Scenes of Cold War Diplomacy: Romania and the International Theatre Institute, 1956-1969

by Viviana Iacob

at the Institute of Theatre Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München, 25 October, 2017.

Viviana Iacob maps Romania’s involvement with the International Theatre Institute during its first decade of membership. The argument revolves around a number of East –West convergence high points such as the 1959 Helsinki Congress or the 1964 Bucharest Symposium. It analyzes the connections developed by Romanian theatre specialists within the framework provided by I.T.I., the specialized networks they helped create and the domestic impact of these interactions. The article examines the multifaceted Romanian involvement with these projects in national and international context. It begins in 1956, Romania’s first participation at the Dramatic Art Festival in Paris, the forerunner of I.T.I.’s Theatre of Nations Festival. It closes the arc of the story with the 1969 international symposium on training young theatre directors. The article shows that soon after joining I.T.I. ranks, Romanian theatre artist were propelled into the international limelight and were recognized by their Western peers as their equals. It advances the idea that East European theatre practitioners had a role in shaping their respective community of knowledge as much as their Western counterparts did.

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Caragiale in Calcutta: Romania-India cultural relations during the Cold War

by Viviana Iacob

at Spectrum of CommunismSymposium at Blinken OSA, Budapest, 16-17 November, 2017.

In 1969 two plays by Romanian playwright I. L. Caragiale opened in Calcutta: A Stormy Night and A Lost Letter. Both were adapted to Bengali by translator Amita Ray and produced by the group Panchamitram. Ray, a long time correspondent of the Institute for Cultural Relations Abroad (she visited Romania for the first time in 1959) sent clippings from the Bengali papers attesting to her excellent adaptations skills and the overall success of the two productions. The choice of plays was not haphazard. Unusual as they might seem they were in fact the spear head of a cultural diplomacy program that had the XIX century writer at its epicentre. In terms of exporting Romanian socialist culture to the world, Caragiale had quite the career during the communist period. For example, by 1969 The Lost Letter was produced by 9 different companies around the world and besides opening in Calcutta in 1969, it also premiered in Haifa.

Romania’s branching out initiative to the Global South took cue from the Soviet Union.  In the late 50s, information on India was filtered through soviet journals while cultural exchanges were carried out with the support of the Institute for Cultural Relations Abroad and the Friendship Societies it managed. By 1962 four such organizations were founded in India:  New Delhi, Kanpur (1958), Jaipur and Ajmer (1962). Even though they dissolved in later years, a result of the political turmoil that India was going through in the early 60s, the connections that they helped establish were used to carry further bilateral cultural activities. For example, Amita Ray’s second visit to Romania in 1967 coincided with prime minister Indira Gandhi’s and the 1969 performances in Calcutta, also prompted by Ray, preceded Nicolae Ceausescu and Gheorghe Maurer’s visit to India the same year.

Establishing a viable connection with the Global South was an arduous task. Geographical and cultural distance made finding a conversation baseline quite difficult. Furthermore, the cultural plan that Romania devised for the West, at least with respect to theatre, was also proposed to India and it took the sheer dedication of internationalists such as Amita Ray to ensure its success. The paper will outline strategies employed by the Romanian state in its attempt to expand to the global south by taking theatre exchanges with India as a case study.

Exporting Socialist Theatre to the World: A Romanian Case Study

by Viviana Iacob at the IFTR Conference 2017Unstable Geographies, Multiple Theatricalities, Universidade de São Paulo, 10-14 July, 2017.

In 1961 The Lost Letter, a play by Romanian classic Ion Luca Caragiale opened in Tokyo. This was the height of Cold War, thus making connections between a socialist country and Imperial Japan an interesting case in trans-ideological spatiality and performance. The event was not an isolated one. This play held a center role in the Romanian socialist cultural policy program which internationalized itself through theatre.  Its production history outside the Iron Curtain begins in 1955 and by 1962 the play was performed by theatre troupes and companies in Finland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Japan.

The 1962 Caragiale celebration is in fact the end point of a theatre diplomacy project that started in the early 1950s and entailed translating The Lost Letter in 15 languages, touring with it and staging it in 12 countries.

The production history of this play beyond national borders shows a network of people that strived for cross-cultural communication even when there were no official diplomatic ties to speak of. It reveals the difficulties entailed by the process of exporting a socialist cultural product and by extension of a different understanding of theatricality to dissimilar cultural milieus.

The paper focuses on the routes and connections found by Romanian cultural officials and theatre artists into different national contexts and the instruments they used in order to promote the idea of Romanian theatre as the expression of a socialist culture worldwide.

 

Shakespeare as Détente: Cultural Diplomacy During the Cold War (1955–1964)

by Viviana Iacob, in Revista istorică, tom XXVI, 2015, nr. 3–4.

The article argues that events such as the visit of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Bucharest and the Romanian delegation at Stratford in 1964 were not singular and momentous achievements of détente cultural diplomacy. They were the most visible results of an exchange program with Great Britain that began in earnest in the mid-1950s. With the start of Khrushchev’s détente in Europe, the countries behind the Iron Curtain capitalized on points of contact that would speed up the cultural rapprochement. Consequently, when it came to engaging with a Western theatre tradition such as the UK’s, Shakespeare was always the starting point for transnational exchanges. From the mid-fifties onward, Romanian theatre practitioners and Shakespeare scholars pursued such interactions not only as a means to strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries, but also as a medium for mutual cultural transfers with tremendous impact by the 1960s.

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.

Shakespeare as Détente: Cultural Diplomacy during the Cold War

by Viviana Iacob, at Shakespeare in Romania, Shakespeare in the World, Romanian Academy Library, Bucharest, 12-14 April, 2016.

Abstract

The visit of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Bucharest and the Romanian delegation at Stratford in 1964 were not singular and momentous achievements of détente cultural diplomacy. I consider themvisible results of an exchange program with Great Britain that begins in earnest in the mid-1950s.

During the Cold War, theatre was no stranger to the clash between the two competing views on modernity. With the beginning of détente in Europe, the countries behind the Iron Curtain capitalized on points of contact that would speed up the cultural rapprochement. Consequently, when it came to engaging with a western theatre tradition such as Britain’s, Shakespeare was always thestarting point for this transnational conversation. Continue reading Shakespeare as Détente: Cultural Diplomacy during the Cold War