The Bulgarian Playback Theatre Gathering June 17 – 18 2017, Sofia, Bulgaria

While in Budapest in May at the European Playback Theatre Gathering, I met up with Tzveta Baliyska and some of the company members from her Playback group ‘Here and Now’.

Tzveta in Action!

In Budapest with Martina, Ina, Alex and Vasko of Here and Now

Oh yes! The next European Playback Theatre Gathering will be held in Bulgaria in 2020 and this was announced at Budapest.  You can see more of this beautiful and warm Playback group here: with some guests at Budapest.

Tzveta and Mina celebrating the announcement

I first met Tzveta when she attended the UK Playback Gathering in 2013.  Tzveta is a highly committed and motivated Playbacker and her group demonstrates those same qualities so when she invited me to co-host the Bulgarian gathering the next month, I readily agreed. I flew down to Sofia on the Thursday evening before and Tzveta picked me up at the airport and dropped me at my hotel in town.  The next day Friday was free earlier on, so I was taken on a tour of Sofia by one of the group members Martina.  I’m vegetarian, and if you are ever fortunate enough to visit Sofia, do visit the Sun Moon restaurant – they offer some seriously fine vegetarian and vegan fare at very affordable prices. I had the best sugar-free desserts ever and I went there several times during my visit.

The Gathering was to take place over the weekend at the New Bulgarian University and on Friday afternoon; I’d offered a pre-gathering Hybridanza-dance*workshop to the group as a bonding session to bring us together.  The theme was the journey through the organising of the Gathering and was very well-received.  This was followed by one of the many very social meals that I enjoyed with Tzveta and her group. The majority of people in Here and Now and at the gathering were under 40 and almost all spoke English fluently as opposed to the older generation speaking Russian as a second language in Communist times.


On Saturday, I began my sequence of four workshops (two on Saturday and two on Sunday) with another dance workshop continuing with the idea of bringing us all together as a community of affection.  This was followed by a workshop on Ancestors that I adapted from the one that Jonathan Fox gave in Italy 2008.   I had undertaken some research prior to my visit to Bulgaria as I knew little about the country and its history and I’d created a timeline of events over the last 100 years to use in the workshop with key events related to parents and grandparents.  Some moving stories emerged and I was struck by the complexity of Bulgarian history and even though Bulgaria was allied with Nazi Germany, many Bulgarians didn’t allow Jews to be transported to the camps, but hid them as did the grandparents of one of the tellers.   Another more recent aspect was the difficulty for many of the older generation to transition from Communism to post-Communism as life had been seemingly less complicated and more predictable in the old days and these memories had inevitably transformed into nostalgia and a reluctance to live in the present.  See:

Such was the warmth and acceptance of me by the Bulgarians and Tzveta’s group in particular that my guard was down.  So I neglected to do a routine scan of the group’s experience with Playback via a descending line at the start of the workshop.  Participants at the Gathering were drawn from Tzveta’s Here and Now group (all highly-experienced and well-trained) and the students studying drama at the New Bulgarian University who had a Playback group but were younger and relatively less-experienced.  This led to a sensitive story about loss being badly done in the enactment and it was necessary to re-enact it – a learning point for me as it was my responsibility and something I’d overlooked.

One of the highlights for me was our visit to a restaurant called Under the Linden Tree, a traditional Bulgarian restaurant frequented by locals. At one point, a folk singer and musician emerged to sing a traditional song and just about everyone stopped to listen and joined in.  You can see a version of it here:  What was touching and moving about that moment in the restaurant was to see that the connection to traditional culture is still very much alive in Bulgaria in contrast to the UK, where this kind of connection seems mostly confined to folk circles.

The performances on Saturday evening were by Here and Now and the drama students at NBU. Tzveta and group are shown below.

My first workshop on the Sunday emerged from my research into Bulgarian history and culture. I’d come across the concept of Tuga via a book review of The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov which you can read here:

The review describes Gospodinov’s Tuga as “a longing for something that hasn’t happened … a sudden realization that life is slipping away and that certain things will never happen to you, for a whole list of reasons—personal, geographical, political.” This relates very closely to the Portuguese concept of Saudade: ‘a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.’ (Quoted from Wikipedia)

I’ve long been drawn to sadness and this has been deepened by my interest in Japanese and Chinese poetry and the elegant ways in which it can be accepted and expressed.  So I had an idea. I’ll do a workshop on Tuga even though I actually knew very little of what it was about. Looking back at my pre-workshop notes that outlined my intention; this workshop was an ambitious idea to say the least as my notes were to re-visit the timeline and invite some descriptions that could be shown through action.  My approach did attract some element of frustration within the participants and in the event we wrote a group poem that attempted to define Tuga from each individual’s perspective.  The poem can be found at the end of this account.   Another thing that I hadn’t allowed for was that only one person had made the connection between Tuga in the title of my workshop and Tuga as Bulgarian people generally understand it although the group poem shows a wide range of interpretations.  We read the poem in both Bulgarian and English and watched each contribution played back in action – it worked in a way  and we did eventually get to story so all was not lost. However, I do confess to an unhelpful romanticising of an aspect of Bulgarian culture and then offering it back to them as something that I purported to understand; another learning curve… Anyhow, the Tuga poem:

I never had it,

But I lost it.

