Desara Bosnja on theatre, London and Albania

For our first blog post we chatted to our wonderful collaborator for Lela & Co. and fellow theatre producer Desara Bosnja.  Desara was born in Albania before moving to London as a child.  She talks to us about her hometown of Berati, theatre she loves and what it means to be a young woman in Albania today.
Desara Bosnja1989 Productions – You are originally from Albania, can you tell us a bit about the region you were born in?

Desara Bosnja – I was born in a city called Berati, in south-central Albania. It’s a small town. Most of the homes are built on the hills. The river Osum flows straight in the middle of the city and was the river where everyone would wash their clothes and themselves during Enver Hoxha’s reign – it was a much more welcoming river then than it is now. There’s still a lot of history in the city that has been preserved. One of Berati’s main attractions is the castle Kalaja e Beratit, which dates back to the 13th Century and contains many Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques.


1989 – What do you like the most about Albania?

DB – Its rawness. In Albania there are so many places that have been untouched, so much greenery. There are homes that were built in the 18th century and still stand today. People at the end of the roads selling their crops, the smell of food before and after it is cooked, the crystal clear beaches of Sarande… those to name a few, but I guess the thing I like most is the fact that its history is still very much its present.

1989 – What is the difference between growing up as a girl in Albania and growing up in London? 

DB – The main and I feel the most important difference is the lack of opportunities for a girl in Albania: the lack of equality and empowerment to be someone and do something other than be someone’s wife. It is still a place filled with corruption and as a girl you are raised to behave in a certain way and do certain things. Many stigmas are attached to girls and you are very much raised to care about what other people think and not do something because of the ‘shame that might bring to your family’, like leaving your husband if he cheats or if he hits you. Many women in Albania go through this even now. You shouldn’t do that. Growing up in London has enabled me to access opportunities, to not care about what others think and to be and do whatever I want. It’s a place where I have felt empowered.unnamed

1989 – What is the difference between how women are treated/viewed in London and there?

DB – There are very few women in Albania that have senior positions, although that can be true for London as well. A noticeable difference is that women there are very much seen as housewives… the easiest way to put it is they should be seen and not heard. They should do as they are told and make sure dinner is on the table. Of course, this is not true for every female in Albania. Things have changed and are changing as generations pass, but the culture of a housewife is still very much present. Women get ‘matched’ with boys for marriage and are expected to be virgins whereas men can have had 100 partners prior to becoming a husband and it doesn’t matter. In a nutshell, it is the inequality between men and women.  Even though we are still fighting for equality in London, it is still nowhere near the equality issues that are present in Albania.

1989 – You are a strong, independent woman. Does it run in the family? 

DB – Haha! Thanks! I was raised by a queen, so yes I guess it does. I am very fortunate to have a mother who has taught me to not depend on anyone and to fight for what I want. Raising two children in a country where you don’t know anyone and can’t speak the language is a hard and brave thing to do – I guess her bravery has rubbed off on me.

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 1989 – Do you have a favourite play and/or playwright?

DB – Tough question! I don’t think I have a favourite playwright… my attraction to any play is merely the story as even the best playwrights write poor plays sometimes! I have many favourite writers and plays. The ones I favour are Tanya Ronder, Natalie Mitchell, Rebecca Prichard and Selma Dimitrijevic. There are so many great playwrights out there still uncovered. Favourite play, hmm… my most recent favourite has to be The Royale by Marco Ramirez.

 1989 – Do you think you would have ever become a producer if you had grown up in Albania?

DB – Simply, no! I don’t know what I would have been doing this very moment in my life if I had grown up in Albania but producing is definitely not something I think I would have even known about.

1989 – What is theatre like there? How has the war affected the theatre and the arts?

DB – To my shame I have never been to watch a play in Albania. There really isn’t a culture for theatre there, it’s not something you do or talk about much, unlike London.

During the 500 years under the occupancy of the Ottoman Empire (from the 15th to the 20th Century), drama and the arts was discouraged. I know that archaeologists have found remains of theatre dating back to 4th Century BC that would hold an audience of 7000 people, but I don’t know much about the time before the Ottoman Empire.

In 1944, when National Liberation from German occupancy was achieved by the Communist and People’s Socialist Republic Parties, they wanted to build a sociunnamed (2)alist society based on Marxist-Leninist principles. This encouraged the arts and the desire to make art available to the masses. In 1946 the first art school was built in Albania and it had a drama department.

There are a total of 8 professional theatres in Albania, which is crazy when you think about how many there are in London alone! It’s a very small circuit of people and the actors play in rep so it’s mostly the same actors. Tirana is home to our National Theatre equivalent (Teatri Kombetar) and mainly programmes classic plays: Shakespeare, Brecht, Miller etc.

1989 – Finally, what projects are you working on? What is next for Desara Bosnja? 

DB – I have just started a new job as an Assistant Producer with Seabright Productions Ltd. in the West End and we’ve just opened Showstopper! at the Apollo. I am also working on a one woman show called And Now: The World! by Sybille Berg, directed by Abigail Graham and which is touring to 6 cities. I have my eyes on Edinburgh, the Finborough Theatre and the Vault Festival next year as well starting work on a passion: a film project of mine.

Best of luck, Desara!

All photos courtesy of Desara Bosnja

Published by: 1989 Productions

Founded by Allegra Nespoli and Pippa Howie 1989 Productions is a new theatre company dedicated to producing plays about human rights and provide a global platform for writers. We give a voice to those who are unable to speak out. We tell stories that might never be heard.