Mladinsko Theatre (Slovensko mladinsko gledališče) is one of two municipal theatres in Ljubljana and is considered to be a laboratory for actors and directors, choreographers and musicians to research and develop, risk and create. Throughout its history, Mladinsko has collaborated with the reformers of the Slovene theatre of the second half of the 20th century.
The theatre regularly tours worldwide and was awarded the title European Ambassador of Culture by European Commission in 2008. Through its current projects the theatre is dealing with the ‘symptomisation’ of the society, showing the detected symptoms via appropriate performative procedures. For this reason, public space becomes a performance space as well.
Mladinsko Theatre was established in 1955 as the first professional theatre for children and youth in Slovenia. Although Mladinsko Theatre’s productions of its first decade aimed at younger audiences with the stagings of adaptations of classical as well as domestic youth literature, the theatre’s first director Balbina Battelino Baranovič (who established in 1955 also the first experimental theatre in Slovenia, introducing the theatre-in-the-round principle) succeeded to professionalise the theatre’s activities and also include into the theatre’s programme productions intended for a wider audience. Thus in the 1960s and 70s, Mladinsko collaborated with distinguished Slovene directors, such as Mile Korun, Dušan Jovanović, etc.During this period its productions and actors were gaining wide recognition, exemplified also by several prominent awards. For example, Mile Korun’s staging of Aurand Harris’s Androcles and the Lion [Androkles in lev] (1973) brought to the theatre the first Borštnik Award for best performance in 1973.
In the 1980s Mladinsko Theatre initiated a unique interdisciplinary stage research and its productions (Victims of the Bang Bang Fashion [Žrtve mode bum-bum] (1975), Missa in a minor [Maša v a molu] (1980), The Class Enemy [Razredni sovražnik] (1982), Romeo and Juliet – Commentaries [Romeo in Julija – komentarji] (1983), The Persians [Peržani] (1980), Anna [Ana] (1984), etc.) were widely acclaimed during the 1980s for their political engagement as well as for their innovative approach to mise-en-scène. The performance Victims of the Bang Bang Fashion, directed by Dušan Jovanović, who was the artistic director of Mladinsko Theatre in the 1980s, put Mladinsko Theatre on the international map of experimental theatres.
However, the complete aesthetic break was brought about with the performance Missa in A Minor, directed by Ljubiša Ristić, who staged an original montage of Danilo Kiš’s text A Tomb for Boris Davidovich with fragments from political texts of Lenin, Trotsky, Proudhon, Bakunin, etc., thus departing from the traditional relation between the literary text and theatre. This gesture constituted a new understanding of theatre and proved to be decisive for the general orientation of Mladinsko Theatre in the future.
In 2015 the Mladinsko Theatre produced with the HNK Ivana pl Zajca in Rijeka,the BITEF in Belgrade and the MOT in Skopje the Ristić Complex performance directed by Oliver Frljić. on the occasion of the theatre’s 60th anniversary, it aimed at recontextualisation of the performances by controversial director Ljubiša Ristić in the light of art and ideology.
By the end of the 1980s, Mladinsko Theatre production took a turn from making subversive, director-oriented theatre to making theatre by deconstructing modernist theatre traditions, a transition that was most notably epitomised by Vito Taufer’s dramatisation of Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland [Alica v čudežni deželi] (1986), which combined the apparently incompatible: childlike sensibility and daredevil theatre experimentation.
The production of the 1990s was marked by spectacle and intimacy, the aesthetic radicality approached the post-modernist theatre of images, while Mladinsko Theatre continued to work with stage directors whose dialogue with dramatic texts and personal poetics was inventive and avant-garde (Matjaž Pograjc, Vito Taufer). Another turn in Mladinsko Theatre production was introduced at the turn of the 21st century by the youngest generation of directors (Diego de Brea, Tomi Janežič, Jernej Lorenci), who again brought to the focus the dramatic text. In its productions, Mladinsko Theatre continues to thematise the universal paradoxes of civilisation, its programme being founded in problematisations of new times and spaces. By moving the experiment from the level of artistic expression into the field of civic action, Mladinsko is one of those exceptional theatre organisms that with their objectives often cause important effects in non-artistic discourse as well.
