An interview with Dunja Matic, the author of “Kiddo”

Which four principles are there in your play and how did you choose them?

The four female characters belonging to two generations complete and bother each other at the same time. This “geometric” division can be made in several ways: Aunt is Mom’s mirror, as well as Kiddo’s mirror, Kiddo completes Babe but bothers her at the same time, Babe wants to be different from Mom but resembles her more and more etc. The four of them are like a clock mechanism. Now, when there is a time distance between me and the play, it seems that some things got their form by accident. I have built the characters after people from my environment, which I know best, and I guess that’s why it happened that the scenes and relationships got a wider dimension and started working at the social level. Also, only now I can see how much I reflected myself in the characters: in Mom’s fear of life and people, in Aunt’s stubbornness, in Kiddo’s belief that the world is hers, and, of course, in Babe, who really believes in best intentions and cannot go against herself.

What is your recipe for writing a socially engaged play?

The only recipe is that it is your business.
I often feel like art is given and imposed everything that falls under the umbrella of failed political, ethical, economic and generally social tasks of the citizens of a country. Art is not a part of the opposition which has to fight the dominant narrative. Art doesn’t have to do anything.

Socially engaged work, especially socially engaged theatre, is a causal tangle between the society and an individual, or the audience and the play. All of us have a duty towards the world we live in to be socially responsible. This doesn’t automatically imply social engagement. For a theatre performance to be socially engaged, it has to have appropriate reception among the audience, it has to hurt them, touch them, itch them, bother them. Luckily, this sort of experience is not intended for that part of the audience which is ready to allow the theatre to break and reassemble their social mechanisms; social engagement is only one layer of theatre. Art is also engaged when it questions itself and its own bases, its position in a society, its parameters and limits. Also, engagement is social and not a political thing. My play is socially engaged because it deals with themes that are familiar to all of us and, hopefully, touch all of us. These themes are different – is (not) giving birth the end or beginning of a woman’s life; when a woman is leaving home, is it something default or does she have to earn it, is marriage salvation or curse, are mothers here to support or sabotage us, what are we keeping as a secret behind the closed door – the questions are numerous. But my intention wasn’t to write a socially engage play, my intention was to write about things I want to learn, to ask what bothers me, to ask things about the world because it is my business.

If someone laughs or gets sad because of those questions, it means that it is their business as well and they will ask those questions as well.

What does family mean to you?

Rousseau says – man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. I often remember this regarding many things in life, as well as family. All the people are attached to those people from their environment. These relationships do not define us but they do make us. These chains don’t always have to hurt but they are always present, to point out my mistakes, to pull me with them whether I want it or not, to make me seek all the reasons why I am I in them, to be my eternal inspiration and mirror and to prevent me from forgetting what will I become and that I will become someone’s chain as well.

What do male-female relationships mean to you? (Where are the male characters?)

There are no male characters in the play. But in everything else, in the thoughts of the four female characters and everything they do, wish and are afraid of – male characters are present. They speak through the voices of the four women on the stage, and through voices of everyone else. I find it interesting – I cannot find a better word – auto-censorship and auto-correction, which is present in many women around me; these things make these women act as the extended arm of patriarchy. Women were the ones who told me I have to have male characters as well. If someone evaluates or decides to see a film or performance or read a play based on its gender structure, then so be it – this play won’t appeal to them anyway.

Of course I have blended some men from my environment in parts of female’s characters, and the Boy, who doesn’t appear on the stage, is also a typical male character. In that context, this is not a world without men but a part of the world where, by chance, there are women only. These women are against abortion, oppressive to female sexuality, suspend women’s right to her own voice and body, they are against marriage but against female emancipation as well.

Do you believe that Kiddo was saved or what happened to her afterward? What are the traits she has which are necessary for salvation or a decision or leaving or – living?

From my point of view, Kiddo was always saved because she can think freely. There are no barriers to her thoughts, nor fear nor anything but the desire for something bigger. She is free in a way none of us knows how to be free anymore – all alone, yet materially, emotionally and legally attached to others.

What happened to Kiddo afterward – it doesn’t matter because it cannot be worse than the situation she came from. Although the circumstances leading to Kiddo’s salvation may not seem like the path to something better, they are her salvation because she perceives them as such.

Are you satisfied with your first professional engagement?

I am satisfied with the entire process. I got a lot of freedom and support, and I always lack that. In that context, I am very grateful to Heartefact for giving young authors a chance and helping them start their career and do what they want in, as we often perceive it, crucial time for their art. I am also grateful to Biljana Srbljanovic because she keeps promoting her students.

Dunja Matic was born in 1996 in Novi Sad. She has graduated from the International Grammar School in Uppsala, Sweden. In 2015, she started her studies at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, Department of Dramaturgy. She has worked as a dramaturg on youth theatre performance “Motorcycles” directed by Patrik Lazic, supported by the City Administration of Belgrade. She is also one of the screenwriters for TV series “Group” (“Class”), co-produced by Vision Team and Radio Television of Serbia. The series will be screened on radio Television of Serbia.