As I approached the shady park in the Ljubljana city center, a matte pink, vibrantly tinted and thoroughly naked derriere gave me a … colorful welcome. And although it’s crazy, I breathed a sigh of happiness.
I love theatre, completely and with the whole of my heart. I spent a decade learning and performing interactive improvisation, so this outdoor street theatre delighted me completely (friends from way back remember the days i trotted around the Renaissance Festival in 16th-century costumes). The situation at hand, however, was tricky because fast approaching me was a member of the solid pink tribe of street performers, and she appeared intent on making me turn pink, too. I am so normally game, but I had just washed all of these clothes, and that’s kind of a big deal when you’re backpacking for a year and washers are both expensive and sometimes hard to find.
So I did the only thing I could: yelped in distress and ran in the other direction so that I could watch the actors from a safer distance. It was the first day the annual Ana Desetnica Street Theatre Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and I had extended my time here (and sadly cut it from the Czech Republic) for the express purpose of taking part in this festival. In fact, I planned my entire trip around taking part in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and this felt like a lovely warm up event.
Street Performers Come from All Over the World
Art is subjective, right? Well, never more so than when you don’t speak a common language and can’t actually ask for an explanation. The pink people were strange and I left never quite understanding their message, but that’s half of the fun.
Every year since 1998, street theatre performers from all over the world descend on Ljubljana in full force. Every single corner, sidewalk, park, and free space becomes an opportunity for actors to create some impromptu experiences for tourists and locals alike. Organized by a local theatre in town, this even grew larger than anyone could have imagined. In addition to honoring and supporting street theatre — a smaller genre than many types of performances — the summer festival welcomes shows and dances to festival stages throughout the city’s parks and public spaces. It’s an inclusive environment and one that welcomes a lot of experimentation and fun on the part of the acting groups sharing their creativity and community.
And when I say it’s everywhere, the Ana Desetnica Street Theatre Festival is truly impossible to miss if you visit while it’s in session. While my cousin and I shopped at H&M (in desperate need to replace a few of our meager clothing options) two black-and-white clad performers caught my attention through the glass door with a brief but fun performance of robotic dancing to groovy electronic music pumping from their CD player.
Visiting Ana Desetnica as a Foreign Tourist
Bar none, the acrobats performing in Station Kansky were the most spectacular event with an impressive wow-factor. Their huge tent sat in what is usually an open grassy area, and it provided the acrobats with room to climb, swing, hang, juggle, jump, and dance from every pole, rope, and possible surface. It was such fun and they had fantastic energy. If improv is about delivering every performance at a ten on the effort scale, they absolutely succeeded.
Street theatre is an odd genre, it’s fun and interactive and also very hard to maintain the attention of a passerby. While there was something to love in every performance, it’s a mixed bag of acts and you’ll need to spend several days visiting shows to find the gems that best fit your sense of art and style. And although a few shows suffer from a strong language barrier for English-speaking tourists, a good number rely on beautiful dance and nonverbal communication.
The city of Ljubljana comes alive with creative fun. Usually coinciding with the street theatre festival are a number of summer programs hosted by the city. Weekly shows, ballets, plays, concerts, and more. One of those shows was Swan Lake in the Park, which was so pretty and such a lovely way to spend a breezy summer evening. These shows take place on a massive stage in Ljubljana’s main square. The only possible bummer is the weather: it rained half-way through the second act. And while most of the crowd was willing to sit through the rain for the chance to finish the show, the wet stage was too dangerous for the ballerinas.
It was such a treat to happen upon this summer street theatre festival. The organization shares very little information in English (2017 update: travelers can now find full show details and English brochures on the official Facebook page), so it was just luck and chance that had me noticing the festival was just a week after I planned to leave Ljubljana. Since my yearlong trip is still flexible, even though I am nearing the end, I simply booked another week at my hostel and settled into the charming city for a chance to immerse in the world of acting that I left behind this time last year when I packed my bags in Los Angeles and booked a one-way ticket to explore. On days like today, I am so glad I faced my initial fears and made this trip happen.
Quick Tips: Plan Your Time in Ljubljana
When: Summer is a vibrant time to visit Ljubljana and it’s when you’ll have the best opportunity to enjoy the many outdoor festivals, shows, and events. Arts Desetnica usually takes place at the beginning of the summer; use their Facebook page for details on dates and events. For summer shows, use the city’s tourism site to view a calendar of events you’d like to attend while visiting.
How: Once you’re in town, visit the tourist information center for brochures on all of the events and activities happening that week.
Reading: Use the Rick Steves Croatia & Slovenia guide to plan your visit (although I usually love Lonely Planets, this guide has more local festival knowledge and better transport details, too). For cultural reading (which you should always do!), read the beautiful memoir Forbidden Bread or find a copy of The Golden Bird: Folk Tales from Slovenia (perhaps use your local library to borrow a copy).