by Viviana Iacob
published in Journal of Global Theater History, Bd. 2 Nr. 1 (2017): Translocating Theatre History
History of Cold War culture has moved in the last couple of years from an East versus West bipolar narrative to investigating the phenomenon from a global perspective. There is a resurgent focus on encounters between the Second and the ‘Third’ Worlds, between socialist states and those from the Global South. My paper is a contribution to the discussion about the role played by theatre exchanges in the cultural dialogue between East and South. Its focus is on Romanian and Indian attempts, starting with the mid-1950s, to bridge the distance between the two cultures. I underline the connection between broader programs of developmental assistance and the entrenchment of cultural relations between Romania and India, particularly in the realm of theatre.
I argue that economic rapprochement constituted the igniting premise for mutual discovery. Drawing from the representation of the socialist camp as the “Second World,” my paper will underline the role of Indian progressive intellectuals in the consolidation of theatre exchanges with Romania – a development that can easily be extended to relations across Eastern Europe. Based on the Romanian-Indian encounter, the paper will flesh out two interrelated evolutions in theatre diplomacy between Eastern Europe and the Global South: the importance of individual elective affinities built by way of bilateral relations in facilitating reciprocal adaptation; and, the conversion of personal experience into more systematic programs of theatre exchanges, which mirrored the developmental assistance of state socialist regimes to post-colonial societies.
by Viviana Iacob
at Spectrum of Communism — Symposium 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.
by Viviana Iacob
Originally published in Romanian > “Teatralitate şi realism socialist în teatrul românesc, 1946-1963”, Studii şi Materiale de Istorie Contemporană, vol. 15/2016.
The article aims to show that when theatricality resurfaced in Romanian theatre debates after 1956, it did not replace the tenets of socialist realism altogether. It was rather a catalyst for the later to evolve into a more sustainable ideological construct in the context of de-Stalinization. The years after Stalin’s death produce in Eastern Europe tremendous changes culminating with the explosive ideological situation of 1956. At a cultural level, these changes unleashed important transformations without displacing however the socialist bedrock. The interwar debates dedicated to the burgeoning issue of theatricality and the western theatre tradition were still filtered through aesthetic coordinates that were put in place during the Stalinist period. The article focuses on debates generated around specific performances which premiered between 1946 and 1963. These events reshaped the socialist realist aesthetic by way of theatricality resulting in a reciprocally corrosive relationship in the following years. The article concludes that the recalibration of the socialist realist formula amounted to a selective process of appropriation that was done both laterally and diachronically. This approach engendered a new form of theatricality. Not a replacement of old socialist realist theatre aestetic but its refashioning.
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.
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.
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.
by Viviana Iacob, at The Paradigmatic City: Origins, Avatars, Frontiers, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Centro de História d’Aquém e d’Além-Mar, 15-17 October, 2015.
The presentation will focus on Romanian intellectuals who traveled to Moscow after the war to witness, internalize, and emulate the construction of a communist society and culture. I will focus mainly on the theatre community as I am going to examine those encounters that shaped the discourse of a superior socialist culture that was created at the Moscow center. These journeys were permeated by the imperative to replicate the Soviet exemplum at home in order to put Romanian culture on the right track to communism. Continue reading Peripheries at Awe: Moscow as Metropolis of Communist Culture (1940s-1960s)