Shortly after I come into the office of Branislav Jakovljevic, the new director of the Theater and Performing Arts department housed in Memorial Auditorium, he steps out to make himself a cup of coffee. Apologizing, he chuckles, “It’s been very busy.”
It’s not hard to imagine why Branislav would need a cup of joe. Since 2006, he has tirelessly worn different hats within the realm of theater at Stanford, from assistant professor to professor to — most recently — the director of Theatre and Performance Studies (TAPS). He has always been on “the scholarly side of the department,” teaching his own Introductory Seminars, like “Law and Drama,” that infuse theater principles with elements from other subjects. In doing this, he has been able to interact with students.
“I enjoy the energy that [they] bring. It’s a very open and engaging department.”
Now, Branislav can experience and contribute to this energy in a new context. The professor is not new to theater: He participated in theater since his youth in the former Yugoslavia.
“The good thing about socialism was that it gave kids like me a lot of opportunities for extracurricular activities, to do theater, to do sports.”
He then proceeded to pursue his passion for the theater arts, completing graduate work in theater studies at NYU.
However, Branislav notes that he can see, especially through the eyes of his younger students, that theater is evolving every day. His goal as director of the program is clear.
“I want to give students a solid foundation in theater skills, which they can build upon to experience a sense of discovery” and use to make each role — onstage or off — their own.
But how does Branislav intend to do this? His first step is “integrating curriculum with production,” continuing to approach theater through an academic lens by exploring his passion for avant-garde productions and the mechanics that comprise them.
“I make sure to find productions that are exciting to students, and then we ask ourselves — how can we make this new?”
Some may be skeptical that avant-garde theater can appeal to the kind of performers and audience that TAPS typically involves, but Branislav explains why he thinks it is relevant. Avant-garde is a unique type of theater, but Branislav believes that it is more understandable than people may expect. In his opinion, avant-garde theater is used to “express the passions that excite you so much you’re almost embarrassed” and then finding out that these “innermost feelings” relate to other people, that “you are not alone in feeling this way.” After all, if people did not have commonalities in their deepest passions, theater would not be universally relatable; in Branislav’s words, avant-garde theatre “connects you in a different way,” a way that goes beyond the status quo to reach toward the reality and complexities of human experience.
Through all of his efforts, Branislav fundamentally wants students to find themselves through theatrical expression. By “pointing them in the direction of opening and discovery my hope is that they will grow in their confidence.”
“TAPS is a place where they can define who they are and who they want to be.”
With his wealth of expertise, knowledge and passion, it seems that Branislav is just the man for the job. Time will tell to what extent Branislav employs his passion for the avant-garde and how audiences, as well as the TAPS department, responds.
Contact Maddy Macleod at [email protected].