Scenes of Cold War Diplomacy: Romania and the International Theatre Institute, 1959-1964

by Viviana Iacob

at New Europe College, Bucharest,  9 November, 2016.

The presentation focused on mapping the history of the International Theatre Institute and its impact on Romanian cultural diplomacy during the Cold War. The narrative revolved around two main events while also fleshing out their prehistory as it was relevant to Romania’s involvement with I.T.I. between 1959 and 1964.

The first was the participation at the 8th I.T.I. Congress in Helsinki in 1959. Romania’s I.T.I. membership was presented on the background of previous interactions between theatre practitioners and policy makers with I.T.I. – e.g., the participation at the Third Festival of Dramatic Art in Paris in 1956, the forerunner of the Theatre of Nations Festival.

The second was the 1964 Bucharest symposium on the professional training of the actor, the first I.T.I. event organized in Romania.  The members of 24 I.T.I. centres around the world discussed approaches on improvisation exemplified by Romanian, American and Italian students. The symposium proved the willingness of theatre practitioners to achieve a common ground for consolidating the transfer of knowledge through the Iron Curtain.

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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.