. We met for the first time in 2014 and we chatted for hours, she wanted to know everything about me so that she could write something for me. Time went by and Žana decided that she couldn’t do it because she felt she could only write from her own experience and perspective. We stayed in contact and she followed me through all the adventures my career has given me through the Eurovision Song Contest, X Factor UK, performances around the globe etc.
When the pandemic hit us in 2020 and Montenegro went into lockdown, I saw the book still lying on my table and I knew this was the right time, and the write book. I asked Žana for permission to dramatise it, but not only did I want her permission I also wanted her support and blessing too. I read it once again, this time the words leapt off the page and into the halls of my imagination. I began to see the words in pictures, in movements, I could feel them in my spirit, I was not reading it this time I was living it with my whole being. I began to take monologues from the book to create actions and interactions with the audience lifting Žana’s words into a physicality that could captivate and move an audience.
I began to craft the show, thinking about direction, costume, music, the staging, working hard on every little detail of the show. I knew that this was the project I wanted to use to celebrate 15 years of my acting career and I wanted to do it at Montenegrin National Theatre where I am a permanent actor. I got the permission from the theatre admin to host the premier there. I entered the theatre and stood on the stage, a stage that I knew so well, every wooden board, every piece of rigging, every empty seat looking back at me, and I connected ‘Soulfood’ to the stage, it was like the final piece of the puzzle being placed and the picture was now whole.
I contacted Žana and told her that I would like to premiere the show in April, but she questioned that and felt that May was better, I trusted her, I always trust her, and the date was set for 11th May 2021. The day came, after many rehearsals, many late nights fine tuning every detail, costume fittings, technical run throughs, so much hard work I stepped on to the stage to perform the premier of ‘Soulfood’. I can’t explain the audience’s reaction, it was beautiful. The pandemic has hit everyone hard, in many ways, lockdown has been a common experience of everyone, not just in Montenegro but across the world. People have struggled, people are still struggling, and I wanted to create a show that was like psychotherapy, giving a voice to people who had felt silenced and hidden in all the noise.
It’s deeply thought-provoking concept to play a female role as a male actor and to see the traditional gender expressions challenged and the audience reaction to that; initial shock in some gave way quickly to understanding and people began to think more deeply about their own relationship to the gender they inhabit often without question. The play is very feminist, it speaks about being a woman, being a parent, money, happiness, self-awareness, self-love, religion, sex, some things that are quite taboo. I wanted to break those taboos and help people to experience more of life without being bound by their own perceptions of what society tells them about themselves.
The second performance was in Danilovgrad, my hometown. Again, I got a huge applause and felt a huge connection to the audience, I felt that they had really understood the message of the show and were happy to be challenged by it. I am so proud that ‘Soulfood’ is now included in the main repertoire of the Montenegrin National Theatre. This is a big achievement and the first time that an independent project has been recognised in this way.
I want to take ‘Soulfood’ around the world, for everyone to see and experience. My team and I will work on translating it to English, and when we are allowed to travel again, perhaps we will bring ‘Soulfood’ to a theatre near you. One of my biggest dreams, a career goal if you like, was to be in a monodrama. The idea of having the entire responsibility of the show and to take the audience on a journey entirely by oneself whilst a little scary sometimes, but ultimately very satisfying as an actor and performed was something I wanted to achieve. I am so happy that I fulfilled one of my biggest dreams and so thankful to those who helped to make it happen.
My deepest, heartfelt thanks to Žana who has given me so much more than I would ever have imagined when I picked up that copy of 'Sensa' 10 years ago in Novi Sad. I am proud to be a permanent member of the Montenegrin National Theatre and am thankful for all the support of the administration and my fellow actors. I’d also like to thank Gordana Bulatović for the beautiful costume and Ivanka Vana Prelević, the set designer and creator of the incredible lotus flower. Of course, I also want to publicly thank my family and those close friends who are on this journey with me and continue to support everything I do. If you came to see ‘Soulfood’ in Podgorica or Danilovgrad then thank you for your support and if you’ve yet to see it then I thank you in advance, I do hope that everyone who sees ‘Soulfood’ will find it, indeed, food for your soul.”