Selma Alispahić – My Greatest Recognition is that I Stayed True to Myself

In her rich body of acting work, she has played Anna Karenina, Sylvia Plath, Hasanaginica, Carmela, Catherine of Bosnia and other significant roles.

Apart from at her original theater, she has also shone on the stage of the Royal National Theater in London, collaborating with world-known actors. She works as a university professor, does academic work, and gets awarded for her acting roles. And, as she says, she never stops dreaming 

Interviewed by: Zana KOLOŠ-MULABDIĆ/Photo: Urban Magazine

Selma Alispahić, a champion of drama at the Sarajevo War Theater (SARTR), has added another award to her collection of recognitions and awards. The latest is a recognition from the 16th Festival of Actors Nikšić 2019, where she received the award for best partnership with fellow actor Dragan Jovičić for the show Ay, Carmela.

– The award for best partnership is really the best recognition that an actor can get. Acting on stage cannot happen without someone else. When a person gets awarded for that, it means that they’re really doing their job well. I got this award last year as well, for the show One Picasso, where I acted with one of the greatest actors from this region, Mr. Meto Jovanovski. I consider Dragan Jovičić my favorite and best partner. So it’s great that after twenty years Ay, Carmela has been awarded in this category, as Dragan and I are one on stage.

Last year, you received the Actor of Europe 2018 award, along with numerous recognitions at local and regional festivals. How important are awards and how much do they serve as confirmation that you are on the right path in a professional sense?

– The Actor of Europe 2018 award is important to me, because I found myself in the company of laureates, who are my acting idols. They are Ljuba Tadić, Rade Šerbedžija or Milena Zupančić. That award is also considered to be a lifetime achievement award. Even though it is early for me to sum up the results of my life’s work, it’s important to me that it’s awarded to actors who have left their mark in the cultural memory of Europe. It is that individuality that I’ve always cared about. Awards come and go, but what I’m proud of is actually the continuity of good work. The fact is that I never dropped my professional standards and agreed to compromises that weren’t of creative nature. That is my greatest satisfaction.

In April this year, during the Book Fair in Sarajevo, you promoted the book Step by Step to Great Silence – Sylvia Plath. Can you tell us more about the book, its journey and significance for readers? 

– That was my first book and there was great excitement. It’s the result of years of research, which began when I worked on the show The Longing and Death of Sylvia Plath. It’s also my master’s thesis at the Department of Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo. It was important to me to publish a story about this genius poet. It’s also a story of creativity, excellence and courage to see life through a different lense, openly, without prejudice, emotionally and deeply. I think that in the world of superficiality and instant values, one such story is necessary. Comments about the book are brilliant. I’m glad that it’s easy and readable, even though it’s academic work. We’re translating it to English, and I believe that there’ll be even more readers.

At the beginning of last month, the new show at your original workplace of SARTR, Bullying Collection, was promoted, where you play one of the roles. Bullying is a topic that you started, is that correct?

– Bullying is, unfortunately, a constant current issue in this society. This show is an attempt to make the silence surrounding this topic stop. It’s a disease of society, like any other. Unfortunately, we react once we’ve felt the consequences instead of working on prevention. This piece aims to encourage the victims of bullying to speak out and scream if they need to, and for parents not to accept apathy and inertia. They need to force the system and everyone relevant to do their work. Everyone from the ensemble brought personal stories into this show. It means a lot to us. Based on the first reactions of the audience, we see that it is eye-opening for people who see the things that they didn’t want to see. 

You also work as a university professor. What is the best part of doing that work?

–  Educational work brings me great pleasure. Many studies say that knowledge must be shared with others. It must not be hidden and kept to oneself, as it becomes meaningless. I try to encourage my students. I never accept partial solutions. We’re a small country, we don’t have geographical, nor political, military, or other opportunities. Our chance of survival lies in knowledge. Knowledge is important, because it fights ignorance. Ignorance creates hatred, and hatred creates all the evil in this world. That’s why we must pass on knowledge to young people so that they can make this country and planet better.

What are your plans in the coming period?

– Firstly, several roles at my original workplace of Sarajevo War Theater. There’s also work at the Sarajevo Film Academy, where I’m testifying of the formation of great future film directors, and I also enjoy working with students of solo singing at the Sarajevo Music Academy, where I am teaching about opera roles in theater. I’m surrounded by young and creative people and I’m learning from their youth and enthusiasm about life. I’m preparing a book about the great British poet Ted Hughes, which will be my doctoral thesis and I’m getting ready to give new guest lectures at some European universities.

Considering your numerous engagements, we assume you travel a lot. Do you enjoy it?

– I used to be a great traveler, and now I travel when I get the chance. Memories from travels mean a lot to me. Whenever I feel like it, I flip through photos from America, England, France, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Hawaii, Turkey…And then, again, I pop into these places in my thoughts. Of course, now that I have two children, I don’t travel as much, which doesn’t mean that I won’t once they’re ready. I think children should be taken to different places in order to get to know them. They need to realize that the world is so big and beautiful, and that home can be everywhere, if they’re open to the beauty of what the world offers.

And finally, what do you expect in 2020? 

– I’m a person who dreams a lot, but doesn’t expect too much. I live in the moment and for moments. My wishes are about those closest to me. Everything else will be, as it’ll be. I also don’t think that everything should be surrendered to fate. I think you have to work on fate too. Everyone should have dreams. I have some nice, sweet dreams, which bring a smile to my face each day. And that is perfectly enough for me.


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