Three of the city’s theaters had stopped working because of the war, so playwright Safet Plakalo (later, SARTR’s first director), stage directors Dubravko Bibanović and Gradimir Gojer, and Đorđe Mačkić (then-director of Youth Theater) gathered a team of actors and artistic collaborators to found the Sarajevo War Theater – SARTR.
An acronym for the theater’s full name, SARTR alludes to the French philosopher/playwright, Jean-Paul Sartre, a member of the French Resistance in WWII.
It symbolizes the birth of a theater that became a hallmark of cultural resistance during the war in Sarajevo. Lacking its own space, it initially put on plays at other theaters and in alternative spaces.
In August 1992, SARTR became a military unit at the Regional HQ for the BiH Armed Forces, and on January 12, 1993, the Wartime Presidency of the Assembly of the City of Sarajevo decided it would be a cultural institution that would play a special role in the city’s defense.
For security reasons, its first production – the first wartime play – was put on at Youth Theater’s cabaret on September 6, 1992.
Safet Plakalo’s play, Shelter, looked at the role of theater during the war. It was directed by Dubravko Bibanović and the cast included: Senad Bašić, Zoran Bečić, Miodrag Trifunov, Jasna Diklić….
One audience member, who had viewed the grotesque play ten times, gave the perfect answer when she wrote in the guest book, “I thank the Sarajevo actors for helping us to stay sane.”
During those war years, audiences came despite the shelling so that they could watch plays in a candle-lit theater that the New York Times described as “a theater of the soul” and “the most creative theater in town.”
With an invitation from the Norwegian National Theater, and with help from UNPROFOR, the SARTR team left Sarajevo in 1994 to perform Shelter, as an original “piece” of BiH culture, at Oslo’s Ibsen Stage Festival.
SARTR put on dozens of plays during the Siege, and it has grown to become a reputable theater house that has seen major socially-oriented plays: Ay, Carmela; The Longing and Death of Sylvia Plath (winner of Ljubljana’s Ex Ponto Festival Award)....
Before the war, the CDA was a cult gathering place where some of former Yugoslavia's top bands played. Now that it houses SARTR – whose mission is to present the living arts – the space hosts concerts, exhibits, book promotions....
Sarajevo Canton assumed the role of founder on July 24, 1997, and SARTR received the April 6th Award from the City of Sarajevo in 2003.
On May 18, 2007, SARTR began working in the former Center for Civil Activities (CDA) on Gabelina St., and director Aleš Kurt has been at the helm since 2016.