By Robert Crowe
Long before Mark Stringham was an award-winning actor and professor, he lived in Albania as part of a three-year missionary trip. As a 21-year-old, Stringham witnessed the rocky transformation from communism to democracy, including a coup and the escalation of conflict in neighboring Kosovo.
After moving back to the United States, Stringham earned a theatre arts degree from UIW in 2004 and a Master of Fine Arts in acting from Ohio University in 2007. He acted in a variety of productions across the country before becoming an instructor and advisor in UIW’s theatre program in 2009.
At UIW, Stringham directs plays and teaches, but has also begun to publish work about Albanian theatre earning him recognition in academic circles. This project enabled him to return to Albania in 2010 to document the country’s rich theatre arts history that blossomed in the 19th century and continued under more than 40 years of communism.
“The Albanians are great people who have experienced great adversity for centuries,” Stringham said. “To learn about their theatre is to learn how they are reacting to this adversity and to take in another perspective on the human experience.”
Upon his return to Albania, Stringham set out to rediscover the country he left more than a decade before. His original goal was to find and interview playwrights and actors from the golden age of Albanian theatre, but found many had passed away and others weren’t so eager to talk. He also discovered Stefan Capaliku, one of Albania’s best modern playwrights. Stringham has translated several of Capaliku’s plays and helped the playwright produce his work in Washington, D.C.
Stringham’s recent focus has been on Capaliku’s plays, considered among the most relevant of modern Albania. In fact, Capaliku’s play “Algretto Albania” was named the “Best Play in Europe” in 2010 by the International Playwriting Competition at the Theatre Biennale in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Albania is located in the rugged portion of Eastern Europe just across the strip of the Mediterranean where Italy points the heel of its boot into the sea. In spite of the many influences over the centuries, the region has managed to create its own unique culture and language.
“Historically, we crossed the roads between east and west. It is a miracle how we have (persisted) and how we have conserved our language, which is a single branch in the Indo-European language tree,” Capaliku said. “In this sense, there are very few foreign people who know Albanian and one of these people is Professor Stringham.”
Stringham hopes to spend many more years documenting Albania’s rich theatre traditions which flourished despite Albania’s totalitarian regime. A regime so rigid in its interpretation of communism that its early leader, Enver Hoxha, broke ties with the Soviet Union in the 1950s.
In spite of this totalitarianism, the regime permitted the theatre traditions to continue as long as productions delivered government propaganda. However, some playwrights were executed when their work veered too far from the party line. This repression almost completely annihilated Albanian theatre.
Stringham believes Albanian theatre can be categorized into three main groups: the golden age of the 1880s to 1940s, the communist era from the 1980s to 1990s, and the current period, where Capaliku and other young writers are exploring new themes. Today, Stringham continues to study Capaliku’s groundbreaking work.
“It’s going to be my life’s pursuit,” he said. “I hope to have something translated, produced or published every year.”
UIW issued a challenge grant to motivate others to give
In January, the Scanlan Foundation from Houston awarded the University of the Incarnate Word a $75,000 challenge grant for student scholarships. The university has until January 2013 to match this challenge grant. The grant was awarded on the important basis that UIW would use it to motivate others to give, and only those funds given in response to this matching grant should be used to meet the challenge. So, keep an eye out for a special appeal to our alumni and friends in the next few months targeted at raising the $75,000 required to meet the Scanlan Foundation’s challenge. As specified by the foundation the funds will be directed towards scholarships for students.