In 2006 Mladinsko Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary, publishing an illustrated book about its history, entitled Has the Future Already Arrived? [Ali je prihodnost že prišla] (in English and in Slovenian editions).
Mladinsko in English means “youth”. However, although the theatre has outgrown its primary role while keeping the name, Mladinsko Theatre has always included performances for children in its programme. These productions have met with great success and have toured extensively in Slovenia and abroad, winning also a number of Slovene and international awards. Vito Taufer’s Alice in Wonderland [Alica v čudežni deželi] (1986) received the Golden Laurel Wreath Award at the 1988 MESS Festival in Sarajevo, his staging of Pippi [Pika] (1998) received the Silver Laurel Wreath Award for best children performance at the same festival in 2008 (after 10 strong years in the repertory). Pippi, based on Astrid Lindgren’s beloved Pippi Longstocking character, also won three Little Golden Stick Awards at the Golden Stick Festival in 1999 for Best Performance, Best Actress (to Janja Majzelj) and Special Award of the Jury (to Ivan Rupnik).
Besides stagings of classical children stories, such as Snow White and Seven Dwarfs [Sneguljčica in sedem palčkov] (2003), which was selected as the best performance of 2005 in the Bologna-based Teatri di Vita, and Kekec (2004), based on the Slovene story about the adventurous, courageous, and kind shepherd Kekec, or Kuzma the Gremlin Gets an Award [Škrat Kuzma dobi nagrado], based on a witty story by the legendary Slovene poet, writer and children’s writer Svetlana Makarovič. Mladinsko also stages performances for young adult audiences, for example Mark Ravenhill’s Totally Over You [Kok ti men zdej dol visiš] (2007).
Since 2009, Mladinsko co-organises the Ljubljana-based festival of children education in culture and the arts called Bobri (in English: Beavers), featuring a number of theatre and music performances, a film programme, and workshops for children.
Mladinsko Theatre prepares around five new productions each year, some of them in co-operation with guest directors and in co-production with independent producers. Mladinsko’s productions include adaptations of classical and contemporary texts (from Shakespeare’s The Tempest [Vihar] (2008) to Tena Štivičić’s Fragile! (2005), Sarah Kane’s Blasted [Razdejani] (2008) and Crave [Sla] (2009) or Elfriede Jelinek’s Princess Dramas [Drame princes] (2015), as well as projects by guest directors such as Dragan Živadinov or a puppetry author Silvan Omerzu, and directing projects by actors of Mladinsko Ivan Peternelj, Neda Rusjan Bric and Janja Majzelj.
The theatre is offering 5 season ticket programmes, among them also the Piran Bay Season Ticket aimed at offering an international programme of performances in cooperation with the Slovene Permanent Theatre in Trieste and the The Croatian National Theatre Ivan Zajc from Rijeka, Croatia.
Since 2007 the Mladinsko Theatre runs its own festival called Mladinsko Showcase: an overview of Mladinsko Theatre productions.
Mladinsko Theatre regularly makes guest performances at international festivals worldwide (Nancy, Hamburg, Belgrade, London, Moscow, Essen, Cardiff, Lisbon, Madrid, Bogota, New York) and also hosts selected performances from other countries. Its most acclaimed performances have included Alice in Wonderland, Drama Observatory Zenith, Scheherezade, Roberto Zucco, Miss Juliet, Silence Silence Silence, Queen Margot, Fragile!, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Crime and Punishment, Damned Be the Traitor of His Homeland!, Amado mio, The Republic of Slovenia and Our Violence and Your Violence.
The Mladinsko Theatre is found in Ljubljana’s Bežigrad neighbourhood, occupying a part of Slovene architect Jože Plečnik’s unfinished Akademski kolegij which was intended to be the Baraga Seminary. The theatre incorporates two venues – the Upper Hall (Zgornja dvorana) and the Lower Hall (Spodnja dvorana), however, some of Mladinsko performances are also held at the Old Post building in immediate vicinity of the theatre.