Theatre Diplomacy during the Cold War: Bucharest 1964, Vienna 1965

by Viviana Iacob, at the International Federation for Theatre Research Conference, Stockholm, 13-16 June, 2016

The Cold War transformed cultural production after 1945 into a weapon. Debates were reshaped in the struggle for civilasational supremacy and theatre was no stranger to the clash between the two competing views on modernity.  However, with the beginning of détente in Europe, the cultural criticism of communist states gained an inclusive dimension. In spite of the ideological rejection of western cultural production, these countries’ representatives also sought rapprochement and recognition. Starting with late 1950s, international institutions, congresses, symposia and tours became arenas for the battle between ideologies. Simultaneously, such fora were also transnational spaces for finding common ground. The two examples I wish to discuss in my presentation are the 1964 International Theatre Institute Second Symposium on the Role of Improvisation in Actor Training held in Bucharest and the 1965 Meeting of Theatre Experts from East and West held in Vienna. The common denominator of these two events was the principle of collaboration between East and West. In my paper I will focus on the nature and outcomes of the dialogue among theatre practitioners. I will point out the elements upon which East and West converged during the proceedings of these two gatherings. Bucharest and Vienna became, in 1964 and 1965 respectively, ecumenical spaces of intellectual interaction. For example, the debates on teaching methods applied in theatre education, at the ITI symposium in 1964, illustrated by Romanian, Italian and American student groups, amounted to an exercise in trans-systemic cultural cooperation. It proved East Europeans’ willingness to engage with a plurality of approaches in the theatre.

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