I’m floating in the days,

With clouds in my eyes

Изгубих го,

без да съм го имал,

с облаци в очите,

все се лутам в дните.


Sadness is a journey through the soul.

Тъгата е пътуване през душата.


When your smile is lost forever,

It feels like the sun is dead.

Когато усмивката ти е завинаги загубена,

сякаш слънцето е умряло.


Forbidden nostalgia is disappearing in the emptiness.

Забранена носталгия, изчезваща в празнотата.


Old lady rocking chair in an empty room colored grey.

Възрастна жена, поклащаща се в стол, в една празна сива стая.


When your soul is heavier than your body, your dreams, your love…

Когато душата ти е по-тежка от тялото ти, мечтите ти, любовта ти…


Little by little I sink and reach other places.

Малко, по малко потъвам, достигам до други места.


When you are betrayed by people you love and cherish.

Когато си предаден от хора, които обичаш и цениш.


Sadness is simply the opposite of joy.

It is always just a matter of choice.

Тъгата е просто противоположност на радостта.

Само въпрос на избор.


Sadness is a soft sinking in a very deep lake

and at the bottom you find out

that you are on the other side of the sky…

Тъгата е нежно потъване в много дълбоко езеро,

на чието дъно откриваш,

че си от другата страна на синевата…


Sadness for me is a dead candle,

Which makes me search light and love and hope?

Тъгата за мен е изгаснала свещ,

която ме кара да търся светлина и любов, и надежда…


The sorrow of unbearable change, Sorrow as intolerance to change

Тъгата като непоносимост към промяната.


Dream for you not to be,

But without you

Heaven is out of reach for me.

Мечтая да те няма,

но без теб

няма да стигна в рая.


Sadness is falling

Like raindrops

On my life’s tent

Тъгата пада

като дъждовни капки

върху палатката на моя живот.


A part of life, the sadness is,

But to let it lead your life is madness,

’cause it’ll probably lead you to some badness

Тя е от живота част,

но ако я оставиш да те води,

вероятно нищо хубаво не ще те споходи.


When you are alone,

Naked and barefooted,

And there’s no one around,

No voice, no groan.

Когато си сам,

сякаш гол и бос,

и никого няма,

ни глас, ни стон.

Written by Marieta – Мариета, Vasko – Васко; Reni – Рени, Nadia – Надя, Tzvetina – Цветина, Yanitsa – Яница, Doroteya – Доротея, Vanya – Ваня, Ina – Ина, Lacho – Лъчо Mina – Мина

My final workshop was on the Dyad method as peer supervision which was well-received. More about this method can be found here:

To bring the Gathering to an end, while Tzveta and group were performing, Mina and I spent some time devising the closing ceremony drawing on single words that described the experience, one of which was, fun (Zabavlenie in Bulgarian) to be picked and shown in action. In the event, everyone seemed to be too tired for a closing ceremony, so we just had the presentation of Certificates and of course, a group photo.

On the Monday following, we had a feedback / debriefing session and I offered a workshop using the Mandala concept devised by Dramatherapist Sue Jennings to identify strengths and areas of growth in both personal and practice realms.

It was such a pleasure to be in Sofia for this event. A huge thank you and welling up of affection for Tzveta and the Here and Now group, whose warm welcome, acceptance and willingness will always have a place in my heart.   Once home, I adapted the word for fun (Zabavlenie) and wrote the account of my visit below:

The Anthropology of Zubbublania (written in the style of a 19th century traveller)

I recently visited the land of Zubbublania, where the language is Zubbub and the people are known as Zubbublainians. They are a handsome people of both fair and dark shades and some of the women are known for their piercing blue eyes that can put another under a spell and melt the human heart.

Their foods are wondrous and rich in taste.  Zubbublania is famous for their special yoghurts, richly-hued honeys and the finest tomatoes.  They happily shared their foods and I was able to taste many fine and exquisite local dishes at their feasts and enjoy their songs that have lasted through the generations.

Sweet old ladies known as Babas sell flowers and vegetables on street corners, having grown the produce in their own special gardens in the nearby countryside.  These Babas who are kind in nature are unlike the fierce Babushkas from a nearby region whose offspring once dominated the land of Zubbublania and tried to crush the spirit of the Zubbublainians. Once the offspring of the Babushkas were vanquished, Zubbublania began to flourish once again and the new generations wished to move on into a future free of oppression. They did that by first turning inward and looking deeply into their own hearts and then freeing themselves of inner oppression by telling each other their stories and becoming playful and free.

I noticed that dogs can wander freely without the oppression of being led on chains and are more mild than wild in keeping with the spirit of Zubbublania.

I wondered about the place of sorrow in their hearts and they showed me that sorrow can live alongside peace of mind in harmony with all things.

My visit to Zubbublania was brief and even so, my contact with the Zubbublainians was deep and loving and most playful in spirit. On parting, their embraces were long and affectionate and their words of parting spoke warmly of their wishes to meet again.

One day, I hope to return and celebrate again the spirit of Zubbublania and gaze more deeply into the truthful eyes and into the warm hearts of these most tranquil and kind people.



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