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Fly in a drum

Shaman Pliska


My Life in the Two-Headed Drum Twenty Years Later
The Story of “Fly in a Drum”

Boyan Papazov,
February 19, 2006

     This play was written on the spur of the moment. As part of the background preparation for the write up of “Slyboots”, a Commedia dell’Arte play, I was trying to master a certain western Bulgarian dialect. It was a suitable choice for a vernacular to be spoken by the three tricksters, the advocates of three “different” political ideologies: rhubarb-rhubarb, blah-blah and yada-yada. In the Commedia dell’Arte tradition, a local dialect affords the perfect means of obscuring one’s motives when the need arises.

   This is how I came across the local saying of “as a fly in a drum”. At that stage one could not have wished for a better description to fit my own personal circumstances so I experienced a creative boost amounting to nothing short of an instant revelation. The play was virtually writing itself and I was enjoying the process like I had never done before or would ever do since.
   The year was 1985. I had been fired from my job and banned from work in the film industry altogether. I was living in our old country house in a remote village. Friends were getting freelance jobs for useless commercials and documentaries for me to write under their names to help my family survive.

   Self-proclaimed well-wishers were always at pains to urge me to write whatever I felt like so long as it had no bearing whatsoever on “Number One”, as the current eternal “party king” Todor Zhivkov was referred to. Yet it would have never done for a character, such as Guilyfart the Great, to not take the pride of place in the weird world of “Fly in a Drum”. There was no room for any independent media in communist Bulgaria and it was up to the literary writing community to perform to some extent their functions. It goes without saying that this could only have happened through the Aesopian fable approach. I will be the first to admit that the latter is only as outspoken as a slave can afford to be, but any other attempt at free expression would have been nipped in the bud under the paranoid policies and practices of communist censorship.

    In compliance with the publication rules and regulations prevailing at the time, the completed manuscript of “Fly in a Drum” had to be submitted for approval by the relevant censorship body, known as the “Theatre Directorate”. The prospective director Krikor Azaryan and I presented ourselves in front of the panel to hear their verdict. We were told that the message of “Fly in a Drum” had been obscured by the use of a non-literary dialect and that the play should be re-written in the official standard form of the Bulgarian language. Never mind that imposing a wrong “cultured” register on a tale of nonsense would have annihilated the very essence of its art.

    Today, twenty years later, I remain a captive in the drum and a captive of the allegory.


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